I thought about this before travelling to the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro, I had spent a lot of time on the French Riviera and wondered where they got the idea of Montenegro being the new Monte Carlo from.
The line comes from the foreign minister referring to the potential of Montenegro to become attractive for the super rich and the wealth that comes with them compared to the faded grandeur of Monte Carlo. So how does it really shape up?
Looking back over the old town of Budva, Montenegro
I had started my journey down the Adriatic coast from Split in Croatia down to Dubrovnik passing thorough the scruffy bit of coastline that belongs to Bosnia Herzegovina before finally arriving at the border of Montenegro. The trip down the coast could only be made by bus or private car and in the heat of the summer with the tourists in full sway meant the journey was long and tiring.
We passed through customs with little formality, just a stamp on the passport and a rummage through the luggage.
Almost immediately the scenery changed and the road moved away from the ribbon of coastline and meandered someway inland before the route opened up onto the fabulous bay of Kotor. Almost an Alpine landscape the steep granite cliffs plunged down into the water giving an impression of a deep fjord.
The inlet looks like a lake at this point as it opens up inland just past the town of Bijela, there is a ferry crossing to the far side cutting out several miles of driving around the foot of the mountains, however we were off to Kotor so the bus stuck to the inside track. The view was stunning, cruise ships steamed slowly across the water as powerboats and yachts dotted the lake like confetti.
Kotor, the main tourist town in this area, is tucked away in the far corner of the bay and home to an impressive fortress on the mountain above. The path winds up the mountain so stock up on water and snacks at the market below before attempting the climb in the heat of the summer.
The old town is pretty but the water is not good for swimming; I was hot and sweaty and very happy to continue on a few more kilometres down the coast to the seaside town of Budva and its famed Riviera coastline.
The cobled streets of old town, Budva
The bus station was located pretty centrally and I could probably have walked to the hostel however with fairly cheap taxis and a lack of a map it was a simple choice. There are a few hostels in Budva; I stayed in a nice little place called Hippo Hostel run by an expat couple while a garden and television room added to the relaxed atmosphere. One feature of the whole coastline here has been the exorbitant price of the hostels relative to the general living costs, it is easy to pay over 20 Euros for a dorm bed and only 50 cents for a beer, I ask you is that just?
For walkers and those of an outdoor bent the area inland from Budva is fantastic for Kayaking and trekking, just make sure to check that there has been enough rain in the season to make the kayaking feasible as I met several backpackers returning disappointed from the three day trip up the mountains.
This region of Montenegro has the main slice of the tourist pie with the majority of the visitors coming from Serbia and Russia. Other Europeans do make it down here but not in the numbers that are seen in its more cosmopolitan neighbour Croatia. English is spoken, especially by younger people and many in the tourist trade.
The beaches near to the town have dark sand and pesky shingle; however there are a couple of nicer alternatives outside of town like Jaz Beach, home to many concerts throughout the season, or the beach at Sveti Stefan. I have to wonder at a fancy resort island that sounds like sweaty Steven and wouldn’t let me in, the gaul!
The beautiful Busva Riviera
Tawdry beach entertainment lines the seafront here with restaurants offering the usual fare of hamburgers and beers, the bars and cafes getting progressively more upmarket as you near the old town of Budva.
The winding streets of the old town are charming and are a welcome change from the sweaty bodies on the sand. As with most restored historic areas there are the usual restaurants and bars alongside tricked out t-shirt and souvenir shops but the city does get to keep some semblance of an atmosphere with tidy alleys and hidden churches.
One problem that stands out is how to leave the place! There are a few choices available, some easy and some requiring a little fortitude.
- You can leave the way I came in, back into Croatia
- There is a train service from Podgorika to Belgrade, sadly it bears no relation to the fictional one in the film Casino Royale
- A ferry service runs from Kotor or Bar to Italy
- Adventure hounds can take a minibus across the border to Albania and from there a two day trip to Athens
I may have been a little critical in some of the comments, the new Monte Carlo it is most definitely not, however the people are friendly, the prices are reasonable (apart from the outrageous hostel rates) and the scenery can be stunning. Choose your travel period wisely, bring a stout pair of boots and enjoy a country still on the to-do list of many a traveller.