By Jane Foster
This story originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Elite Traveler.
With its soaring mountains and sublime coastline bordered by the deep-blue Adriatic, tiny Montenegro is adored by yachtsmen and adventure-sports enthusiasts. The National Tourism Organization of Montenegro’s motto is “Wild Beauty,” and indeed the country’s unspoiled nature and sparkling-clean sea are major draws. Add to this luxurious accommodations (several five-star hotels were recently renovated), ancient walled towns, boutique wineries and slick marinas, and this hidden gem punches well above its weight
Montenegro’s most-lauded destinations are the historic ports of Kotor and Budva. Kotor, with its miniscule car-free old town, filled with noble Baroque buildings and protected by Venetian fortifications, sits at the end of the meandering 17-mile-long Bay of Kotor, often referred to as Europe’s southernmost fjord. Surrounded by mountains and overlooked by a string of sleepy waterside villages, the Bay of Kotor is a Unesco world heritage site. Nearby, in Tivat, Porto Montenegro is a 450-berth superyacht marina—arrange a one-day private charter to explore the bay by sailboat. Further down the coast, Budva, founded by the Greeks in the 4th century BC, is perched on the open sea. Now notably popular with wealthy Russians, the Budva Riviera is home to Montenegro’s best beaches as well as the islet of Sveti Stefan. Much loved in the 1960s by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, it is now an Aman resort.
Beyond the coast, you enter a dramatic mountainous landscape. All five of the country’s national parks are breathtaking, but lovers of the outdoors will be especially enamored with Durmitor, where Tara Canyon makes an exhilarating venue for white-water rafting; Lake Skadar, where you can try kayaking through waters dotted with lilies and inhabited by rare birds; and Biogradska Gora, which contains six glacial lakes and virgin forest populated by bears and wolves.
Take Three/// Wine Tastings
Montenegro’s biggest wine producer can be found just outside Podgorica, with impressive cellars housed in a former military aircraft hangar. Tours take you through the manicured vineyards aboard a miniature train, followed by a talk and tasting with an array of savory snacks. Its bold red Pro Corde is made from the indigenous Vranac grape.
In a typical old-fashioned konoba (cellar), with exposed stone walls and heavy wooden tables and benches, this family-run winery is near vast freshwater Lake Skadar in the historic village of Donji Brčeli, where the Kopitović family has lived since the 15th century. Try their ruby-red Poskok, which is named after a local snake due to its strength.
On a hillside above the sea in the coastal town of Herceg Novi, this boutique family-run vineyard hosts short guided tours followed by a tasting on a stone terrace with spectacular views. Try their light, summery Chardonnay and robust Merlot. Also take a look in the neighboring Savina Monastery, dating from the 17th century.
Within Aman Sveti Stefan, this summer pop-up Nobu, co-owned by chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Robert De Niro, opened in June 2016. Come here for an ultraromantic dinner on a hillside terrace with stunning sunset views of the Adriatic. Order a Ruby Razz cocktail (fresh raspberries, Stoli Razberi, crème de cassis and champagne) before feasting on Nobu’s irresistible rock shrimp tempura with spicy creamy sauce, and his signature black cod miso, reputedly De Niro’s favorite.
The concept at this Porto Montenegro restaurant is personalized private catering in a white-marble, open-plan kitchen/dining space. Executive chef Goran Delač grew up with a fisherman grandfather in Tivat, so he’s a hands-on expert when it comes to local seafood. He’ll help you devise a menu—his signature dish, inspired by the diversity of the Adriatic, is a mixed plate of carpaccio, baby shrimp, monkfish, shrimp mousse and truffles. Minimum spend is $1,770, and reservations are essential.
Step back in time at this early-19th-century stonemill in Morinj, overlooking the Bay of Kotor. Set in lush gardens with a stream, bamboo grasses and ducks, it’s now a family-run restaurant specializing in traditional Montenegrin seafood, with an emphasis on fresh local shrimp. Take a candlelit table on the lovely stone terrace and order the chef’s speciality: yellow risotto made from shrimp and fragrant saffron, or the monkfish and shrimp skewers, accompanied by a colorful seasonal salad.
At the mouth of the Bay of Kotor, this rustic-chic eatery attracts sailing parties, who moor their yachts along the quay and come ashore to eat on the waterside terrace shaded by white awnings. There’s no menu—the choice changes daily depending on that morning’s catch. Expect barbecued John Dory or sea bass, served with organic vegetables from the garden and homemade olive oil. There’s a bathing deck with double beds (massages available) and sea kayaks for guests’ use.
Presidential Suite Hilton Podgorica Crna Gora
Lying just off Podgorica’s main square, the Hilton makes a refined base for exploring the inland mountains. Dating from 1953, it reopened after a total renovation in 2016. Elegance prevails, from the marble lobby to the eighth-floor Sky Bar, which serves cocktails under the stars, and the Doclea Spa. Of the 180 rooms, top choice is the Presidential Suite, featuring marble floors, a spacious open-plan living room, kitchen and dining space, and floor-to-ceiling windows that afford panoramic views over the city and surrounding mountains.
Sveti Stefan Suite Aman Sveti Stefan
Rising proudly from the turquoise Adriatic, Sveti Stefan is a 15th-century fishing village on a fortified islet, joined to the mainland by a causeway. In 2009, following the renovation of its medieval stone cottages and cobbled alleys, it opened as an Aman property. It incorporates the Villa Miločer, an Aman Spa and two blissful pink sand beaches. Super-indulgent couples stay in the two-story Sveti Stefan Suite with king-size bedroom, lounge, fireplace, dining area, steam room and stone terrace with gorgeous sea views and a private pool.
Pool Club Penthouse Regent Porto Montenegro
Overlooking the superyacht marina at Porto Montenegro, this grand Venetian-Renaissance style hotel opened in 2014. Facilities include the nearby Yacht Club Pool, a stunning 210ft infinity pool jutting out over the Bay of Kotor. Reserve a Pool Club Penthouse, with a wraparound terrace with private Jacuzzi and sundeck, plus a lounge and dining area bordered by a wall of French doors offering dramatic sunset views over the bay.