In a world seemingly shrinking in size, with increased global accessibility, it’s rare to find somewhere which truly feels new, but here you feel part of an emerging adventure. Montenegro gained independence in 2006. The capital Podgorica is grooming itself to become a City Break destination and their first luxury port, ‘Monaco’esq’ – Porto Montenegro, is home to their first branded hotel; Regent Porto Montenegro, opening only last summer. Soon the likes of luxurious hotel chain One & Only will be following suit.
Some pivotal places to visit
Lustica Bay is an eco-friendly coastal village, enveloping a marina with an emphasis on embracing the natural habitat, whilst promoting an active healthy way of living. All properties are sea facing, so an ideal place to stay, or even buy, should you fall in love, which isn’t uncommon. There are plenty of things to do here, including yoga retreats, hiking, biking, stand-up paddling, horseback riding or a game of golf.
Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located on the only natural fjord of its ilk in the world. Having been an independent state, it has its own flag. Various empires have left their imprints, as you walk around the uneven streets (straight lines are perceived to let evil spirits roam) you can see grand abodes with family crests adorning the doorways. If you’re feeling fit, climb St John Fortress, for spectacular views unseen elsewhere. Take a boat from nearby town Perast to visit the church and museum on the island ‘Our lady of the rock’; I was struck by Jacinta Kunić-Mijović’s tapestry, made with her own hair whilst waiting for her sailor husband to return. The angels depicted start off with brown hair, but as she aged, so did they, the last to be embroidered embody her silvery venerable locks.
Hoping to follow in the footsteps of Kotor, former capital Cetinje is positioning itself to be considered an inland UNESCO World Heritage site. Byzantine ruins, The Blue Palace and an art academy make for an enjoyable day.
Budva is most notably known for being a party destination, think ‘Nikki Beach’.
Porto Montenegro, responsible for bringing Tivat to life, houses boutique shops, upmarket eateries and swanky cafés – the backdrop to this jaw dropping port.
Cruising along Lake Skadar National Park is beyond beautiful, the largest lake in the Balkans boasting a variety of endangered bird species, notably the Dalmatian pelican. I was lucky enough to spot five, which I am assured is a rarity. Watching these precious creatures glide along the azure waters is mystical.
The Tara River and Canyon is incredibly deep, 1300m deep to be precise, they are best appreciated on a raft, and a box to be ticked.
The Cuisine Scene
Being south of the Adriatic Sea with a 12km stretch of sandy beaches, fresh fish is a local staple; squid and seabass are simply grilled, whilst tuna carpaccio is ubiquitous. Smoked carp and eel are delicacies from Skadar Lake and local dishes such as Riblja Čorba (fish soup) and Riba Slana (salted sardines) must be tried. My favourite fish restaurants are Galion and Ribarsko Selo, both stunning seaside locations serving local, organic and authentic produce. Montenegro is famed for figs, I recommend you buy a dried garland or two from the market to take home. Olive oil is omnipresent, stemming from a tradition that men had to plant 50 trees before they got married to prove eligibility. ‘Cheese in oil’ is equally renowned, essentially mature dry cheese made from cows milk, cubed and covered with olive oil and locally grown rosemary, put in a jar and left for a month before serving with good local wine. My favourite restaurants include Stari Mlini, which is nestled within river Ljuta – its wild venue is enchanting; Hippocampus for spellbinding rooftop views over Kotor, and the charming Catovica Mlini encircled by a sultry stream.
The famous air-dried ham and cheese from the village of Njegusi is due, they say, to the unique climate influenced from the mountainous north and the Adriatic coast. When the airs collide, something magical happens – again, another purchase to take home in a vacuumed packet. For the pudding lovers out there, order Krempita (cream pie), similar to Mille-Feuille but more ‘cream’ than ‘pie’. Words can’t do it justice. Pizza is prevalent and a product of Venetian influence. Kotor has the best one, called Pronto Pizza. The Ottomans left their culinary mark too. Thanks to them, Turkish coffee and baklava are standard throughout, whilst Sarma (stuffed vine leafs) is the wedding choice. If you’re visiting between the 18th of December; St Nicholas Day and the 6th of May; St George Day, try and locate a family ‘Slava’ or Family Patron Saint’s Day. Tradition has it that the family must make a huge feast, and everyone is welcome, including you!
Meals usually commence with a shot of brandy, quince for the ladies and grape based Loza (which will knock you sideways) for the gents. The best wines come from the region Crmnica, around Skadar lake; grape varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Krstač. I highly advocate a wine tour. Plantaze is especially set up for visitors being the largest wine complex in Europe.