Adriatic Odyssey: Small vs. Large on the Adriatic

Passengers aboard our small sail ship
Passengers aboard our small sail ship

KOTOR, Montenegro – David and Goliath come to mind as we sit on our puny 177-foot three-masted yacht overshadowed by a humongous 5000-passenger cruise ship docked beside us in Corfu.

Everyone on board our relatively insignificant vessel has something bad to say about the big bully ship and good about ours – especially as we sail toward Kotor, knowing that it will be much easier for our boat to maneuver the incredibly beautiful entrance into the town, which is a long narrow fjord-like river dotted with small villages under sharply rising mountains.

We are on The Panorama, owned by Variety Cruises, which has 11 different vessels that go to Greece and the Greek Islands, South Italy, Sicily and Malta, Cuba, Costa Rica and Panama, the Seychelles, and West Africa in addition to the Adriatic.

Variety’s motto is “The Yacht Cruise Experience.” For us, that means the intimacy and special service that comes on board a small boat with friendly groups of passengers.

Isle of the Dead
Isle of the Dead

One of the first sights on the way to Kator is an islet on which is a chapel called Our Lady of the Rocks. When a vision of the Virgin Mary was seen by sailors here in 1452, they brought rocks to the spot and piled them up until they created a manmade island. As we passed the chapel, our captain sounded the horn three times in a “Hello,” and immediately, we heard the chapel bells peal their own greeting in return.

The old Mediterranean port of Kotor is surrounded by fortifications built during the Venetian period. A great percentage of the town is made up of churches, among them St. Luke’s, made in Roman and Byzantine architectural style. It is the only edifice in town that did not suffer significant damage during the earthquake of 1979. St. Luke’s started as a Catholic church, and went on to become an Orthodox church. Many of Kotor’s citizens are Orthodox. Now there are two altars in the church, one Catholic and one Orthodox.
Kotor is one of the best preserved Medieval towns on the Adriatic coastline. It is also one of the most dramatic, a vertical town with rocky escarpments rising up to the sky behind it. A road with unnerving hairpin turns snakes up the steep wall to the very top, which presents spectacular views of Kotor, clustered below, and the waters of the Adriatic beyond. Some ambitious hikers walk up the steep road, but in the 90-degree heat we’ve had in July, our shipmates opted for the hairpin turns in a van.

At night, the town lights up an ancient wall that climbs the face of the mountainside to the fort on the top, a lovely sight when you’re sitting on the deck of the Panorama with a glass of after-dinner wine.

A sign at the entrance to the old town reads: “What belongs to others we don’t want. What is ours we will never surrender.” For many centuries, a lot of people have tried to take what belongs to Kotor. The Ostrogoths tried in 535. In 840, the town was plundered by the Saracens. It was Romanized by Illyrians through the Middle Ages, and in 1002 occupied by the First Bulgarian Empire. The following year it was ceded to Serbia but the local populace resisted the pact and made alliance with the Republic of Ragusa.

Kotor from top of escarpment
Kotor from top of escarpment

It was once part of the Republic of Venice. (Its Venetian architecture contributed to make it a UNESCO World Heritage site.) Kotor was always an important artistic center, and a two-week art festival is currently underway, with special art installations all around the town. A nearby island was the subject of a Swiss painting. According to legend, a French soldier fired a cannon toward the island and hit the house of his beloved, killing her. This inspired the Swiss painter Arnold Beklin to paint his masterpiece, “The Island of the Dead.”

If you are not an art or history buff, there is still plenty to do in Kator. There’s always water-skiing or rock climbing.

Photos by Timothy Leland

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