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.

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“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.

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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.

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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!

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The Essential Montenegro

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The Ultimate Guide to Living in Montenegro

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Business Development in Montenegro

Living in Montenegro: Practical Things Beyond the Culture Shock

Living in Montenegro: Practical Things Beyond the Culture Shock

I recently got an email from someone who had read this blog and wanted to know more about day-to-day live here in Montenegro. I thought it might be useful to write a bit more about the practical side of living here.

Some of her questions included: Does the Internet work there? What is the social life like? What about culture? Is it difficult to meeting people there? Do they speak English? Over the years I have had many conversations with international media and people applying for jobs here, so let me try and tackle some of those questions:

1. Does the Internet Work?

Yes, and in urban centers the internet is fast; I think they skipped a generation and installed the latest technology once things opened up after Montenegro independence in 2006.

“Life here seems more focused on what is really important: friends, family, community, health. ”

2. Is Accommodation Comfortable?

Accommodation is a bit more hit and miss. If you are coming to live here permanently – or at least over a period that is longer than 12 months, you need to find somewhere newer that does not have potential water/moisture issues. So much of the construction in the past was holiday related; builders and landlords did not care too much if the places got a bit damp in the winter. If you are living here full time though that really matters! Basically, I would avoid the romantic stone house idea (yes, I live in one; but it is dry), even though it is very appealing. If you are set on something historic (which is hard to resist), just make sure it is nice and dry over the winter months.

Finding a place – for an annual lease – is still harder than in the rest of Europe. There isn’t anything like Craigslist here yet, so you need to rely a lot more on personal connections. Some agencies are popping up and they are usually connected to the local real estate companies. You cannot look past the months of April/May though. This is when landlords are more concerned about summer rentals. Of course, holiday rental is easy and there are a plethora of websites to find great short term accommodation to match any taste and budget.

As for the other comforts of life, things like heating/AC are all fine and modern. You can also find handymen really easily when you need to get things fixed.

Sunset over Budva

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

3. How is the Social Life?

This really depends on your work community and how embracing they are. When we first moved to Montenegro, there was virtually nobody as the rush of 2006-2008 had ended, and the first people at Porto Montenegro created a real community of kindred spirits. That has eroded over the years; many people came for a few years and now have left to pursue other adventures. There is no longer that feeling of “we are all in this together and lets make it work.” New people are coming though, and we are trying to make an effort to be more social; but that feeling of “we are all here making a difference and helping each other” is harder to find. Today new friendships form around the workplace, so it is important to get along with your colleagues if you are new to town.

4. How is the Cultural Life?

Cultural life is very very limited – at least for foreigners like us; for locals there is a lot on offer. If you exclude the small theatre in Kotor, there is only one movie theatre in the country and it is in Podgorica, the capital city. There is some theatre / concerts here (and wonderful things like KotorArt in the summer), but I am afraid the cultural offering is – naturally – much more for the locals (given the language and cultural references). Summer is buzzing with concerts and outdoor parties though, and those are great fun. Generally though life here is about being more laid back (at least for those of us in our 40s): it is more about sports, yoga, boating and swimming; more about healthy local food and such.

5. What about Shopping?

There is definitely no shopping if you are referring to anything like what you would find on London’s Regent or Oxford Streets; there are really no big brands represented here, but there are some great multibrand stores. For food, you need to bring all that you crave from home when you travel (cheddar cheese, Nespresso capsules, salt and vinegar potato chips for example). Here you can find the essentials; great greens and meat markets and pretty well stocked food stores. However, there is nowhere near the variety that you have in big European cities. Simplicity, organic, local are the key ingredients here.

Saturday morning outdoor market in Kotor

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

6. How are the Travel Connections?

Tivat, the airport on the coast, is very seasonal. In the winter there are only flights to Belgrade and Moscow. Belgrade is only 40 minutes away though and that is a big, vibrant, city with decent flight connections and lots to offer.
Podgorica is the airport in the capital and about 1.5 hours drive from Tivat and has flights to many European countries. Driving through Croatia from Italy or Germany has gotten better but there still not a highway all the way yet. I am afraid we are a bit remote, especially in the winter. Driving here and around just takes time and patience.

We are certainly a hot topic for travel – Forbes just said we are one of the top 3 places to visit in 2015. It just takes a bit of planning!

7. Do they Speak English?

English is spoken almost everywhere; especially on the coast and in the capital city Podgorica. That is not a problem at all. It is surprising how many people speak it here. That is a blessing!

8. Is it Easy to Learn the Local Language?

I have never been able to really grasp it. The grammar is very complex, and frankly I have never gotten a teacher or tried – other than a few words (coffee, beer, thank you etc). Even when I have tried, people begin to speak English with me. [Milos: see next story; just told me this sounds very lazy. He is right. I really have not tried. Well into my 6th year here and I should have picked up Montengrin by now. I am a little embarrased by this, but it is certainly hope it does not look like a sign of disrespect.]

9. Getting over the Culture Shock

If you are new to this part of the Balkans, especially coming from places like Germany, it takes a lot of getting used to; this is my sixth winter here in Montenegro and the first few were really tough. As you can see from my early posts, I have gotten quite used to our new life in the country (I just changed the sub-title of this blog from “A New Life in the Country” to “From Culture Shock to Comfort Zone”). We travel a lot, so that makes for nice balance. If you are accustomed to Europe and all that its cities and towns have to offer, you can feel very stranded here at times. All that being said, it is a very peaceful, healthy place. Summers are wonderful; full of energy, warm water, boating and sailing and sunny skies. I love the fact that it is slower paced. It feels more healthy than the big cities that I travel to often. Life here seems more focused on what is really important: friends, family, community, health.

Kotor Old Town

Photograph by Colin Kingsmill

It is a place in transition and changing all the time, but not as fast as I thought it would when we arrived in 2009. It is interesting to observe that and be a part of it. You have to be a bit of an adventurous explorer though.

It feels far away from capitalism and consumerism. Our recent trip to Vancouver reminded me of this. When I was visiting I was overwhelmed by the constant messages about financial stability, retirement savings and the incredible abundance on offer. Here people seem to live much more in the now. I have been told that this is because they had to; the last couple of generations did not know what was happening next. In the recent past there was a lot of instability in the region and this made people more present; living for today and not some future time.

I am sure there are 100 other questions: currencies, human and social rights, driving, dining, children, schools, LGBT, travel, yachting and sailing around Montenegro … the list could go on and on. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions and I will try to give you some personal insight into this Life in Montenegro!

PS – please see my next blog post. My friend Milos said this one sounded like I did not like living here (but I have edited it a bit now).

PSS – my colleague and good friend Milena said this post sounded a bit negative. That was certainly not my intention. I just wanted to be frank with anyone contemplating a move here from Western European cities. It takes some adjusting, but I love it here!

TRAVEL

The Essential Montenegro

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The Ultimate Guide to Living in Montenegro

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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