Last updated: 04:00 PM ET, Fri September 16 2016

Climbing St. John's Fortress in Kotor, Montenegro

Destination & Tourism | John Roberts | September 16, 2016

Climbing St. John's Fortress in Kotor, Montenegro

As the morning mist was rising off the water, I could see the burnt-orange roofs popping up in the hillsides as our cruise ship made its way around another bend.

We were slowly making our way toward the Bay of Kotor, arriving at the UNESCO World Heritage site. My first time in the country of Montenegro.  

I arrived knowing almost nothing about this place. On the surface, I recalled headlines about the period of turmoil in the Balkans and that this nation had fairly recently been part of the joint country Serbia-Montenegro.  

Montenegro split and became its own nation in 2006, separating from Serbia in a referendum.

My visit allowed me to learn much more about the nation. I also discovered the best thing to do in Kotor, the port where our ship spent the day. First, a brief overview, so you'll be ready when you go there.

Montenegro natives are called Montenegrins.  

The currency is the euro, but Montenegro is not part of the European Union.  

People in Montenegro speak Serbian — or a Montenegrin dialect of Serbian that many claim as a different language. Most everyone in the town of Kotor also speaks English.

Kotor is at the end of the world's southernmost fjord.

It was through this scenic fjord that we arrived and were immediately mesmerized.  

As the sun was rising, we sailed in through the waterway, which is framed on each side by stark slate-gray limestone hillside. Not much vegetation grows in the region because of the climate.

READ MORE: Montenegro’s Must-Visit Sights in the Bay of Kotor

We arrived on a Sunday morning, which meant the town was relatively quiet except for the sound of ringing church bells. Residents began rising along with the temperatures as we ventured into the old town area of Kotor. We had a specific goal for the day: to Climb St. John's Fortress.

The ramparts that surround the city rise into the steep hillside overlooking the city and bay.  

We climbed the 1,350-plus steps to the top of a cliff and soaked in the stunning views. This is a strenuous hike, rising more than 1,200 feet. The route contains a mix of narrow steps alongside slippery and loose stone path. The steps must be used single file, so hikers heading in the opposite direction from each other must be courteous and yield by using the path at times. Most people seemed to use a "keep-right" rule, although some elderly or unsteady walkers will need to use the steps whether they are on the hiker's right or left side, and the hikers generally were polite and looked out for each other.

The cost to enter the ramparts is three euros per person, and there is a small ticket table at the head of the trail, which you can find after walking through a narrow alley away from the main piazza area that begins under the arched opening of old town.

Like I said, the hike is quite strenuous, so wear appropriate shoes. Wear a hat and sunscreen, too, because the sun is hot, especially in summer. Bring along water (vendors with coolers sell water and sodas along the route, too) and a good camera because aside from the good workout, this adventure is all about the pictures you will get of Kotor.

READ MORE: The 10 Hottest Under-The-Radar Destinations

The hike takes about 45 minutes to get to the top and about 30 minutes to come back down. After we emerged from the hillside, sweaty and thirsty, we explored the charming old town, wandering its stone streets and slim alleyways, passing all the boutiques and shops (more than a few highlighting the Cats of Kotor; it's a thing!) in search of a Montenegrin lager to quench our thirsts.  

Settling into a seat at the restaurant Scorpio on the plaza, we took gulps from our mugs of Niksicko, a golden brew. Another flavor to savor from a new country that we look forward to returning to and exploring even more. But if you have just one day in Kotor, make sure to challenge yourself to reach the summit over the bay by scaling the ramparts. You won't regret it. 

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