MEDIEVAL MONTENEGRO: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO KOTOR, BUDVA & SVETI STEFAN

August 3, 2020

What do you know about Montenegro? Honestly, I knew very little when I picked it as a holiday destination a few years back. Prior to planning our trip, I couldn't even name the country's capital city (Podgorica). Our decision to visit was solely based on our love for Croatia. We wanted more of the medieval beauty that had us smitten in Dubrovnik, Hvar, Korcula and Split, and thought we could find more of the same a little further south. Montenegro was a completely separate trip from Croatia, but looking back I wish we'd done them together as one long holiday. We spent 10 days road-tripping down the country's piercing Adriatic coast with stops in Herceg Novi, Perast, Kotor, Rose, Budva, Sveti Stefan and Stari Bar. It was one of the easiest itineraries to piece together thanks to the county's tiny size. I've created a guide below to three of our favorite destinations - Kotor, Budva and Sveti Stefan. It includes sightseeing tips, itinerary suggestions, off-the-beaten-path gems, daytrip ideas, hotel recommendations and more. ​

 

 The spectacular Bay of Kotor is a highlight when traveling through Montenegro.

 

MONTENEGRO QUICK TIPS

WHEN TO VISIT

May or September. Summer season in Montenegro is overly crowded with tourists pouring in from Eastern Europe - I've never seen beaches so packed with people, sun-beds and umbrellas. May and September offer a better experience for visitors. The weather is warm and crowds are more manageable immediately before and after high season.

 

GETTING THERE

Via Dubrovnik. Podgorica is Montenegro's capital city, but for a coastal road trip, it's easier to fly in and out of Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik sits very close to the border, about an hour's drive from Herceg Novi. This also gives you an excuse to tack on a couple extra days in Dubrovnik.

 

CROSSING THE BORDER

Easy, but timely. If you plan to fly out of Dubrovnik the same day you cross the border back into Croatia, leave yourself plenty of time to get to the airport. For us, it was quick and easy to cross into Montenegro, but the border traffic to cross back to Croatia was an absolute nightmare. It took us several hours to get through the standstill traffic, just a couple miles shy of the border. I'm sure it isn't always this way, but it isn't uncommon, so plan accordingly. 

 

 The ruined remains of historic Stari Bar.

 

BUDVA & SVETI STEFAN

Visit Budva in high season and you'll quickly learn it's the party capital of Montenegro. During the summer months, it feels like all of Montenegro and Serbia flock to this beachside destination where outdoor bars, dance clubs and al fresco dining line the city's main coastal promenade. If partying isn't your scene, don't worry. There's still plenty to do along this stunning stretch of Adriatic that is home to medieval Old Towns, charming villages and hidden coves. We spent four days in this part of Montenegro, and I felt like we missed out on a lot. I recommend staying a full week in the region if time permits. 

 

Old Town Beach, where the sea meets the medieval walls.

 

 Cheers to beach days.

 

   My morning dip in the water surrounding dreamy Sveti Stefan. 

 

THINGS TO DO IN BUDVA & SVETI STEFAN

GALIJA BEACH

Located just south of Sveti Stefan, Galija Beach is one of my favorite little escapes in this part of Montenegro. The quiet cove is completely idyllic, and a lovely place to spend a summer day. There's a small beach bar, as well as white umbrellas and loungers scattered across the beach and surrounding red rocks.

 

JAZ BEACH

If the crowds of Slovenska Beach are overwhelming, head a few miles west to Jaz Beach. You'll find rows of umbrellas and sunbeds here too, but it doesn't feel as cluttered thanks to the beach's expansive size. For complete seclusion, there are quiet coves tucked away in rocks at the east end of Jaz Beach. Perfect for sunbathing.

 

MOGREN BEACH

Follow the pedestrian pathway west from Old Town, and it leads to beautiful Mogren Beach, which is actually two beaches connected by a small tunnel built into the surrounding limestone cliffs. 

 

OLD TOWN BUDVA

Old Town feels a world away from the beach bars and dance clubs that sit just outside the fortified walls. The medieval town dates back more than 2,000 years, and walking through the labyrinth of alleys, squares and corridors is like a step back in time. This is one of the more popular tourist attractions, so visit early in the morning to have Old Town to yourself for a couple of hours. 

 

OLD TOWN BEACH

The beach is small and the umbrellas are a bit of an eyesore, but the medieval walls of Old Town serve up a pretty spectacular backdrop for an afternoon of sunbathing. It sits just west of Old Town. 

 

PIZANA BEACH

Another beach with views of Old Town, you'll find Pizana Beach sandwiched between the north walls and the port. 

 

STARI BAR

Hop in the car for a daytrip down to see the remains of ancient Stari Bar. With no traffic, it's about an hour drive to reach the settlement that sits in ruins, just a couple miles inland from Bar. Explore the remains of the fortified town that is quite literally a set of crumbling ruins.

 

SVETI STEFAN BEACH

Once a 15th-century fishing village, this fortified islet is perhaps the most iconic sight in all of Montenegro. Sveti Stefan was converted into a luxury hotel more than a decade ago, and only resort guests and paid tour groups have access to the island. Alternatively, visitors can soak in the spectacular views from the surrounding beaches. Sveti Stefan Beach sits to the left of the tombolo, and is a public beach. The beach to the right is reserved for guests of the Aman Sveti Stefan, or non-guests can pay a steep beach club fee for access.

 

Morning swim below the medieval walls of Aman Sveti Stefan

 

 Quiet mornings in Sveti Strefan.

 

 Beach club bliss at Galija Beach along Montenegro's sparkling Adriatic coastline.

 

WHERE TO STAY IN BUDVA & SVETI STEFAN

AMAN SVETI STEFAN

If you're ever going to splurge on a hotel, this is the place to do it. Aman Sveti Stefan is more than just a hotel stay, it's an experience. Once a fishing village, the 15th-century island has been completely restored, and is private to guests of the five star property. The island is filled with old medieval buildings that have been renovated to house 50 impeccable hotel rooms, suites and cottages. Guests have access to private beaches on the mainland, two small pools on the island, the exclusive Aman Spa and on-site restaurants. 

 

AVALA RESORT & VILLAS

Avala Resort & Villas sits just outside of the Old Town walls with spectacular views over the Adriatic, possibly the best location in Budva. Rooms are minimalist and modern, and there's a pool that faces the sea. The resort also lays claim to half of Old Town Beach with umbrellas and loungers for hotel guests. 

 

DUKLEY HOTEL & RESORT

It sits a couple miles up the road from Old Town Budva, but the Dukley Hotel & Resort feels a world away from the bustle of the city. Surrounded by pine forests on the Zavala Peninsula, the sprawling hotel is home to 50 apartment style residences that overlook the private Moet & Chandon Beach.

 

 Mermaid vibes on Jaz Beach, a short drive west of Old Town.

 

 The crumbling remains of Stari Bar.

 

The islet bridge to Sveti Stefan divides the coast into two beaches - left side is a free public beach, right side is private for Aman guests only.

 

PLACES TO EAT IN BUDVA & SVETI STEFAN

DRAGO RESTAURANT

A popular family-run establishment that sits on the hillside overlooking the Adriatic. The dishes here are delicious, and taste even better if you can nab a table on the terrace with views of the Sveti Stefan islet. Drago Restaurant offers a variety of meat and seafood dishes, but their specialty is the fresh seafood. 

 

FAMELIJA KENTERA

Another restaurant perched on the hill with a terrace that looks out over Sveti Stefan. The menu is filled with a tasty selection of pasta and seafood offerings. 

 

KONOBA DEMIZANA

For charming ambiance and delicious seafood, grab dinner at Konoba Dmeinaza. It's located just outside of Budva's Old Town with an unassuming entrance that is easy to miss. The pleasant terrace sits sheltered by green vines and leaves, a lovely setting in the evenings.

 

KONOBA MORE

Just north of Sveti Stefan is a swath of red sand beach known as Przno, and it's home to a handful of delightful restaurants. Konoa More is particularly charming, set on the water surrounded by stunning medieval views and a sparkling cove. 

 

KONOBA PORTUN

A popular restaurant located on an alleyway within the walls of Old Town. They serve a variety of meats and seafood - all very standard, but the ambiance in Old Town at night is wonderful. 

 

Summer energy on Budva's beaches.

 

 Beach club bliss.

 

Jaz Beach.

 

KOTOR

Situated along the country's iconic bay, Kotor is home to the country's most iconic Old Town. The historic walled city is a dizzying labyrinth of pedestrian corridors where churches, squares, restaurants and shops are connected via a maze of winding passageways. I've visited twice now, and I still find myself turned around. Kotor's central location on the the Bay of Kotor makes it an ideal base for day trips around the region. A quick 30-minute drive whisks visitors away to secluded coves, blue grottos, tiny villages and vibrant waterfronts on the Lustica Peninsula.

 

A climb up Kotor's city walls rewards hikers with these stunning views over Old Town.

 

THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND KOTOR

BLUE GROTTO

Yup, Montenegro has a Blue Grotto. There are group tours and private boats that can be booked from Zanjice Beach. If you can splurge, opt for a private boat so you can visit without other tourists in the sea cave. Similar to the blue grottoes in Croatia and Greece, it's a stunning place to swim when the water glows.

 

CLIMB THE KOTOR CITY WALLS

The steep climb up to St. John's Fortress is one of the highlights of Kotor. A ticket office sits tucked away at the back of the walled city where the 1,350 step climb begins. It's a steep hike, but there are plenty of ruins to admire and viewpoints to enjoy along the way. At the top, hikers are treated sweeping views over Old Town and the surrounding Bay of Kotor. 

 

OLD TOWN

The well-preserved fortified town is straight out of a fairytale with its winding stone alleys that create an utter labyrinth of orderly chaos. Old Town is a must-visit tourist attraction. Sights to see include St. Luke's Church, the South Gate and St. Tryphon's Cathedral, but the highlight of Kotor is getting lost in the corridor of streets. Note that cruise ships dock right outside the city walls, so plan your visit around the ship schedules.

 

PERAST & ST. GEORGE ISLAND

Perast sits a mere 10 miles north of Kotor, but feels like another world entirely. The sleepy waterfront village resembles a postcard with cobbled streets, palazzos, churches and clocktowers that face the Bay of Kotor. You'll find a small parking lot just outside of Perast where views of St. George Island will tempt you to visit. Ferries shuttle tourists out to the island, or if you arrive early in the morning, hire a local for the five-minute boat ride and have the place to yourself. The tiny islet is home to the 12th-century Saint George Benedictine monastery.

 

ROSE VILLAGE

For an off-the-beaten-path escape, follow the coast west to the charming village of Rose on the Lustica Peninsula. It takes all of 10 minutes to walk the pleasant waterfront lined with swim ladders that plunge into sparkling turquoise waters. The harbor is home to stone villas, blooming flowers and a mere handful of restaurants. Rose is only worth visiting in the summer months when you can lay out a towel for an afternoon of swimming and sunbathing. 

 

ZANJICE BEACH

Also located on the Lustica Peninsula, Zanjice Beach can be paired with Rose as a full daytrip from Kotor. The calm water of this sheltered cove makes it a particularly inviting destination, so arrive early to claim one of the beach's coveted parking spots.

 

One of my favorite afternoons in Montenegro was spent in the sleepy village of Rose.

 

Idyllic summer swims in little Rose, a 30-minute drive from Kotor.

 

Zanjice Beach.

 

WHERE TO STAY IN KOTOR

It's ideal to book a hotel within Old Town to get the full Kotor experience. However, there is no vehicle access to Old Town - it's a pedestrian zone. For tourists on a road trip through Montenegro, there are paid parking lots outside the city walls. Note that during the summer months parking is easiest early in the morning and late in the afternoon, so plan day trips accordingly. 

 

HOTEL ASTORIA

When visiting Old Towns, I love staying within the city walls. If you're the same way, Hotel Astoria is the best option in Kotor. Formerly a 13th-century palace, the restored building sits within Old Town, just steps away from restaurants, churches and shops. There are nine unique rooms for guests to choose from, amenities are modern, but spaces have a medieval ambiance thanks to beautiful exposed stone walls.

 

HOTEL VARDAR

If Hotel Asotia is fully booked, Hotel Vardar is an alternative with a prime slice of real estate near the North Gate overlooking one of the city's main squares. Rooms are a bit dated, but prices are reasonable and location is ideal. 

 

Exploring the charming corners of Old Town.

 

The  medieval city gates lead to the moats that surround the walls.

 

Bay of Kotor.

 

 St. Luke's Church.

 

PLACES TO EAT IN KOTOR

HAVANA

If you're looking for energy at night, the crowds and cocktails of Havana spill onto the medieval square where music videos are projected onto a neighboring building.

 

KONOBA BONACA

Trendy restaurant located on the water, north of Old Town. Food is delicious with seafood specialities that include sea bass with ratatouille vegetables, prawn risotto, fresh mussels, sea bream, fish chowder, grilled squid and more.

 

KONOBA GALERIJA

This seaside restaurant sits across the bay from Old Town, an easy 10-minute walk and a refreshing escape from the confines of the the city walls. The menu boast a variety of fresh fresh seafood dishes including calamari, mussels, sea bream, fish fillets and more. Reservations are recommended for Konoba Galerija during summer season.

 

KONOBA SCALA SANTA

Cozy restaurant with al fresco dining in Old Town that prepares tasty dishes from a typical Montenegro menu of seafood, pastas and risottos. 

 

OLD TOWN PUB

This two-story bar is housed in one of the cutest medieval buildings in Kotor. Great spot to stop for a drink at night, and listen to live music. 

 

The city walls. 

 

Daytrip to Perast to visit St. George's Island. 

 

Farewell, Kotor!

 

 

 

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