After visiting the old town of Kotor in Montenegro, don’t make the mistake of leaving without checking out the mountain’s castle. St. John’s fortress -or as the locals call it San Giovanni fortress- is where you can have a spectacular view overlooking Kotor’s whole bay. This castle is like the roof of the city. You’ll have the old town of Kotor beneath you, so make sure you take a look at the city from there even if you don’t have time to wander around the town.
About the San Giovanni Fortress
Unless you’re planning on having a guide there with you, you should read up about the place a bit so you can appreciate your visit more.
The fortress of San Giovanni is located on the mountain of St. John, above the city of Kotor. This castle is only a part of the city’s fortifications. It’s about 280m above sea level. It has three gates, 2 of which are often closed, but you can get in from the main entrance (River Gate), which is the safest option.
Although Kotor always had some kind of defensive structure, this fortification is the most solid one the city has ever had. The first form of fortification built here dates back to the 6th century. As we see it today, this remarkable fortress was built in the late 13th century when the city became a part of the Venetian empire. San Giovanni’s fortress is an incredible example of the Venetian defensive military architecture. In fact, Kotor’s fortification was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site for its Venitian work of defense in 1979.
As a result of the 1979 earthquake in Kotor, most of the buildings in town, including the fortress, were damaged. But this wasn’t the first earthquake that shook the city. The fortress had already been through the destructive effects of the earthquakes in 1563 and 1667. These three shocks to the structure have left the structure of the fortress in poor condition.
Getting to the Castle
Either you decide to go to the top with a tour or by yourself, you have to walk all the way to the San Giovanni Fortress. Starting from the main entrance to San Giovanni’s castle, there are about 1360 steps and 70 switchbacks. The hike to the top and back will take about 2-3 hours, depending on how many breaks you take on the way.
When to Go
The official opening hours are 8 a.m- 8 p.m, but you can get in before that too. This hike has been reported to be hard to complete during hot days. We recommend you get there early in the morning as the sun is still behind the mountains. The later in the morning you get there, the more crowded it will be. This will make the hike more challenging because the road is narrow.
What to Wear
The stairs are cobbled and also quite slippery, so don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes. (preferably sneakers ). Also, remember to wear some light and comfortable clothes. It’s usually sunny in Kotor, and you don’t want to be in thick layers on a 2-hour hike. A cap or a hat blocking the sun would also be a great accessory.
What to Take
For protection against direct sunlight, we recommend you use sunscreen before leaving for the hike. And if you’re going to be there for a few hours, maybe take some with you on the way.
Another thing you should definitely consider is taking lots of water with you. You will, of course, come across locals selling water bottles, but they’re overpriced. And trust us! You WILL need water after 2 hours of walking.
Best Time to Visit
The weather in Kotor is generally warm and sunny. Most tourists visit the city in the summer since the water looks crystal blue and the sky is clear. But since it’s really hot during these three months – especially in June- the hike to the castle will be harder.
If you’re looking for cooler weather and less crowded streets, we recommend visiting here in spring. Everything, including accommodation and entrance fee, will be less expensive then (compared to summer, which is peak season).
The entrance fee of the San Giovanni Fortress is about $10 if you go through the main gate. Some visitors decided not to go through the main entrance and take another route up there, but they all reported that the other ways up were either blocked halfway or very uncomfortable to hike.
Although it may seem pricey, we recommend you pay the $10 so you can have a stress-free walk. The price is lower in winter, and some tourists even mentioned that it was free then.
Don’t Miss Out
After a few minutes of walking you get to see some astonishing views. From there on, you can almost choose anywhere for stopping and taking gorgeous pictures or just catching your breath.
The higher you go, the more elegant the view becomes. If you have a professional camera, we seriously recommend you take it with you. You will thank us later when you see the scene from above the mountain.
There are several stopping points along the way that offer amazing views. they’re pretty easy to spot, and you can always find another one if you pass a spot, but not all of them can be replaced. Like the unique church of “Our Lady Of Health”:
Our Lady of Health
This little church, also known as “Our Lady Of Remedy”, is about 650 steps through the way. This is a place you must check out while on your hike. This catholic church was built by the plague survivors around the 5th century for honoring the Holy Mary. It takes only around 15 minutes to get to this church from the entrance, but the view from it is surprisingly stunning.
Best Restaurants Nearby
As you already know, the San Giovanni fortress is on top of the city. There aren’t a lot of options for dining on the way to the castle. But you can find the best restaurants in Kotor close to the entrance. Since Kotor is located in a bay, seafood is really popular in the city, and most local and traditional dishes include seafood. Here are some of the best and nearest restaurants to the fortress:
This restaurant is about 5 minutes away. And thank god because it is one the best food places in town. You can’t even find a bad review on this restaurant. The portions are huge, the quality of food is unbelievably good. And if that’s not enough, the prices are also low considering what they offer. It’s mostly famous for its BBQ menu. The staff is also amicable.
Konoba Scala Santa
If you have a special diet, Konoba Scala Santa is the place for you. According to the reviews, they offer vegan, gluten-free, and vegetarian food, and all items are quite tasty. The atmosphere is also hot and delightful any time of the day. And the prices are reasonable.
This 5-star restaurant is a bit pricier than the other ones in the town. It’s located on the sea-front and has a superb view. The staff is very professional and super nice. And the food doesn’t disappoint either! It’s definitely worth the price.