We went here for a day but if you can find a decent place to stay I’d add a night on the itinerary for Sveti Stefan. I’m not going to lie, it was a frightening drive to get there- tons of construction and traffic, throw in half a dozen roundabouts… it felt like days while only 6km away from our place in Budva. However, yet again, we prevailed. Found our way, found some parking. No, it doesn’t matter that we had to get a local to back us out of our spot again before we left… Enough about us, back to Sveti Stefan. It is another ‘islet’ located off a mainland area still considered the ‘municipality of Budva’.
The infrastructure began as a fortress in the 1400s, which was turned into a hotel during the communist period. It is now a high profile hotel owned by Aman Resorts... I briefly looked into rooms but too many started in the €10,000s so that search didn’t last long.
Along the walk from the mainland to the island hotel there are some cute restaurants and beaches (they are the type of beaches where you need to pay for the chair, though… We got away with it for about 30 seconds). We followed the beach, and then continued onto a well-manicured park path, which got nicer and nicer until we finally reached the famed little island- once frequented by stars like Orson Welles, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor from the 60s through the 80s. All we wanted was to make it across the little pathway and onto the actual island property but security was tight. We tried the overconfident approach first, like we owned the place- that didn’t work. We then said we were going for dinner- but our ‘reservation’ didn’t check out. We then said we were actually going in to enquire about staying the night- shut down again. We may have travelled across the world to be halted at the gates, but you don’t have to! The security -whom we later befriended- finally shared with us that if you have a dinner reservation made in advance then you can indeed enter the hotel –for eating only. You can’t even look at the view, don’t even think about it. (Just kidding, kind of).
I will never forget our HOT it was during this little escapade. Did we ever put the Sveti in Sveti Stefan. The walk and view were worth the visit alone but we just couldn’t beat the heat so we stopped at a nice and yummy restaurant called Olive right across from the islet and then retreated to our car -AC on full. Once the local man backed it out for us we were back on that road to Kotor!
View from the Main Square
Kotor is an historic castle town, quieter than Budva with a beauty view all day, and even more so at sunset (with the help of a little hike ;)). Kotor reminded me of a smaller, simpler, untapped Dubrovnik. We could tell the tourist wave was starting, but it hadn’t yet hit. It was a classic castle town that felt frozen in time.
View from our Air BnB
I think my favourite part about our time in Kotor was our AirBnb, which sounds sad, but wait until you click this link and see it. Not only was it this stunning, and SPOTLESS and central, but also our host was so caring and had everything in the room set to the T. Located right in the middle of a square, I’d highly recommend it.
Our Air Bnb
Less exciting but some valuable logistical information:
I’m going to save you some time and just tell you off the bat that you can’t drive or park in the castle walls. Our AirBnb was located here, inside, and we circled around the castle enough times looking for a drive-in entrance. Of course it makes sense that there are no cars, let alone parking in the narrow alleyways of the castle but for some reason that didn’t cross our minds. We finally got a clue and ended up parking in a free, but small lot across the street -on the water outside the Galion restaurant. If this lot were full, I’d recommend parking at the grocery store lot across the street. We took out the items we needed that night and walked on through the castle’s pedestrian entrance.
Moat outside the castle walls
Lazar met us and gave us his local recommendations including some special discounts at certain restaurants for his guests (love when they do that). Of course we took these recommendations into consideration… but got pulled into a small little tavern with the sign €2 beer sitting out front as soon as we walked outside. Once we left that place it became another night of aimless exploration and libation.
Here are some of our recommendations:
At the Hippocampus Hotel rooftop
Café Perper: Our AirBnb sat right above this shop. Our host was close with the owner so the Café helped us get our keys and meet Lazar. They made yummy coffee and they gave us tequila to go! (to pair with our 160 year old lemon)
Cesarica: Authentic feel, fresh seafood. It felt like we were in a medieval pub. The food was delicious and served in old school bowls and pots. We just shared some small dishes and it was perfect (located in the alley off of Cathedral Square next to Scorpio).
Maximus Nightclub: We weren’t in a clubbing mood after our big days and bigger meals, but word around town was this was the spot to get turnt.
Old Town Kotor Hostel: If you’re ever in a city and don’t know what to do- head to the hostels! …Great Happy Hours, open-minded young people who know what’s good that night, upcoming nights, and around the area. It’s crazy how quickly news travels among travellers. You will learn of dos and donts, and hidden gems in cities you may have never heard of otherwise.
Ombra: Nice outdoor seating, live music, decent priced pizzas.
Hippocampus Boutique Hotel: We went here for drinks but ended up ordering a bunch of appetizers… and a pasta entrée. They claimed to be the "only rooftop in Kotor". Whether that’s the truth or not, It was great food, great view- some of the best service we’ve had on the whole trip and we had the place to ourselves.
Luna Rosa: We sat on the upstairs patio overlooking the small square - it was dece. They were busy, lots of families (with children- one toddler broke a wine glass and cut himself!) but the food tasted great and was decently priced.
Pub Mariner: Perfect nautical themed little spot for coffee. What else do you need?
We hopped around these restaurants and then headed to the hostel to see if we could get a feel for anything happening that night. They were just heading out on a pub crawl -classic!- so they waited for us to run to our room and grab our 160 year old lemon and we all did a little tequila shot to get the night underway. Hostels are the best.
Trying to get everyone together for a photo
We stopped by a few bars with them and learned some Brazilian and Swedish drinking games. Soon after this we made a discrete exit to catch some zzzs so we could make the most of (what was left of) our morning.
Up bright and early, ready for some hiking action
We made up for our wining, dining (and shooting) with a nice morning hike up the city walls to St John’s fortress. I was anxious to get on the road to Mostar, Bosnia but Koy insisted this hike would be worth it. Yet again he was right, and yet again I was thankful for his stubbornness.
Looking down mid-hike
There are two hiking paths up to the fortress. We took the one on the far left if you are facing the mountain. We had to find it by trial and error trying different escalating alleyways. We knew we made it when we heard a guitarist and there was an older man sitting at a little table with a bowl of money. We were happy to pay the €2 entry for the music alone! It wasn’t too busy either which was great. When climbing there is the thick ledge lining the stairs that is much easier to walk on than the eroded crumbling stairs next to it. I personally stayed on the crumbling part as I felt the people coming down would need that ledge to stabilize themselves on more than I did heading up. However, as I was coming down no one else seemed to have the same consideration for me so I was stuck slipping on the crumbly stairs both ways which was pretty hilarious.
The hike really isn’t bad. I’d say about 30 minutes to the top. I stopped at the first viewing area outside a little chapel and Koy the marathon runner ran up to the top. He came back down to get me soon after. He said he’d found the ideal view, and it wasn’t at the top- it was just a flight or two up from the first viewing point where I was waiting. So we went there and took these stunning photos- woo!
I know we look effortlessly chill in these photos but we were actually in quite the rush to get on the road. We flew down the hill as fast as we could. Grabbed a quick coffee and Pub Mariner and we were off! We knew we’d be losing internet as soon as we crossed the border into Bosnia so we had the route highlighted on a real life paper map… which led to some interesting places.
Other Montenegrin sites still on our Bucket List:
Old Cetinje: Between Budva and Kotor, a viewing area just a short climb up to watch the sunset. We were told “When you think you’ve got to the perfect spot, turn right and keep going”.
The City of Bar: The train actually stops at both these cities, which is handy. You just need to train back up through Serbia to get anywhere else. I read a lot on Bar and it sounds fantastic. Our boat guy Stefano’s eyes also lit up when we asked him about it. He said it was so diverse and accepting and non-commercial. Bar was his favourite place to party.
The City of Podgorica:
Again, the train also stops here and it is the Capital of Montenegro. Stefan also said it was nice, but is a typical city capital with businesses and newer buildings and it is landlocked. Lots of cool old buildings, governmental and religious though. I’d definitely like to see it some day.
National Parks: (More info here)
There are several parks, however word at the Kotor hostel was that Durmitor Nacionalni Park was the one to see. It's up in the North of the country, but it is supposed to be absolutely breathtaking, filled with mountains and rivers. If you plan to drive from the coast to Mostar like we did, Durmitor isn't TOO far off route. We ran out of time but recommended it to another Canalien who really enjoyed it. Let us know if you go!