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.

“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.

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

More Transformation: Coming Out in Montenegro

More Transformation: Coming Out in Montenegro

It has been a few months since my last post. As you might know by now I just need a little inspiration to get me going. The other day I got it…

A couple of years ago my partner and I met a Montenegrin man who was in his mid twenties and gay. At the time, that combination seemed like a death sentence to him. He had not come out of the closet to anyone and was suffering for it in so many ways. He was even scared to come to our house for a visit; worried that the receptionist or someone would see him arriving and immediately label him as gay by association (something that happened a lot in the first few years; much less now as the local community has gotten used to us – the “only out gay men in the village”).

In the months that ensued our friendship grew and grew. Many of our conversations with our friend were about trying to empower him.  We had to let him know that there was a different world beyond these borders; a world where he could be open about his orientation and not be living a life in secret.

Jump ahead 24 months.

Just over a year ago our friend moved to Switzerland; met the man of his dreams and is getting married this summer. Last weekend he came home to Montenegro and came out. Firstly to his sister and her husband. She was thrilled for him and only sad that he had suffered for so many years by not being able to tell anyone. Her husband was also very happy for him and extremely loving. He did not expect this as his brother-in-law comes from Niksić, a town which is not known for being open minded. On the contrary; it is a Northern mountain town where the men are known for being very tough. Not the place you can easily walk around it as an open gay man.

When our friend told us about this experience he was in shock. So happy and yet so surprised at the first reactions. He would have been happy with “OK, that’s your life, I don’t want to know anything about it”, but what he got was much greater.

His next meeting was going to be with his best friend. That went extremely well too.

He said that Pieter and I had been incredibly helpful in the process. Once he met us back in 2011, he realized that you could be gay, out and partnered and have a fulfilled life. It is nice to know that we served as role models in a country where he had none.

Since we moved here in 2009 there has been much positive transformation around us. This blog has attempted to document that. We have watched LGBT rights also slowly become more accepted. There is still much to be done. There are countless men and women who are still stuck, just as our friend was two years ago. I hope his story; his wedding and his coming out will be a catalyst for a more open and tolerant society in this little magical kingdom.

 

 

Transforming Montenegro: Then and Now; what has changed in Radovici?

Transforming Montenegro: Then and Now; what has changed in Radovici?

Transformation in Montenegro is happening. Sometimes though change can be subtle… you drive by something you usually take for granted, or walk by a familiar place, and have to take a second look; you notice that something small has changed… that happened to me this week. When I first arrived in Montenegro and was exploring the “neighbourhood” around me, I found an enchanting village called Radovici which sits at the top of the Lustica Peninsula; the piece of land that protects the Bay of Kotor from the open Adriatic Sea. At the time, the scenery was reminiscent of the Tuscan countryside; soft rolling hills; old stone houses and church steeples marking the surrounding territory.

On that first visit, I took the snapshot below of the local fire station. At the time I thought it was pretty cool. A relic from another era. It did not inspire a whole lot of faith in their ability to fight fires. The peninsula was large; full of old growth olive groves and single lane roads.

Radovic Fire Station 2009

Driving through Radovici yesterday, on my now habitual excursion to the Almara Beach Club at Lustica Bay, I noticed a their shiny new fire truck in the spot that the 60s era version had occupied before. In fact they now have three and there are firemen manning them! The old one that I photographed has now retired to the other side of the street.

Radovici Fire Station 2012

Expanded Fire Station

When I first began writing this blog, I wanted it to be a journal of the transformation occurring here in Montenegro. So, here is glimpse into the small changes that can sometimes go un-noticed. Brand new firetrucks. Another testimony to the evolution from that was then to this is now.

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Living in Montenegro: Four Summers later

Living in Montenegro: Four Summers later

Living in Montenegro has been an amazing experience. This month marks a milestone; it is our fourth summer living here in Montenegro. My love affair with this country has only continued to grow since we first landed here on that hot summer August day in 2009.

When we arrived from ultra modern Vancouver, it was like stepping back in time. The 40 stories I have written since then are testimony to the country in transformation and the cultural differences I have experienced and continue to cherish. However, as time went, on I noticed less and less the differences between my old life and this new one.

It is only now though that I realize that I was protected by a team of incredible colleagues who worked through all the idiosyncrasies of living here; they made my life as easy as possible.

I was recently sent back to those early days here… when I went to get my car registered. This was, of course, after I extended my residency permit because I was not able to register it past the expiry date of my work permit. This would have been fine – register and insure the car up until the day my permit expired; you know, pro-rata from now until that day. The only problem is that here you cannot do that. No matter when you register your car, you must pay a full year of registration and insurance. Then when you renew your work permit you have to pay that full amount again. So, whether you are registering or insuring for a month or 12, you pay the same amount.

With residency recently extended through to January 2013, I went to get my car registered. It is a second car, so it had been sitting in the garage since last November. I had to do ten separate payments, payable to various entities and through various offices, ranging in size between 4 and 300 Euros to complete the “transaction”. I had to take off my license plate and give it back. It was an iconic plate, Tivat “007” which perfectly suited the 1999 BMW Z3 which it was attached to. Now the car has Tivat “009”, and it just does not seem as fun. Payments and paperwork completed, I had to wait a full week to get my registration card before I could drive the car.

Anyone back home in British Columbia would have done the whole operation in less than 15 minutes. Nothing happens too quickly here, and that is one of the things I love about it.

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Of course, not everyday am I able to hone my Erkhart Tolle skills and be completely in the “now”. This week I needed to get new mobile phone number; not one of those pre-pay things that you get when you are travelling, but a regular contract where they send you the bill at the end of the month. On Monday morning I went in to the local telecom store and they told me I had to go in to Kotor. It is only 15 minutes away, but I found out immediately after that I really did not need to go to the neighbouring town. So, I went back to the store and was told to come back in 20 minutes as there was someone who spoke better English who was coming in to work. In the end it took 5 trips to the store – an international telecom giant – to get my new SIM card. It was supposed to be activated by 6pm on Tuesday. Well, it took until Friday morning to start working.

There is something beneficial about being forced to slow down. It really did not matter if I got the phone activated on Monday or on Friday; the urgency, of course, was self-fabricated.

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So, as we begin our fourth year here, one must note that some things have not changed at all and a few things have. This past week reminded me of my first posting: “Coffee, Cigarettes and Ink Jet Printers“. There is still lots of instant coffee around, but the “Illy” brand has also arrived on the scene from Italy. Cigarettes are still smoked here more than any other place I have lived, but there are now government sponsored anti-smoking campaigns and laws against smoking inside (not always respected, but we are getting there). I have not seen ink-jet printers in a while, but I did see carbon copy paper getting used the other day at City Hall.

Old and new. The lovely essence of this little country in the centre of the Mediterranean.

There are exciting changes on the horizon. New projects and new challenges ahead as this life in an emerging market proves to be as interesting, exhilarating, rewarding and fascinating as the first days when we arrived.

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