The (great) Restaurant at Hotel Montenegrino

The (great) Restaurant at Hotel Montenegrino

Lunch at Hotel Montenegrino Tivat Montenegro

Fresh catch of the Day

There is this lovely little hotel in the historic center Tivat called “Hotel Montenegrino”. It is one of the first small hotels in the town, and judging by old the black and white photos on the wall, it sits in one of Tivat’s most historic waterside buildings just steps away from the waterfront promenade. The interior is classically elegant and distinctly Montenegrin with lots of dark woods. The rooms are simple and clean. The dining room has prominently featured wines, white linens, a fresh fish case and a very well stocked bar. There is some seating outside, and if you get the table by the road, you can people watch while you enjoy lunch or dinner.

The real attraction to this place is its restaurant. It is a well kept secret amongst the local community. While there may be more popular locales in Tivat; where the music is louder; the furnishings more trendy or the menu more elaborate, but this one is one of the finest. Classic, simple and perfect. The food is always delicious and you never have to wait too long. The staff are always friendly, courteous and smiling. Best of all, the prices are incredibly reasonable, especially for a coastal town where prices usually are higher because of the tourist market. You can have a starter, main meal and a glass of wine for all less than 15 Euros.

I would recommend you start with the fresh fish soup; be sure to try the grilled octopus (considered the finest in the bay) and ask them to bring everything family style so you can all share! If you like steak tartar, they are also very good at making it here.

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Montenegro Road Trip

Montenegro Road Trip

You can certainly see a lot in a day-long road trip through this relatively small country.

Yesterday we decided to visit Ostrog Monestary near Niksic. Google Maps made it appear like a nice, one and a half hour, drive. The first part, getting to Niksic from Tivat, was relatively easy. The rest of the trip turned out to be a real adventure!

The drive from Tivat to Niksic was effortless. The highway is new and the trip is quick. Signs are easy and you really cannot get lost. Several small forest fires brought on by the summer heat, made the air hazy and the horizon almost undetectable, but the scenery was breathtaking. The scenery so different than the coast.

In Niksic we felt like we were driving through a movie set. The surroundings looked like we had traveled much farther into Eastern Europe than just a couple hours from the Adriatic Coast. The Communist era architecture was quite austere and this inland town had a “rough around the edges” feel to it.

Niksic Apartment Building

Our good friend who was born and raised in the city of 75’000 gave us a restaurant suggestion for lunch. The challenge was finding it. Nobody we tried to speak with knew where it was. We knew roughly the neighbourhood, so we decided to park the car and explore on foot. By pure coincidence we happened to park only a few meters from the restaurant which was hidden away down a small lane. We found it by pure fluke.

Portum Restaurant

The restaurant was called Portum. Rustic, local and incredibly good. The enormous proportions were slow cooked in an iron pot. After lunch we continued our quest to find Ostrog Monastery. It was an adventure. Google Maps, or our lack of ability to use it, lead us to a rock quarry; through impoverished Roma people dwellings, past an old prison, abandoned factories and a military graveyard.

Abandoned Factory

Military Graveyard

Hay Truck in Niksic

The road to Ostrog was windy and one lane. I am sure we must missed the main road.

Ostrog Monastery

Our trip home from Ostrog was unbelievable. I thought we would take the scenic route which would end up, at sunset, high above the Bay of Kotor. Potentially stunning. Well, we ended up on a single lane windy mountain road. Our two hour trip included wild horses; cows; wood choppers and even a flipped car off the side of the road.

Wild Horse on Road

Wood Chopper

When we got close to home, it was hours after we had anticipated returning. I wanted to show my guests the sunset above the Bay of Kotor. From the top of the mountain you can see Kotor; Tivat; Herzeg Novi and beyond to the Adriatic, but we arrived too late. The sun had set a couple of hours earlier and now all you could see were distant lights framing the bay.

On the switchback road above Kotor which takes you down 1’400 meters even the local police were staked out. They stopped us and checked our documents. They were looking for drunk drivers trying to avoid the main roads. Luckily I had been only drinking water since lunch time (I did sneak in a Nik Gold Beer – produced in Niksic – with lunch).

The day ended with a light meal at Mitzu in the village with a local group of singers covering ABBA’s Dancing Queen with on the accordion across from us on Venice Square. A slightly surreal end to a day of adventure in the windy mountain roads of Montenegro!

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Perast: The Awe Inspiring Beauty in The Bay of Kotor

Perast: The Awe Inspiring Beauty in The Bay of Kotor

The other day we went to Bajova Kula in Drazin Vert, a beautiful beach club in the Bay of Kotor on the road between Perast and Ljuta. On the way there in a boat with friends I could not help but to be hit by the overwhelming by the beauty around me. You know those moments when you stop and realize how incredible life is.

That day, after a few hazy days from the forest fires in the mountains, the sun was bright; the skies were crisp and clear and there was a refreshing breeze in the air. I looked around in awe, and said to myself I cannot believe that this is where I live!

The amateur photos I take of this place and post on Pinterest, Facebook or here never do it justice. All of our visitors comment on the fact that this place is always much more stunning in real life. Hopefully these pictures capture some of the essence of these historic, UNESCO protected, surroundings which are illuminated by the bright summer sun that radiates down over Montenegro for at least 240 days a year.

 

Speeding past Perast

 

Perast is a very special place. Once part of the Republic of Venice, it even became part of the Kingdom of Italy under Mussolini. With less than 400 people living there permanently and over 30 palaces and churches, it is a breathtaking site at any time of year. Stone houses; pedestrian streets, small boats that take visitors to the Island of Saint George or to the iconic Our Lady of the Rock will enchant you. There is also a great little place called “Pirate Bar” at the North end of the town; perfect for an afternoon beer as the sun sets over the mountains across the bay.

 

Perast House

 

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Living in Montenegro: How is it arriving for the first time?

Living in Montenegro: How is it arriving for the first time?

Recently I was asked to write a short piece on Montenegro for a New York based lifestyle website called “fashion + class & jet lag“. In case you did not catch it, here is the short story I wrote for them:

Arriving in Montenegro for the first time is like entering one of those secret walled gardens. You feel a real sense of adventure as your adrenaline perks up. The land feels like it has not quite yet been discovered; there are no eight lane highways like the French Riviera or bullet trains which the movie Casino Royale placed in its Montenegrin set. There is a simple two lane road called the Adriatic Highway which stretches along the coast connecting this storied place to Croatia in the North and Albania to the South.

Driving in to the Bay of Kotor from Dubrovnik or coming down the mountains to the coast from the capital city Podgorica, you cannot help but be in awe of the stunning backdrop of ocean and mountains. Centuries of history add even more gorgeous ingredients to the mix. Evidence of ancient Venetian and Ottoman rulers intersects with the more modern Socialist Yugoslavia era utilitarian architecture.

As you settle in you quickly discover that the scenery changes throughout each day. You do not have to wait for the seasons to change to feel like you have discovered a new place. As the sun comes up in the summer, the light is crisp and clean. By the mid afternoon, things look like a bleached-out Instagram snapshot. The evening sunsets are a lingering kaleidoscope of colour. The beauty is truly indescribable whether you find yourself on the rocky coastline or in the mountains exploring the second largest canyon in the world. Some of the scenery inland looks like it came from the set of The Hobbit.

Budva to Podgorica Highway

This tiny newly independent nation is a fascinating place to explore. There are no fast food restaurants, drive throughs or express check outs. It is the perfect venue to practice the teachings in Carl Honore’s book “In Praise of Slow” or dive in to the ideas of the Slow Food movement.

One of the most refreshing aspects of Montenegro is that the country has hardly been discovered by international brands. Organic, local, family retailers and national chains are more prevalent. Finding things you need often becomes a bit of a hunt, but that can be half the fun.

This is a land of amazing contrasts and transformation. You can wander along the jetties of Porto Montenegro past some of the largest super yachts on earth. Turn a corner, though, and you find yourself in the little town of Tivat where one of the best-loved modes of transport continues to be the Communist-era Yugo, even though production ended a couple decades ago. Super yachts and Yugos; old and new; fast and slow; it’s all in the mix in this land of “Wild Beauty”. Add to this backdrop, a population of warm and generous people, and you cannot help but be spellbound by the place, as I was when I landed here in the summer of 2009.

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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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What does Montenegro do to you?

What does Montenegro do to you?

Coming to Montenegro surprises you. Yesterday I was sitting with some clients who have become friends in the past year or so. They are from Salerno in the South of Italy. Itself a beautiful land which I remember summering in as a young adult. However, notwithstanding their stunning providence, they have become completely enchanted with Montenegro.

They recalled their first visit to the Bay of Kotor last autumn. It was one of those very wet days when the rain pours sideways, assisted by the strong winds that come with our winter storms. They said that, even on what most would consider a dreary day, they fell in love with Montenegro. They were not even sure why. It is difficult to articulate what gets you. I understood them though. It was today, three years ago, that I walked to the end of Jetty One at Porto Montenegro, turned around and looked back at the mountains, and fell in love. As you know, if you have been following my story here, my love affair has continued to this day.

This place grabs you; there is something magical in the air that casts a spell on you. They said that they felt free here. There was, they believed, more liberty to be yourself then back at home. I could understand them. Coming from Italy, which has been undergoing incredible fiscal and political changes recently, the difference in energy is palpable. For example, under this new regime of control, in Italy these days there are dogs at the airports sniffing for cash, not drugs, as you enter and leave the country.

What they enjoy about this place, is that it is not all “baked”. There are not rules and regulations for everything. Yes, things takes more time because there isn’t always a procedure in place, but it really does not matter.

It’s not just hot here because of Vanity Fair, Tatler, the Financial Times or even Fox News (today they finally picked up a story); it is genuinely and authentically magical!

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