Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – Montenegro chapter Bay of Kotor has to say about the Kotor fortress:
“Kotor’s fortifications started to head up St John’s Hill in the 9th century and by the 14th century a protective loop was completed, which was added to right up until the 19th century. The energetic can make a 1200m ascent up the fortifications via 1350 steps to a height of 260m above sea level; the views from up here are glorious. There are entry points near the North Gate and behind Trg od Salate (Weapons Square); avoid the heat of the day and bring lots of water.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
As soon as we learned that there was a series of steps that led up through Kotor’s fortifications, we were game to climb them all the way to the top. At first when we understood that there were 1350 steps, we thought about all the similar climbs we’d done over our many years of travel, and began to think that this would be the most steps we’d done in a similar fashion.
However, when we thought about it more carefully, we realized that the climb to the Perfume Pagoda in Vietnam involved significantly more stairs (they’ve since built a cable car) but that was long ago, and well before we retired. I guess you could say, this would be one of our biggest stair challenges since we retired.
I had been struggling with migraines off and on since arriving in the Balkans, and the morning we planned to climb the fortress was an ‘off day’ for me at the start. I took some medication and suggested we just go for a walk along the seaside. However, not long after we set out, I found I was feeling better and suggested Anil walk back and get my hiking pole and we would give it a go. I didn’t think to change into my hiking boots because it was a series of stairs, not a trail and I thought I would be fine without them.
We grabbed some traditional burek (cheese-filled flaky pastries) and ate them as we walked the two kilometers to the Old Town walls. We had checked out the start of the climb the night before, so we were able to avoid the tour groups massed at the main city gate, and slipped in the side gate near the river. The start of the climb was a short distance from the gate, near the back of the old walls.
We climbed a very short distance and then came to a gate manned by a person selling tickets. There was a charge of eight euros, I was a little surprised, but it was far less than the twenty euros we’d paid to walk around the old walls in Dubrovnik. I was wearing open-toed sandals, but I had my trusty walking pole and so we set off.
The stairs are well-maintained and had a small wall on the seaward side, and a rocky path on the opposite side. If I’d had hiking boots on, I may have preferred the path, but the stairs were very manageable and the views were breath-taking so I didn’t fret too much about my footwear.
I was told that the photograph on the cover of our Montenegro Lonely Planet was taken on the stairs near the beginning of the climb, so I was on a watch for the exact spot so I could have a photo of the Bay of Kotor of my own. We had chosen to make the climb in the afternoon when the early birds would be already down, so we met very few people along the way.
When we reached the little church about one third of the way up, we met a woman about our age on her way down. She was looking overly warm and a little bit anxious. She was concerned because the friend she’d been climbing with had gone on without her, hoping to reach the top. She wasn’t worried that her friend wouldn’t make it, but felt there might not be enough time for her friend to get down in time for the departure of their cruise ship.
She carried on down the steps and we turned to head on uphill. I took a moment to place a little stone on a pile of stone offerings in the grate of the church window. Just a few minutes later I turned around to have yet another look at the view, and suddenly realized that I was at the point where the Lonely Planet Montenegro photo had been taken. Yet another ‘Bucket List’ item achieved!
About halfway up my purse began to feel rather heavy on my right shoulder, and after studying the strap I was happy to see that I could open the buckle, shorten the strap, and use it as an improvised fanny pack. Anil had a laugh at my expense and snapped a photo of me with the purse bouncing on my hips with each step I took. I didn’t care, my shoulder was feeling so much better.
When we reached the next platform along the fortifications, we came across a young couple posing for photos – the woman was dressed in clothing you wouldn’t normally wear on a strenuous hike. I waited patiently for them to finish, and then eventually got fed up waiting. That’s the one drawback to digital photography, it doesn’t cost you any more to take dozens and dozens of photos compared to the ‘good old days’ when we had to pay for film and processing.
Along the route we were pleased to see pink plastic bags strategically placed for climbers to deposit their trash. The site was surprisingly clean, and I guess that’s part of the reason for charging a fee to make the climb. After about an hour of climbing (and stopping to take photos and admiring the view) Anil began to flag. That was unusual because he is clearly more fit that me with all the pickle ball, golf and running that he does back home.
We stopped for a while for him to rest though he didn’t seem short of breath, but he didn’t want to continue on either. When he described how he was feeling, it sounded very much like his blood sugar was low. I’m usually the one who has trouble with low blood sugar, so I always carry some candies with me for emergencies. Anil felt that he hadn’t eaten enough that morning because we hadn’t really planned on doing the hike.
He had a few candies and began to feel better quite quickly, but still wasn’t keen on continuing to the top. He encouraged me to go on alone, but though I was feeling fine myself, I listened to an inner voice, in the words of my sister who does a great deal of rock climbing, “remember you have to make it down again, not just up to the top”.
There was no point carrying on just for the sake of saying I’d climbed all 1350 stairs. I was pretty sure we’d climbed 1,000 steps and that would beat our climb at the Venetian fort at Nafplio, Greece which was reputed to have 999 steps. Funny when I think of it, Anil had been unwell for a week before that climb, but still managed to do it the day before we left Nafplio.
I took a photo looking up at the top of the fortifications before we turned back. We’d been talking a great deal about how much we liked the Bay of Kotor, and how relaxed we were there. Perhaps we’ll return next year and then we can make another attempt. Once Anil was pretty much his old self again, we started down and I had him pose for me at the spot where the legendary photo was taken.
Instead of walking out the nearby river gate, we wandered through the buildings within the walls and then out through the main gate. It was after 5:00pm and there were very few tourists milling around. The cruise ship passengers were back on board, probably beginning to think about their evening meal, and we strolled back along the waterfront towards our apartment. We decided to stop and reward ourselves with a cold drink – I ordered an Aperol Spritz and Anil chose a Margarita instead of his usual local draft beer.
We had made it up 1,000 steps (and down again!) and there was plenty to be thankful for. I checked the ‘Health’ App on my iPhone and learned that we had walked 10,998 steps that day, 7.3 kilometers and climbed the equivalent of 51 steps (up). Unfortunately, the app ignores the steps coming down. I’m not sure why, hiking down is a little strenuous too, hard on the knees, and there should be some recognition for that, wouldn’t you agree?