MONTENEGRO - ADRIATIC GEMThe most iconic images of newly-independent Montenegro are of the tiny unspoiled islet of Sveti Stefan – yet the whole country exudes charm. JOY DODDS reports.
Famed for its beauty, Montenegro lies on the Adriatic coast between Croatia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Serbia and Albania, a land of rugged mountains and beaches lapped by crystal-clear waters. Its tempestuous past, including its role in Tito’s Yugoslavia, behind it, the fledgling nation enjoys burgeoning prosperity, as the hidden gem of the Adriatic.
Its coast is stunning, dotted with picturesque medieval towns such as Kotor, Budva and Bar that reflect its centuries-old history. The walled towns lining the Adriatic Coast are a combination of creamy stone, terracotta roofs and sapphire-blue waters, spiced with a dash of Venetian flair which makes for an unforgettable experience.
The old city of Kotor, a UNESCO World heritage site, dates back to the 9th century. From the 14th century the town walls, which completely encircle the town and loop upwards along the mountainsides, have been its pride. At night, the walls are illuminated, the reflection on the waters below creating a bewitching spectacle.
With its narrow streets and charming plazas, Kotor, known as ‘Cattaro’ under the Venetians, is often referred to as the ‘new’ Dubrovnik, rivalling and far less crowded than its northern neighbour. Its maze of terracotta-roofed houses, punctuated by the towers and domes of churches, is so picturesque. Walk the many stairs to the Castle of St John at the top of the mountain above the town. It’s a steep trek but the stunning views of the town and the Bay of Kotor below make it worthwhile.
Not far from Kotor is Budva, another walled city that has an attractive Old Town and sandy beaches. These days, bars fill the cobbled streets and line the waterfront outside of the historic city walls. Boat rides to secluded beaches like Drobni Pijesak and small islands like Sveti Nikola are
Montenegro’s capital Podgorica and the former royal capital of Cetinje are the two most important centres of culture and the arts in the country. The National Museum of Montenegro in Cetinje is located in the former palace of King Nikola I.
The Montenegrin coastal region is renowned for its religious monuments, including the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon in Kotor, the basilica of St. Luke (more than 800 years old), Our Lady of the Rocks in Škrpjela and the Savina Monastery. Montenegro’s medieval monasteries feature fascinating frescos on their walls as well as centuries-old manuscripts.
Among Montenegro’s inland scenic highlights is the lunar landscape view from the Njegoš Mausoleum over the Lovćen massif. The Italians called this area ‘black mountain’ (monte negro). Durmitor and Tara River Canyon, located in the centre of the Montenegrin mountains near the town of Zabljak, are also UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Lake Skadar National Park near the Rumija Mountains, and the picturesque Crnojević River that meanders down to the lake can be experienced off the main Cetinje–Podgorica highway, heading towards the historic riverside village of Rijeka Crnojevića.
And be sure to experience the rich Montenegrin cultural history, colourfully captured in traditional folk dances such as the Oro, an energetic movement that involves dancers standing on each other’s shoulders in a circle.
Another cultural festival not to be missed is Kotor’s Fig Festival in September which sees the town festooned in olives, vines and fruits. Locals celebrate with a glass of distinctive local wine, called Girgic.
In Montenegro, Tivat Airport is 34 km away, a 30-minute drive and Podgorica Airport (the capital, formerly known as Titograd) is 54 kms away. For most international flights, Dubrovnik Airport in Croatia is a 21/2-hour drive away.
Rail connections are less convenient in Croatia and Montenegro.
ISLAND IDYLL - SVETI STEFAN
The image of the tiny fortified island of Sveti Stefan, or St Stephen, anchored to the mainland by a causeway, is one of the most unforgettable on the Montenegrin Coast. South of Budva, near the village of Przno, it is the Adriatic ‘take’ on St Tropez. Once home to a fortified fishing village dating from the 15th century, its medieval stone walls stood against attack by Ottomans and pirates alike.
After the last villagers moved, the entire island became a hotel in the 1950s, soon becoming a high-profile destination for A-list celebrities. However, the breakup of Yugoslavia and the civil wars of the 1990s brought this fame as a luxury retreat to an end.
This century Sveti Stefan assumed its former glory as one of the Adriatic’s most alluring destinations. The painstaking revitalisation began in 2007. The facelift took in the island buildings as well as the 32-hectare seaside estate of Villa Miloˇcer, once the summer residence of Queen Marija Karadordevic, surrounded by more than 800 olive trees and ancient cedar and pine forests. The restoration work was made more complex by damage done by earthquakes over the centuries, creating cracked walls and leaking roofs. Original oak beams had to be replaced.
Today the restoration is complete, honouring centuries-old traditions. Lanterns sit on the window sills, much as they would have to beckon its fishermen home, and after dusk they are shifted outside to create a magical ambience.
The magical culture and history of the island has been preserved.
The hotel site covers two kilometres of coastline including the sandy beaches of Sveti Stefan, Miloˇcer Beach and the famous Queen’s Beach.
To wander through the island’s narrow pathways is to smell lavender and rosemary, other Mediterranean flora and fruit trees. The buildings look medieval and the old church remains in the village. It’s not difficult to imagine yourself as a peasant fisherman all those centuries ago!
History, culture, environment, architectural uniqueness and luxury lifestyle – the island hotel of Sveti Stefan has it all, and beyond its shores, Montenegro makes the perfect backdrop to Paradise.
Aman Sveti Stefan offers an idyllic sojourn where guests can relive the past while experiencing the utmost in contemporary five-star luxury.
Views from the different suites are of the sea, rustic rooftops or quaint courtyards and piazzas, depending on their location on the island with every one unique, reflecting its origins as a 15th-century fortress and fishing village.
While the charming historic stone exteriors and red-tiled roofs remain unchanged, the resort’s interiors have been restored and updated to meet luxury expectations in 50 suites, rooms and cottages on the island and 8 suites at Villa Miloˇcer. In designing the interiors, priority was given to preserving the original walls and reflecting the village’s origins. The two four-roomed Queen Marija Suites offer exquisite accommodation, complete with fireplaces, while the Sophia Loren Suite has a private swimming pool.
While staying at Aman Sveti Stefan is about relaxation, swimming, diving, boating, and sightseeing, dining is not forgotten. There’s a definite Venetian element to Adriatic cuisine. Dining options on the island are diverse – in the Piazza, the open-air square that is the centrepiece of the island’s village setting, there is a taverna, enoteca, pasticceria and antipasti bar. Dine around the cliff pool and bar with its great views or at the more formal Aman Restaurant. On the mainland are three dining venues including the Queen’s Chair and the Olive Restaurant. An afternoon glass of local wine on the terrace looking out to sea is unforgettable – a gentle reminder that “aman” means “peace’ in Sanskrit.
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Holidays Away is published by Fairfax Media
Telephone: 02 9478 1200
Holidays Away is published by Fairfax Media