What this Balkan country lacks in size it makes up in drama – a coastline of rugged mountains rising up form the blue waters of the Adriatic Sea, with fjords and medieval towns adding to the beauty of this hidden gem. Due to its geographic location, sea on the West coast and bordered by Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, and Albania, Montenegro has been influenced, both culturally and politically by a great many countries, and has had to defend itself often for the same reason. Because of this, there is a long tradition of warriors in Montenegro, and the proverb Čojstvo i Junaštvo, meaning “humanity and bravery,” still serves as the foundation of the country’s code of ethics.
The official language is Montenegrin, which is a dialect of Serbo-Croatian, although many Montenegrins also speak Albanian, Bosnian, or Croatian. As for English, you may get lucky conversing with young people, as they are more likely to speak Engleski. But bring along a good translation dictionary just in case, or you may get quite good at charades by the end of your trip.
HALF THE FUN
Getting there really was an experience worth retelling. From Budapest we took a small plane to the little airport in Tivat. As we neared our destination, the roads wound snake-like down green hills toward the bay. Just as Aman Sveti Stefan Resort came into view ahead of us, our driver stopped the car. We were instructed to get out at the public beach and walk across a stone bridge to the minuscule island, home to a cluster of historic buildings that make up the resort.
The hotel encompasses the entire island, once a fishing village, and its intimate charm remains. The resort includes the historic Serbian Queen Marija’s summer residence, called Villa Miločer. Other buildings on the property were formerly a monastery, and while all the suites are beautifully appointed, there are many that retain an ascetic atmosphere due to the tiny barred windows in the well preserved original façade. Reserve a Grand Suite, which has large windows and a balcony, to ensure that you can enjoy a water view and plenty of sunlight.
The best advice we can give visitors to this idyllic isle is to meander about the property and discover the peaceful alcoves that await at every turn. You’ll pass gardens with olive trees, rocky cliffs overlooking tethered yachts, and restaurants dotted around the hotel’s many buildings. Just off the island is the hotel spa, known for the excellent standard of service provided throughout the resort by their friendly staff.
Be advised that due to the region’s rainy winters, some resort facilities may be closed during the offseason. The best time to avoid the drizzle is between the months of June and September.
ROAM THE REGION
Exploring is essential in this endlessly beautiful country. With so many sights, the best way to see them is by driving along the coast, stopping at the towns that look interesting, and wandering on your own two (and probably freshly-tanned) feet.
Stroll the streets of Kotor
This ancient town is a microcosm of all the best Montenegro has to offer: spectacular views of both the mountains and the bay, elegant architecture, and fascinating history. Our advice: it’s only a half hour away, so head out in the morning and along the coastal drive look for two famous islets: Ostrvo Sveti Đorđe (Saint George Island) and Gospa od Škrpjela (Our Lady of the Rocks). Saint George has been an active monastery for nearly eight centuries and is off limits to the public, but you can get a great view of it from the equally picturesque Our Lady of the Rocks.
Kotor’s city walls date back to the 9th century and are simply stunning at night when illuminated. You never know what you will wander upon here, but keep your eyes peeled for St. Triphon’s Cathedral, and the rooftop café/bar Citadella – the most picturesque place for your afternoon pick-me-up.
Take off for Tivat
The hub of luxury tourism in the Bay of Kotor, Tivat is just a ferry ride away. It’s also home to the most popular place to dock your super yacht: the Regent Porto Montenegro Hotel. Lunch at the resort’s poolside gourmet restaurant, Pranzo. We lingered over a basket of fried sardines and an octopus salad. You can also lounge by the infinity pool or rent a cabana for the afternoon to take in the beautiful scenery with the jet set.
Go back in time in Old Town Budva
Explore two millennia of history as you amble along some of the oldest streets in Europe, stopping in at a few centuries old churches (notably the Church of the Trinity and St. Mary’s of Punta) along the way. This town has belonged to the Greeks, Romans, Byzantine Empire, Venetians, Habsburgs, Russians, French, Austrians, and Italians before establishing independence and becoming a sovereign state in 2006. The clash of these cultures each left a footprint or two on this fascinating town. Don’t miss the Venetian fortress that kept invaders at bay (or, more literally, in it). When your feet are ready for a rest, grab a coffee or a cold drink at a beachside café.
The main restaurant at Aman Sveti Stefan specializes in Montenegran cuisine with a mix of international dishes. We sat on the terrace with gorgeous sea views and tasted the fruits of the Adriatic on a platter in front of us: pan fried Bronzino served with sauteed spinach, potatoes, mushrooms, and roasted red peppers. We enjoyed the cuisine so much, that we requested a tour of the kitchen and were shown how the chef masterfully braises marinated baby lamb with the addition of local curd. They even allowed us to film the experience to bring back to our beloved readers.
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Alternatively, you can catch a casual bite at one of several other restaurants around the property. We tried calamari stuffed with pesto, a decadent lobster truffle mac and cheese, and several excellent local wines, such as Plantaže Vranac, paired with a plate of blueberry cheese and fig jam produced in the region.
If you want the authentic Old Town Budva, you’ll need to round off your visit with a meal at Jadran. Delicious seafood – we loved the clams – and service that goes above and beyond expectation are the standard here. Plus a table on the beach just feet from the waves isn’t bad either. Grab a glass of lovely local Krstac white wine to go with your fish, and don’t miss the wall bearing signatures of its more esteemed diners; there are a few surprises there!
Once a family flour mill (dating back to 1670), this charming spot just outside the town of Kotor is now a top dog of Montenegro’s culinary world. For the past forty years, Stari Mlini has been delighting patrons with fresh takes on Montenegran classics made from local produce and seafood from the Adriatic – all within view of the lovely Ljuta river. Some of us loved the grilled squid, while others enjoyed delicate baked snapper, and the local curd stored in stone jars filled with flavorful olive oil is a must.