Montenegro is fast becoming the Mediterranean’s most exclusive playground. Montenegro is the tiny Balkan nation that gained independence from Serbia less than a decade ago and is nestled on the Adriatic Sea between Croatia, Serbia, and Albania. And you should know about it because it’s feverishly recasting itself as a must-do luxury travel mecca.
Our base was Porto Montenegro, Tivat. When you get a few billionaires (LVMH Moel Hennessey Louse Vuitton’s chairman Bernard Arnault and Canadian businessman Peter Munk just to name two) invested in making this the superyacht capital of the world (it’s now beat out Monte Carlo) you end up with a mecca of shopping, dining, and international people.
Let me preface this collection of Montenegro best things to do by saying that I don’t backpack, but I am a girl who enjoys luxe things on a budget. Because so many of the tourists come via yachts there still is some need for hotel growth and you can find a deal but accommodation would be a bit on the higher end for the Balkans. That said the value is found in your dining and entertainment.
If you don’t care about a pool or beach access a good value is Hotel Pine. Its location was perfect – right on the boardwalk in the heart of Tivat. The little Juliette balcony view of the port was stunning – that is if you like sunset, palm trees, and yachts. We didn’t stay at Hotel Regent, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s “the” hotel in Tivat and a good landmark. It was too pricey for us, but it’s top notch.
We started our trip a Hotel Pine, but for a more quaint experience the majority of our stay was at the Eco Hotel Carruba. It’s a 20 min walk from the town centre, or a 3 euro cab ride. Or if you drive there’s a parking lot right behind Hotel Regent and Hotel Pine that is €2 all evening. Eco Hotel Carruba has a private little beach and the service was fantastic. However, my caution is (except for breakfast) to order in advance – they make everything from scratch and that process can be a bit slow. But you’re on holiday, so slow and chill works! So what’s the eco part? Nestled in a 19th century building, the hotel was refurbished and fitted with advanced ‘green’ technologies, modern water treatment system, and geothermal heating. Morning coffee on our little terrace quickly became a holiday ritual. Oh, and across the alley way we tripped into a weekly tournament of something like bocci ball and was a big draw for locals. Best free entertainment of the trip!
Al Posto Giusto is steps away from the Hotel Regent. Inside is a cozy stone décor and a wood fired oven ensures the best thin-crust pizza this side of Napoli. But it’s the waterfront terrace that’s the hot spot on any evening. This catwalk-like terrace was our favorite nightcap spot.
One Restaurant & Bar is around the corner from Al Posto is another must do restaurant. You can definitely get a good meal here – but this spot was notable to us for best deserts and martinis. Oh and the adult slushee drinks! Trust me, when it’s sweltering hot you want a place that can make frozen wonders out of any martini. It’s also sisters with next door Crush Wine Station. Other restaurants we really enjoyed were Mitsu (sushi) and Prova (Italian and local).
Repeat after me…it’s pretty much mandatory to be in Tivat and do a decadent cabana poolside day at the Port Montenegro Yacht Club’s Lido Pool. It’s €40 for a day pass to the cabanas and infinity pool over the sea, but worth the glam experience for at least one day. You have to be a member of the yacht club to dine at the restaurant, but after 10pm anyone can do cocktails at their lounge. And in high season after midnight the nightclub on the ground floor opens.
MI kept on being told the “best restaurant in all of Montenegro” is Konoba Catovica Mlini. So I did some research and yes it really is. Best service, best meal, best experience. It’s about 40 minutes from Kotor or from Tivat in a small town called Morinj. The latter was our route, and included a short, easy ferry ride (€4.50) and I recommend because it added to our adventure. Off the ferry it’s just a short 10 min drive. I’ve also had friends that hired a boat to go across.
The restaurant is an old saw mill (over 200 years old actually) and once you enter the bamboo walkway you’ve escaped into an oasis of charming bridges, foliage, and ducks. And of course there’s the food which is the freshest, locally grown, just caught or picked, and prepared according to the authentic local recipes.
Besides Morinj and Kotor our biggest excursion was going to Budva for the weekend. Budva is only 30 minutes away from Tivat and could easily have done this as a day trip, but we wanted to stay a few days. It’s the buzziest place on the coast so if you’re in the mood to party, this is the place to be. But after a weekend we were so happy to go back to Tivat!
The two Budva hotels I’d recommend are both in Old Town (Stari Grad). Astoria Hotel or Avala Resort & Villas. They’re both luxe and good value for what you get – including access to a private beach. We opted for Avala due to better pricing and we were able to get a seaside view terrace. It’s also got two pools in it when you’re needing a salty sea break.
The Old Town cluster of markets, restaurants, and night clubs make you feel like you’re in a carnival. But in that hub is Jadran Kod Krysta, a must do restaurant spot. If you’re not too put off by the motorcycle paraphernalia you’ll get the best value on great seafood and the biggest goblet of good local wine, Vranac, for only €1. I recommend the mussels and the grilled calamari!
When you’re ready to get out of the market area Konoba Stari Grad. It’s attractive stone-walled terrace is sandwiched between the Stari Grad’s walls and beach. It’s also along this area and wrapped around to the marina where you’ll find outdoor little bars. During high season also scoot to the luxury Hotel Splendid for a martini. It’s the only five-star in Budva and where you’re most likely to catch a celeb (we were told Anjelina and Brad likey, likey).
When you’re ready to turn it up a notch with bottle service and DJs your answer is Top Hill. Top Hill overlooks the city of Budva and the Adriatic sea, and is one of the most beautiful open air seaside nightclubs in this part of Europe. Tip: Only open during July and August.
All within about 15-20 minutes east of Budva are the pink sandy beaches of Sveti Stefan, Milocer Beach and Queen’s Beach. At Sveti Stefan is Villa Milocer which was built between 1934 and 1936 and was the summer residence of Queen Marija Karadordevic. And in the 50’s and 60’s this was a secret getaway for Elizabeth Taylor, Sofia Loren, and Orsen Welles. You can’t go onto the Villa Milocer unless you’re a guest of the Aman resort, but that won’t stop you from enjoying the beaches, olive trees, or just watching the speedboats jet around.
I’ve got one more little travel gem for you. Rental cars – we booked the best deal through Economy Car Rentals; the actually booking was at Enterprise Montenegro. There are so many day trip options within close driving distance to our base in Tivat and all our hotels offered free parking so we wanted a car, but didn’t need one the whole trip. We picked up the car at the airport (15 min outside of town) and for no extra charge we arranged for one of their staff to come to us in Tivat to grab the car for the return earlier than our departure. We also got the GPS and insurance all included. Service over and above.
Montenegro high season is July and August – -so that gives you a few months to get saving and planning for your Mediterranean escape!