It was our first weekend in Kotor, Montenegro, and we were at the farmers market.
“Are you going to hike to the fortress today?” Asked a vendor who already knew (as Chad had been out every day to buy more figs).
“Probably tomorrow,” I said, motioning vaguely to the enormous cruise ship in port. “I’m thinking it’ll be less crowded.”
He nodded vigorously. “And you know there’s a free way to get up?”
“No!” Chad and I exchanged a look. “We haven’t looked into it yet.”
The vendor grinned and leaned over as Chad pulled up a map on his phone, tracing a back way up into the mountains.
And so we found the free (and less crowded) way up to the famous, beloved, well-worth-hiking-to fortress above Kotor.
The quiet route starts near an abandoned factory just outside the walls. To get there, navigate to Apartments Ana on the map and walk toward the white metal gate at the end of the road. Just to the right of that gate, a path curves around the building and stretches up toward the mountains.
The path is well kept and easy to follow. The only tricky part is when you reach a small restaurant in a stone house. There’s a rusty sign that advertises cold drinks and relaxation (pictured above right) and there are two paths that stretch upward from the house. The first is a continuation of the switchbacks you’ve been following. The second, going straight up to the right of the switchbacks (and left of the house) is the way to the fortress.
As you pick your way up the straight path, you’ll notice more and more tumbledown stone structures to your left (and then opening up to your right). This is the ruins of an old village just outside the fortress walls. You’ll eventually come to a tiny church and a courtyard overlooking a natural bowl in the mountains.
From here, follow the path up to the right until you come to a hole in the fortress wall. Climb through and you’ll find yourself on the more famous path (the one with all the staircases). If it’s a busy time of year, expect plenty of tourists battling their way up and down these last few hundred steps of the 1,500-step staircase.
Once you’re done exploring the fortress at the top, there are multiple routes down. You can follow the main staircases down to the right to get the full effect of the usual route (and, bonus, they don’t check anything at the bottom, so you won’t get charged the steep 8-euro fee). You can follow an alternate path down along the walls to the left. Or you can return the way you came along the switchbacks (which might be kinder to anyone with any knee issues, as the switchbacks are the tiniest bit less steep).
All photos taken with my Sony a6000.