I Spy Montenegro: How I Bonded With The Balkan State
Written by Jaillan Yehia
I’m flying to Dubrovnik and going on assignment, but I’m not coming for a mission in Croatia at all – on the contrary I’m here to spy on what goes on in the tiny state of Montenegro.
Unlike a real secret agent, I excitedly tell a handful of people in advance that I’m off to Montenegro, and the news is generally met with a sort of veiled perplexity.
They ought to know where it is, they quickly realise, but it turns out they can’t quite place it. Heads nod knowingly and mouths make affirmative noises but there’s a blankness behind the eyes that gives away the bluff.
But that’s ok. Montenegro itself is no stranger to bluffing.
Even if you don’t think you know Montenegro, you do. Yet what you think you know is probably inaccurate.
Allow me to explain.
Unless you were living under a rock in 2006 you will have noticed the former Yugoslavian Republic make its international debut alongside Daniel Craig in the Bond outing Casino Royale.
The movie sees the world’s most famous spy gallivant high and low through Montenegro’s stunning south-eastern European landscapes. Glitzy casinos and lush Mediterranean viewpoints all showcase the glamour and prestige oozing from this tiny enclave on the Adriatic Coast.
But the story goes that when the film was first shown in cinemas within Montenegro the entire audience erupted into laughter at the notion that fast, efficient and luxurious champagne-fuelled train journeys – or any of the accompanying infrastructure depicted – were actually available here.
And they were right to laugh – it turns out that not one scene committed to celluloid was ever filmed in Montenegro itself, the Czech Republic was substituted.
Yet the irony is that even the most jaw-dropping stand-in filming locations couldn’t hold a candle to the incredible wild beauty of the real Montenegro – but as a new-born state, miniature Montenegro lacked the facilities for full scale filming just as it lacked the swanky lifestyle depicted by Bond and his crew.
Now, barely a decade later, Montenegro is the one having the last laugh.
The ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ approach has more than paid off and now Bond himself would feel right at home here. I learn this as soon as I step into my luxury private transfer in a brand new Volkswagen Caravelle and am whisked off to a modern and stylish beachfront hotel as a prelude to a weekend of indulgence.
This country is now welcoming well-heeled tourists to its spas, beach clubs and bars – all of which make the Balearics look quite frankly, like Butlins.
A slew of accolades that other countries could only dream of have now fallen to Montenegro: Europe’s first One & Only Resort? Check. An outpost of leading Swiss Spa & Wellness centre Espace Chenot? On its way. Europe’s latest luxury marina complete with €8million penthouse apartments featuring Harrods interiors: it’s here and it’s called Portonovi.
The new development on the Adriatic’s largest bay is spearheading the final push to attract a jet-setting crowd of discerning sun seekers who are looking for a prestigious second home, and a place to park their superyacht when they’re not out exploring the 300km coastline, or basking on one of the 117 beaches.
The 238-berth mega yacht marina, positioned on a south-facing deep natural bay, has all the amenities for the yachting crowd as well as 9,000m² of high-end retail space, so if would-be Bonds want to bring a gift for the Miss Moneypenny in their lives, this is the place to do it.
Montenegro’s contradictions do continue to this day – the marina can offer VAT-free fuel as it’s only 2 nautical miles from Croatian waters, because while it is in Europe geographically, it isn’t quite in Europe politically.
The country isn’t a member of the European Union just yet, though it has joined NATO – so your European roaming plan won’t stretch past the Croatian border.
Yet unlike neighbouring Croatia, Montenegro does use the Euro and is fully focused on the modernising and collaborative influence that European membership brings.
In fact an appetite for positive change and progress is not just palpable here, it’s electrifying. Especially at night, when the youthful energy in towns like Herzeg Novi and Budva make you wonder how all this can still be a secret, when so many people appear to be in on it. The country is positively buzzing and the feeling is infectious.
This certainly isn’t the first time Montenegro has shrugged off its past – this chunk of land has had more rulers throughout history than Bond has had leading ladies – Ottomans and Venetians have all made their mark and you can feel this in the architecture and the atmosphere as well as the food, wine and spirit – even more so than you can the similarities with the neighbouring Slavic and Balkan States.
Given the complex contradictions and head-spinning history it isn’t surprising that many people would be hard pressed to point out Montenegro on a map, let alone grasp just what the country has to offer today’s travellers and I feel lucky that I’ve been let into the exclusive club – and I consider it a worthwhile service to let others in on the top secret.
Trackback from your site.