Montenegro: A deep-water destination for deep pockets

Former military bases in this tiny Adriatic nation are being transformed into swish marinas and five-star resorts. Mark Jones visits three of the latest developments

There are a lot of people trying to sell you Montenegro. Kotor Bay, an inlet on its short Adriatic coast, is possibly the most heavily marketed corner of Europe at the moment. But the one person who really sold me on the place wasn't a hotelier, a developer, a billionaire investor, or a real-estate mogul, but a marine biologist.

I bumped into Dr Deborah Brosnan from Virginia Tech University in the unlikely setting of an art gallery party at Porto Montenegro, a swish marina development near the town of Tivat. Among the beautiful people with pitch-perfect tans and Prada blazers, it was a pleasant surprise to meet someone ready and eager to talk about molluscs and jellyfish. But then all good marine biologists dream of visiting Montenegro, it turns out.

"It's a hotspot of biodiversity," Deborah explained. "There are 42,000 fish species here and completely different eco-systems from one cove to the next."

You hear a lot of big figures here, mainly the sort with dollar signs in front of them. But eye-popping varieties of marine life you don't expect in this easterly channel of the poor, denuded Mediterranean.

Kotor Bay Kotor Bay (Getty) Yet what drew the Deborah Brosnans is the same thing that enticed Canadian billionaire Peter Munk, financier Nat Rothschild, hotelier Sol Kerzner and others to Kotor Bay: topography – or what Lord Byron described as "the most beautiful encounter of land and sea".

We saw it first when we stopped the car on a bucolic winding hill road just over the border from Bosnia. We looked over Boka Bay, the geological bulge that ends in the town of Kotor. The Boka – derived from the Italian for mouth – itself is a narrow inlet that flows into Europe's most southerly fjord. From above, it looks like the worlds's most sublime jigsaw puzzle.

Even if it's not technically a fjord (the deep gash in the earth was created by an ancient river – glaciers didn't make it this far) Kotor Bay is quite fjordish enough for most tastes. Vertiginous rock faces plunge straight into deep, still waters in that Byronic encounter. You really would think you'd taken a Hurtigruten to Storfjorden or somewhere.

But these are Balkan hills, so instead of thick pines, you get pale limestone with patches of cypress and oak. The sun beats down on red-tiled roofs and grave Venetian villas. You don't see many monasteries in the middle of a Norwegian fjord. Here there are two: Saint George (for boys) and Our Lady of the Rocks monastery (for girls) that sit like cloistered Alcatrazes protected by their sentinel cypresses.

Cruise ships and day-trippers pour in, but there are super-yachts, too. More and more of them. "We had a 137m come in and have a little snoop around the other day," said John Stephens, who manages the marina at Porto Montenegro. That length is definitely in super-yacht territory and Montenegro is now assuredly on their charts. Super-yacht building has actually outpaced the growth of deep-water berths able to accommodate them. So Kotor Bay's fjord-like depths are ideal for skippers looking to entice their clients away from the overcrowded harbours of the Riviera and Italian Adriatic.

However, you need more than deep water. There's the R and R side to think about and Kotor Bay is thinking about it to the extent of €287m. Porto Montenegro is the most complete of three luxury developments designed for the seafarer and swish mini-break crowds – and their thirsty yacht crews. It's been constructed on the crumbling remains of a Yugoslavian naval base. And in a hedonistic spot where Russians and Europeans compete to be top touristic dog, reminders of a bleaker contest have been preserved. Cold War munitions are on show in the Naval Heritage Museum. Alongside it, they have preserved the P-821 Hero submarine. Visitors in their flip flops and espadrilles peer into its pokey depths, then emerge blinking to stroll over to the lido with its infinity pools and exquisitely-lit rooftop restaurant. That's Porto Montenegro: from Cold War to chillout zone in three not-always-easy decades.

How the Regent hotel will look How the Regent hotel will look The development is almost finished. The marina is full. John Stephens says the economics work like a hotel's: a couple of presidential suites for glamour and prestige – the super-yacht mooring points – and the real revenue-generators: 245 standard and junior-suite berths for sensible boats. There is a real hotel too. The Taipei-based Regent Hotel is about to open its second European property in Porto Montenegro: an elegant, pale yellow palace of terraces, walkways and formal gardens. For the moment, you can stay in one of the residences overlooking the marina designed for, bought and rented out by the multi-property owning classes. They are functional and blandly luxurious.

Sitting having breakfast at Al Posto Giusto on the quayside at Porto Montenegro, I had a little glimpse of the effect the outbreak of luxury developments is having here. A couple of local ladies in jeans tottered along the quay bearing bouquets and arrangements. There would be a procession of such ladies over the course of the day. It's a great time to be a florist in Montenegro; the arriving yachts all like a few fresh blooms in their cabin after their voyages. The hotels and restaurants need flowers; so do the apartment owners.

I'd have stayed to count the florists; but as it enters its final phase of construction, Porto Montenegro is not a peaceful spot during the day, what with sanders and drills finishing off the Regent and a huge piledriver booming like a ceremonial gun out in the bay as they complete the marina. So I took a small boat and skimmed across the bay to the Unesco-protected town of Kotor.

If you had to design a town for a short cruise stopover, you'd probably end up with Kotor. It has a dramatic location beneath the nearly overhanging limestone cliffs of Orjen and Lovcen mountains and you can exercise those sea legs by trekking up to yet another monastery at the summit of the Napoleon-era fortifications. Less energetic cruise people simply wander for an hour around the medieval streets, gawp at a palace and the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, eat pizza, wander around the small museum – then back on board. Done.

If it seems all a bit CGI, all fresh paint and newly quarried stone, that's because much of it is. An earthquake in 1979 wrecked half the medieval town and much of the fine Venetian heritage. But the small church of Sant Lucas was untouched. And beyond here, in the quieter northern part of the small town, you find upscale little shops selling rocks, candles and original art and a really excellent boutique hotel, the Hippocampus.

A short drive along the coast through pretty Perast – a town that's like the concentrated essence of Montenegro – you come to another disused naval base which will shortly become known to the five-star world as Portonovi. This is where Sol Kerzner's One and Only resort, funded by $500m of Azerbaijani money, is scheduled to open in 2016. As well as 550 "luxury residences" and the inevitable marina, shops and swish restaurants, there'll be a tennis academy, "eco-park", congress centre, a Henri Chenot spa – in short, everything a holidaying plutocrat would expect and some things they may not.

Over the bay beyond Tivat, on the more rugged, beachy side, is the final member of our triumvirate, Lustica Bay. This development around a golf course and another marina, is pitched as a sustainable replica of a real Montenegran village. Great architectural pains are being taken to preserve the character of the area and that means Venetian towers, red-roofed villas, cypresses and village squares. And yes, it's another former military base.

After two separate trips to the Bay of Kotor, I'm still not entirely sure where I've been. It's part Norwegian grandeur, part Swiss wellness retreat, part Monaco honeypot. It's the product of a peace dividend to end them all. Only 20 years ago, the area was a sideshow in the nastiest war to afflict Europe in modern times. If the military legacy is now being erased by the designer's airbrush – well, you can only call that progress.

Getting there

Podgorica is served by Ryanair (0871 246 0000; from Stansted. Alternatively, you can fly to Dubrovnik, over the border in Croatia, which is served by a wide range of airlines from the UK including British Airways (0844 493 0787;, Jet2 (0800 408 1350 ;, Flybe (0871 700 2000;, easyJet (0843 104 5000;, Monarch (0871 940 5040; and Norwegian (0843 3780 888;

Staying there

The Regent Hotel in Porto Montenegro (00 382 32 660 660; offers double rooms from €250 (£198), excluding breakfast.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
Robyn Lawley
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star