Backed by imposing mountains, tiny Kotor lies hidden from the open sea, tucked into the deepest channel of the Boka Kotorska (Kotor Bay), which is often mistakenly referred to as Europe's most southerly fjord, but is actually considered a ria. To many, this town is more charming than its sister UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dubrovnik, retaining more authenticity but with fewer tourists, and spared the war damage and subsequent rebuilding that has given Dubrovnik something of a Disney feel.
Kotor's medieval Stari Grad (Old Town) is enclosed within well-preserved defensive walls built between the 9th and 18th centuries and is presided over by a proud hilltop fortress. Within the walls, a labyrinth of winding cobbled streets leads through a series of splendid paved piazzas, rimmed by centuries-old stone buildings. The squares are increasingly packed with trendy cafés and chic boutiques, but directions are still given medieval-style by reference to the town’s landmark churches.
In the Middle Ages, Kotor was an important economic and cultural center with its own highly regarded schools of stonemasonry and iconography. From 1391 to 1420 it was an independent city-republic, and later it spent periods under Venetian, Ottoman, Austrian, and French rule, though it was undoubtedly the Venetians who left the strongest impression on the city's architecture. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia, some 70% of the stone buildings in the romantic Old Town have been snapped up by foreigners, mostly Brits and Russians. Porto Montenegro, a marina designed to accommodate some of the world’s largest superyachts, opened in nearby Tivat in 2011, and along the bay are other charming seaside villages, all with better views of the bay than the vista from Kotor itself, where the waterside is often congested with cruise ships and yachts. Try sleepy Muo or the settlement of Prčanj in one direction around the bay, or magical Perast and the Roman mosaics of Risan in the other direction.