Friday, 28 July 2017

Old Houses and Ancient Churches Along Montenegro's Kotor Bay

Text by Lawrence Marzouk   
Kotor may be the jewel of the 25 kilometre-long Montenegrin bay, to which it gives its name, but this stunning inlet is studded with charming fishing villages of old stone houses, draped in bougainvillea, grand palaces and ancient churches.

And despite its growing popularity with regional and international tourists, tracts of virgin land and traditional villages can still be found.

As the sun dipped below the far off Croatian coast, the bells of a tiny hillside church rang out across the forests and farmland of the Lustica peninsula.

While Tivat International Airport and the bright lights of Kotor are just a short drive away, this finger of mountains, olive groves and beaches, which separates the bay from the Adriatic, feels a million miles from the summer bustle of the Montenegrin coast.

Unsurprisingly, its beauty has not escaped the attention of some tourists, mainly from Belgrade, but summer homes are concentrated in a smattering of small villages, leaving swathes of land to agriculture and Mother Nature.

One hamlet which has become popular with day-trippers is Rose, due to its short distance from Herceg Novi by boat.

But even Rose, which offers a few good restaurants and bars, has retained its old-time charm. Its sheltered harbour is ringed by handsome stone houses and the walls of an old fortress jut out from one corner of the arc of clear water.

The Lustica peninsula is dotted with coves, quiet beaches and even a blue grotto, similar to the natural wonder so lauded in Italy’s Capri. It’s also famous for cheese, dried fish, prsut and churches.

Because major development has yet to arrive – although a major holiday complex project is planned - Lustica still holds a sizable population of wild boar, mongooses and jackals.

Following the meandering bay in land towards Kotor, you’ll discover a series of beautiful villages clutching the edge of the narrow strip which separates the calm waters from the steep mountains.

Prcanj is five kilometres from the ancient town of Kotor and is home to one of the biggest and most beautiful churches in the region.

Zupta Church, or The Church of Our Lady, is topped by a silver dome and surrounded by striking statues of local grandees. A grand staircase leads up to the building, flanked by palm trees and flowers.

Prcanj was home to Lord Byron for a short time on his epic Balkan voyage, and the church retains a cup which the British poet is believed to have used. Legend has it that he became romantically involved with a local noblewoman during his stay.

While the church is the centerpiece of Prcanj, it is by no means the only attraction. Around every corner is an old stone house, built for wealthy sea captains of the past, or smaller, but nonetheless striking, religious buildings.

Many of the largest buildings are uninhabited and in various states of disrepair, but even these exude charm, wrapped as they are in vine and Mediterranean blooms.

The journey along the coast from Prcanj to Tivat reveals more pretty villages, hillside churches and rocky beaches to explore.

Across the tranquil bay, is the town of Perast , a UNESCO heritage site.

The town is rich in architecture from the time this littoral fell under the control of Venice.

Sixteen Baroque palaces, seventeenth- century Catholic churches, Orthodox structures and a series of defensive towers are just some of the gems to discover.

Perast was a stopping spot for the Russian Tsars, and the area remains popular with residents of the world’s largest country. From this summer, Moscow is even connected with the Montenegrin coast by train.

Just off the coast of Perast is the blue-domed island church called Our Lady of the Rocks, which dates back to the ninth century, and the short boat trip across should be on everyone’s holiday itinerary.

This article is courtesy of Balkan Insight, the online publication of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, which contains analytical reports, in-depth analyses and investigations and news items from throughout the region covering major challenges of the political, social and economic transition in the Balkans.

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