A look at Montenegro, Europe's up-and-coming summer destination
A small European country with golden beaches and cobblestone towns, Montenegro is one of the most underrated places to visit. Here are Rich Report's picks for the best places to visit there.
10 years ago, instead of landing on a plane in Moscow on a rainy winter's night, I would prefer to land in the summer sun. Having a glass of Champagne in hand, I'd recline on the deck of a classic sailing yacht as it breaches the narrow strait that marks the entrance to the majestic Bay of Kotor. On every side, limestone mountains rise like ancient walls, with terracotta roofed village houses, small beaches, merchant palaces, and bobbing masts of moored boats separating them from the clear, calm water in which they cast their rippling reflections. The sky and sea are the same clear blue as the cupola of an island church ahead of me.
Over the past 10 years, I have spent much of my time living in Montenegrin villages. It is the wild beaches, hidden paths, and locals endlessly inviting me to moonshine far too early in the day that make the country special to me, but I also enjoy the superyachts, trendy boutiques, and beach clubs just 20 minutes away.
There is a slower approach to life here, and beyond its breath-taking landscapes and a rich cultural heritage combining Orthodox, Catholic, Italian and Ottoman influences, Montenegro offers a sublime synthesis of modern comfort and rural charm that has not yet been worn overly smooth by the passage of a surfeit of tourists, so this summer holiday, you should make it your top choice.
We've put together a list of Montenegro's top places to visit to help you plan your trip.
Kotor and the bay
Its cobbled streets, Venetian Republic palazzi, ancient town walls, and eponymous fortress make it one of the world's most beautiful natural deep-water harbours. There are a string of white stone villages beyond the walls with sailors' and fishermen's cottages, as well as the imposing houses of their captains. On the shore of the bay are beautiful churches where they prayed for a safe return before each voyage.
Things to do in Kotor
Explore the walled old town and relax under the stately poplar tree planted after the great earthquake of 1667 before heading up a narrow alley of 16th-century houses. The fortress towers 280 metres over the town, so take the 1,350 steps up to the top before taking a slow drive along the coast to the village of Stoliv, which has an extravagant Italianate church. If you have time, stop by Mademoiselle for lunch on the way home.
Where to stay in Kotor
Hippocampus Hotel is a small boutique hotel in the old town of Kotor, located in a renovated 17th-century building. This exquisitely restored seafront home, Palazzo Sbutega (pictured), is just a few miles from Pranj's picturesque coastal village and has a peaceful stone-flagged courtyard with a swimming pool. You can swim and relax on a private pontoon on the seafront, five metres from your front door. If you're traveling with a group, rent one of the five guest rooms or take over the entire house.
The city of Perast, which commands the entrance to the Bay of Kotor, is the maritime soul of Montenegro. While Peter the Great was building the Russian navy, he sent his nobles here to learn to sail, and, at its peak, nearly four hundred warships and merchant vessels were berthed in the waters around Perast. In the tiny town, sixteen churches share space with the magnificent baroque stone palaces of merchant princes, bishops and admirals and the towers built to protect them, reflecting the bygone prowess of the town.
Things to do in Perast
You can enjoy fresh oysters and a glass of local white wine on the way to Ljuta at Luka's Oyster Farm. Take a quick stroll through the small Perast town museum before boarding a regular boat to Our Lady of the Rocks. According to legend, the church was built on the Adriatic's only artificial island, created by sailors dropping rocks in the sea after discovering an icon of the Virgin Mary on a rocky outcrop at the spot in 1452.
Where to stay in Perast
With its elegant seafront location overlooking Our Lady of the Rocks, the restaurant at Hotel Conté is hard to beat. In the heart of the town, modern rooms are spread across several historic buildings. You won't be disappointed if you request a room with a sea view.
The Luštica Peninsula
Despite being just 20 minutes from an international airport, the charmingly rural Luštica peninsula was only connected to the mainland in the 1970s, and development has been quite slow. Turtles amble across the narrow, winding road on which the peninsula's few small hillside hamlets are connected during the day, while jackals call out at night in the dense maquis beyond the terraced olive groves. Locals sell homemade fruit brandy, wine, and delicious prozitto (Montenegrin prosciutto), while rocky trails lead to secret beaches and Yugoslav submarine tunnels.
Get some of the best seafood on the Adriatic at Ribarsko Selo (pictured) before swimming out to St. Vavedenje's monastery off wild Arza beach. Climb around the abandoned Austro-Hungarian Kabala fortress just off the road to Rose on a quad-bike tour of the peninsula. Watch the water turn gold as you enjoy a sundowner and grilled squid at the laid-back Adriatic Tavern.
Where to stay on the Luštica peninsula
Enjoy a stay at The Chedi, a sprawling and family-friendly hotel with views of the Adriatic and Montenegrin Rivieras. A 400-year-old traditional Montenegrin farmhouse, Villa Stari Mlin (pictured), offers five bedrooms, a 10-meter private pool, gardens, and 180-degree views of the sea and mountains.
Herceg Novi, a small town near the Croatian border, cascades down a steep hill under the shadow of the Orjen mountains. As part of its boundaries are the neo-Byzantine church of Archangel Michael, which combines Gothic and Romanesque elements, a Spanish fortress dating back to the 17th century, a Bosnian castle from the 14th century and the Ottoman fortress Kanli Kula, which holds excellent film, theatre, guitar, and opera festivals in its open-air amphitheatre in the summer. Lunch at Konoba Feral in the bustling small port by the sea offers succulent octopus cooked on open coals under a bell in traditional Montenegrin fashion.
Things to do in Herceg-Novi
Take a trip to the Savina vineyard that is near to the monastery of the same name, or explore the Blue Cave on the Luštica peninsula with a personal boat tour. End your day with a meal at the Sikimić Tavern, which is run by a family and is situated in the old Žlijebi village at an altitude of 700 meters, with a stunning outlook of the Montenegrin coastline to the horizon.
Where to stay in Herceg-Novi
The Hotel Lazure is located on the edge of town in a restored 18th-century Venetian lazaret, with smart rooms, a spa and a private beach.
Lake Skadar lies along the Montenegrin-Albanian border within a bowl of mountains a short drive from the coast. There is an astonishing variety of birds and wildlife on the lake itself, and the sloping southern shores are dotted with mediaeval Orthodox monasteries.
Things to do in Lake Skadar
A day trip to the stunning southern shore of the lake is sure to be an unforgettable experience. Meander through small fishing villages, taking in the sights and sounds of the local culture and its inhabitants. Afterward, take a dip in the crystal-clear waters of Murići Beach, which features a beautiful sandy shore and spectacular views of the 14th-century Beška island monastery. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of the moment, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin as you take in the breathtaking views. The day will be an unforgettable experience, one that will stay with you long after you leave. Enjoy the journey and discover the beauty and charm of the southern shore.
Where to stay in Lake Skadar
It is easy to reach Lake Skadar from the coast in a day, but if you are looking for a Montenegrin experience, I recommend staying at Villa Mond in Limljani, where you can eat traditional Montenegrin cuisine, and drink wine from the family vineyard.