Majestic mountains, an untouched coastline, red pebbly beaches, royal blue Adriatic, Venetian piazzas, cobblestone streets, old-world charm, a fleet of yachts and a whole lot of sunshine. Welcome to ‘little Montenegro’, as termed by Jay Gatsby, the fictional character created by F. Scott Fitzgerald. ‘Little’ is quite an apt description here, since we’re talking about a country some 1/250th the size of India. And, yet, there is so much to this beautiful Balkan nation.
Upon landing in Dubrovnik, Croatia, I booked a taxi from the airport and told my driver to take me to my first stop in Montenegro—Sveti Stefan. The two-hour drive that ensued felt a lot shorter because my driver, Josip, was a good conversationalist. Other than recommending some of the best haunts for mouthwatering Mediterranean food and a few places where I could find the prettiest Balkan vistas, he shared plenty of tales from the region. When we reached the shoreline, he drove onto an enormous ship that transported us across the ocean to Montenegro.
Sveti Stefan, a private islet owned by Aman Resorts, is probably the most photographed place along the Adriatic. To reach the resort, we took a narrow pathway from the vibrant Crvena Glavica Beach, where a small crowd enjoyed the refreshing waters. Everything from the hospitality to the food, the spa, the pool, the pink sands, and the ultramarine waves at the hotel, made me feel as if I was a celebrity. And why should it not? Sveti Stefan has been host to Hollywood actors like Elizabeth Taylor, Kirk Douglas, Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe, to name a few.
My morning at the resort began with a fresh breakfast spread that consisted of blueberry pancakes, berry and honeycomb yogurt, and eggs benedict with avocado. In the evening, I was lucky enough to witness perhaps the clearest night sky I had ever seen, dotted with thousands of stars.
After a relaxing and luxurious stint at the islet, I headed to the coastal town of Budva. It happens to be the most visited destination in the country, and it isn’t difficult to imagine why: in the day, I sat under an umbrella at Mogren Beach and read a book, briefly distracted by the views of the surrounding aqua and the occasional sailboat. After lazing around all day, I chose to walk around the old town, buzzing with bars and restaurants. I highly recommend Casper Bar because of its unique design; an al fresco set-up and a location under a huge tree gave it quite a warm vibe. The food in Montenegro is predominately Italian, so vegetarians don’t have to worry. As a solo woman traveller, I partied till the wee hours of the morning and safely found my way back.
The Stari Grad (Old Town) of Budva, complete with granite flooring and Venetian walls, is one of the oldest such squares in Europe. At the Citadel here, the highest point in town, I got gorgeous views of the region, which made the climb worth the effort. Fun fact: Yugoslav communist revolutionary Josip Broz Tito actually relayed his instructions during World War II from here. Today this medieval fortress is privately owned and hosts theatrical performances. The town is also synonymous with its iconic sculpture—Dancer from Budva—on a rock in the middle of the sea.
My next stop was the medieval town of Kotor, less than a 30-minute drive away. A Unesco World Heritage Site, the place is built on a limestone cliff, giving it a rocky finish. It actually seemed like a fjord arising out of the Mediterranean. It is said that the ocean here is so clear, that you can see your reflection perfectly. The symbol of strength of this town is, I would say, the Clock Tower, which lies in the middle of the town square. It is at an approximate 30-degree slant. Originally upright, a couple of massive earthquakes struck the region over the centuries and caused the structure to incline. In my entire trip, this was the only place where I found another Indian.
Just a few hundred metres from the town square were the protective city walls. There were two routes to reach the top—the steep streets through the interior of the town, and the two-hundred-odd steps straight to the vantage point. I was quite lazy and didn’t want to walk, so I took the shortcut. When I reached up there, all I could see were dreamy blues, pantile roof houses and hundreds of yachts.
Montenegro definitely reminded me of Monte Carlo: teal waters, slanting streets, scenic drives and luxurious vessels dominated my visual field. At Tivat, my next destination, it was all about a plush promenade, sprawling restaurants and swanky shops. Porto Montenegro—a marina on the naval base of this town—has recently been developed. It seemed like a place straight out of a Hollywood film.
Putting things in perspective, Montenegro could definitely become the new Riviera. My word of advice though—please explore the country before it becomes overrun with tourists. After all, there are very few places that haven’t yet been subjected to that fate.
Montenegro has two international airports: one is in the capital city, Podgorica, and the other is in Tivat. There are no direct flights from India, but you can take one-stop flights (from `44,000 round trip) from New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai. A single-entry visa is valid for three months. A valid Schengen visa will also work. For cheaper flight options, fly to Dubrovnik Airport in Croatia, which is just 20 minutes from the Montenegrin border.