Just off the coast of Montenegro, in the winding Bay of Kotor off the Adriatic Sea, near the medieval towns of Perast and Kotor, you’ll see something that will make you check your eyeglass prescription. Feel free to confirm with your fellow travelers first if you must, but yes, that is in fact a church floating out there in the middle of the water.
Well, sort of.
This is ‘Our Lady of the Rock’ Church, or ‘Gospa od Skrpjela’ if you want to sound in-the-know. Legend has it that on July 22, 1452, two fisherman saw something in the middle of the bay. They paddled closer, and claimed to see a vision of Madonna and Child on a rock. They made a vow then and there to erect a church in that very spot to honor the icon. But how to build a church on top of the water? Throw rocks at it, of course.
So, over the centuries, every time a ship returned safely from a voyage, the townsfolk and fishermen honored the oath and added another rock. Eventually, by 1630, these rocks had created enough of an islet to support a tiny Orthodox chapel. And what a beautiful little blue-domed chapel it is.
While small in size, its interior impresses as much as any massive European Cathedral. There’s an incredible, intricate marble altar, a stunning painted ceiling, and works by Venetian painter Tripo Kokolja, known as the ‘Michelangelo of Montenegro’. Attached is a small museum, where you can see a famous tapestry that took the wife of a sailor more than 25 years to create, as she waited for her husband to come home. She used silk, gold and silver threads and her own hair. Yes, I said hair.
Back outside, take time to appreciate this little divinely-inspired, man-made islet you stand upon. If you’re lucky enough to visit here on July 22nd, you can witness Fašinada, where locals form a Regatta of sorts, decorating their boats in flowers, and sail out to the islet and throw rocks at sunset. Nearly 600 years later, and they’re still making sure ‘Our Lady’ stays afloat.
Don’t Go Without Studying First:
If you want to appreciate what you see, I always do a little (painless) homework first. Great place to start: Visit Montenegro.
Don’t Worry About Getting There:
The museum’s curator told me that the Perast townsfolk used to swim to ‘Our Lady of the Rock’ for services. But I don’t recommend it. Snorkels and flippers might be frowned upon at church.
Most visitors to Kotor & Perast come by cruise ship, so arrangements can easily be made. If you’re on your own, it’s very easy to book a private boat for the 15-minute ride from Perast to the church. Cost is very reasonable. Try: Kotor Bay Tours
Don’t Forget to Also See:
After you visit ‘Our Lady’, take a short but veerrryyy windy drive (pack your Dramamine or tighten up that psi band) to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and ancient city of Kotor. Within its fortified walls, its city streets were designed in a maze pattern to confuse the bad guys. Stick with your guide and you’ll be fine. After you wander those windy cobblestone streets, if you’re up for even more cardio, tackle the 1350 Steps up to Kotor’s Castle of San Giovanni, for a birds-eye view of Old Town. Which brings us to …
Don’t Forget Your:
1 – Sensible walking shoes for those 1350 steps.
2 – Your camera. The views of the bay and villages here are stunning.
3 – The aforementioned Dramamine or psi bands, for all the boats and windy roads, if you’re a fragile traveler like me.
Don’t Stay Somewhere Ordinary:
In medieval times, the village of Perast was built up the side of the mountain, and fortunately for us today, many of these old buildings are now B & Bs, offering bright views across the Bay and of ‘Our Lady of the Rocks’. So don’t stay far out of town in a hotel with no character. Try: Palace Jelena. Bonus: Your boat is right outside your front door. J