Set sail for the Balkans’ answer to Monte Carlo
CHRIS SLATER rides the crest of a wave on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast
WALKING out of the front doors of the Regent hotel, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Monte Carlo.
Whopping great super yachts are lined up next to some of their smaller cousins, flying an array of different flags as deck hands keep them gleaming in the spring sunshine, whilst their owners wander up and down the promenade admiring the picture perfect views.
But we are some distance away from the south of France. The clear blue water in front of me is in fact the Bay of Kotor on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast.
Specifically Porto Montenegro, the Balkans’ answer to the opulence of Monaco.
However this is not just a place for the rich and famous, as I was about to find out first hand.
Formerly part of Yugoslavia, Montenegro, whose population is just over 600,000, declared independence from neighbouring Serbia in 2006.
And with a long stretch of beautiful coastline, along with its neighbour it is riding the crest of a tourism wave. The capital Podrogica is around a two-hour drive away inland.
The nearest main airport hub is Dubrovnik in neighbouring Croatia, around an hour-and-a -half away and involving a short hop on the ferry to cross the bay.
But for Mancunians it couldn’t be easier, with Easyjet now flying direct to Tivat airport, just three miles away. The facilities may be primitive but their desire to encourage more travellers to come here means passage is super-quick and within 20 minutes of stepping off the plane I was hopping out of a cab and into the Regent Hotel’s stunning lobby.
However, to merely call the Regent Porto Montengero a hotel is to do it a severe disservice. It is the beating heart of this new destination, in fact it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it has everything.
We’ve all heard the one about Manchester having everything other than a beach, but this hotel even has that. In fact it has one of its own. For those spending a minimum of three nights here, the hotel will take guests on a private boat trip to the secluded Dobrec Beach on the other side of the bay known as Boka.
Departing just a few steps out of the hotel, the boat travels through what is the southernmost fjord in Europe to the reach the beach. There is no danger of overcrowding here and the beach has a small restaurant serving fresh grilled seafood. It is the perfect place to unwind and truly take in the stunning surroundings.
In fact you cannot truly appreciate the beauty of the area without seeing it from the sea - and if, like me, you had never given sailing a go, this is the time to do it.
The hotel has a partnership with the neighbouring Porto Montenegro Yacht Club (PMYC) who can offer tuition to sailors of all abilities. Stopping for a packed lunch after zig-zagging our way through the surprisingly windy bay was one of the most enjoyable afternoons I have had in a long time. There is also a bonus when you get back as close to the PMYC is a fantastic lido pool with some of the best views of the entire bay.
Obviously, after a long day doing your best to look like an experienced seafarer but instead looking like a pound shop Ben Ainslie, what you need is to wind down with a good meal. The hotel guests have full access to the excellent spa facilities and breakfast each morning, which is served on the sunny terrace overlooking the bustling super yacht haven.
Evening meals are served in the inside dining room or in the quaint Italian Garden.
For daytime snacks there is a patisserie and delicatessen known as Gourmet Corner.
There is also an array of high-end restaurants, as well as more than 20 boutique shops in the development around the hotel which blends seamlessly into its maritime surroundings.
And despite the emphasis here being on luxury, the cost of living in the country at large is so low that it means even slap-up meals and designer clothes aren’t going to break the bank.
The only potential downside to this development, which is admittedly still growing, is that it can feel a little manufactured, and at times a little suffocating.
Bumping into my sailing instructor in a bar two days running was a lovely surprise, but highlights it perfectly.
However you needn’t limit yourself to the confines of the marina.
Porto was strategically placed in the middle of a coastline steeped in history and is surrounded by towns which ooze Balkans’ character.
The perfect example is Kotor which lends its name to the Bay on which Porto sits. It is around a half hour drive from the hotel or you can, like me, take a boat trip.
This has the added bonus of taking in some incredible views including Our Lady of the Rocks, the tiny islet in the middle of the bay containing the church of the same name.
Walking around Kotor’s narrow, winding cobbled streets with their lovely cafés and shops selling local gifts means you will leave having had a real taste of Montenegro.
Or half an hour down the coast in the opposite direction is the town of Budva.
Built by the Venetians, it is famed for its sandy beaches and nightlife as well as the character of its own old town.
So there are plenty of places in which to ‘escape’ - if you need to escape the affordable lxury of Porto at all, that is.
Yachts in the harbour give the Bay of Kotor a look of Monte Carlo
Top and above, the Regent Porto Montenegro Hotel
Chris Slater sailing in the Bay of Kotor