Montenegro may be tiny, but its tourism is growing like crazy - 21st-century jet-setters, celebs and savvy travelers are discovering the very same place that Sophia, Marilyn and Kirk escaped to in the 1970s.
We sailed up Europe's southernmost fjord, the Bay of Kotor, from the Atlantic, to reach Kotor, a multicultural enclave protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Along the way, we passed unspoiled waterfront towns, mountains rising up steeply behind them, while every bend in the bay revealed another tiny island. Kotor itself is nestled up against a peak crisscrossed by 600-year-old Venetian fortifications.
We couldn’t wait to explore this ancient jewel of a city. Steps from St. Luke’s Church (Sveti Luka) in Old Town we found the Boutique Hotel Astoria, opened in 2010. Greek designer Virginia Karaki took the 13th-century Buca Palace and turned it into nine charming rooms. Three overlook the port, the fjord and the mountains beyond, while others have a city view; the roof apartment has two terraces with panoramic vistas of the water.
The rooms are named after the local version of Greek letters. Ita has a marble bath and a small balcony, while Thita has a larger balcony. Each room is done in a delectable combination of historical and contemporary, with dramatic lighting, hardwood floors, neutral walls and linens. Ancient Greek sayings are interwoven into the décor. Downstairs, there is a splashy restaurant and bar with a huge petrified tree as a centerpiece. Take a look at www.astoriamontenegro.com.
Contact Dragana ([email protected]; 011-382-32-302-720) to ask for special reservations.
We liked the Astoria in Kotor so much that we decided to check out the second Astoria in the Adriatic beach town of Budva, a quick taxi ride across the peninsula. Opened in 2007, this intimate hotel sits right on the beach on the edge of the 2,500-year-old historic center. The combination of worn stones and bright sea was irresistible and we settled under an umbrella for a beach morning. The sea was clear, green and clean.
Valentina showed us around the hotel, which has six double rooms and six suites overlooking either the Adriatic or the Old Town. We loved the one-bedroom Sea View Suite with separate living room and balcony and could definitely return for another visit. Overlooking the tile roofs of the town is a two-bedroom suite ideal for families. The décor is smart contemporary with a splash of bright color in every room. To see more, go to www.budva.astoriamontenegro.com or give Valentina a call at 011-382-0-33-451-110 or e-mail at [email protected]
A late lunch of fresh seafood and local white wine at the hotel’s beachside restaurant was the perfect ending to an ideal summer day in our new favorite vacation spot. Mirko, our English-speaking driver, took us back to Kotor in air-conditioned comfort in just half an hour—contact him by calling at 011-382-69-510-964.
While we love the sense of home at these two Astoria hotels, we can’t overlook the news that the divine Aman Resorts has opened Aman Sveti Stefan on the islet of Sveti Stefan off near Budva—the resort includes the majestic Villa Milocer with its pink beaches. Regent Hotels will be opening in May 2013 at the yacht basin at Porto Montenegro at Boka Bay. Banyan Tree has announced a six-star spa resort on olive tree-studded Sveti Marko, another small island in the Bay of Kotor.
We are already planning our next trip and will report back. After all, there’s a car ferry from Ancona or Bari, Italy, to Bar, Montenegro. Flights go into Podgorica and Tivat out of Rome and Milan, or fly out of JFK through Dubrovnik, Croatia. Arrivals by yacht will find five serviced marinas, including locations on both the Adriatic and Bay of Kotor.
|Kotor is nestled up against a peak crossed by 600-year-old Venetian fortifications.|
|Kotor old town is home to a great number of monuments of the medieval architecture.|
|The Bay of Kotor is Europe’s southernmost fjord.|
|Budva is a quaint, Adriatic beach town.|
|The Sea View Suite at Hotel Astoria Budva has one bedroom and a separate living room and balcony.|
|Beaches near Budva rival some of the best beaches in the world.|
|Suites are named after the local version of Greek letters.|