Hiking Kotor’s Castle of San Giovanni
Kotor, Montenegro was our fifth cruise port of call and a family favorite destination for a lot of us. My family is a cat – Lord of the Rings – loving family and if the same applies to you then you will love Kotor just as much as we did. The hike to the Castle of San Giovanni included six out of the fourteen of us in the family, Adam, Shelby, Bill, Maria, Uncle Fred and myself. The locals call the castle, the “Castle of San Giovanni”, but it is also referred to as the Castle of St. John or Kotor’s Fortress.
Our journey in Kotor started by anchoring in the Bay of Kotor and taking a tender boat into the dock. Once we had our two feet on the ground we were introduced to our hiking tour guide. This sweet adventure started very early, we left the cruise around 7:15am to begin our hike at 8am – it was actually the earliest we had to wake up for the entire cruise. We had to start early to beat the heat. The hike alone was going to be long and strenuous, approximately 1,350 stairs to a height of 1,200 meters, so the earlier we started, the more time we were able to hike in the shade.
We started our ascent at the dock and had to make our way through Kotor’s small city. In that time we came across at least a dozen cats! Hooray! We finally saw cats during our trip! My family and I went a little cat crazy and almost got left behind from the tour because we had stopped to take in the cuteness of the cats. Yes, we are that crazy about cats. We had no idea that Kotor was known for their abundance of cats. In fact, there is a cat museum in Kotor, along with several cat souvenirs we found in their shops. Who knew?!?!
Going back to the hike…. though we were with a tour group, the hike to the Castle of San Giovanni is open to anyone and costs only 3€ at the entrance of the city walls. The hike itself was not difficult as there were accessible stairs the entire way up. The strenuous part was keeping a good pace as we kept ascending at a higher altitude. A day at sea before this port of call did not help our bodies either. Luckily there were scenic stopping points (aka, catch your breathe stops). Every time we looked below to the city and Bay of Kotor we could not believe how beautiful it was. We had at least two scenic stopping points that many hikers and travelers alike would stop at during their trek. The first scenic stopping point was at the Church of Our Lady of Remedy, (built in 1518) and both the church and view from here were beautiful. As we kept propelling ourselves up the hill we would briefly stop to take in the scenery to our right and remind ourselves this hike is going to be well worth it. The higher we ascended the better the views became.
The second time we stopped we were able to sit down on some leveled stonework and had a nice photo op area that we thought had the best views. We were loving the view and could not imagine how the view could get any better, but we were very wrong.
Walking along the city walls of Kotor was not only exhausting, but it was also rewarding and an amazing experience. The trail and city walls kept winding left and right the higher we ascended. The stonework was unbelievable and the architecture of how they built the city walls was beautiful. It looked like the city walls leading to the fortress were something you only saw in the movies, as unreal as it felt, it was all real and a surreal feeling to be walking on a part of history.
After about two hours, we finally made it to the top of the Castle of San Giovanni and the views were unbelievable! Standing at a height of 1,200 meters we were able to see everything. The scenic views of the bay and city were just the beginning…
The ruins of the castle looked like it belonged to a scene in the Lord of the Rings. We seriously felt like we were in Middle Earth and played out fantasy roles in our minds of being knights fighting off dragons and orcs. All fun and games put aside, the Castle of San Giovanni was first built during the Illyrian times. Since then it was rebuilt in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian I and has been changed hands many times while also withstanding many earthquakes. With its incredible history and preservation, the Castle of Giovanni was listed in 1979 as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was an incredible feeling to be standing where so many had stood and fought before us and even more incredible that it was so well built that we were able to walk throughout and on top of the castle.
We explored the Castle of San Giovanni for almost an hour, enjoying the scenic views and the amazing architecture of the remaining fortress. When the group was content, we made our way back to the city passing other visitors along the way. When we reached into town, our guide walked us around showcasing a few highlights of Kotor before he bid farewell. We really enjoyed having a guide because he gave us some historical facts and insights of Kotor, the castle and Montenegro as a whole.
Sightseeing Tours Montenegro
Tour cost: 94€ for two people
A Delicious Lunch at CITY Restaurant
By the time our tour finished we were hungry – hiking for three hours will do that to you. We walked around the city (which does not take long) and came across a very cute restaurant with a shaded patio and mist sprays. The refreshing mist spray really sold us as we were hot and tired. The restaurant was called, CITY Restaurant and everything we ordered was delicious!
We had sweet crepes filled with nutella and raspberries, frittatas, sandwiches and the biggest meat and cheese plate. We washed our lunch down with Kotor’s loal beer, Niksicko Pivo! Our lunch was so good it put Bill and I into a food coma, we literally fell asleep at the table! Everything we ordered was not only tasty, but our portions were huge and it was very cheap! We highly recommend CITY Restaurant for its ambience and food.
We walked off our lunch exploring the small city some more and came across some locals doing a traditional dance in the middle of the square. We always enjoy seeing a countries culture and lifestyle. It is very gratifying to be exposed to a different lifestyle than our own. To see the world in a different perspective.
Before we ended our trip in Kotor we had to do one more thing…..try one of their traditional desserts! I ordered a krempita, a “cream pie”, also known as cremeschnitte, which is a popular dessert in several Central European countries, including Montenegro. Each country and region have their different variations, but they all include a puff pastry base and custard cream. The krempita has three layers of puff pastry dough with a delicious, creamy, thick custard in between each layer of dough. The top layer of puff pastry dough is covered in powder sugar for additional sweetness. The result is heavenly.
We really fell in love with Kotor’s history, landscapes, cuisine and culture that we could have easily stayed longer, but at the end of the afternoon we had to say goodbye and take the tender boat back to our cruise ship. We highly recommend visiting Kotor – one to two days is plenty of time to enjoy this beautiful city.