The first thing to say about Montenegro, is that it’s a stunning country, with a riviera to rival the finest anywhere in the world, rugged snow capped mountains and peaks inland, historical walled medeival towns, several world heritage sites and the highest bio-diversity level of any European country.
Part of the former Yugoslavia, but having been a Kingdom in the past and having various Serbian Principalities located there, it declared its independence in 2006 and in 2007 because the Republic of Montenegro. It’s a small country, roughly the size of four English counties, with a population of around 650,000.
It’s name is derived from the Venetian for ‘Black Mountain’ and the walled town of Budva is one of the oldest in the Balkans.
Sveti Stefan is a small village and island, located on the Montenegrin rivera, less that 10 kms from Budva, a 20 minute drive.
The Aman resort hotel, which occupies the whole island, depicted above, is the iconic representation of the scenic qualities of the place. From here it’s short drive to Buda, a walled city, like it’s more famous cousin, Dubrovnic, further up the Dalmatian coast in Croatia. Also along this coast are the holiday retreats and secretive villas of the super-rich, the likes of Abromovich and other Russian billionaires.
The coastline’s beautiful, with its corniche that winds around the indented bays and coves, reminiscent of the the Cote D’Azure, with hair pin bends. Images of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly driving recklessly in a 1955 convertible Sunbeam Alpine, spring to mind. Behind is a rugged mountain backdrop, which remind me of the hinterland to Marbella in Southern Spain. But like most places, this small stretch of coast has its unique identity, forged by the people who live here, their culture, their food and their wine. And the history of this place is rich, from the Romans, Venetians, Ottomans and local tribes that make up these Slavic people.
It’s geographical location means its a magnet in the summer for holiday makers from Central and Eastern Europe, who can drive down to the coast. The super-rich come on their private jets or super-yachts. But like anywhere, its definitely worth coming off-season, when the beaches and roads are uncongested, if not completely empty, and you can have the place practically to yourself.
I visited in mid April and luckily got fantastic weather. We’d driven from Pristina in Kosovo, down into Albania, and across into Montenegro, skirting the shores of the stunning Lake Skadar (see separate blog post), which is shared by both countries.
The island became a hotel in the 1960’s and has been famous with the rich and famous ever since. In 2007 it was taken over by Aman resorts and is now a luxury hotel containing houses and apartments that start from a staggering €800 per night.
Of course there are a number of good hotels on the mainland and the advantage they have is that they have stunning views over the island, as the centre piece of spectacular view with the sweep of the bay.
We arrived on spec, parked and walked up the steep steps to Vila Drago, a small family run hotel, perched up the hillside, fronting onto the main road that runs down to the sea shore and access to the island. After climbing the steps we reached the large terrace, which looks inviting, set with small tables and vines growing over trellises. It had a perfect view of the island.
The hotel was empty as the season hadn’t yet started. We were given a spacious front room, which was clean and had a nice atmosphere. However, its pièce de résistance was the view, which when we walked through the shuttered sliding doors, was magnificent.
The room had a small balcony with table and chairs, the ideal place to sip a cold beer or glass of wine and watch the sun go down, which is exactly what we did. That night we decided to stay at the hotel for dinner and it turned out to be a good decision. The food was delicious, the high quality Montenegrin wine, free flowing and the service attentive but not intrusive. Courses were interspersed with shots of strong Rakia, which certainly helped one sink into a state of epicurean bliss.
I would certainly recommend Vila Drago as a characterful, family run hotel, beautifully situated and a perfect base from which to explore the coast, and sight see Buda and beyond Kotor Bay and the world heritage town of Kotor, or perhaps make an excursion to Lake Skadar.