|Drink it in … the old town at Budva. Photograph: Alamy|
Montenegro’s beauty has not gone unnoticed by the yacht set, but new flights from Gatwick and Manchester have opened up the quieter stretches of its stunning coastline
With its new, multi-million pound marina – Porto Montenegro in Tivat – and a host of five-star hotel openings, Montenegro has become a magnet for wealthy Russian holidaymakers and Europe’s yachting fraternity. But beyond this affluent scene, the coast remains quirky and friendly, with pantiled villages clinging to the steep shoreline, uncrowded beaches and smoky konoba restaurants where you can spend the afternoon with a €5 bottle ofvranac.
And with easyJet flights from Gatwick to Tivat starting 16 June (flights from Manchester launched earlier this year), it’s easy to visit the Montenegro seaside and avoid the bling.
Bay of Kotor
East of Herceg Novi, this long, forested bay is lined with a mix of old Greek and Turkish settlements, and small, concrete hotels that time forgot. The eight-room Palace Hotel in Zelinka (doubles from €42, +382 31 678 102) has more character than most, and there’s a pebbly beach just 50 metres away. In Baosici, a good place to visit is the house of Pierre Loti (the French sailor whose memoirs inspired Madama Butterfly). He lived for a while on the shore here, and wrote another romantic short story. The house is a ruin but has tranquil views. Aurora Hotel on the quayside in Herceg Novi is owned by Serbian film director Emir Kusturica, and is full of his wife’s art work (doubles from €61 B&B). There’s a lively cafe-bar and small cinema downstairs. For food, Konoba Feral (Vasa Ćukovića 4), below the castle in Herceg Novi, has some good Montenegrin wines from the Savina Monastery and serves excellent (and affordable) grilled calamari, black risotto and swordfish. Restoran Olimpija in Kumbor is a lovely family affair. Diners can hear mama in the kitchen while her sons are out front, and the local seafood and fish soup (€5) are excellent.
This showpiece of Venetian Montenegro, with its mountainous city walls and pantiled roofs, is in danger of being swamped by tour groups but for the moment the shopkeepers are still keen to chat. Hotel Marija (doubles from €120) was opened in 1995 by Voljin Radanovic. These days his 17-bedroom mansion feels a touch over-modernised and the street outside can get noisy, but it is right in the centre. Cats are the unofficial symbol of Kotor and feline fans can check out theCat Museum and the Cats of Kotor Shop, both full of locally made moggyphernalia. When it comes to food, avoid the tourist traps and head toBastion, a decent old restaurant that does good-value fish dishes in the quieter North Gate end of the city.
Budva was President Tito’s Benidorm, a long arc of beach framed by 1960s high-rise hotels. It’s creeping upmarket these days, but the old Venetian city at the end of the beach (restored after an earthquake in 1979) has some quiet streets and cafe-strewn piazzas. The Hotel Astoria (doubles from €110) is a modern boutique hotel built into the old sea wall, with an attractive roof terrace. The best sights include the citadel and the four churches (two Orthodox and two Catholic) that stand shoulder to shoulder in the square below. Mogren beach is one of Montenegro’s best – it’s only 1km from the old town, down a narrow path that keeps the crowds away. For somewhere different to eat and drink the Budva Beer & Bike Club hosts local rock bands.
Four kilometres inland from the new port of Bar stands Stari Bar, a ruined Byzantine fortress-city that was conquered first by the Venetians and then the Ottomans, then abandoned after an explosion at the beginning of the 20th century. Locals refer to it as “our Pompeii”. Once you’ve wandered the steep streets of the old city and visited its 17th-century Turkish hammam, seek out one of the world’s oldest olive trees: it’s called Stara Maslina, it’s said to be over 2,000 years old, and it grows just below the city. Kaldrma is a justifiably popular restaurant. It’s scruffy, with an outside seating area of unstable furniture and tatty cushions, but the owner serves gorgeous japrak (stuffed vine leaves made to his mother’s own recipe). There are no hotels in Stari Bar itself, but The Princess(doubles from €86), down by the archaeological museum in New Bar, is comfortable. Ask for a room with a sea-view balcony and you’ll soon forget the slightly corporate ambience.
This pretty, 90% Albanian city in Montenegro has a delightful old town centre, full of fountains. Check out Bregut mosque and the adjacent food market, with its distinctly Ottoman flavour. On a rocky outcrop of Ulcinj’s old town stands the nine-room Hotel Kalaja (doubles from €30, + 382 85 421 435), owned by the Bushati family. It has great sea views and is only 200 metres from Malla Plaza (a small beach). For food, Bazar (Hafiz Ali Ulqinaku, + 382 30 421 639) is a balconeyed restaurant overlooking the city’s main drag, and run by three brothers, who catch the fish every morning – the sea bass is excellent. Wine lovers should take a taxi up to Vinarija Milović, in the hills north-east of the old city, which is Montenegro’s southernmost wine producer – fill your suitcase with its Vranac Status Barrique.