For all the stories that have appeared suggesting Porto Montenegro is a destination for the super rich, it was until the beginning on this month of limited appeal to anyone who didn’t have an apartment there or a yacht to call their own.
A development of the near-derelict former headquarters of the Imperial Navy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and subsequently the Yugoslav Navy, it is essentially its own town, a little construct of streets and piazzas contrived to cater not so much to the world’s wealthiest and most discerning have-yachts as their captains and crews. (A crack and content team can be a challenge to recruit, so owners will go to some lengths to retain a good one.)
There may be a dozen or so shops selling resort fashion, among them a branch of Heidi Klein, but otherwise they’re not brands with high recognition factor. And of course there’s a nightclub, with lighting designed by Patrick Woodroffe, the man responsible for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012, not to mention the club in the basement of the London Edition. There are bars, obviously, and restaurants: a Japanese, a couple of Italians, a French boulangerie… Though it’s hardly a dining destination. The rest of the retail spaces are mostly yacht brokerages and suppliers.
That said, for anyone who happened to be in the area it’s great place to yacht spot. And its little museum, which opened in 2011 and features an array of extraordinary 20th-century naval vessels – an underwater scooter, a small-scale “wet” submarine, driven by a diver because it filled with water, even a full-size nuclear sub that had been pulled from the depths here – is intriguing.
Even so Porto Montenegro wasn’t somewhere anyone looking to go on holiday for a few days would go to for its own sake, until August 1, when its first hotel opened. Regent Porto Montenegro (doubles from £265 per night until December 31) is an 86-room property right on the waterfront, operated by Regent and designed according to the local Venetian-influenced vernacular, with nautical interiors by the Paris-based, Greek-Irish designer Tino Zervudachi of Mlinaric, Henry and Zervudachi.
One would hesitate to call it a resort hotel. There are two pools, indoor and outdoor that connect in the summer, and a spa, but no beach, though guests have access to tennis courts as well as the nearby Lido, with its impressive 64m pool at the end of which sits a huge Jaume Plensa sculpture. But you’re a long way from a beach. Still, top-tier hotels being a rarity hereabouts (Aman Sveti Stefan, where very simple “village” rooms with nothing in the way of their own outside space start at £830, is the wildly expensive exception), it would make a good base from which to explore the still undeveloped hinterland (the coast is a lost cause!) of this diminutive but remarkably beautiful nation.
For the Regent is just 20km from Kotor, a Dubrovnik writ small set, like Porto Montenegro itself, on the southern extreme of the largest fjord outside of Scandinavia, with star-shaped fortifications zigzagging up the mountain that looms behind it. And it’s not much more than an hour by car to the high pastures of the mountainous Lovcen National Park (despite its name, Montenegro’s mountains are actually white karst, but the fragrant maquis with which they are cloaked makes them look black); or to Virpazar, a village that still feels very much as though time has forgotten it, on the shores of eerily beautiful Lake Skadar, home to pelicans and ibises among other exotic birds, and the largest body of fresh water in the Balkans. This makes an idyllic place for a boat trip, especially in the soft light of a late afternoon when the clear cool water is at its glassiest.