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Montenegro in Former Yugoslavia (3:40)

Kotor, Montenegro

Small, mountainous Montenegro’s biggest draw is its scenic Bay of Kotor. A church on an island displays an embroidery made of hair, and the town of Kotor has a picturesque old quarter with cafés and tangled lanes.

Complete Video Script

Montenegro, where towering mountains meet the Adriatic, is both scenic and humble. One of Europe’s newest and smallest countries, it’s about the size of Connecticut, with well under a million people. It’s a country of contrasts: an intriguing combination of rugged landscapes, communist-era decrepitude, and an emerging Mediterranean hotspot that’s quite popular with the cruising crowd.

Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor is an easy day trip from Dubrovnik. Its fjord-like cliffs rise out of the Adriatic, surrounding ancient towns packed with history… all tied together by a twisty road.

The narrow mouth of the bay — easy to defend, yet deep enough for big ships — defines an ideal and strategic natural harbor.

At the Venetian-flavored seafront town of Perast, locals ferry visitors out to a manmade island that comes with a fascinating story.

Five hundred years ago, local fishermen found an icon of the Virgin Mary stranded on a reef right here. They spent the next two centuries sinking old boats and dropping rocks every time they sailed by, eventually building the island and the church: Our Lady of the Rocks.

The church — with its legendary icon above its high altar — is festooned with symbols of thanks for answered prayers: countless votive plaques, bouquets and ribbons from happy brides married here, and paintings of ships engulfed in storms. These were commissioned by sailors who survived, thankful for Mary’s protection.

Tucked among a clutter of nautical artifacts is a delicate treasure. This embroidery was a labor of love created by a local woman. For 25 years she toiled, using the finest materials available: silk and her own hair. The cherubs show the years passing — as the hair of the angels, like the hair of the artist herself, went from dark to white. Humble and anonymous, she had faith that her work was worthwhile and would be appreciated — as it is, two centuries later, by a steady parade of travelers from distant lands.

The bay’s main town, also called Kotor, has been protected from centuries of would-be invaders by its imposing wall. Its fortifications begin as stout ramparts along the waterfront, then climb up and up to control the strategic high ground.

Kotor’s harbor is now a hit with recreational yachters. Its gate welcomes visitors into the Old Town and a main square busy with cafés. Its warren of tangled alleys and hidden squares seem custom-made for exploring.

From Kotor, a small road zigzags 25 times high above the sea, up through the clouds, and into the historic heartland of this country. The “old road” — little more than an overgrown donkey path — was once the mountain kingdom’s umbilical cord to the Adriatic. Cresting the ridge, we enter another world: an inhospitable land of rocks, scrub brush, and ramshackle farmhouses. The “black” mountains that define this basin gave this country its name: Monte Negro.