In the Comfort Zone

In the Comfort Zone

Home, Sweet

It has been two and a half years since my last post here.

Since 2009 we had lived here permanently (my first blog post is here), but we moved to London in the summer of 2015 to work on new projects. Since then, our ‘life in Montenegro’ has, unfortunately, been sporatic. London work and family matters got in the way of anything more than a short annual check in on our house that was feeling, and looking, more and more neglected (that has since been remediated with a top to bottom renovation).

Kotor from the water

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

Last week I returned for a more extended stay, and fell in love with the place and its people all over again –  as I did in the summer of 2009. I am spending the summer season here getting reacquainted with friends, places and traditions like the annual family patron saint slava celebration found in the region. It’s not quite summer yet, but the temperature is already in the mid-20s celsius, so after three London winters it definitely feels like summer, even in April. Tomorrow is going to be a brilliant 27 degrees!

“The sea air, the sunshine and warm weather combined with a slower pace of life have been the perfect
post-London-winter tonic.”

Returning after this extended break has been wonderful. The sea air, the sunshine and warm weather combined with a slower pace of life have been the perfect post-London-winter tonic. With old friends it feels like no time at all has gone by.

Steps to our first apartment in Kotor

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

No caption needed

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

There seems to have been lots of progress in the past couple of years: new roads; new entrepreneurial ventures; new hotels; new investors and much more. Thankfully, the place still retains its charm with the general absence of global brands. I will have the summer to explore and report back to you.

I do know that a lot has changed since that September 6th morning when I walked up these steps to my accommodations in Kotor and started a whole new life in the country.

Some things have stayed the same… like tobacco brands ability to advertise in public.

I plan to open up this blog to other local contributors who would like to tell the story of their experiences in this beautiful little country on the Adriatic. As it settles into NATO membership and continues with the EU accession process, there are many more expats here than when we first arrived. It would be great if they also told the story of their road from culture shock to comfort zone.

Montenegro: The New Monaco? Not exactly…

Montenegro: The New Monaco? Not exactly…

The New Port of Cool

In an article by Claire Wrathall, the March 2015 issue of Boat International Magazine asks, once again, is “Montenegro the New Monaco?” Claire has been writing about Montenegro since as early as November 2004 in The Scotsman, so she is certainly a credible witness to the regional transformation that has occurred over the past decade.

Many others have asked the same question over the years: I think it might have been Jack Grimston, in an April 2009 Sunday Times article, who originally inferred that Montenegro was “the new Monaco” (I could be wrong though). The Financial Times labeled Montenegro the New Port of Cool in their Boating Special in the June 26th 2009 issue of How to Spend ItThe New York Times in August 2010 referred to the same comparisonFrance 24 News also asked the same question back in 2010. The Times pondered the idea (again) on July 9th 2011. The Boat Blog raised the question as recently as August 2014.

Port Hercule

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

I think they all didn’t quite hit the mark.

The reason so many began comparing Montenegro to Monaco originates from when one new local marina began to offer superyacht berths about six years ago. Investors, journalists and others all got on the bandwagon.

However, I believe that, if you limit the comparison of Montenegro to Monaco’s Port Hercule with such a tight lense you grossly diminish what Montenegro really has to offer. Yes, perhaps in very specific locations (like the Port of Kotor) and at certain times of year (August, for example), it might somewhat resemble the main port of Monte Carlo..

So, instead of wondering if Montenegro is the “New Monaco” because of the yachting season alone, I think the intriguing question to explore now should be:

Is Montenegro the 21st Century’s Intersection of Eastern and Western Cultures?

Party at Hôtel de Paris Monaco.

A more precise comparison of Monaco and Montenegro, might instead refer to the principality in the first half of the 20th Century. Actually, it is probably better to compare this region to the entire French Riviera of 50-plus years ago. Monaco, at that time, still wasn’t yet a superyacht destination or on the Mediterranean charter circuit, but it was a principle intersection of Eastern and Western Europe societies.

Great families from the United Kingdom arrived and played with their Russian and Eastern European counterparts. It was a marvelous time of cross-cultural experiences and entertaining. Less than a century earlier the region was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, so the Italian influence was also tangible there, as it is here in Montenegro. Before the turn of the 20th Century, the Casino of Monte Carlo opened, and so did the Hotel de Paris. We still don’t have such iconic institutions here, but you know they are on their way.

Economic development in Monaco was spurred in the late 19th century with a railway link to France, much as it will be in Montenegro with the new Bar-Boljare highway project.

Monaco of that era (the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th), was a land that welcomed cultures from across Europe and beyond, as Montenegro does today. Here on any given day, sitting in a seaside café, you can hear languages from across Europe and beyond. Monaco, at that time, had much more to offer than a simple harbour for yachts, as does this enchanting land that sits on the Adriatic Sea. This is a place full of awe-inspiring mountain parks and lakes; flawless natural reserves; spectacular coastlines, significant UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Venetian and Roman historical references, and so much more.

So, instead of wondering if Montenegro is the “New Monaco” because of the yachting season alone, I think the intriguing question to explore now should be:

Is Montenegro the 21st Century’s Intersection of Eastern and Western Cultures?

I think it just might be.

Yachting and sailing, chartering, culture, art, hospitality, education, economies and so much more will be impacted forever if I am right. But, I will leave it up to sociologists, journalists, investors, writers and bloggers to examine the question further!

Creating a Storied Place

Creating a Storied Place

The Art of Hospitality

The February issue of Monocle magazine is titled “The art of hospitality: reap what you sew (and bake, make and brew).” Reading it prompted me to ponder how the principles are being applied by developers here in Montenegro.

The country officially opened its doors to foreign investment less than a decade ago after independence in 2006. In the short few years that followed, a handful of developers have started to participate in the transformation of the country, designing, building and operating their own versions of the art of hospitality.
Having spent many years working in the field of master planned resort destinations, it is fascinating for me to observe the diverse paths that each developer has chosen.

Instagram

“The making of a new destination is much like mixing the perfect cocktail: all the right ingredients need to be added to the mix in just exact proportions, and at the right time. ”
The making of a new destination is much like mixing the perfect cocktail: all the right ingredients need to be added to the mix in just exact proportions, and at the right time. It is more like an art form, than another mathematical formula.
My experience with the resort developer and operator Intrawest was akin to watching an expert bartender at work; only there, we were creating storied places and not cocktails. Experts there knew how to create the perfect place with the precise mix of experiences, amenities, hotels, residential and commercial facilities. We were creating the biology of the destination designed to live for generations to come. In fact, the development department was called “Placemaking.” We all knew that we were creating places of ever-lasting memories and legacies. This kind of respect for heritage should be the attitude of anyone developing in a fertile young market like Montenegro.
The mountains of Montenegro
Photograph by Colin Kingsmill
There must also be a belief in authenticity and respect of the surrounding community; seeing the place through the eyes of the local community. If not, you create a Hollywood set or the feel of a gated community. Inclusivity is much more important than exclusivity. Exclusivity by its very definition excludes people, and the most vibrant destinations around the world are intersections of cultures, societies and ideas.
Beach Party Time
Photograph by Colin Kingsmill
When you are creating a master planned resort destination you need to recognize that you are building a vibrant, magnetic place. People come back to a place year-after-year because of the community that is created, and the characters that run it. People want to come back because the tapestry that has been created: a place for everyone. People want to come back to see familiar, friendly, faces, management and staff.
Speaking of staff, you cannot underestimate the importance of the team members embodying the product and place. They are as much the essential ingredients to the successful “cocktail” as the bricks and mortar. If developers mess with the ingredients along the way, the team loses their all important “unshakeable belief” and the project’s potential for long term (lifelong) success quickly unravels.
You must also be true to your business model. For example, if your primary customer are captains and crew members, you must design amenities to include them; you must allow your commercial spaces to embrace them. If not, you will alienate your customer base. There can be no gap between your original business model and what you are building. You cannot get lost along the way. You must plant the milestone and chart your course.

Lastly, when its all about the money you can tell, and so can your customers. There must be a deeper connection. A respect of relationships and commitments is vital, especially in a place like Montenegro where local endorsement is so fundamental to every developer’s success. The selection of retailers and commercial spaces, and how you decide to nurture them, or not, will make you or break you. The quality of what you do; down to the smallest details is your everlasting story. Excessive value engineering has long term consequences.

As the family of international, and local, developments expands, I see new arrivals with an acute sensitivity to these important elements. Some are greatly attuned, some a bit less. A Storied Place is so much more than the sum of the parts that add up on an Excel spreadsheet. Lets go see what cocktails are being mixed…

Summer Fun on the Montenegrin Coast
Photograph by Colin Kingsmill
Each of the ingredients must be thought through without compromise. For example, a hotel cannot be considered the destination, and a hotel brand does not make the destination. Hotels need to be part of the social fabric of the location where locals and visitors mingle throughout the seasons. The hotel, or hotels, must feel like they are part of the place; its history; its culture and its community. If not, they will be rejected (like a bad organ transplant) and remain empty.
Lastly, when its all about the money you can tell, and so can your customers. There must be a deeper connection. A respect of relationships and commitments is vital, especially in a place like Montenegro where local endorsement is so fundamental to every developer’s success. The selection of retailers and commercial spaces, and how you decide to nurture them, or not, will make you or break you. The quality of what you do; down to the smallest details is your everlasting story. Excessive value engineering has long term consequences.

As the family of international, and local, developments expands, I see new arrivals with an acute sensitivity to these important elements. Some are greatly attuned, some a bit less. A Storied Place is so much more than the sum of the parts that add up on an Excel spreadsheet. Lets go see what cocktails are being mixed…

As the family of international, and local, developments expands, I see new arrivals with an acute sensitivity to these important elements. Some are greatly attuned, some a bit less. A Storied Place is so much more than the sum of the parts that add up on an Excel spreadsheet. Lets go see what cocktails are being mixed…

Recent Articles

In the Comfort Zone

It has been two and a half years since my last post here. Since 2009 we had lived here permanently, but we moved to London in the summer of 2015 to work on new projects. Since then, our ‘life in Montenegro’ has, unfortunately, been sporatic.

read more

Montenegro: The New Monaco? Not exactly…

In an article by Claire Wrathall, the March 2015 issue of Boat International Magazine asks is “Montenegro the New Monaco?” Claire has been writing about Montenegro since as early as November 2004 in The Scotsman, so she is certainly a credible “witness” to the regional transformation that has occurred over the past decade. Many others have asked the same comparative question over the years.

read more

What’s it [Montenegro] Like?

What’s it [Montenegro] Like?

So Central, Yet Still So Undiscovered

I recently attended the Annual Luxury Real Estate Symposium in Venice Italy.
There were real estate colleagues from Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, the United States, France and Italy discussing the latest trends in our industry.

Almost everyone there asked me “what is [Montenegro] like?”

There were a few people that had very defined preconceptions, like they thought of it as a place where people hid their money; a place like somewhere in Africa full super rich and very poor people; others didn’t know where it was on a map; some wondered if the people were friendly, and others asked about things like security or regional conflict.

Needless to say Montenegro was on their radar screens, but the destination was very much an unknown to them. The general sentiment amongst these luxury real estate professionals was one of great curiosity about this young Mediterranean nation in the middle of Europe. So central, yet still so undiscovered.

I was a bit surprised about the tax dodging question. I don’t see Montenegro as a tax haven. As for the question about super rich and very poor, I think this comes from the fact that the country has become well known for the yachting season as the Adriatic Sea becomes more and more popular as a sailing destination. This might give people the impression that it is just for the super rich, but I don’t believe it is. Yes, there are some substantial yachts in the various marinas and a few spectacular villas along the coast; there are also very humble locals, and life can still be hard for many. It is a land of contrast, yes, but also of caring. For example, you don’t see homeless people in the streets—here they take care of each other.

The People: I told everyone that our experience has been wonderful. From the moment we arrived we found the local community to be very embracing of us, even if we were a same-sex, openly out, couple. Pretty impressive for a country that still had riots at last year’s Pride parade and where coming out—or any kind of diversity —is not readily understood.

Security and Stability: I told my colleagues that Montenegro uses the Euro; is a member of the World Bank and the IRBD. The country begun the process to enter Europe and is actively seeking membership in Nato. It feels safe and secure. Of course, you can at times sense tensions that have deep roots in the history of the region, and you have to be respectful of this. They gained independence only in 2006 and the Balkan War is not a far distant memory.

Infrastructure: In the almost 6 years since we arrived, we have seen progress. Water, electricity and the internet are working, and things have changed slowly. There is a lot to be done here in many areas from animal protection to economic prosperity. But recently a highway construction project was announced, another signs of a country in steady transformation.

Health: I think living in Montenegro is very healthy. I have written a couple posts on the subject like these:  In Praise of Slow and Community or  What does Montenegro do to You. Most of the food is local and the menu comfortingly simple. Health care on the other hand is a different story. I do not believe that the public health care system ranks within the world’s top 100.

Geography: Many of my colleagues at the symposium (#lreven) had been to Croatia in the past. They asked me if Montenegro was similar. Well, I told them the geography changes to the south of Dubrovnik. Montenegro does not have the 1,000 islands that the Dalmatian Coast does. What it does have is almost 300 kilometres of stunning coastline, secluded beaches; and clean waters. Inland is as spectacular as the coast, with incredible natural parks and the second deepest canyon in the world. Roadtrip 1 and Roadtrip 2 inland were incredible.

“Montenegro does not have the 1,000 islands that the Dalmatian Coast does. What it does have is almost 300 kilometres of stunning coastline, secluded beaches; and clean waters. ”

I addressed some of the more practical questions in my recent post about living here in Montenegro. These are of course, very personal perceptions and just my opinion. I am sure others with similar experiences have different perspectives.

Traveling here is one thing. Retiring here is another. Working here is yet another. The coast is different than inland. The north bordering Croatia is different than the south which borders Albania. All different angles on Life in Montenegro. I for certain, love it here and have since day one.

I think after meeting new friends at the symposium we will soon have a new round of visitors to show around our Secret Garden!

TRAVEL

The Essential Montenegro

LIVING HERE

The Ultimate Guide to Living in Montenegro

DOING BUSINESS

Business Development in Montenegro

P.S. I love it!

P.S. I love it!

It’s still love at first sight

I got a message from one of my local friends last night (he is one of my best friends here, except when he is my trainer at the gym). He said: “do you like being here or not, I can’t figure it out from your (last) post?”

I apologize for any ambiguity. I love it here. I have since I first landed in the summer of 2009. It was, love at first sight, and that has not changed.

There is something magical in the air, that makes you yearn for it when you are away and fills you with joy when you step foot on the tarmac and walk back into the airport across the airfield.

I am glad that it is not Canada or Switzerland, the places where I grew up. Yes, there are things that still frustrate me: the rather aggressive drivers; the billboards everywhere (even though I use them in my work now too); the lack of protection for animals; the challenges facing special needs people or people of diversity; the lack of recycling… all things that are evidence of a land in transition.

“There is something magical in the air, that makes you yearn for it when you are away and fills you with joy when you step foot on the tarmac”

Yes, there are things that I miss from Vancouver or Zurich. Friends obviously; diversity in dining options; all the conveniences of a modern city. I miss trivial things like being able to phone for home delivery of almost any type of international food you can imagine. But then you think of the cost of living in Vancouver or Lugano and compare it to how much further your Euro goes here, and you forget all those cravings!

So Milos, to answer your question: I love this place; the friends I have made; their welcoming nature; the incredible Wild Beauty from seaside to mountain ranges that I never get used to; the amazing summers at the beach or on the water; the simple, yet wholesome real food and my favorite locales; the simple, slower, life. The incredibly tall people (thanks for reminding me Zaga). It is less stressful here, but we work very hard – building, marketing and selling new communities in this emerging market that is still remote, with its storied past, is no easy endeavor. That challenge is an invigorating and exciting one!

The Office Stray (well loved and fed) Dog

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

A Dukley Billboard

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

Summer fun with friends at Almara Beach

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

Mountain Fun with the Girls in Kolasin

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

Working with Jovan

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

I hope this post has cleared things up!

TRAVEL

The Essential Montenegro

LIVING HERE

The Ultimate Guide to Living in Montenegro

DOING BUSINESS

Business Development in Montenegro