DUE SOUTH…IN MONTENEGRO BY Julia Berg
It may sound odd to Brits to talk of “due south” in a country as tiny as Montenegro where the entire coastline is around 180 miles (compared to Land’s End in Cornwall to John O’Groats in Scotland and some 870 miles), but the local Montenegrins make the distinction. Absolutely.
Visitors to the charming little Adriatic country may notice that the beaches become more sandy, when travelling due south and perhaps a little more “streaked rose-gold”. There are some lovely spots where it really is worth stopping and staying a while.
Budva is often talked about as the liveliest place on the Montenegrin coast yet travel in May, June, September and October when the peak season crowds have left, and it is a real find. The fabulous old town has vestiges of Venetian rule, evident in beautiful squares and ornate stone balconies and the beach bars have a more laid-back vibe – they will even turn down the music out of high season if you ask nicely. Budva city beach has stunning views of the original city walls. Some of the best seafood and fish restaurants are here including my favourite Jadran kod Krsta for fabulous seafood dishes (apparently in business for over 40 years). Local friends rave about Konoba Stari Grad (meaning old town) with tapas style options and often with live music.
Possibly Montenegro’s most famous place on the coast is Sveti Stefan and yes, without doubt, it is just stunning. But I always stop just before there at Milocer, an important place when the former Royal family chose this as their summer base. Once a royal palace and now a hotel, but it is the pine and cypress framed slopes and glorious beaches here that so attract me – and others. King’s Beach (yes, it still carries the name) is easily reached by a footpath.
And so, to Sveti Stefan. Literally an outcrop of rock connected to the mainland by a very narrow pedestrian causeway. The fishing community which built this jumble of houses in the 15th and 16th centuries could little have imagined the fame the place would attain centuries later. Between the two world wars, locals left to seek work abroad and the small cottages were abandoned. In the early 1950’s the settlement was saved by converting the fishermens’ homes to a tourism resort (alas the village itself crumbled). During Tito’s time Sveti Stefan became an exclusive hideaway for film stars, politicians and celebrities, often as his guests. When I first visited in the early Nineties, an elderly waiter regaled me about how, in the Seventies, Sophia Loren so disapproved of the condition of the cooked pasta she was served that she went into the kitchen and taught the chef how to cook “spaghetti al dente”.
Today, the place is a gated Aman Resort and, with your back to the mainland, the pearly beach to the left of the resort is still open to the public whereas the one on the right is for hotel guests only. Go, if just for a day.
This is a lovely part of the coast, easily reached by bus and then a short walk down to the beach. Splash out and have dinner at sunset at Olive restaurant opposite the causeway, it isn’t crazily expensive but expect to pay a little more than usual, because of the amazing view.
If you have a car, it’s worth the short trip to the rise overlooking Sveti Stefan to see the 17th century frescoes at the Praskvica Monastery.
Petrovac is just five miles south of Sveti Stefan and has a spectacular crescent-shaped bay and the lovely Buljarica beach. It always seems so green here due to the abundance of trees and Mediterranean plants.
Budva and Petrovac have an excellent jazz and blues festival each year, usually from late August until around 9th September and many music lovers hop between the two places on subsequent nights.
If you have a little time to spare at the end of your holiday, head further south to Bar and take an adventure by train across one of the highest and most breathtaking railway bridges in Europe, ending in Belgrade, Serbia – and fly home from there. Chris Tarrant thoroughly recommends it as in his Channel 5 “Extreme Railway Journeys”