Guests Jim & Sandy K. from Fort Collins, Colorado recently sailed aboard Riviera’s Isles & Empires voyage, and shared one of their most memorable experiences during the cruise – hikin g to the hilltop fortress in Kotor, Montenegro.

Birds eye viewBefore you even reach the harbor of Kotor, you begin to realize why it’s been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dramatically situated within the deepest channel of the Bay of Kotor, and ringed by impressive mountains, the sail in was breathtaking. The Bay of Kotor is often referred to as Europe’s southernmost fjord, and though not technically a fjord, the surrounding vistas of massive green slopes, narrow passageways and tiny villages were unforgettable.

From the ship, we could just barely make out the walls snaking along the mountain of San Giovanni which we planned to hike along to reach the fortress by the same name. The steep hike up to the fortress ascends nearly 4,000 feet via 1,350 steps. After an amazing dinner at Toscana the night before, we were ready!

Walls city viewJuly may not be ideal to hike up to the fortress – the temperature was in the low 90s – but my wife and I love to hike and are used to the heat in Colorado, so we armed ourselves with plenty of water and set out. We paid a few Euros at the entrance gate, and began the ascent. After just a few switchbacks, we were already taken aback by the views – postcard perfect.

Riviera viewAlong the way, we stopped for plenty of photos, taking in the sweeping vistas of the Bay of Kotor, Old Town (Stari Grad) and of course the beautiful Riviera. In surprisingly good condition, the walls were started in the 9th century and are a unique example of fortification architecture in Europe. By the 14th century the protective circle was completed, but the walls were added to until the18th century.

Hike upBay of Kotor viewAs we continued on, we discovered numerous citadels, gates, bastions, lookouts and other sites – all testament to the turbulent history of Kotor, and offering us a chance to explore and get some unique photos. Before we reached the fortress, we came to a small church, Church of Our Lady of Remedy, which was built in 1518 by survivors of the plague and became a site of pilgrimage. The perfect place to pause and appreciate the moment.

Forging on, the panoramas around every corner continued to amaze us and by the time we reached the top it was mid-afternoon. The bird’s eye views were incredible. The crowning fortress that sprawled out before us contained traces of the Illyrian civilization and once housed soldiers that defended the city. The flag of Montenegro was blowing in the wind, and from a shady spot on the opposite side of the fortress, we mused on what a special day it’d been so far.

Montenegro flag Kotor walls

On the way back down, the breeze cooled us a bit more as we talked about how we were going to reward ourselves – with tall, cold drinks and a hearty bite to eat at one of the restaurants in Old Town. Just another day with Oceania Cruises.