Montenegro is the hidden gem of the Adriatic - turquoise waters, golden sands and even mountains await the intrepid traveller who is willing to go against the current of the crowds heading to its popular neighbour, Croatia. In fact, Montenegro is very much the Croatia of 8 years ago before it hit the big time, a haven which has somehow remained outside the wider reach of tourism, where prices are still somewhat low, the people are friendly and the beaches are unspoilt (note: the sardine-like lines of sunbeds are nowhere to be seen). However, this is sure to change soon - more and more cruise liners are adding the Bay of Kotor to their stop-off list and luxury hotel brands have started to set up camp on the coastline - and we all know that once the high-end hotel names arrive that the rest are sure to follow in their droves. With this in mind, it's time to grab your bag and explore Montenegro now while it's still one of Europe's best kept holiday secrets. My Quick Guide is here to start you off:
Put well-known Budva to one side in favour of its slightly sleepier neighbour, Becici. That's not to say that there's no life here though – the promenade lined with multiple cafes, bars and restaurants testifies to quite the opposite – however, the less hardcore nature of Becici will be welcome to travellers looking for relaxation rather than YOLO rave opportunities. It also makes a great base for solos wishing to explore by foot, thanks to an extensive coastal path and promenade which runs all the way to Budva on one side, and to Przno on the other. For a no-frills classic beach stay, with modern accommodation, plentiful buffet breakfasts and a view over the bay, opt for The Queen of Montenegro hotel.
There are great meals to be had in Montenegro, although those who aren't keen on carbs or meat may struggle – classic Balkan cuisine tends to focus on meat and cheese and the alternative to it, thanks to the Italian influence in these parts, is an abundance of pasta and pizza offerings. Those in search of the trendy cuisine scene should head over to hip Porto Montenegro – Montenegro's answer to Cannes.
This up and coming port is a beauty to behold, with upmarket restaurants, chic luxury hotels and yes, you've guessed it, line upon line of luxury yachts, too. Currently, it's the place to see and be seen in Montenegro, so it's no wonder that some of the best food joints can be found here too, to cater for the tastes of the incoming haute crowds.
For the best ice cream of your life, head over to Moritz Eis to sample their fresh, organic take on the classic sweet treat (they can be found in Belgrade too, more on that here). Breakfast lovers, on the other hand, should start their day on Al Posto Giusto's terrace situated right in the heart of the port.
BAY OF KOTOR
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Bay of Kotor is not to be missed. Avoid the hordes of tourists and climb your way up the upper town walls to the fortress in the early morning – you'll be rewarded with a stunning view of the bay below.
BOKA BAY FROM ABOVE
Snake up the winding roads of Lovcan mountain and find a place to stop near the top to experience the best view of Boka Bay. Not to be confused with Kotor, Boka Bay is the name used by Montengrins to refer to the bay in its entirety, which means encompassing all of the so-called 'smaller' bays: Herceg Novi, Risan, Kotor and Tivat.
Postcard perfect Sveti Stefan islet is one for the bucket list – and it really is as beautiful as they say. Now owned by Aman Resorts, it's only possible to admire from afar, but it's still worth the journey if only to gaze upon it in envy from the neighbouring public beach.
Nestled within the stunning Lovcen National Park, the tiny village of Njegusi is famed for its smoked ham and cheeses. Laid back and local, this offers an alternative view of Montenegrin life than that which is seen and experienced at the coast.
BUDVA OLD TOWN
It could easily be referred to as a kind of Dubrovnik in minature – Budva old town is a pleasant walled place to wander around and enjoy. Spend an afternoon strolling around its streets, making sure to stop off at the Citadel to soak up some stunning views.
CHILL AT THE LIDO
Sometimes it's worth splashing out – and Porto Montenegro's Lido is certainly the place to do so. This chic, bay-side lido is the perfect spot to spoil yourself with superior service and views. It's highly exclusive though, catering primarily to port residents and Regent Hotel guests. Day passes are available, but they are limited and need to be booked in advance, so make sure to arrange your day of indulgence well before your arrival.
I usually avoid organised tours at all costs. And, if they are on a bus, I literally start to run in the opposite direction. However, the Excursion Montenegro Tour run by Globtour Montenegro should be the exception to the rule. For solos without a car, exploring Montenegro can be a challenge – the bus network is limited, and some of the best spots are the most secluded ones. Also, one of the biggest advantages of Montenegro is its size –its stunning and varied landscape can be so easily explored in a short space of time and distance. But, without a car its impossible to take advantage of this.Welcome then, Globtour Montenegro. Their tours are conducted in small groups travelling on a mini bus, with just enough direction and a mini tour from the knowledgable guide given at each stop, but – importantly – combined with the freedom to explore solo for a good while before climbing back on to be taken to the next place. Covering The Bay of Kotor, Lovcan, Njegusi, the old capital of Cetinje and a glipse of Sveti Stefan, its the best way to begin your trip and give you an overview of all of what Montenegro has to offer.
If you're insistent on avoiding a tour, despite the overall public transport network being limited one part of it is pretty convenient: the coastal bus. You'll need to ask locals or your hotel where the stops are, as they aren't always immediately obvious, but once on board it will only cost you a couple of euros from Becici to Sveti Stefan, for example – and who can argue with that? One thing to beware of though, is getting back – sometimes the return stops are situated in different places, have long waits between buses, or don't correspond to the timetable at all. Always have enough cash on you to get a taxi back if necessary, or better still, ask a local for advice if you're unsure. I would recommend getting the bus from Becici to Petrovac, as unlike Sveti Stefan, in Petrovac there's a boat service which can get you back towards Budva if neccessary.
BOAT TRIP FROM PETROVAC
Speaking of the pleasant old fishing village of Petrovac, if visiting here then it's certainly worth taking one of the boat tours which take visitors along the coastline and even out to some islands. If you just want to get from A to B and it's not listed, don't be afraid to ask – I wanted to go directly to Budva rather than opt for a whole day tour, and the boaties were more than willing to drop me off on the way.
EXPLORE HIDDEN COVES
Montenegro's coves are magical and just begging for you to discover them. Check out my article on Montenegro's Best Beaches for more tips.