In the last few years Croatia has become a major tourist destination, especially Dubrovnik, Split and Hvar. Flights have become expenses as a result and hotel prices are starting to approach more established areas of Southern Europe. Yet a short trip south of Croatia down the Adriatic coast lies Montenegro. It too was part of the former Yugoslavia and uses the Euro currency, yet it is relatively unaffected by tourism, offers incredible value for money and some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere in Europe.
I flew into Tivat, which is located on the banks of the Bay of Kotor, one of the most popular areas to visit and about 30 miles as the crow flies from the capital Podgorica. The bay is huge and dotted with beautiful rustic villages and historic towns. The two most popular are the modern Tivat and the historic Kotor.
The modern town has undergone huge renovation in the recent years and there is now an elegant marina where millionaires dock their superyachts to spend a couple of evening in the boutique shops and cosy restaurants located of the colourful pastel bayside buildings. I stayed at Hotel Palma, a bargain at £50 a night, with a balcony offering lake views, breakfast and a health centre with a sauna, steam room, very cold jacuzzi and massage area for precooked treatment. The hotel also has its own private ‘beach’, although like many beach areas in Croatia it’s mainly shingle and concrete. However, the water is clean, fresh and very invigorating (pictured above).
The town is lovely, and the people are welcoming. A stroll along the marina gives you a wonderful view of the Tivat section of the bay, which resembles a Norwegian Fjord, and there are many elegant yet affordable restaurants and delis. If you want to splash out, the Regent Porto Montenegro Hotel is a good option at around £200 a night.
Tivat is far more modern that many of the villages around the bay so you will want to visit other areas, either by hiring a car or using taxis, which are cheap by UK standards. The quaint village of Donja Lastva (see pic below) is a 40-minute walk north and a pleasant way to stretch your legs once the heat of the day has dissipated. Eco Hotel Carrubba is an ideal place to stop for a drink or a meal if you visit.
The nearby town of Kotor, 20 mins from Tivat in a taxi, is a place you’ll want to see.
This is the historic heart of the region and cruise ships stop here every day to unload sightseers on day trip. The old town is a maze of cobbled stone streets, hidden bars and street restaurants (pictured above). It’s a place simply to wander and soak in the middle ages architecture.
For the more energetic you can take a strenuous trek up to the old fortress. Alternatively take a two-hour boat tour around the bay. One of the more pleasing stops is the tiny island of Our Lady of the Rocks, just off the shore from the charming medieval village of Perast and about 20 minutes north of Kotor. It is an artificial island dating from the 15th century with just enough room for a Catholic church. Every July 22nd there is a festival when locals take to their boats and throw rocks into the sea to widen the surface of the island. The town of Perast is Montenegro at its most lovely. A small historic town (see last picture) with welcoming buildings on winding streets where open air restaurants serve an array of pastas, meats and vegetables. It is far quieter than Kotor which makes it easier to imagine how the village would have looked and felt centuries ago. Perast is worth the effort to visit.
You can take the local bus to Budva (see pic below), located on the coast 30 minutes away. It is the centre of nightlife in the region and the beachfront has been built up rapidly and unfortunately it has led to excessive litter and water pollution. Budva is the place to go for late night clubbing but not for unspoilt natural beauty. It is busy and my least favourite of the places I visited in Montenegro. It does however have a small walled old town that, like Kotor, is worth a wander through, although it is much smaller than Kotor.
Tivat airport is crammed, hot and far too small for the increase in tourism that has begun. It is still way less developed than the main destinations in Croatia or Italy but that is changing fast. I travelled from the UK where easyJet offers direct flights from London Gatwick and Manchester, while Montenegro Airlines also offer seasonal flights from Gatwick too. Likely it is only a matter of time before it becomes a much more common route so it’s worth visiting now before the rest of the world discovers the delights of Montenegro.