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

Check Please!

Check Please!

Life in Montenegro can be, for someone arriving from the West, full of quirkiness. Your day can sometimes be full of little things that make you slightly crazy . . .

. . .  things that, even many years later, you never really get used to; lingering leftovers from a bygone era (remember carbon copy paper?), or new inventions of a bureaucrat who has too much time on his or her hands. If you come for a visit, here is one example of local quirky you will like to know in advance:

Getting your bill at a restaurant

Each time you order something from the menu, a fiscal receipt has to be printed. This means, that over the course of a long dinner or drinks with friends, the server has to bring a bill for what you just ordered and leave it on the table… and this happens every time you ask for something. There is no such thing as getting a nice clean check at the end. As drinks or your meal evolves, all of these little receipts, typically get stuffed into a small shot glass on the table or under an ashtray (yes, you can still smoke inside in many locales).

I’ll take the check  . . . I mean the handful of receipts

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

At the end of your bar or restaurant experience, your server has to manually add up all the little receipts to give you your total due. It is especially fun when you have to save these for office expenses! It may be a great way to ensure that fiscal crime is being fought, but if any receipts fall on the floor (or someone takes a few and puts them in their pocket), the server has to make up for the difference.

Recently, while brunching at one of my favorite spots, Restaurant ONE, I was sitting beside a couple of Americans where were having their first “fighting fiscal crime, one chit at a time” moment. The, polite and thorough, explanation by the server did not go very far in helping them understand why the corner of their table was full of little paper chit receipts for each of the vodka martinis they had ordered over the past couple hours. There was confusion on both sides (and it was not just because they were drunk) and they left their first Montenegrin hospitality experience scratching their heads.

I am still getting used to “quirky”, one day at a time…

 

TRAVEL

The Essential Montenegro

LIVING HERE

The Ultimate Guide to Living in Montenegro

DOING BUSINESS

Business Development in Montenegro

Cesarica in the Old Town of Kotor

Cesarica in the Old Town of Kotor

Konoba Cesarica

Cesarica “Konoba” is in the heart of Old Town Kotor hidden away in a street behind between Pub Dock and Scorpion Bar. We discovered it when we arrived in 2009 and it has been a favorite ever since. It is consistently great; fresh food; warm and friendly service and the cozy ambience. Vaulted ceilings make for a great atmosphere, especially if you are with a group.

Hidden away in the maze of small streets that make up the Old Town of Kotor, it is not easy to find. Not to worry; any local will be able to send you in the right direction. It is very close to the Serbian Orthodox church of St Nicolas which you will find in one of the main squares.

The owner will show you all the old photos of his family on Muo just across the bay from Kotor. He was a sailor before he became a chef. I would highly recommend the black risotto, the squid stuffed with shrimp or the fresh catch of the day; grilled, with Swiss chard and boiled potatoes.

Entirely delightful. Enjoy!

Cesarica Inside

Cesarica Inside

 

Montenegro Weekend Road Trip: Take Two

Montenegro Weekend Road Trip: Take Two

Last weekend we ventured out for another Montenegro Weekend Road Trip like the one we did a few weeks ago. This time the destination was Kolašin. To get there we drove down the coast to Budva, over the mountains through Centinje (previously the Royal Capital) and past the current capital city of Podgorica.

The trip through the Tara Canyon was familiar to me. At least up to Kolašin, as I had done this route once before last winter on a previous Montenegro weekend road trip. This time, the roads were dry and free of snow, but it can be pretty nerve-wracking along the steep canyon which is reminiscent of driving through narrow Rocky Mountain gorges.

Within a couple hours we arrived at Kolašin 1450 Ski Resort. The off season is lovely there. Families are stocking up on firewood for the winter, and there a scent of wood burning fireplaces and stoves in the air. The town is very quiet. It really does come to life when the ski season starts. We had drinks in an old pub style bar that was full of tributes to Tito and dined on traditional foods at a local restaurant. Both “Konoba” (traditional national restaurants) we wanted to go to were closed for pre-season renovations. Bianca Hotel & Spa was warm and welcoming, with a huge fireplace in the lobby. Again, the scent of burning wood warmed the surroundings.

After a night at Bianca, the next morning we drove about an hour up the valley to Tara Canyon Bridge. The bridge is an incredible 172 metres (that is 577 feet) above the river below. A dramatic sight by any standard.

Tara Canyon Bridge

Tara Canyon

We continued our drive to Žabljak Ski Resort. This was my first time. The scenery was completely different than the canyon. The wide open flat plains with rolling hills and wandering cows were beautiful. It was Sunday which was also election day. There were over 1,000 polling stations open and we saw many along the route from the bridge to the ski resort. Some where just small huts in remote communities.

Cow in Zabljak

Cow in Zabljak

The road from Žabljak down to the Bay of Kotor has been recently re-done, so the trip only takes about an hour and a half. The rains from the night before brought down a rock slide just above Risan which left just enough room to squeeze by in the car. Luckily nobody was hurt.

The Bay of Kotor

The Bay of Kotor

A must do for anyone wanting to see the stunning variety in the geography of Montenenegro: the superyachts of Tivat – the old town of Budva – the capital of Podgorica – the quiet mountain town of Kolašin – breathtaking Durmitor National Park – beautiful Žabljak – Nikšić and its beer factory – Risan tucked away at the end of the bay – World Heritage site of Kotor.

In just a few hours on the road, you will see so much and feel like you have traveled through many diverse lands.

Lunch at Prova in Tivat: a story of Eclipse, Ox and Ulcinj

Lunch at Prova in Tivat: a story of Eclipse, Ox and Ulcinj

The other day I was having lunch on the Tivat waterfront at Prova Restaurant (one of the prettiest places in the town of Tivat to sit and dine or relax by the water). I was with one of my favorite colleagues from Porto Montenegro. He is from the port town of Bar in Southern Montenegro. A man with an incredible memory, attention to detail; full of stories and someone who knows everyone in the country. This was a particularly special lunch because he gave me ideas for two more blog stories:

The First:

Eclipse in Tivat

With Eclipse, the largest yacht in the world, sitting in the Bay of Kotor just beyond the jetties of Porto Montenegro, he thought it would be a good idea to tell the other story of Montenegro; the one of those who live at the other end of the financial spectrum than the owner and guests of Eclipse; those people in the mountains just a few dozen kilometers from the more affluent coast. There, transportation is still dominated by the ox. From immense superyachts to ox-driven carts; it is all part of the story here in Montenegro. He said I should interview them and ask about the US Presidential Election or the European Union to see their perspective; both are probably not on their radar screens. Vast contrast in close proximity (which takes some getting used to). The writing of this story will require another road trip to Niksic, a translator and some interviews. I am very much looking forward to that adventure, and I will post the story and photos as soon as I get there and back…

The Second:

His other idea was to tell the story of Ulcinj and the legends of its history of piracy. When I mentioned to him that my trip to the most south point of Montenegro, near the Ada Bojana (which the NY Times has named one of the best beaches in the world) where the sandy beaches stretch on for kilometers, felt like I had left the Balkans, he could not have agreed more. To me, the area seemed more like Northern Africa than Southern Europe. I could not have told you why that day, when I went exploring, but something was so different than where I had just come from up the coast. He explained that, towards the end of the 14th century, Ulcinj became a centre for piracy and continued to be a dangerous refuge until the 18th century. Populated by North Africans, Maltese, Turks and others for centuries, it is for this reason, that this place feels so different than the Montenegrin coast or the mountains. This new post will also require another road trip (less invigorating than the mountain drive to Niksic and Ostrog Monastery), a translator and some interviews too… but I think it will be worth it!

Stay tuned.

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Tivat: A Tale of Two Cities

Tivat: A Tale of Two Cities

It was a late August evening in Tivat, around 9pm. I ventured out to have dinner with a friend (the same one I wrote about in my post “Two Years Later and Back to School“; who, has made great positive changes since that post) at a local pizzeria called Recoleta in the new Magnolia Square, a new commercial and residential complex in the center of Tivat. He pried me out of my habit of always staying in the Porto Montenegro Village. I had because so lazy over the summer, barely venturing more than a couple hundred meters from home for food, drink, fun, my friends and entertainment.

Porto Montenegro Village

To my surprise (or naivety), Tivat was absolutely packed with people, families and lots of children. It seemed like everyone was out enjoying the warm evening; perhaps savouring the last days of their vacation or the final days before going back to school. The stores were still open; people were getting haircuts and outdoor patios were full of people having coffee, drinks or dinner. It could have been the middle of the day. In the summer, this place, like every other coastal town from Budva to Bar, comes to life, especially after the sun goes down.

Someone said to me the other day that Tivat is like a Tale of Two Cities; one brand new (Porto Montenegro) and the other historic. I think he might be right about that. Another testimony of how all things old and new in this country are (hopefully) woven through my stories in this blog.

What is so fascinating to observe is how the two worlds. co-exist. The historic town blends with the brand new superyacht marina village which occupies the ex naval base that had dominated Tivat’s geography and economy since 1889. Thousands of people wandering the streets; animating the locales; strolling the old promenade and now through the new village at Porto Montenegro which – until so recently a Yugoslav naval base –  full of yachts, shops, restaurants and new apartments.

Life and a country in transformation before our eyes!

The Marina at Porto Montenegro

Jetty One at Porto Montenegro