A Balkan beauty that is slowly emerging as one of Europe’s most charming holiday destinations, Montenegro is a hotbed of golden beaches, cobblestone towns, dramatic landscapes and luxury hotels just waiting to be found
If there’s anywhere in the world that proves that good things come in small packages, it would be the tiny European country of Montenegro. A place Lord Byron once called “the most beautiful encounter between land and sea”, and home to majestic mountains, picturesque beaches and larger-than-life locals, this Balkan beauty is surprisingly a place that hasn’t yet garnered as many column inches as its neighbouring Croatia or the close-by Mediterranean hotspots of Côte d’Azur or the Amalfi Coast. But that’s exactly where its beauty lies.
While Montenegro has so far remained one of travel’s best-kept secrets, it might not be too long until this underrated European gem becomes a more regular fixture on the tourist trail thanks to a slew of new luxury hotels openings that combine modern comforts with rural charm. The One&Only Group opened its first European hotel in Portonovi in 2021 — one of the country’s first new mega-luxury hotels since Aman Sveti Stefan opened back in 2011 — while the family-friendly The Chedi overlooks the Adriatic and Montenegrin riviera and boasts its own private slice of the nearby Luštica Bay beach. Luxury lifestyle haven Nikki Beach also opened a luxe beach resort and beach club on the Bay of Tivat just two years ago, while just last month we saw Hyatt Regency Kotor Bay Resort welcome its very first guests. Home to a private jetty for sea arrivals, four restaurants, a beach bar, swimming pools and a saltwater lido, a new Ritz-Carlton is also promised for 2024 while, having just opened its doors this past April, swanky design hotel Mamula Island is currently the country’s hottest property — but more on that later. So what does all of this mean? There’s no better time to pay a visit.
Like Cannes but without the crowds, Porto Montenegro is a glamorous world of super yachts, trendy boutiques and beach clubs lying just 20 minutes from the country’s wild beaches, hidden paths and slower approach to life — and only a 10-minute drive from the compact airport of Tivat — making it the perfect place to start your stay. Built on the former site of Tivat’s historic naval arsenal in Boka Bay, this pioneering development has had a remarkable metamorphosis over the last few years, with a fashion landscape including boutiques by the likes of Dior, Rolex and Saint Laurent.
Its popularity can also be credited to its stellar location to many of the country’s must-visit spots, just a stone’s throw away from the World Heritage Site of Kotor and its famed bay. With limestone mountains that rise from every side, small beaches and a narrow fringe of terracotta-roofed village houses, there’s no finer way to enter the majestic town than on the deck of a classic yacht after setting sail from the Porto Montenegro marina. Spend a morning wandering Kotor’s centuries-old stone walls, café-strewn main square and medieval maze of shops and museums, often accompanied by a flock of well-fed felines. Fun fact — Montenegrins believe that, in Kotor, cats bring you luck so be sure to give one a pat.
A few magical hours later, hop back on to your boat and head to Perast, otherwise known as Montenegro’s maritime soul. Renowned for its baroque palaces and charming waterfront, this tiny town is packed with history and legend, and is a dreamy spot to take a relaxed wander in. Be sure to stop for lunch at Hotel Conté which, with seating on the elegant seafront looking out at the Instagrammable island Our Lady of the Rock, is hard to beat. Delight in a menu of Montenegrin appetisers (think Njegusi prosciutto, dried beef sirloin, fresh cheese and olives), local stews, seafood spaghetti and fresh catch of the day.
Back at Porto Montenegro there’s only one place to rest your head, but you certainly won’t be disappointed with it. Grand, refined and with a chic nautical theme running throughout (its interiors are the brainchild of Tino Zervudachi of Milinaric, Henry & Zervudachi, whose former clients include Mick Jagger), Regent Montenegro is modelled on a Venetian Palazzo, rising five stories high and complete with three wings. All hardwood floors and bespoke Mediterranean furnishings, this five-star haven is designed to recreate the feel of a luxury ship, with the walls lined with original drawings of the former shipyard on which it lies. The 175-key hotel itself is home to a spectacular open-air pool club where sun loungers and cabanas come complete with sweeping views of the Lovcén Mountain and the pearly Adriatic, while its one- to three-bedroom suites and penthouses, all with balconies, are also subtly inspired by yachting with the use of wood, fabrics in blues, cream and beige, and a linen canopy above the bed suggesting sails. Take a rich colourful buffet breakfast in the lovely Italian garden of Murano restaurant, overlooking a sublime display of super yachts, and don’t leave without indulging in a full-body massage at the Regent Spa. Offering lush face and body treatments designed to relax, re-energise and recover, there’s also a sauna, steam room, hammam and experience showers plus gym, an indoor sea-view pool with hot tub, and an outdoor pool on the first-floor terrace, also overlooking the marina.
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options in the area, too. There’s the popular Dubai-born joint Roberto’s Mare, Murano for upscale Mediterranean cuisine and Marea which, located directly on the marina front, serves up fresh seasonal dishes including the likes of burrata with roasted beets and arugula, homemade pastas, a divine wagyu beef previously crowned in the ‘Wagyu Olympics’ and fish caught that very day and served as carpaccio, grilled or salt-crusted. Come the weekend, the style set head to Buddha Bar Beach to soak up the sun at its elegant infinity pool complete with panoramic views of the Adriatic Sea, chic shisha lounge and divine menu of fresh seafood and regional produce fused with Asian-inspired cuisine. DJs play late into the night too, if you’re looking to carry on the party.
While luxury certainly abounds throughout the country, Montenegro’s almost 8,600 square kilometres of rugged topography— more than two thirds of which are made up by mountains — also makes it an adventure lover’s dream, and the best way to explore the charming nation is by getting up close and personal with its nature. Dubbed the Montenegrin Dolomites, the UNESCO-protected Durmitor National Park is one of five national parks and, defined by dramatic mountains, deep canyons and a whopping 18 glacial lakes, is perfect for hiking, mountaineering and mountain biking. White-water rafters can head to Europe’s deepest canyon and one of Montenegro’s prime natural wonders the Tara River Canyon in the far north — at points along the gorge, the river passes between forest-clad walls of rock that are more than 1,295m high — while there’s also canyoning, zip-lining, scuba diving and paragliding opportunities galore, too. If time allows, be sure to explore the spectacular Lake Skadar — the largest lake in the Balkans — by kayak, and you can even ski here in January to March, too.
Back to the summer sun, make Herceg-Novi your last port of call. A vibrant, must-visit small town near the Croatian coast founded way back in 1382 in the shadow of the Orjen mountain range, its Old Town is small, authentic and never overrun with tourists, making it an idyllic place to wander and get a little lost, stopping off at a cute local café along the way. It’s just off Herceg-Novi’s coast that DesignHotels has opened its latest resort: Mamula Island, bringing new life to a historic islet and 19th century fortress while preserving and honouring its remarkable past. Built in the 1850s by General Lazar Mamula aspart of a network of Austro-Hungarian fortifications that guarded the entrance to the Bay of Kotor from the Adriatic, the island was used as an Italian prison camp during World War II, but lay derelict from the 1970s onwards. Egyptian billionaire owner Samih Sawiris, renowned for making the impossible possible, has now brought it back to life.
A short boat ride from Herceg-Novi — the hotel offers complimentary transfers and trips to the mainland — architecture firm MCM London has managed to preserve the structural integrity of the existing building while renovating it into a five-star luxury hotel complete with a world-class culinary scene courtesy of French-Canadian chef Erica Archambault of the Michelin-starred Parisian restaurant Septime, three outdoor pools, holistic spa, memorial gallery and private beach. Stand-out interiors and bespoke furniture are by Polish interior designer Piotr Wisniewski of Berlin’s weStudio, who has used plenty of curves, arches and neutral shades reminiscent of the original architecture of the historic fort. In other words, this is one seriously stunning space.
Everything about Mamula Island is infused with references to the surrounding region and cultural heritages. Guests are welcomed to one of 22 rooms and 10 suites, all with sweeping sea views, floor-to-ceiling glass walls, spacious free-standing tubs and private terraces, the same way they would be to a Montenegrin home: with domaća kafa (Turkish coffee), chocolate truffles and 50-year-aged Xérès vinegar. Artwork has been made specifically for the property by local artists with colour palettes that draw directly from the islet’s landscape, while rooms are also crafted from local materials like Cevsky stone, aged brass, solid oak and breathable organic textiles, all very ripe for the ‘gram. As is the small private beach fringed with miniature rock coves and strewn with comfortable loungers that sit directly on the ocean’s edge for the true definition of bliss. In fact, the whole of Montenegro is a stunning aesthetic paradise, offering a one-of-a-kind holiday with a laid-back pace like no other. And while we keep everything crossed it retains the sleepy, off-the-beaten track vibe that it currently enjoys, we suggest you visit now before everyone else discovers the secret.
Haute Hangout: The Chedi at Luštica Bay
Taking prime position in the new and upscale Luštica Bay marina village, The Chedi’s Montenegrin outpost makes for the perfect spot for date night with a view.
You can’t visit Montenegro without stopping for dinner at one of its most coveted resorts, The Chedi at Luštica Bay, whose signature eatery The Spot serves up fresh regional farm-to-table dishes with a contemporary Mediterranean flair in one ravishingly romantic space. Affording elegant views of the surrounding bay, take a seat on the waterside terrace to which, sitting directly under the stars, the team has recently introduced a new five-course tasting menu to impress even the most die-hard foodie.
Kicking things off with lightly pickled cherry tomato with mozzarella and basil ice cream, what follows is a culinary triumph comprising the likes of warm scallops and mussels; asparagus, spinach and summer green pea soup; agnolotti pasta with lobster rillettes and ricotta cheese; grilled sea bass fillet with clams, gnudi pasta and cherry tomato; and all rounded off with a light but satisfying dessert of summer berries with mint granita. Vegetarians are more than well catered for as well, with chefs rustling up homemade basil gnocchi with Comté cheese sauce among other delights. Bon appétit. Book now
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