I was thrilled to be invited to explore the Port of Montenegro, just outside of Tivat; it has been on my bucket list for quite some time now. Like other countries in this part of Eastern Europe, Montenegro would have been unknown as a luxury tourist destination until a few years ago. Now, with the country fully open and embracing not just tourism but film and music festivals, outdoor pursuits and gastronomic delights, Montenegro is competing with traditional luxury destinations like the French Riviera and the Costa del Sol.
Lord Byron once said, “At the birth of our planet, the most beautiful encounter between the land and the sea must have happened at the coast of Montenegro. When the pearls of nature were sown, handfuls of them were cast on this soil.” Despite being one of the smallest countries in Europe, it is, without doubt, one with many facets. As a holiday destination, Montenegro offers a unique mixture of unspoiled natural beauty (both along its coastline and in its mountainous interior), breathtaking views, a rich cultural heritage and a wealth of interesting outdoor activities.
Flights from London Gatwick directly into Tivat take less than three hours and the journey to my hotel, the Regent Porto Montenegro is 15 minutes by taxi – another plus when you want to be able to arrive swiftly and start unwinding asap.
Sunset from Hotel Regent Porto Montenegro, offering arresting views of the marina and the sky at dusk, with the Lovćen Mountain framing the horizon.
The Regent Porto Montenegro is a five-star luxury property inspired by the Venetian Renaissance style, overlooking the protected UNESCO Boka Bay. Boasting a dramatic mountain range as a backdrop, the hotel offers 175 rooms and one- to three-bedroom suites distributed across three wings: Venezia, Aqua and Baia, all set against beautiful crystal-clear waters and striking scenery. The rooms are designed to create the feeling of being on board a luxury ship, but with all the comforts of home. My room, a Deluxe King Venetian, came complete with my own private landscaped terrace with a panorama view of Boka Bay, all in the style of the Italian Riviera.
Warm wood furnishings and a calming palette of nautical blues and earthy shades characterise the design of the rooms at Hotel Regent Porto Montenegro. Here featured a Deluxe King Venetian room overlooking the marina.
The glamorous four-pool area features an elegant bar and fire pits that cast a warm glow over the harbour and provide a tranquil setting. On the topic of relaxation, the Regent Spa offers a holistic approach to rejuvenation, providing wellness offerings to nurture the mind and body. Following a visit to the sauna, steam room, hammam and indoor pool overlooking the Mediterranean, I was treated to their Signature Massage and promptly fell asleep at the hands of my therapist, before padding upstairs in my huge, fluffy robe to relax on my terrace and watch the sun set.
The Spa at Hotel Regent Porto Montenegro has beautiful facilities and great range of treatment and services.
I ate particularly well – maybe too well – during my time at the hotel. There are many options, from light snacks at the Pool Bar to pizzas, burgers and pastries at the family-friendly Gourmet Corner and the exquisite Murano Restaurant, which brings together casual, unhurried and unpretentious luxury with expertly crafted local dishes and seasonal produce. The emphasis, quite logically, is on fresh seafood prepared in the Adriatic style. The location is also great for people-watching (and there are plenty of beautiful people), as Murano offers outdoor seating overlooking the water.
The 450-berth marina right in front of the hotel clearly beckons future plans for the super-yacht crowd, evidenced by the dry docks being built just across the bay, enabling repairs to be carried out while guests enjoy their stay in the port. The marina area also provides landing facilities for private aircrafts.
Porto Montenegro marina is the most comprehensive homeport in the Mediterranean, offering a complete range of services and facilities for boats of all sizes.
Porto Montenegro has been an Austrian/Hungarian naval base since 1888. Before and during World War II it was primarily used for submarines, and afterwards as a naval repair base at the heart of the Mediterranean basin. Steeped in history, the nearby Nautical Heritage Museum (where I managed to go inside a sub) showcases historical artifacts that reflect the region’s rich maritime tradition. On the opposite side of the bay, which can be reached on a half-day boat trip, there are unique submarine storage facilities cut deep into the side of the mountain; these were used to hide and protect the arsenal from the enemy. One of the best ways to soak up the true beauty of the coast and the charming Venetian towns is from the crystal-clear waters aboard a yacht or speedboat – or any boat. And, of course, these trips can be personalised for you by the staff at Regent Porto Montenegro.
View of Kotor and Boka Kotorska, Bay of Kotor, UNESCO Heritage Site.
They can also arrange a variety of ways to explore inland and/or along the coast to suit any preferences. I chose a day of exploring in the hinterland via a 4×4 vehicle with local experts goBaloo. All trips last around four hours, and there are three route options, all of which include forest roads, panoramic views and informative commentary. I visited Vrmac and Gorazda, two Boka Belt fortresses that formed a unique Austro-Hungarian defence system of the southern border along the coast. Known as the Lovćen defence because of the eponymous mountain, the fortresses protected the coastline and Bay of Kotor. The finale of the tour was a picnic featuring local specialities delivered proficiently and seamlessly from an impressive setup of refrigerators, coffee machines and camping equipment transported on the cars, at a spot with 360-degree views of mountains, sea and blue, blue skies.
A tourist mecca in the high season due to cruise ships, Kotor is still well worth a trip. Previously a major Mediaeval trade centre, it was fortified by the Romans, Dalmatians, Venetians and Habsburgs. The protective walls of the city climb up the mountain Lovćen, fortified by towers and citadels, and topped by San Giovanni Castel (you’ll climb around 1,400 steps to reach it), which stands in lush green mountains. Declared a UNESCO WORLD Heritage Site in 1979, Kotor has one of the best-preserved Mediaeval old towns in the Adriatic.
St George’s Island was given its name in honour of the abbey of St. George, erected on it in the IX century. Originally owned by Kotor, the island became property of Venice in the XVII century, then of France, captured by the Austrians in 1814 and joined Yugoslavia only after the proclamation of Serbia’s independence. A little later the island went to Montenegro.
You must not miss Perast, on the edge of Kotor Bay (using a car ferry for the scenic option if you wish). The tiny town boasts 16 churches and is the starting point for visiting two folkloric picturesque islands by a quick boat ride. St. George and Our Lady of the Rocks lie straight in front and provide the most impressive views. Our Lady of the Rocks was artificially built by the constant depositing of stones and sinking of old boats around the reef that once existed there. According to legend, in the mid-15th century, sailors found an icon of the Virgin on a rock in the middle of the sea. To show gratitude when returning safely from distant voyages, sailors offered gifts and expensive objects from all around the world as a tribute to the Lady.
Perast has plenty of spots worthy of a long, lazy lunch. We chose the Hotel/Restaurant Conte. Right on the waterfront and with impressive views, the restaurant is renowned for traditional recipes made from fresh local ingredients. The house speciality – prawn-stuffed gnocchi with shrimp – was my favourite meal of the trip.
Mixed seafood platter for two, one of the highlights from the À la carte menu at Restaurant Conte, a true feast for any seafood lover.
On my last day, I travelled across to the other side of Boka Bay to the quaint town of Herceg Novi. Here, I visited Castel Savina winery, where a light lunch of fresh olives, meats and local cheese pies were served on a splendid terrace. Despite the plot housing a vineyard for some time, production is only for local gastronomic clients and hotels, so I had the opportunity to taste their range, from a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay to a Rosé Grenache. You can only visit Castel Savina Winery by reservation, and the trip includes wine-tasting, canapés and a history tour. They also make their own olive oil (which is delicious, and came back with me to London). All their products are available on-site only.
Visits to Castel Savina Winery can be arranged only in advance, and they include wine-tasting, canapés and a history tour.
Before I knew it, it was time to leave this wonderful place; my four days went far too soon. It was a surprise package from start to finish. Enjoying my stay at Regent Porto Montenegro and using it as a base from which to explore the surrounding area was a breeze. The in-house spa facilities provided a luxury seaside escape, and when I fancied venturing out from the hotel, I found varied and plentiful fine-dining options on the doorstep. One particularly enjoyable lunch was at the seafood restaurant Divino, right on the harbourside; think tartare of smoked carp and fish roll with lemon gel and dried olives. Entertainment options and activities are also available within walking distance. The people, the food, the history, the beauty – I’m already planning my next trip.
Words: Linda Hunting