Swan Sunrise Image | National Geographic Photo of the Day

A swan floats on the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro in this National Geographic Photo of the Day.

This is the view from our apartments (at sunrise…)! http://www.montenegroapartments.eu

Source: Swan Sunrise Image | National Geographic Photo of the Day

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Submarines spotted in the Bay of Kotor?

The Bay of Kotor was famous for centuries for its sailing ships and maritime heritage. The museums at Tivat, Perast and Kotor are packed to the gunwales with models and memorabilia, and the beautiful little church, Our Lady of the Rock, has hundreds of icons donated by grateful sailors or sorrowing relatives of those who never returned.

icon at Our Lady of the Rock

An icon in the little church Our Lady of Rock, a boat ride away from Perast.

But now there appears to be a novel way of visiting the villages and towns around the Boka, and experiencing the heritage or just simply the stunning views from the water.

A few weeks ago we spotted two submarine-looking vessels floating alongside the pontoons in the marina at Kotor. And not yellow, but red.

Submarines in Bay of Kotor

New for this summer – submarine-style rides around the Bay of Kotor?

 

If you’re looking for the real thing, the maritime museum at Porto Montenegro in Tivat, has a fine Heroj class submarine you can crawl all over.

Submarines at Porto Montenegro

Take a trip around a real submarine. For a small fee you can crawl around this one at Porto Montenegro, and discover just how confined life is under the waves.

 

On this day – 200 years ago

Mountains plunging to turquoise seas, Venetian villages fringing the shoreline – visually, the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro may not have altered much in the last 200 years. But an astonishing chain of events in January 1814 – triggered by one bold Englishman – changed the course of its history.

The Bay of Kotor from the fortress above Kotor.

The Bay of Kotor from the fortress above Kotor.

William Hoste, captain of His Majesty’s Ship Bacchante, was a highly experienced officer in the British Navy. He knew that the French domination of the Adriatic during the Napoleonic Wars had to be undermined by doing the unthinkable.

On sailing into the Bay of Kotor in the Autumn of 1813, he saw that the only way to relieve the besieged city of Kotor, or Cattaro, was by bombarding it from above – and that meant above the fortifications that straddled the mountain rising almost sheer behind the city.

In driving rain, he and his men dragged an 18 pounder cannon up the mountain opposite – to the amazement of the French commander, who had scoffed that it would take them six months to do what they did in six days. With guns and mortars ranged around the mountains, the sailors then bombarded the city until the French admitted defeat.

And so it was, on 5th January 1814, that William Hoste wrote to his commander, Rear-Admiral Freemantle:

SIR,

I have much satisfaction in acquainting you, after ten days’ cannonade, the fortress of Cattaro surrendered by capitulation this morning, to his Majesty’s ships [Bacchante and Saracen].

The keys of the city were handed over to the Central Commission for the Civil Affairs of the Bocca di Cattaro, an alliance of the Bocchese on the coast and the Montenegrins in the mountains. And Captain Hoste and his men sailed off to Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) to carry out a similarly unexpected relief of that besieged city.

For a fuller account of the actions of Sir William Hoste, see articles in this month’s editions of Norfolk magazine, Suffolk Norfolk Life, and Anglia Afloat.

The yacht Monty B at the entrance to the Bay of Kotor.

The yacht Monty B at the entrance to the Bay of Kotor.

For a view from the water, and guided tour, of Hoste’s activities, contact the crew of the yacht Monty B, who offer sailing trips around the Bay of Kotor. www.montenegro4sail.com/yacht-monty-b

A free factsheet, outlining Hoste’s activities around the Bay of Kotor, is available from stay@montenegroapartment.eu

And for details of accommodation in 4-star apartments overlooking the Bay of Kotor and within minutes of the walled city of Kotor and the fortress high above, take a look at the Montenegro apartment website.

balcony-view-1-ps.jpg

The view from the balcony over the Bay of Kotor has changed little in the two hundred years since Captain Hoste sailed here.

Montenegro: Land of lakes, sea, rivers … and Olympic water polo players

When you have one of the most stunning coastlines on the Adriatic, the longest and deepest canyon in Europe, lovely lakes, and the beautiful Bay of Kotor, it is no surprise that Montenegro excels at water sports.

They first competed in the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, and their water polo team came fourth. At London 2012, they have beaten favourites Hungary, drawn 11-11 with Serbia, but sadly missed out on a medal.

Most villages along the coast and around the Bay of Kotor have water polo areas marked out – and it’s a great evening’s entertainment in the summer watching the local teams. Restaurants and cafes set up on the quays, providing a perfect viewing platform to drink in the action and watch the sun setting across the water.

Even if you are an armchair Olympian, you can have your own slice of the action. “The luxury of swimming in warm sea water, surrounded by beautiful scenery, is great,” says Hilary, a keen sailor from Norfolk, more used to involuntary dips in cold English rivers. She and her family have just returned from two weeks in Orahovac, a waterfront village on the Bay of Kotor.  “We particularly loved the boat tour round the fiord and thought it excellent value.“

Boats of all shapes and sizes come into the Bay of Kotor, Europe’s largest inland fiord. Cruise ships slip in overnight and disgorge their passengers into the medieval walled town of Kotor, at the head of the bays. Tivat (home to Porto Montenegro, a sumptuous marina oozing affluence) is the base for the enormous pleasure boats. At Perast, for centuries the centre of Montenegro’s maritime heritage, small launches run out to the picturesque island churches.

Each July, local people row out to Our Lady of the Rock, carrying stones in their boats which are thrown into the water around the base of the island. The tradition dates back to the 1600s, as penance for past misdemeanours.

Could this waterborne projectile practice perhaps explain their present proficiency in water polo?

For information on accommodation, and a free guide to Getting the Best from Montenegro, see www.montenegroapartment.euImage

Whatever the weather…

Would you rather be swimming in the sea, or skiing in snow? Although I prefer the swimming option, Montenegro is a country small enough, and geographically varied enough, to offer both – in the same day!

A few years ago I was up in Zabljak, a ski resort close to the Durmitor national park, in the north of the country. Just hours later, I’d left all the snow behind, and was basking in the sunshine of the Bay of Kotor region, on the Adriatic.

Floating in the Boka

One of my top ten experiences in life is floating on my back in the clean, clear waters of the Boka Kotorska (Bay of Kotor), gazing up at the mountains all around. Even in summer, there can be snow on the top of the highest peaks behind Kotor. At 1748 metres, Lovcen is the most massive mountain in the Lovcen national park – and is reached by the astonishing road up from Kotor with 32 hairpin bends!

The 14th hairpin bend on the road up out of Kotor to Lovcen national park.

Driving up is not for the faint-hearted. Although the views at every bend are amazing, you need to concentrate firmly on the road (and other road-users, which can range from juggernauts to goats)! Fortunately, there are lots of passing places, and stopping points. By the time I’d reached the national park entrance, I had spent just as long driving as taking photos. As you climb upwards, the many bays of the Boka area reveal themselves to you, with the mountain ranges soaring between them. You can see way out to sea, and watch the tiny planes coming in to land at Tivat airport.

Each of the four national parks has its own distinctive character. Lovcen is a vast alpine pasture, and is famous for its smoked meat and cheese, named after the Njegusi village not far from the awesome Njegos Mausoleum. If, after 32 hairpin bends, you can face driving upwards for another hour or so, the Mausoleum is an intriguing monument to the poet-prince Petar 11 Petrovic Njegos (1813-1851). The two caryatids at the entrance to his tomb give it a rather Egyptian feel, but the view from the summit is superb whatever the season. I went in Autumn, and drove up through miles of golden beech trees – only to find the monument swathed in fog! Even then, there were several visitors, including a small boy who I bumped into again the following day – at Dubrovnik airport. Small world indeed.

The beautiful lake in the Biogradska national park near Kolasin

My favourite national park is Biogradska Gora, beyond Kolasin. Montenegro’s oldest park (it has been legally protected since 1878), it consists mainly of primeval forest, with five beautiful glacial lakes, known as mountain eyes. But close behind it in my affections is Lake Skadar, a birdwatcher’s paradise. This vast wetland area, stretching into Albania, is best accessed from Virparzar, where you can take a boat trip and afterwards, have a meal at the Pelikan hotel, where the owners will insist you accept a posy of wild herbs. If you’re really lucky, they will take you up into the attic and show you round their collection of artefacts and hats!

You don’t have to limit yourself to the national parks though for the most amazing flora and fauna. Spring is a particularly good time to visit. Everywhere you go there are wild flowers in abundance along the verges. The air is clear, the temperature is high without being overly hot, and the Venetian houses and palaces along the waterfront are a photographer’s dream.

Perhaps the most overriding advantage of going to Montenegro out of the high season is that flights are cheaper. British Airways and Croatia Airlines fly most days to Dubrovnik in Croatia, and Montenegro Airlines flies direct to Tivat from London Gatwick. For summer flights, take a look at Thomson, Monarch and Easy Jet. Apparently, flights to Dubrovnik are 40% cheaper than last year. Don’t delay, book today!

Cheep, cheep … flights to Dubrovnik for Montenegro

Flying into Montenegro via Dubrovnik is 40% cheaper now than last year, apparently. I’m going out to our apartment in Montenegrofor a week at the end of March – one of my favourite times to be there, as the sun is warm, the air clear, and there is an abundance of beautiful spring flowers.

The church tower can be seen from the balcony of our apartment.

One of the best walks I’ve ever been on is to Upper Stoliv. A stone-lined mule track rises from the waterfront in Stoliv, on the Boka Kotorska, and wends its way through chestnut trees and olive groves, past some very placid (and photogenic) cows, to the old village aloft.

Holy cow! the only thing we met en route for Upper Stoliv - until we saw the donkeys.

Now it’s inhabited by a few donkeys and some hardy villagers. But the number of houses, and the church, bear testament to former, happier times. It’s a superb place for photos, as the church is a landmark for shipping entering the inner bays, and can be seen for miles.

The only way up is by donkey...

And rather intriguingly, there’s what looks like another of the line of Napoleonic forts on the opposite headland. Even with my super-strong camera lens, I cannot see a road to it. I wonder if Google Earth can help …