I just returned from Montenegro's Bay of Kotor -- a dramatic landscape of craggy mountains and turquoise waters. A land where the early morning sun brushes across the towering peaks, painting a luminous broad swath across the rough limestone surface. Where the black veil of night is streaked with a zig-zag glow from the string of Kotor's medieval battlements that are lit up along their length as they snake up the steep slope.
On this trip with Ramblers Worldwide Holidays, turning a corner along many a bay brings a surprise. While I spent most of my time hiking the rocky slopes covered with fragrant macchia, oaks and conifers, the magical waters were almost always within view. And then there were those few excursions onto the mirror-like watery surface itself that brought more discoveries.
Perast is just one of several gems in the necklace of towns along the Bay that's often referred to as a fjord, but, in fact, geologically it isn't since glacial activity were not responsible for its formation. This Baroque village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is most heralded as the birthplace of some very well-regarded sailors. With the rise in prosperity in the 17th and 18th centuries, maritime captains established themselves in palaces and villas, some which remain today, converted into houses, accommodations -- such as the Hotel Admiral, restaurants (like the Per Astra Restaurant) and even a museum.
The offshore twin islets, St. George and Our Lady of the Rock, add to the allure of Perast. Taking a ferry, we motor out towards the wee rocks, seeing the tall, monolith-like cypress trees encircling a 12th century Benedictine monastery on St. George, where the abbey was destroyed in an earthquake.
While visitors are not allowed to set foot on this island, we dock at Our Lady of the Rock, appropriately named given that, according to legend, a painting of the Virgin Mary was discovered on a tiny rock jutting from the sea at this very spot. (The artificial islet itself was created by rocks added bit, by bit, over time.) Now, in her honor, stands a brilliant blue-domed church that we tour with and English-speaking guide who points out the dozens of oil paintings, 17th century working organ, silver crowns, and many precious and domestic gifts (from irons to sewing machines) that were donated to ward off disasters at sea. Probably the most memorial item is a work of embroidery hung on a wall: a woman used silk, gold and silver threads and her own hair to sew an image of the Virgin encircled by cherubs. (It took her 25 years while her husband was at sea and, supposedly, the hair-threads turned white over time and she became blind. It's unclear if her husband ever made it home.)