Alice Hancock

The hidden charms of Montenegro

It's a crowd-free alternative to Croatia

  • From Spectator Life
Kotor, Montenegro [iStock]

The first thing you should know about Montenegro is that it is wildly more dramatic than you might imagine. It would be frankly rude not to pull up on its precarious mountain roads and gawp. In summer the Adriatic shines; in autumn the mountains compete with New England for glorious, rich colours.

The second thing you should know is that there is a relaxing lack of big-hitting sights. And anything you do want to do won’t take long. Even the most beautiful and Venetian of the tiny Balkan state’s towns take an afternoon at most to peruse, leaving plenty of time for lingering coffee stops and long fish lunches in the family konobas strung along the coast (which, if you were pushing it, you could drive end to end in around three hours).

The third thing you should know is that the Montenegrin’s signature snack, the savoury pastry borek, comes in four flavours – ‘meat, cheese, cheese or cheese’ – and bakeries will have run out by lunch.

Fuelled on early morning borek from a bakery in the old royal capital Cetinje, we make a first stop at Montenegro’s regal mountain, Lovcen, before navigating a spaghetti of roads to meet Milena Milic, who runs a small group of boutique hotels around the Bay of Kotor and who is championing Montenegro to give its more prestigious neighbour Croatia a run for its money attracting tourists.

The Lovcen mountains national park [iStock]

The hotels grew out of her husband’s family grocery business and the pair have managed through successive crises: the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, Covid and more recently the sudden drop in both Russian and Ukrainian tourists who would normally spend summer on the Adriatic coast.

The Casa del Mare hotels are unassuming but immaculate. Where we stay in Kamaneri the balconies look out on the twinkling bay, and there is a rooftop garden to enjoy in summer.

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