Before this trip, it had been nearly 13 years since I was in Dubrovnik. On that first visit with my boys, we’d been blown away by the beauty of Croatia, the friendliness of the people…and the fantastically cheap prices. It reminded me at the time of what Italy had been like back in my backpacking days, long before mass tourism, hordes of cruise ships, and the euro drove up prices. That earlier visit had been not so long after the Balkan wars; Dubrovnik was still severely damaged, we saw peacekeeping troops in nearby Bosnia, tourists were just venturing back to the area.
Kotor turned out to be everything I’d hoped: beautiful, friendly, and a great base to explore. We spent the morning of our first full day in Kotor hiking to the top of Kotor’s St. John Fortress. Two access points from the old town to the path up are manned buy locals who exact a fee of around €3pp. Steep stairs and rough, cobblestone paths make the ascent easier than mountaineering, but it’s still 87 stories-worth of climbing! The fortress is entirely in ruins, with occasional small shrines and a little church along the climb and a surprising wealth of wild purple irises and bright yellow wildflowers covering the rocky terrain. We thoroughly enjoyed the climb, but were told it could be hot and crowded in the summer. Thankfully, we had neither of those problems.