MONTENEGRO, “The Jewel of the Adriatic”, is arguably the last, great, undiscovered seaside destination left in Eastern Europe. It’s beautiful, decidedly off the beaten track, and the US dollar can go far here. In full disclosure, while I am American, my ethnic background is Montenegrin, so I have both a personal interest in this part of the world, and perhaps I’m a little bit bias too. That said, the following review, I believe, is fair and not without criticism.
On the plus side, Montenegro, at least in 2002, was a total bargain. While Serbia (whom they were still under at the time) was on the dinar, Montenegro had adopted the Euro, and during my visit was applying to be in the EU. Tourists could use either the Euro, or the dinar, and either way, prices were low.
While there, I spent an average of $40 US dollars per day! Keep in mind this included dinner out, accommodations and local travel. One evening, my cousins and some friends (about seven of us) discovered a door in an ancient wall that surrounded the town we were visiting, Budva. A discreet sign overhead read “plaza” (pronounced ‘plaa-jha’) which means beach. Sure enough, the door lead to a beach with a rather popular outdoor bar. What an amazing find! I ordered two rounds of beers for all, and when the tab came, I was shocked to learn I owed a whopping $7! I don’t often say this, but this was a peak travel experience.
Other must-see spots along the coast in Montenegro include Kotor, which is becoming very popular with cruise ships, Herzig Novi, and Sveti Stefan (St. Stefan). The latter is a small, medieval, walled island-village that brings to mind France’s Mont St. Michele. Recently, Sveti Stefan it was purchased by Aman Resorts. I am told they plan to refurbish a majority fo the island to join their other world-class resorts. I will certainly be returning there one day when they finish.
Throughout Montenegro, the food is fantastic- especially the smoked meats. The white wines I tried were delicious, and having gone to college in California wine country, I like to think that’s saying something.
DON’T MISS: the Plava Spilja, the blue grotto along the Adriatic coast. You can ferry to them, and once there, one can swim in the warm waters. The grotto is comparable to those in Italy, but nowhere near as populated with tourists.
All in all, I had just two criticisms for my visit to Montenegro. First, the service in restaurants can be slow, but this is likely a hold-over from the days of communism. Plus- when one is on vacation, one needs to be patient!
Secondly, your hotel may take your passport upon arrival. They did mine. This is not unheard of in parts of Europe, but I’ve never liked it, and it can be a pain. My issue was that in order to get any cash, I needed that passport, but the hotel manager wasn’t there to give it to me. When he finally returned, the banks were closed. For the weekend. It was very frustrating. I was limited to those very few places that took a my Mastercard (strangely, many places took “Diners Club.” Who uses Diners Club anymore?) Oh, and ATMs were nowhere to be found in 2002, but I understand they are readily available in Montenegro today. All this aside, Montengrins are realizing the value of the tourist dollar and are working out kinks everyday as more and more people discover this gem of a country.