Montenegro was a surprise to me. Not in the sense that I didn’t know I was going. I did. But I didn’t know what to expect. Since I was more focused on the Croatia part of my itinerary, and life was busy, I didn’t have the time to focus on Montenegro.
As with any new country and culture, there’s a lot to learn. I’ll share a few of my learnings, along with other special places I found.
The government is actively courting luxury travel
They have tax friendly policies to inspire foreign investment and they have a very low tax rate on yacht fuel. They adopted the Euro as their currency, despite not being a member of the EU yet (they are hoping by 2024). Their efforts are clearly working. Aman, One & Only, Regent and Nikki Beach are open and running (except for Aman that recently closed because of a dispute with the government. hmm). More are coming. These policies have a dramatic incentive for development.
Montenegro means black mountain
There are stunning mountains with beautiful hikes, however because they are located remotely with no “good” hotels nearby, they aren’t accessible to many travelers who would also like to stay in comfort. There is an option to take a helicopter up for the day, but helicopters are not yet plentiful in Montenegro. They are working on it. In the mean time there are some more accessible good hikes too.
Their Bay of Kotor is UNESCO protected
The Bay of Kotor, which if you drive in from Croatia, appears as if out of a movie while you descend the switchbacks down the mountain.
It’s a beautiful bay, with a relatively small town, surrounded by granite peaks. The charm of the old town loses a little luster up close. I fear it’s a bit of a result of major cruise ships – lots of discounted shopping among the charming cobblestone streets. It’s super important to know when the cruise ships are coming so you can visit outside of those times. When you do, walking around town is a very enjoyable experience.
There are some great hikes from the old town
One of my favorites – a hike from the old town up about 800 steps to an abandoned church and an additional 600 steps up to a fortress beyond the church.
It’s a perfect excursion to take in the cooler temps of the early morning. You’ll be rewarded with great exercise and majestic views. Note: the rocks can get slippery so wear shoes with good traction.
This gives you a glimpse into what it’s like outside of the old town…
At the end of this wall is the entrance to another hike through a canyon, which is about 6-7 hours. I didn’t get a chance to do that on this trip, but I will next time.
The same family has been taking care of this clock in the main square for generations.
Another fun experience was our lunch at Hotel Forza Mare, a tranquil oasis and stylish boutique hotel, located on the water. If you are looking for a small property nearby the town, this is it. Just 25 minutes walking will get you to Kotor. They are family owned, have a small beach, and a chocolate cake, the Miracle Cake, that is beyond delicious (not surprising as they also own one of the most popular bakeries in town).
If you are simply looking for a lovely meal in a relaxing setting with delicious food, make a reservation for lunch.
If you go to Boka Bay, you must get out on the water! And when you do, I recommend a small boat. The reason I say small is that I learned bigger speedboats have to stay under a certain speed but the smaller boats have are able to go at a faster speed.
Another interesting place to visit is Our Lady of the Rocks, where legend has it rocks were thrown into the bay when sailors returned safely from sea. Eventually creating a man-made island, which now has a picturesque church on it. It was quite a cloudy day, but on a beautiful day it’s even more stunning.
Our first night was spent at the Regent in Boka Bay. On arrival I caught a glimpse of the sunset out the window. I immediately walked outside to find this view…
I love how you can see the rays of sunshine. What was obvious from the moment I arrived in Porto Montenegro is that the Regent is located at one of the most super lux marinas in the Mediterranean, full of 150, 180, 200’+ yachts, boutiques selling Chanel and Dior and restaurants with beautiful terraces from which to people watch.
It was on an early morning walk that I discovered my new “favorite” yacht, the Olivia O. You can see it below and you can see it’s hawk-like front in the picture above.
Curiosity got the best of me so I looked up a few of the yachts. As one might expect not everyone wants people to find out they own a huge yacht. I did find out the Olivia O is owned by Eyal Ofer, a Monaco based billionaire, active in shipping and real estate. If you are curious, you can read more here.
There was another unique element to the Regent that wasn’t immediately obvious. Regent is a cruise line and the décor in the hotel rooms has a purposeful feel of being on a luxury cruise ship. One attribute I loved was the window above the tub that opens to give you a beautiful view. I also loved this outdoor sunken couch.
The outdoor terrace of their restaurant, Murano, on almost the last day of September was lovely. Wearing a tank top at night with no sweater, for a New Englander, is always a pleasure!
Who are their guests? Mostly stylish, wealthy Europeans and Russians.
O&O opened in May of this year and it is truly amazing. Like Regent, O&O is located very near a super luxury marina/village. The marina is in a less mature phase, with just a few restaurants and shops, but in the coming months and years, it will progress to be as bustling as Puerto Montenegro. Their tennis courts are where Djokovic practices before his big games.
It was en route to O&O by boat that I noticed some cut outs at water level where the mountains meet the sea.
Asking Drago, I learned these were the hiding places for Yugosolavian submarines during the war – as recently as the 1990’s. As someone who loved the movie Hunt for Red October, I found that fascinating.
I love the ethos and brand of O&O – the staff is so attentive and welcoming, as you walk by they say hello with a hand over their heart. The kids and teens clubs were decked out (no kids because it wasn’t vacation week), the beach is sandy (courtesy of Egypt’s deserts) and the food is fresh and delicious.
The strawberries at breakfast tasted like they were from my local NH farm in the peak of summer. Their Italian restaurant, Sabia, next to the beach, is run by celebrity, Michelin star chef, Gorgio Locatelli. It’s possible the entire staff is Italian. Everyone I met seemed to be.
Tapasake, their Japanese restaurant, is connected to a hip beach club, with cushy cabanas, and instagrammable overwater swings.
The sushi was fresh and creative, the Wagyu beef tacos and other tiny bites delicious.
I had my first detox massage in their spa, which along with Ikador, are the two most cutting edge spas we saw. The massage involved suction cups, which was a first for me.
They have yoga every day at 8a and the class I took was a combo of hot, flow and meditation. A perfect way to start the day. Their fitness center is huge! And I loved that it has a prime location, near the pool, overlooking the beach.
My room – oooh it was delightful! One of my favorites of the trip. You can see a video walk through here.
Spacious, with the most indulgently large and comfortable bathroom. I loved the tub is set in front of a huge picture window with stunning views of the garden and the sea. A unique feature is that the tub is made up as a window seat and could even be a bed if you had a child with you. Then you simply ask for it to be converted into a tub and it will be ready when you return to your room.
If you’ve been to O&O’s before, you will love this one. If you haven’t been to a O&O before, make a plan to go to any of them.
I’ll admit to be disappointed by not being able to visit Aman Sveti Stefan. I’ve heard wonderful things about it, so my hope is it opens back up.
The Robb Report wrote a recent article, The Ultimate Guide to Montenegro, the Mediterranean’s New Jet Set Hotspot. Check it out if you want to learn more.