Two of the most important carnival celebrations around the Boka Bay are held in the ancient coastal towns of Herceg Novi and Kotor.
The UNESCO world heritage city of Kotor has a long tradition of carnival. Indeed, people here love their carnival so much that they celebrate twice – once in summer, and once in winter. In 2013, the Kotor Winter Carnival runs from 14th-24th February. It’s now Montenegro’s largest and best-attended cultural event, drawing thousands of performers and party-goers from around the world.
Meanwhile, in Herceg Novi, the Mimosa Festival runs throughout February – a carnival of flower exhibitions, masked balls, and celebrations of local produce. The small, yellow blooms of the mimosa flower are a traditional symbol of the city. Speak to different people and you’ll hear different explanations for this. Some say it’s because the blossoms resemble the sun – Herceg Novi is blessed with more hours of sunshine than almost anywhere else in Europe – and that their vibrant colour emerging from the drab winter landscape is the first sign that spring is here.
Others have a more romantic explanation. According to local legends, it all goes back to a day when the Gods, angered by a citizen’s disobedience, created a storm that destroyed everything in its path. By a terrible coincidence, the fairy Alkima was sailing through the bay in search of her beloved – a mortal. Their love was strictly forbidden, but so strong was her passion that she pushed on, despite the fierce storm. Her boat began to sink, and it looked as though Alkima might vanish forever beneath the waves, when a group of young men standing on the water’s edge spotted her and braved the storm to rescue her.
So grateful was the beautiful fairy that she rewarded her rescuers with gold, but they proudly refused. Instead, she bequeathed them something that would last forever – the golden mimosa blossom.
Whichever tale you choose to believe, Carnival is indisputably a spectacular time to visit these two fascinating cities: an opportunity to witness ancient traditions combined with a very modern spirit.