21 July 2024

Relax on Sveti Stefan beach
Dazzled by the Adriatic's secret gem
Emma Crosby discovers why the magic of Montenegro made Byron wax lyrical
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ontenegro has long been described as the Cinderella to her bigger, brasher sister Croatia. On my first trip to the country - and last jaunt before impending motherhood - it feels as if this undiscovered beauty is finally getting to go to the ball. Many have been moved to write about Montenegro, a compact but mountainous country with a coastline to match the Cote d'Azur and Amalfi.

Yet many holidaymakers have yet to cotton on. Byron talked of the pearls of nature having been sown in abundance here; if so, the juiciest pearl is the tiny island of Sveti Stefan, home to the country's most luxurious hotel. With its narrow alleyways, winding stone steps and plunging fortress sea walls, this centuries-old fishing village could have come straight out of a childhood fairytale.
Liz Taylor, Sophia Loren and Princess Margaret holidayed here in movie-star splendour. Today, post-Balkans conflict, the Aman group has painstakingly restored the resort's original charm. Old fishing cottages are now hotel suites, each uniquely designed with stone walls and understated luxury.

I loved exploring the tiny bougainvillea-clad lanes; some leading to the village piazza, others to the island's three churches. There are two pine-shaded pools to flop by when the midday heat gets too much and three top-class restaurants. Come night-time the island glows with lanterns, a homage to the wives of old who would use them to illuminate the way home for their seafaring husbands. We dined on freshlycaught fish, the twinkling lights of Montenegro's coastline our stunning backdrop. Hotel residents have the whole island, plus three of the country's best mainland beaches, and a luxury spa to themselves. No surprise that today's A-listers, such as tennis star Novak Djokovic, are regulars.

It was hard to leave Sveti Stefan, but I drove an hour up the coast to check out the Unesco sites of Kotor and Perast - both beautiful medieval towns inspired by the Venetians and nestling on the beautiful Bay of Kotor. There are two picturesque islets off Perast. Both have charming chapels and are easily reached by boat. Also not to be missed is Kotor's Old Town, wonderfully preserved. My advice is to visit now, before everyone else does.

Original article published in Mar 2016. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
Built by local tribesmen with gold plundered from a defeated Ottoman invasion, Sveti Stefan's history is as dramatic as the precipitous rocks on which it perches. Under Tito's rule, Sveti Stefan became the playground of the 1950s' rich and famous:
"My advice is to visit now, before everyone else does."
Kotor Old Town, and above Perast in the Bay of Kotor
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