Conde Nast Traveler: An insider's guide to Montenegro, Europe's up-and-coming summer hotspot
If I could go back in time, instead of landing in Montenegro 10 years ago on a rainy winter's night on a plane from Moscow, I would choose to arrive under a summer sun. I'd recline on the deck of a classic sailing yacht, a glass of Champagne in hand, to experience the perfect combination of awe and self-satisfaction as the boat breaches the narrow strait that marks the entrance to the majestic Bay of Kotor. Here the sky and sea are the same clear blue as the cupola of an island church ahead of me, and limestone mountains rise like ancient walls on every side, just a narrow fringe of terracotta-roofed village houses, small beaches, merchants' palaces and the bobbing masts of moored boats dividing them from the clear, calm water in which they cast their rippling reflections.
I spent much of the last 10 years living in a Montenegrin village. While for me what makes the country special is the wild beaches, hidden paths, and locals endlessly inviting me to join them for moonshine far too early in the day, I also love the world of 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 that combines Orthodox, Catholic, Italian and Ottoman influences, Montenegro offers a sublime synthesis of modern comfort and rural charm not yet rubbed overly smooth by the passage of a surfeit of tourists, making it somewhere you should put near the top of your list of places to visit for a summer holiday this year.
To help you plan, here are some of the best places to visit in Montenegro.
Kotor and the bay
Presiding over one of the world's most perfect natural deep-water harbours – at the end of an inland bay that gives any Norwegian fjord a run for its money – Kotor's cobbled streets, Venetian Republic palazzi, ancient town walls and eponymous fortress are unmissable. Beyond the walls, a string of white stone villages made up of sailors' and fishermen's cottages and the imposing homes of their captains. The beautiful churches where they prayed for a safe return before each voyage hug the shore of the bay.
Things to do in Kotor
troll around the walled old town and take a break under a stately poplar tree planted after the great earthquake of 1667 in quiet Cinema Square before heading up a narrow alley of 16th-century houses. Make your way up the 1,350-odd steps to the top of the fortress that looms 280 metres above the town, before taking a slow drive along the coast to the village of Stoliv with its extravagant Italianate Church of the Mother of God. Make time for lunch at waterside Mademoiselle on your way.
Where to stay in Kotor
In a renovated 17th-century building in Kotor old town, the small boutique Hotel Hippocampus has smart rooms in an excellent location. A mile or two around the bay in the picturesque coastal village of Prčanj, Palazzo Sbutega (pictured) is an exquisitely restored seafront home with a serene stone-flagged courtyard with a swimming pool. Five metres from the front door is a private pontoon on the seafront for lounging and swimming. Rent one of the five guest rooms or take over the whole house if you're travelling in a group.
Montenegro is a nation of sailors and highlanders, and Perast, which commands the entrance to the Bay of Kotor, is its maritime soul. Peter the Great sent his nobles here to learn to sail when he founded the Russian navy and, at the town's height, the waters around Perast bristled with the masts of nearly four hundred warships and merchant's vessels. The splendour of the tiny town reflects this bygone prowess, and an astonishing sixteen churches jostle for space with the grand baroque stone palaces of merchant princes, bishops and admirals and the towers built to protect them.
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Photos: Conde Nast Traveler
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