This article is part of our Trip Report – Our Summer Holiday in Dubrovnik and Beyond
There are some days in your travels that are plenty pleasant but just blend in to your fond memories over time. And there are some days in your travels that are so unique and unexpected that you’ll never forget them. This is the story of one of those days – our visit to Kotor, Montenegro, and most notably, the “cheese shop” overlooking this spectacularly beautiful piece of the world.
If you’ve followed our Trip Report – Our Summer Holiday in Dubrovnik and Beyond, you know that we went on three driving day trips – one to Kotor, Montenegro; one to Ston, Croatia; and one to Trebinje, Bosnia & Herzegovina. We rented a car for each of these days, and Philly served as our trusted driver on each of these trips, as usual.
On our first day trip out of Dubrovnik, we ventured south to Kotor. I was dying to see this place in person after discovering it during my trip planning research. Kotor is a small town of less than 15,000 people, and it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site. It’s at the furthest inland part of the fjord-like Bay of Kotor, which cuts into Montenegro from the Adriatic Sea. Wikipedia describes the geography as a submerged river canyon, which seems apt. Dramatic, rugged mountains surround the Bay of Kotor along all sides. The views are stunning, particularly from vantage points up high on the mountainside.
Having now visited, it seems like the biggest challenge facing Kotor is that it is a very popular stop for cruise ships. Visitors from the ships pour into town every day and simply overwhelm the little city. It’s a lovely town, but it’s quite hectic during a tourist season day.
I had plenty of free rein to set up our day in Kotor. So, I broke out one of my tried-and-true travel planning tools. I dove into Google Maps and began looking around, exploring the area. One thing you’ll quickly find when you begin researching Kotor is that the biggest attraction is the Kotor Fortress, a large, historical fortified complex sitting up on the hillside overlooking the town to protect it from invading hordes (aka St. John’s Fortress and also aka the Castle of San Giovanni).
I also learned a couple of things about getting to Kotor Fortress. There’s a main route to the Fortress with a trailhead at the eastern edge of the town. There’s a non-trivial charge of 8 Euros per person to enter the trail from that location and visit the Fortress.
But we have a pretty active group, and we like to venture off the beaten path. So, when I discovered that there’s also a “back way” to hike up to the Fortress, I was intrigued. There’s also no fee to access the trail and the Fortress from the “back way” trail – although that said, our choice to take the “back way” was far more about adventure than about saving a few Euros.
And along the “back way” trail, Google Maps showed me an interesting spot called simply, “CHEESE SHOP” (yes, all caps). The few reviews were interesting and complimentary, and the handful of pictures were gorgeous. Along with good hikes, the Middle Age Miles traveling crew loves some cheese and a relaxing drink. So I put the “back way” trail and the “Cheese Shop” on our itinerary. I didn’t know quite what to expect. And the rest of the crew was even more in the dark, as all I could tell them is that we’d be hiking the “back way” trail and visiting the Cheese Shop on our way to the Fortress.
Maps of Kotor, and Getting There from Dubrovnik
Kotor is located about 55-60 miles ESE of Dubrovnik. The drive includes a border crossing between Croatia and Montenegro, which adds some time. Especially after you cross into Montenegro, the road is very curvy as it hugs the edge of the Bay of Kotor. In addition, you pass through several towns along the way, which slow things down, especially on an active summer day like ours, when many locals are flocking to the beaches.
Here’s a map with a tighter shot of Kotor sitting at the far southeast end of the Bay of Kotor:
And here’s a closer-up view of Kotor proper, showing the location of the “Cheese Shop” far up the hillside east of the town:
Finally, here’s the same area in Satellite View, to give you a bit more perspective:
Our Hike Up the “Back Way” Trail to the “Cheese Shop”
Once we entered Kotor, the first challenge was finding a place to park. We were trying to find a place close to the “back way” trailhead (which is just east of the restaurant labeled “Bastion 3” on the map). But the streets were extremely narrow and crowded, and there was absolutely no room for us to park. We doubled back and were fortunate to find a (paid) spot in the parking lot for the Shopping Centre Kamelija. This turned out to be a lucky-and-brilliant move. The two-story shopping center was actually decent-sized, it had restrooms, it was (somewhat) air conditioned (or at least meaningfully cooler than the low 90’s temps outside), and it included a supermarket where we could stock up with drinks and snacks for our hike.
The “back way” trailhead was at the end of this street through a narrow gate. We weren’t entirely sure we were in the right place, but we forged ahead.
As we reached the “back way” trailhead, here was the “guard” at the narrow gateway:
The “back way” trail has about 30 switchbacks between the trailhead and the “Cheese Shop.” It’s easy to follow, with the caveat that there’s one fork where you can cut across to the Fortress rather than continuing up the hill to the “Cheese Shop” and beyond. The fork was marked, so we had no trouble choosing the correct way to continue.
Footing on the trail was not an issue. The trail was squarely uphill, but not terribly steep. We took a few short breaks along the way, but it was more to enjoy the amazing views, take pictures, and generally soak in our surroundings than from anyone being too tired. (And as an aside, let me say that hiking the “back way” trail must have been far easier than climbing up the “main” trail. The “back way” is longer, but it’s not nearly so steep. Climbing the “main” trail would be strenuous.)
Here are a few pictures from our hike up the “back way” trail:
Good Times at the “Cheese Shop”
Honestly, based on the limited reviews I’d read through Google Maps, I wasn’t at all sure what the “Cheese Shop” would look like. And the rest of the Middle Age Miles crew knew even less. As it turns out, you kind of round a corner on the trail, and you see a few steps leading up onto the patio of a family home perched on the side of the mountain. It appears kind of quickly; it’s not like you can see that you’re approaching it as you come up the trail. And the side you approach from isn’t where the large patio terrace that you’ll see in our pictures sits. Rather, you literally step up onto the patio of a private home.
When we arrived, our Montenegrin host and his wife were sitting out on the patio, enjoying the warm afternoon. I climbed the steps, and our host sprung into action, offering water from a hose to the overheated hikers who had just appeared on his patio. I knew we were in the right place for the “cheese shop” – but the rest of the Middle Age Miles crew was a bit puzzled. As far as they knew, we’d just barged onto the patio of someone’s home randomly!
Now, I don’t speak a word of Montenegrin (shocker). And our host didn’t speak English either. But notwithstanding the imposing language barrier, we effectively communicated that we’d like some cheese and drinks. Our host pointed us around the corner to his terrace … where we found one of the most spectacular views you’ll ever enjoy.
The terrace had a few tables. We made ourselves comfortable, and our host proceeded to bring out cheese, bread, a package of meat that we could slice and eat, and sliced fresh tomatoes. He also had 2 large coolers of drinks on the terrace, where we grabbed sodas, beer and water. This all made for an excellent snack while we enjoyed the amazing views of the town and bay below along with the surrounding mountains. In addition, the walls of the Fortress lay just below us to our left.
Our host could not have been more hospitable or gregarious. He knew a little English, but his command mostly consisted of “Trump” and “Bill Clinton” – both of which were worth a few laughs!
In the meantime, a twenty-something man and woman had also made their way up to the terrace and sat down to have something to drink. They told us they were entertainers on the cruise ship that had docked at Kotor for the day. We thoroughly enjoyed chatting with them for a few minutes and hearing about their experiences on the boat.
It wasn’t long before our host “insisted” that we have a round of shots. Our drink would be rakia, the national drink of Montenegro. We didn’t know this at the time, but according to Wikipedia, it’s a fruit brandy with high alcohol content (we could have guessed the “high alcohol content” part!). We’d be having an unlabeled home-produced version, which Wikipedia says can run up to 50% alcohol-by-volume. We bravely partook, with a hearty round of Cheers to everything that’s good in life.
Some of us ended up having an extra round or two of rakia shots with our host, who kept insisting that we take more. Periodically, our host’s wife would fuss loudly at him from around the corner, which was pretty funny. We couldn’t understand a word, of course, but we liked to assume from the context that she was fussing at him for drinking shots with us in the middle of the day.
The snacks were wonderful and the view was even better. We were able to rest and recuperate from our hot uphill hike on the shaded terrace. The house cats pestered us for more and more scraps, and we were happy to feed them some treats.
We finally got ready to leave to continue our journey to explore the Fortress. There were rustic restrooms available if needed. We settled up with our host for 50 Euros (quite a bargain, I’d say), thanked him profusely (as best we could) for being such a gracious and generous host, and went along on our way, having had one of the coolest, most random, unexpected, and unforgettable travel experiences ever.
Continuing on to the Fortress
After our memorable visit to the “cheese shop” we continued along the path to Kotor Fortress, entering through the back of the complex. For the most part, I’ll let the pictures tell the story.[For a more detailed review of hiking the “main” trail up to Kotor Fortress, see this nice article from Ameeta at Aye Wanderful. It looks like she and her husband visited a few weeks before we did. We really enjoyed her post and wish we’d seen it before we went there ourselves.]
After we made our way down from the Fortress, we continued to explore Kotor for a couple of hours, including making a visit to Kotor’s Cats Museum (we’ll cover this in our next article!). There was plenty more to do and see – for instance, we would have loved to spend a bit of time in Perast and visit the Our Lady of the Rocks chapel, to continue up to see the Mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos on Lovcen mountain, and to continue driving further along the Bay to see the superyachts docked at Porto. But alas, on this day we needed to make our way back to Dubrovnik. We can only hope to return another time to enjoy more of what this area has to offer.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our story of a travel day we’ll never forget. This day was a perfect example of why we love to get off the beaten path and explore during our travels.
Have you been to Kotor? Hiked the “back way” trail and visited the “cheese shop”? What else can you share with Middle Age Miles readers about the wonders of this area? Please let us know in the Comments!
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