Everyone has heard of the Greek Islands and Italy’s Amalfi Coast, but Europe’s best kept secret is Montenegro’s coastline. The Budva Riviera is known for more than 15 picturesque beaches including the iconic Sveti Stefan. The time to go is April, right before the summer season begins, when you can have the beaches all to yourself before the big crowds start flocking in for the hot summer days. Sveti Stefan is breathtaking, every part of it looking like a picture out of a magazine. The secret destination isn’t so secret among the rich and famous. Celebrities to have dunked their toes in the waters of Sveti Stefan include Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna, Sophia Loren and most recently, Brangelina. It’s no wonder really when it has such a tranquil atmosphere.
Having grown up in Australia with its sandy beaches, seeing shores of pebbles and rocks is quite a novelty. Listening to the lapping waves and the rolling round of pebbles is sweet, but nowhere near as sweet as perfecting the art of stone skimming. The two days we plan to spend with Sveti Stefan turns into three, we’re spellbound by its hypnotic view of the rocky island – red rooftops shining in the sunlight with the serene blue waters beyond.
We know there is more of Montenegro to explore so we set off, driving along the coast, stopping in one of the most beautiful bays, Boka Kotorska or the Bay of Kotor. Kotor has been inhabited at least since the 12th century and as well as stunning natural beauty, it has stories to tell between its well preserved medieval walls.We drove along the cobble stone roads with majestic blue water surrounded by lush green mountains on one side and the 500-year-old stone houses on the other. Spellbound artists stand at their easels, painting (and adding to) the scenery. Walking down the paved streets of the old town of Kotor, one of the best preserved Medieval towns on the Mediterranean, you get transported to another era. The renaissance inspired luxury hotel Villa Duome has beautiful timeless antiques in every room and ensures you feel like medieval royalty during your stay. Kotor, is home to San Giovanni Fortress and to really appreciate the stunning view of the bay we climbed to the very top of the fortress and were definitely rewarded for our efforts, the view was magical.
A trip to Montenegro is not complete without indulging in its exquisite cuisine. Being next to the sea it’s a given that seafood is a good decision when choosing what to eat. I recommend the delicious lignje na žaru (char grilled squid), it’s the kind of dish you continue to crave long after you return from your holiday. Montenegrins are also very proud of their Njeguški pršut (similar to but I think nicer than prosciutto). It’s a speciality from the Montenegrin village Njeguši and it has a different taste and aroma to the Italian prosciutto. It’s also redder with less fat and often cut in slightly thicker slices. This village in itself is very important, being the birth place of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, a Serbian-Orthodox Prince-Bishop of Montenegro and famous poet. With lamb being another local speciality if you choose any lamb dishes you will have made a good choice. Beverages? Apart from the excellent Montenegrin spirits and brandies, I have been enjoying a holiday fling with a robust local red wine Vranac. The word Vranac means strong black and powerful horse, so wine made from this type of grape is associated with strength, potency and success, which is quite appropriate once you taste it.
The Montenegrins are known for their kindness and you will more than enjoy your stay here. Next time your planning your European summer trip, include Montenegro and you will be amazed by its beauty.
This article also appeared in MX Newspapers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne in February, 2011.