European travelers looking for the new summer vacation spot are already on to it, so it won't be long before Montenegro loses its status as one of Europe's best-kept secrets. One of the world's youngest countries, it finally reached statehood less than 18 months ago but it isn't wasting any time in establishing itself as an attractive destination for those seeking sun, Adriatic beaches, historic towns, low prices and friendly locals. Did I mention low prices? Yes, even in Europe, the U.S. dollar can command a little respect, but not for long as up-market resorts and five star hotels move in.
Actually visiting the coastline of Montenegro is not a new thing -- it has long been a fashionable locale for celebrities and royalty, trying to escape the paparazzi and crowds of the French or Italian rivieras, especially when it was the former Yugoslavia. But traveling here became less socially acceptable when Montenegro was part of Serbia, following the Balkans war, and has only recently fallen back into favor.
Budva is the Montenegro equivalent of St. Tropez, frequented by actors, models and those seeking some of the glamour of that lifestyle without the price tag. Originally settled by the Venetians, its fortified port and quaint historic architecture creates a charming backdrop for bars, nightclubs, bistros and white sandy beaches. Less than 60 miles from Dubrovnik, it is also one of the most popular resort towns in the country, with several smaller beach towns located to its north and south.
In terms of accommodation, there are several hotels offering rooms and studios, or you can rent private villas or apartments. The four-star Hotel Sajo ( tel. +382/86-460-243; www.sajohotel.com) is a modern four-star hotel that may lack historic charm but it is a well-priced option located a two minute walk from the beach and a 20-minute walk from the city center. Rooms here are priced from $61 per person per night including breakfast and an additional $15 for either lunch or dinner. In peak season (from July 11 to August 25) the rate is $90 per person per night in a double room
The five-star boutique Hotel Astoria (tel. +382/86-451-110; www.hotelastoria.cg.yu) is located in the heart of the old city and is a beautiful medieval building with captivating views of the harbor and city walls. The slick interior is more reminiscent of a Western European capital than a Balkan beach town, with impeccably designed double rooms starting from $178 per night or $237 in peak season.
Just outside Budva (less than two miles from the city center), lies Becici beach, considered one of the most beautiful stretches of sand in the region. Becici's Queen of Montenegro Hotel (tel. +382/86-662-662; www.queenofmontenegro.com) is a large modern beachfront property with accommodation priced from $82 per person per night in low season and $119 in high season. Rates include breakfast daily. Hotel Mediteran (tel. +382/86-424-382; www.hotelmediteran.info) has its own stretch of private beach in Becici plus a spa and wellness center. Prices here range from $68 to $125 per person per night including breakfast. The four-star Hotel Montenegro (www.montenegrostars.com) in Becici is one of three properties owned by the Montenegro Star Hotel Group. Rates at this beachfront resort range from $80 to $140 per person per night including breakfast.
Prices of accommodation seem to go down the further you get from Budva itself. The Hotel W Grand (tel. +382/86-461-703; www.wgrandpetrovac.com) is located in the ancient Roman town of Petrovac, home to a medieval fortress and pristine and slightly less crowded beaches surrounded by hills. It is approximately ten miles from Budva and rates here, in quite attractive minimalist rooms, range from $36 to $62 per person per night including breakfast. Adding on a dinner (on a half-board basis) often adds less than $10 to your nightly stay. Although not beach front, it is only a short walk to the shore and the terraces afford prime views of the Adriatic.
The most iconic landmark in Montenegro, and the one that graces guide books, computer wallpaper and travel brochures is the rocky outcrop island of Sveti Stefan, once a 15th century fishing village four miles from Budva, converted into an exclusive hotel in the 1960s, and connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. In its heyday, it hosted a who's who of celebrities in its heyday, but is currently in the throes of being totally overhauled and redesigned by the Aman Resort Group. It is expected to reopen in the spring of 2008 but be prepared to pay Aman-style prices for an opportunity to stay in what will be the country's most expensive and elite hotel.
Getting to Montenegro you have a choice between flying in to the capital, Podgorica, or the city of Tivat from another European city (like Rome -- one hour flying time) or alternatively flying through Dubrovnik in Croatia and crossing the border by car or bus. You can also catch a ferry (www.cemar.it/dest/ferries_yugoslavia.htm) across the Adriatic from Italy (either Ancona in the north or Bari in the south) to the port of Bar on a journey that can take as little as seven hours or as long as 16 hours. Overnight ferry cabin rates start from $68 per person.
For more information about traveling in Montenegro, visit the National Tourist Organisation of Montenegro website (www.visit-montenegro.com).
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