Other than the amazing medieval cityscape, the awe-inspiring city walls and fortifications, and the stunning scenery surrounding it, Kotor also serves as a perfect base from which to explore the other interesting locations Montenegro has to offer. On our third day there we decided to do just this, so we packed the backpack with some extra water and the camera and headed off in search of a bus that could take us there.
As Perast is a small town, none of the passing buses had it as a destination on their front window, and we were unsure if we could just flag down a bus and then request it let us off once we were passing through the city. It turns out that we could of. But we didn’t. Not yet anyways. Instead we made the 3 minute trek to the main bus station (look for Autobusni Kolodvar signs…or just follow the stream of countless buses).
We bought our tickets from the lady at the counter (but buying them on the bus is just fine too) for 3 euro each and hopped on. After just a few minutes it took off and we began barrelling our way along the twisty coastal road towards Perast. As we hurtled along the narrow strip of pavement, mopeds and motorbikes flew around us like it was no big deal, buses passed us going the opposite direction with just inches to spare, and all the while the driver spotted people flagging the bus down along the side of the road while simultaneously smoking and talking on his cell phone. He even passed another bus using the oncoming lane. On a blind corner. I decided that looking out the front window was a poor choice, and just reveled at the passing scenery instead.
It turns out that, surprise, our bus driver was not that great. Although we had asked him if this bus stopped in Perast, and he had confirmed that it did indeed, he flew past the town on the highway, not bothering to go through the town center. We were confused. After a quick conference with each other in our seat, we decided we should get off at the next stop as we were quickly traveling further and further from our desired destination. We got off and looked around. We were in Risan, the next city past Perast.
After a bit of an argument over how we should procede, we decided to walk to what looked like the bus stop and wait for a passing bus to flag down. After a few minutes a large bus came by and we flagged it down…and it stopped! We hopped on and gave the driver 3 euros and kept a close eye on the road. It didn’t matter, the bus assistant (I don’t know what else to call him) said Perast was the next stop and we pulled into town. We got off the bus and were finally in Perast.
Perast is a small town built along the beautiful Bay of Kotor and is part of the UNESCO Wold Heritage Site called the Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor. And for good reason. The city was owned by the mighty Republic of Venice as part of Venetian Albania from 1420 to 179. During this time the Venetians built 17 Catholic churches, 16 baroque palaces, 9 defensive towers, and 2 Orthodox churches – all in a city of just 1643 residents at its peak. In addition, two islands sit out in the bay just a few hundred metres from the town, both with picturesque chapels on them.
We strolled into town via its one real street, a narrow boulevard running along the water with houses and churches in the classical Venetian style on one side, and docked boats and people swimming from the rocky shoreline along the other. Walking the length of the city takes only about 10 minutes at a leisurely pace, but much longer when stopping to admire the architecture and snapping countless photos. But perhaps the best part of Perast is wandering up and down the signless paths that criss-cross through driveways, yards, and past centuries-old buildings just dripping with a mysterious sense of history.
Today Perast is a far cry from days past. It no longer holds a fleet of 100 boats. Many of the buildings have been deserted as the people slowly left following the earthquakes, occupations, wars, and recessions. The population is down to just 360 at last count (that’s around 19 people per church). But the people are still vigorously proud of their heritage. Unused buildings and churches hold small museums, shiny plaques and informational displays celebrate their pride over being the last city of the Republic of Venice to surrender, several months after the republic had fallen.
To end our day we made the short trip to the only man-made island in the Bay of Kotor to visit the appropriately named Gospa od Škrpjela, or Our Lady of the Rocks. The 3030 square meter island was reportedly created by seamen keeping an ancient oath after finding an icon of the Madonna and Child on a rock. After they returned unharmed from each voyage, they would throw a rock in that place until the island reportedly emerged from the bay. Despite the story, it was actually created by the sinking of seized and retired boats filled with rocks further enhanced by dumping large rocks in the area. The people of Perast are very proud of the island even to this day, and, on the sunset of every July 22nd the celebration of fašinada occurs and the residents all travel out and throw rocks into the water surrounding the island making it even bigger (maybe modern Venetians should adopt this practice).
The first church on the island was an Orthodox church built in 1452, but it was subsequently change to the present-day Catholic church Our Lady of the Rocks in 1632. The church interior is worth the trip itself. It is filled with 68 beautiful paintings by famous baroque painter Tripo Kokolja, countless silver votives, and a famous votive tapestry of gold fibres, silver fibres, and hair by Jacinta Kunić-Mijović which took 25 years to complete as she waited for her lover to return from sea (she had gone blind by the time she was finishing it.)
The round trip ticket only cost us 5 euros each and we got to spend as much time as possible. We heard that going to the nearby island of St. George, which holds a 12th century Benedictine Monastery, was also possible, but we were running out of time.
The bus trip back to Kotor was extremely easy, and we felt like Montenegrin bus system pros by the end of it. Exhausted and hungry, we made a quick stop at the grocery store and headed back to our lovely place at Villa Ivana for some delicious gnocchi and fresh bakery bread.