After spending a hectic day in Dubrovnik, in Croatia, pushing my way through tourist parties from three large cruise ships, it was good to relax in the peace and calm of Budva on the Montenegrin coast.
Although Budva is only 60 miles away from Dubrovnik down the Dalmatian Coast, it is a world apart. You still have the beautiful Adriatic Sea and spectacular rocky cliffs, and you still have an historic old town plunging down into the sea. But the whole atmosphere is much more relaxed and laid-back.
I was on a driving holiday in late September, and after having great difficulty parking in Dubrovnik, I now found it very easy to leave my car almost anywhere in Budva, either free of charge or using Euros. Euros! That was a surprise to me. Apparently Montenegro has never obtained formal permission from the EU to use Euros as its currency, but does so anyway!
The hotels were also much quieter and less deferential. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not keen on the yes-sir, no-sir approach of hotel staff keen to attract and keep the tourists. At the Hotel Aruba where I stayed, the staff were very helpful and friendly, but that didn’t stop them arguing the toss about whether the coffee served at breakfast was hot enough!
The journey to Budva involved an exhilarating 20 mile drive around the Bay of Kotor. It is more like a fjord than a bay, with the rocky peaks reflecting off the still waters. We enjoyed some excellent coffee at the Hipnos Restaurant in the bay-side town of Risan.
On returning to our car, we found it had been blocked in by another car with a local registration plate. After a 15 minute wait, the young lady driver emerged from a bank opposite and seemed quite surprised that we were looking a bit perturbed.
Clearly by then we hadn’t got into Montenegro’s more ‘relaxed’ style. What was the problem with sitting in a car for a few extra minutes looking out over the scenic Bay of Kotor? What was the rush?
We chilled a bit after that and enjoyed a relaxed drive past the picturesque twin islands of the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks and the Benedictine Monastery of St George and on towards Budva.
There is plenty to see and do in the Budva area. It is certainly worth spending a few hours exploring the Old Town with its ancient citadel. Follow that with a walk around the harbour, drooling over some of the fine boats of the rich and famous who have managed to find this hidden haven.
Just three miles to the south of Budva is the island of Sveti Stefan. This used to be a fortified fishing village, but is now a luxury hotel with limited access to passers-by. However the beaches by the island are excellent, with some good cafes for refreshments. There are some pleasant walks nearby in the landscaped slopes by the coast, not too strenuous for senior travellers.
A driving holiday through Croatia and along the Dalmatian Coast is not for everyone. Fortunately it is now possible to take holidays in Budva by flying out from the UK to Dubrovnik airport, and then enjoying the coach ride around the Bay of Kotor.
For example, you can travel with TUI Holidays and stay at their hotels on the Budva Riviera. Most are within walking distance of Budva Old Town and, for more nimble senior travellers, Sveti Stefan.
Although I found Budva to have a pleasant, laid-back atmosphere, that is not to say that hotels and restaurants are of a poor quality. Far from it.
One of the best restaurants I’ve visited this year was just a few km out of Budva in the direction of Kotor near Jaz Beach. The Restoran Šebelj has an extensive menu of local dishes, served very rapidly by friendly staff. I enjoyed the excellent Kuvana Jagnjetina Sa Povrćem (boiled lamb meat with vegetables), washed down with a fine Vranac wine.
I’ll be back to visit Montenegro again soon and will explore more of the coast and inland areas of this fascinating country. However, I won’t leave my next visit too long, as I suspect a tourist invasion is not far away and much of Montenegro’s charm may well be lost.
POSTED 11th NOVEMBER 2014 by STEVE HANSON