montenegro_sunset

Golden Opportunity

Photographs by Güleç for Victor:  Liquid gold at Porto Montenegro Yacht Club

Following a turbulent past, Montenegró is keen to show the world an entrepreneurial spirit and a lust for life. Welcome to the must-see for the seriously curious.

Stepping out of the car into a blast of midday heat, we’re greeted with friendly pats on the back by Damir Moskov. From a handclap to a high five, it later becomes apparent that the informal gesture is an integral part of Montenegrin culture, and the easygoing charm that accompanies it goes some way to explaining why this tiny country is enjoying an ever-increasing presence on the international stage.

Along with his colleague Slavica Milic, Moskov forms the welcoming party to Luštica Bay, a new €1.1bn resort on the Adriatic coast and a short drive from Tivat Airport.

We’re looking out over Trašte Bay and a sea shimmering with promise. The first of seven upscale hospitality brands confirmed, he points out the plot for the 110-room Chedi hotel due to open in summer 2018, and explains how this mammoth project (the biggest of its kind in the region) has been designed to slot seamlessly into the natural environment. “I really think that’s what people are looking for now – that is luxury,” he says.

Pics: Named after the Austrian admiral Lazar Mamula, who built it at the end of the 19th century, the fortress previously served as a prison – but these doors will welcome guests of a different kind when the island is redeveloped into the new luxury Mamula Island Resort.

When builders first broke ground in 2012, the site was better known as an old barracks for the Yugoslav military. Today, the project is ahead of schedule and residents have already started to move in to the seven million sq m marina village. With homeowners enjoying weekly barbecues and classical music concerts in the open air, it has the beginnings of a real community.

Luštica Bay is the latest resort from Orascom, the Egyptian developer behind the rejuvenation of the Red Sea over the past few decades, and, more recently, Andermatt in Switzerland. Like the private jets lined up at Tivat Airport, the company’s commitment to investing in Montenegró is another sign that this is a country keen to do business with the world. Thanks to a forward-thinking government that understands the importance of tourism for the economy, it’s “very much open to foreign investment”, according to Milic, having already joined the World Trade Organization after declaring independence from Serbia in 2006.

Unsurprisingly, Orascom isn’t the only one with designs on one of Europe’s youngest countries. Four Seasons and One&Only are developing resorts further down the coast, and Hilton opened in Podgorica, the capital, in late 2016. A veritable grandfather by Montenegrin standards, the Porto Montenegró marina began life in 2009 with 85 berths – it now accommodates 450, including 127 superyachts.

Like Luštica Bay, it works as a self-contained community as much as a place to park your boat, combining yacht club and luxury shopping village with hotels, restaurants, and even a school. It’s also been done with respect for the environment, using local materials to construct high-quality buildings that still exude the glamour required of an international destination worthy of dropping (very big) anchors.

pic: The Aman Sveti Stefan’s rooftop restaurant offers unrivalled views of Budva and the Adriatic.

Away from its urban centres, Montenegró is breathtakingly beautiful in its natural state.

From sea to ski, it caters for all, with mountains for snow sports; the Tara River for whitewater rafting; Lake Skadar for kitesurfing; and the UNESCO Durmitor National Park for general marvelling. Kotor’s Old Town also gets the thumbs-up from UNESCO, and visitors reminded of a certain Italian city won’t be surprised to learn it was once part of the Venetian republic thanks to its strategic importance on a trade route. Illyrians, Ottomans and Austro-Hungarians have all left their mark too, making this a truly cosmopolitan destination long before anyone had ever thought of the drink.

pic: The jetty is the sleekest way to transfer from the Aman Sveti Stefan’s private island to one of its three beaches on the mainland, reserved exclusively for guests. 

Like the Big Mac Index, The Economist’s infamous measurement tool for determining purchasing power parity (PPP), perhaps the presence of an Aman Resorts property could also be used to indicate the health of a nation. The Singapore-based Aman has a track record of identifying promising locations before anyone else, and its Montenegrin property is one of the best.

A fortress, a fishing village, and then a communist hangout where government bigwigs came to hit the casinos (go figure), the island of Sveti Stefan has seen it all.

Following a mega makeover in 2011, the result is 50 rooms and eight suites split over 37 original houses, and a wistful hope from anyone who visits that, someday, all islands will be made this way. In 2014, three-time Wimbledon Champion Novak Djokovic commandeered the entire place for his wedding.

The island was at its peak in the 1800s, when an all-time high of 300 inhabitants busied themselves fishing and making olive oil. These days, the cleverly secluded pathways – all of which are designed to lead to the food and fun of the public spaces – mean you’re unlikely to see anyone at all, unless you want to. Like the chauffeur-driven Audis the resort deploys for ground transfers, the Aman is the understated definition of stealth wealth.

Looking out from its restaurant terrace as the sun sinks into an inky sea, the lights of Budva twinkle in the distance. Having been here for 2,500 years, it’s one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic – yet it’s also the regional capital when it comes to nightlife, with plenty of bars, clubs and restaurants keeping the Balkans buzzing into the early hours.

This blend of the old and the new is something Montenegró does well – after all, it’s had a lot of practice. Perhaps its success lies in the fact that for every foot it puts forward, it takes one step back in a way that celebrates the relationship between the past and the future. It was at Luštica Bay, as we drank in the limpid views of Trašte Bay on one side and the Bay of Kotor on the other, that Slavica Milic talked about being at the beginning of a 25-year project that would see the area transform into a hub for living, working and holiday-making. Like much else in the country, the development is about being part of the culture, the environment, and the society around it. On a practical level, this means choosing materials with care, taking sustainability seriously, and contributing to local life. On another level, it means respecting history while actively positioning yourself as open for business.

“After all,” Milic said, “cities don’t get built overnight.”


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