Montenegro is a beautiful country of shimmering bays, stunning coastline and Venetian-style architecture, all set against a mountainous backdrop, so it’s no surprise that it keeps cropping up on the annual lists of must-visit destinations
Lead image: Kotor Bay, Montenegro (Olga Gont / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Montenegro is easier than ever to visit, and as an emerging destination, it offers excellent value for money. Direct flights from London to Tivat, by the glorious Bay of Kotor, and Podgorica, the capital, make for swift, easy travel. Plus, its close proximity to Dubrovnik in Croatia – about an hour’s drive from the border – offers up even more flight options.
Plus, savvy new developments – like the ambitious Luštica Bay, a former military training ground that is being rapidly transformed into a new Montenegrin town with a hotel, marina, golf course and residences – mean that, if you fall for it’s many obvious charms, you can buy yourself a home there.
Upon completion, the coastal town will feature 1,500 residences, seven hotels, two marinas and an 18-hole golf course, as well as lifestyle facilities, a hospital and schools.
In September 2019, the development – which boasts some of the lowest square metre prices in Europe – reported an 86.3% rise in average prices since sales started in 2012, and since the €1.1 billion project won’t be completed till 2032, when the seventh hotel is built, odds are on that buyers will still get a good return on investment over the next few years.
Plus, with Brexit now a definite, and Montenegro likely to be the next country to joint the EU (their currency is already the Euro), the country is shaping up as a hot investment spot. The Montenegro Citizenship by Investment programme (more on that later) adds further appeal for those looking to keep a foothold in Europe.
Montenegro really is a beautiful place. Driving to Luštica Bay from Dubrovnik (the Croatian airport offers better flight options at present, although the number of direct flights into Tivat, a mere 15 minute-drive from the development, are on the up), you’re treated to sights of unspoiled, rolling hills, and when you begin to skirt around the Bay of Kotor – the Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor has been a World Heritage Site since 1979 – you know you’re somewhere special.
Plus, with an average of 270 sunny days per year, 293 km of coastline, a Mediterranean climate and an abundance of fresh seafood (I’d highly recommend the grilled octopus – for every meal), it’s an easy sell.
If you haven’t visited yet, you should get yourself there soon – Montenegro is now one of the fastest growing tourist economies in the world, with a 10% year-on-year increase in the number of visitors. The World Travel and Tourism Council ranks it as No. 3 in the world for tourism growth.
Things to Do
The Bay of Kotor – know locally as Boka Kotorska, or just ‘Boka’ – is a mecca for cruise ships, but thank fully there isn’t room for anything too behemoth to spoil the views.
A boat ride across the bay is the best way to take it all in. Cruise over to Porto Montenegro to take in the mini Monte Carlo marina-town peppered with superyachts, smart hotels and residences, waterside restaurants and boulevards of designer shops – glorious on a sunny day.
Back on board we motored further into the bay, through the narrowing of the channel which hides the majestic town of Perast and the jewel in Boka’s crown – Our Lady of the Rocks. The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rocks takes up pretty much the whole of the artificial islet, created over the centuries by local seamen who piled rocks and sunk seized ships to create the landmass.
A stroll of Perast will be brief, as there’s only one coastal road, but it’s worth stopping for a coffee or a local beer so that you might take it all in. With its stone buildings, church spires and terracotta roofs, it’s like the little land that time forgot.
My favourite spot was probably Kotor Old Town, considered to be the best preserved medieval urban entity in the Mediterranean. The tiny walled city of winding cobbled alleyways is home to countless cute kittens. As a city with marine heritage, cats were essential to keep rodents at bay, and to this day they are left to roam freely, a symbol of the city, earning Kotor the nickname ‘the city of cats’. There’s even a Cats Museum, a ‘square of cats’, where you’ll find a particularly high concentration of fluff balls, and kitty souvenirs aplenty.
Do stop for a drink in one of the many bars and soak up the vibrant atmosphere. There are pizza places galore, too, if you find yourself disoriented – easily done – and hungry. There are around seven churches within the city walls, as well as museums and palaces, and even the walls themselves – around 20 metres high, 10m wide, and 5km long, zig-zagging into the hillside – are impressive.
Our trip was short, so there was no time to visit Skadar Lake National Park. Skadar is the largest lake in the Balkan Peninsula and the largest national park in Montenegro, famous for its diversity of flora and fauna, as well as a scattering of monasteries, churches, villages, fortresses and sacred monuments. Around the lake itself there are 18 important historic monuments.
Where to Eat
If you just want to chill by the water and enjoy the sun, head for the waterside restaurants in the marina village at Luštica Bay. The Spot restaurant at The Chedi Hotel is an all-day brasserie with relaxed terrace dining by day and live music by night.
It has a great menu full of seafood, Mediterranean dishes, Asian influences, salads and burgers – all of my favourite things, essentially. Order the Iberico ham croquettes or Chinese-style salt and pepper squid, followed by the wild seabass ceviche or paella with Iberico pork.
For an authentic Montenegrin experience, head for Mala Barka in Tivat, a small seafood restaurant with simple, rustic decor, relaxed live music and good local wines. The food is fuss-free and fresh, with the likes of seafood platters, grilled fish of the day, steaks and simple sides of Mediterranean style grilled vegetables, as well as indulgent baklava for dessert.
For something a little fancier, head to Galion restaurant on the water’s edge just outside Kotor Old Town. We dined in a very contemporary glass cube which, by day offers wonderful views of the bay, and by night is adorned with fairy lights, creating a very romantic setting. Seafood again takes the star turn, and dishes include the likes of beetroot gravalax, grilled octopus and tuna ceviche. The Iberico pork, if you’ve overdone it a bit on the seafood, is very good. But so is the octopus.
After a day out sightseeing around Perast, however, Stari Mlini is a must-visit. This wonderful restaurant, originally a 16th century flour, is best reached by boat – that way you’re greeted by waterwheels, lush vegetation and bridges over the many water inlets. It’s quite magical. Most of the tables are outdoors, so that you can dine under a tree by the water, and the staff are friendly, attentive and good humoured. This place probably served my favourite grilled octopus of all the grilled octopus I indulged in while away.
Luštica Bay, developed by Orascom Development Holding (ODH) – which is also behind the El Gouna coastal town in Egypt, the famous Andermatt in the Swiss Alps, and two significant tourist/residence destinations in Oman – is a landmark, emerging 690 hectare new coastal town, designed for both Montenegrins, visitors and investors.
ODH is also pretty hot on sustainability, recognising that, as large landowners, they need to take care of the environment so that their mixed used resort-communities have long-term appeal for visitors and residents – it’s a principle that extends from low-density development (under 10% of Luštica Bay’s 690 hectares will be developed) to incorporating renewable energy sources, eco-friendly architecture and building methods, low carbon supply, using the stone from the golf course excavations to build the marina breakwaters, and cutting out single-use plastic bottles (you won’t find them in your room).
The little things, however, remain tricky. I still feel guilty about using the luxury travel miniatures in the bathroom, and I don’t see an easy way around this for luxury hotels, whose customers have certain expectations, so I now try to travel with my own shampoo bars and leave the miniatures untouched.
The Chedi Hotel
With the launch of the five-star Chedi hotel at Luštica Bay – our destination on this trip – Montenegro’s reputation as a luxury destination is one the up. The hotel is lovely. You’re greeted by a huge lobby with vaulted double-height ceiling and huge windows offering a view of the marina, populated with silently bobbing yachts.
The spacious, light-filled bedrooms are finished with a pop of Mediterranean colour and quirky bedside pendant lamps and soft furnishings by local artisans. The bathrooms is sleek and contemporary with marble and ceramic tiles, as well as swish Acqua di Parma bathroom amenities, rain shower and underfloor heating.
The king-size Simmons Sweet Sleeper bed is gloriously comfortable, and the balcony offers a view across the Adriatic Sea of Trašte Bay (or of the peninsula’s forested mountains if you’re on the other side). Plus – the pièce de résistance – a local beer from the mini bar costs just €3. Cheers!
All this from a Superior Room which, at 44 sq m, I was surprised to discover was the entry category. The hotel has 111 rooms and suites, spanning superior, deluxe, junior suites, grand superior, grand deluxe and more, including, of course, a gorgeous penthouse with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, dining area, kitchenette and a spacious balcony with sun recliners and uninterrupted sea views.
The hotel also has two restaurants, two bars, a high-tech conference and business centre, a wellness spa with a gym, sauna and indoor pool, an outdoor infinity pool and a private beach with beach bar.
There’s nothing quite like sailing the Mediterranean sea in summer, spanning the French Riviera, Italy’s vertiginous coastline glamorous Balearics, across Greece and on to Montenegro in the Adriatic.
Both offer repairs and maintenance, electricity, security and access to professional maintenance staff, and daily, monthly and long-term berthing options are available.
Lustica Bay’s ready-to-move-in waterfront apartments, which range from studios to three-bedroom units and start at €336K, are almost sold out. There are also Marina Townhouses, overlooking the marina, available from €845K. Alternatively, you can look at residencies in Centrale, the new town centre located just up the hill, where prices start from €137K for a studio apartment.
Secluded villas, condominium units and residencies at The Chedi are also available, as well as rental apartments, with prices starting from as little as €188 for a studio apartment for two nights off season (rising to around €468 for two nights in the summer).
Homeowners get preferential rates for marina mooring, the spa, gym and five-star services, restaurants and boutiques at The Chedi, as well as access to the private beech and communal swimming pools, plus free electric vehicle transport throughout the resort.
Plus, there’s the new citizenship by investment scheme, where you can obtain Montenegrin nationality with a real estate investment of €450,000 and a donation of €100,000 to fund development of the country’s tourism, agriculture and manufacturing industries (plus a processing fee of €15,000). The benefits of the scheme can be extended not just to the individual but also to their family.
But you’ll need to move fairly quickly – the Montenegro Citizenship by Investment programme is limited to just 2,000 applications and is set to run for only three years, ending on 31 December 2021. Once that’s all done and dusted, however, you can start embracing the Montenegrin saying of ‘samo polako’ – slow down and live in the moment.
RyanAir and Montenegro Airlines fly direct from London to Tivat and Podgorica. For more flexible flights and times, fly to Dubrovnik and arrange a transfer. The drive time to Luštica Bay is around two hours.
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