Stay Here: Hotel Regent Porto MontenegroBy Howard Malin
Not wishing to sound too shallow but aside from the scoreboard at the Eurovision Song Contest, the geography of the Balkans has largely eluded me. Bosnia Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia, Northern Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Croatia – and Montenegro all seemed to merge in a blur on the map in my head. This was to some extend put right after my wonderful first trip to Croatia earlier this year – it was an eye opener for me – the ancient buildings, the countryside, the people – all of it stunning. However, nothing prepared me for the sheer beauty of its close neighbour, Montenegro. Oh my word – the majesty of the landscape – the mountains and the sea, the spectacular coastline, the beauty and charm of the towns and villages, with their cafes, patisseries and little shops – I fell in love with all of it.
Montenegro: What You Need to Know
It wasn’t until the referendum of 2006 that Montenegro (literally ‘Black Mountain’) became its own sovereign territory again (after its tumultuous history), making it one of the newest, as well as smallest, countries in the world. And, for me, a totally magnetic destination – full of surprises at every turn. I was only visiting for three days, but enjoyed more magical moments and memorable sights than I can remember on any other short trip.
Tivat is the small former factory town of the Arsenal ship and submarine repair yards on the coast of Montenegro, and is now home to Porto Montenegro, which has become its’ most affluent area and fastest growing region. Quayside cafes and bustling local life give a true taste of Montenegro. The story of the birth of Porto Montenegro is as fascinating as the place itself. The self-made Canadian gold-mining tycoon Peter Munk had noticed that the growth of leisure and superyacht ownership in Europe was not being matched by the number of moorings available. Hatching a plan and approaching the Government of Montenegro in 2006, he and his investors purchased a 125-year lease on the former shipyards. It was his vision that led to the creation of Porto Montenegro Village with its’ world-class marina rivalling Monaco or Cannes, fifty-five luxury shops from Balmain to Balenciaga, and a plethora of fabulous leisure and dining options.
And the Hotel Regent Porto Montenegro sits at the heart of all this.
Standing guard either side of the main entrance to The Regent are the twin sentries of stand-alone Bulgari and Rolex shops – giving advance warning of the ultra-luxe hotel within. The sumptuous lobby is dominated by a beautiful Murano mobile, and overlooks the hotel’s Onyx Bar and Italian Garden, and the marina and bay beyond. Despite these luxurious credentials, the hotel is casual, informal and not at all forbidding.
The hotel’s location, on Tivat Bay, is second to none – with the mountains overlooking the hotel from the rear, and the marina and the bay beyond at the front. The luxury shopping, cafes and restaurants in the Porto Village are only yards away, and the old town of Tivat, with local shops, and quaint cafes lining the quay, only three minutes’ walk. The spectacular sights of Boka Bay, Our Lady of the Rocks, Perast, and Kotor Old town are all easily reachable within 15 minutes by boat. And if you are able to tear yourself away from the hotel’s huge pool complex, and are looking for some more energetic vibes, the Buddha Bar with its landmark infinity pool, cabanas, restaurant, and DJ’s is only minutes away on foot.
Ancient really does meet modern here – the original Regent hotel was built in 2014 in Venetian Renaissance style, with further additions in 2017. Using a palette of blues, creams and beiges, walls hung with old shipbuilding blueprints, and dark wooden fittings, the hotel manages to blend perfectly with the marina, the bay beyond and its historical nautical setting.
Spread across three pavilions, Venezia, Aqua and Baia, the hotel comprises 175 rooms and suites. All classic and premium rooms have balconies, either overlooking the marina at the front, or the drama of the mountains rising at the rear, and all studio, one-, two- or three-bedroom suites have terraces. Delicious linens on sumptuously canopied beds, dark wood fittings, large bathrooms, gallons of delicious-smelling Miller Harris toiletries, free standing baths with bowls of bath salts, plush towels, rainwater showers, thoughtfully illuminated make-up mirrors and stools, Bose bluetooth speakers, writing desks, mini bars and Nespresso machines – the oversized bedrooms cannot be faulted. Rooms and suites in the later Aqua and Baia pavilions, have a more modern, minimal styling, lighter wooden fittings and contemporary artworks. I couldn’t wait to wake up each morning, pop in one of three varieties of complementary Nespresso pods, and sit on my balcony watching the sun come up over the bay, as the deckhands prepared their yachts for the day ahead. Magical.
The main hotel restaurant is Murano, presided over by head chef Marko Zivkovic, where he combines local Montenegrin and Mediterranean flavours. The restaurant is hung with Murano glass artworks and chandeliers, and with outdoor tables placed so close to the marina I could have reached out from my lunch table to pluck a caviar canapé from the deck of the yacht moored opposite. The location is simply stunning.
Breakfast, as expected, is a vast and complete buffet, and made it impossible to resist breaking my intermittent fasting rules. Chefs stand ready through a kitchen hatch to execute any egg orders on the spot – and my diet went out of the window and into the warm breeze across the bay – as I started on my perfect Eggs Benedict! (note of caution – don’t try their house-made granola – it’s addictive).
Lunch and dinner offer an easy and accessible menu of mostly Italian dishes, using light and seasonal ingredients. I loved the starter beetroot salad with Parmesan cream, pomegranate and cashew, and with mains ranging from lasagne and pumpkin risotto to duck confit and beef Wellington, I was not short of choices. The seared tuna with local roast pepper and carrot salad, and avocado, was simply delicious – and guilt free! Also of note is the ‘create your own ‘section allowing diners to select their favourite cut of meat or fish, from salmon and octopus to filet mignon and Wagyu ribeye, cooked to order, with a choice of sauces, and paired with a choice of side dishes.
For lighter bites, salads and snacks as well as ice creams, sorbets and a huge array of delicious house-made cakes and pastries – Gourmet Corner, with tables on the marina walkway, is open all day and late in to the evening. Perfect to satisfy an attack of the munchies (my downfall!) or for an after-dinner gelato, watching the cruisers and yachts return to the marina after a day at sea.
The Onyx Bar and Garden by Beluga is a glamourous spot for a pre-dinner aperitif , or in my case, for a post dinner cocktail – with a its’ beautifully illuminated marble bar, overlooking the Italian Garden and the quay, serving expertly mixed cocktails (my espresso martini was perfect! ), an array of Beluga vodka and specialist vodka cocktails, and offering an exotic menu from Siberian caviar and sushi hot dog to truffle pizza and a prawn burger.
The Regent Spa is a darkly-lit and nurturing sanctuary with Aromatherapy Associates lotions and potions, three treatment rooms, Turkish hammam, Finnish sauna, experience shower, relaxation room and indoor heated pool, offering a range of scrubs and wraps, facial, hair, hand, foot and body treatments. The full body massage by Mario (hereinafter known as Super Mario!) was just amazing and left me in a state of euphoria. The small fitness room with a range of Technogym equipment sits alongside the spa, for use by guests (not this one, sadly!)
The Regent is not short of swimming, lounging and sun-bathing space! The heated outdoor pool area, overlooking the marina and bay, covers a huge 600 square metres, with two infinity pools, separate children’s pools, and bar with poolside café. And of course, an ice cream cart to further tempt me off my diet!
I loved everything about the hotel – the welcome, the consistently friendly and courteous service, the vibe and informality of the hotel, the pool and facilities, the location on the marina itself, and of course the rooms – with all the luxuries of a modern hotel, yet with all the trappings of a traditional luxe hotel. Go – you won’t regret a moment of it, and go soon, before word gets out and it gets overrun with tourists – as it assuredly will.
Despite being a country of such small land mass, and having a population of less than that of Leeds (!), there is so much to see in this extraordinary country. The standout attractions of Montenegro are, unsurprisingly, the staggering landscape, the magnificent mountains and the glorious beaches and sea. It is hugely over-endowed with natural wonders and spectacular sights. I managed to do all the below in my two days – and can’t wait to return and see more of this amazing land.
A must-see is the medieval walled city of Kotor, on the fjord-like bay of the same name (also known as Boka Bay), with its 4.5 kms of walled battlements rising from the bay up the mountain to the fortress. The bay is a UNESCO world heritage site, and dates from 6th century BC. Wander around the ancient buildings, churches (don’t miss the Cathedral of St Tryphon dating from 1166) and monuments and get lost in the labyrinthine alleyways lined with artisan shops, cafes and bars that lead to bustling piazzas with restaurants and cafes offering fish, seafood and local dishes. Make sure you stop at on one of the many tempting and delicious gelateria, a legacy of the Venetians. For the best views of the city and Boka Bay beyond, and to help towards your 10,000 daily steps, climb the 1350 steps up to San Giovanni Fortress, built by Emperor Justinian 1 in 535 BC – it’s a rigorous climb, but exhilarating when you reach the fortress at 1200 metres!
Boka Bay – Take a boat tour around the fjord-like Bay of Tivat and Bay of Kotor (collectively known as Boka Bay – from the Italian word for mouth), stop off at Perast, the church tower of St Nicholas rising over the baroque town and easily viewed from the bay. Visit the nearby Our Lady of the Rocks – a Catholic church built on its own tiny man-made island – created from captured ships, which were then scuttled with loaded stones – and which has stood guard over the bay and its sailors since the mid 15th Century.
Lovćen National Park The newly opened and thoroughly awe-inspiring Kotor Cable Car will whisk you directly from Dub in Kotor to Kuk in Lovćen, and the Lovćen National Park while providing breath-taking views over a full 50% of the entire 294 kms of Montenegrin coastline, with its captivating mountain peaks, as it ascends the mountain. Forza, the futuristically designed cafe, bar and restaurant at the peak, providing a welcome respite for this vertigo-suffering traveller, after the eleven minute 4.5 kilometre jaw-droppingly beautiful ride. We were amazed at the sight of the Monte Juice café, perched on a cliff edge not far from Forza, 1660 feet above sea level, complete with deck chairs and tables – and extraordinary views of the bay beyond.
At pinnacle of Lovćen Mountain is the mausoleum of Petar 11 Petrović Njegoš, prince bishop of Montenegro and a beloved leader who died in 1851. The view from the Mausoleum, up 461 steps, is so rewarding. I think I’ll have calves like a mountain goat at the end of this trip! From the top of the mountain, at the mausoleum, an amazing 60% of the land mass of Montenegro is viewable. Simply breath-taking!
Cetinje, founded in 1482, the former royal capital of Montenegro further down the mountain, is home to several national institutions, including the official home of the president. It is steeped in history, despite its tiny size, and has been fought over down the centuries by invading parties from the Ottomans to the Venetians. The former Royal Palace, now a museum, provides a fascinating picture of the royal history of the country. The restaurant Gradska, serving delicious local fish dishes, was an excellent pit stop after our tour of the city.
Gornji Stoliv – this 13th century former hamlet is perched precariously half-way up a huge mountain. The population of 1200 has now shrunk to only three families, one of which runs the tiny cafe serving delicious home-made breads, cheeses and hams, and its own pomegranate juice, in the hamlet. Until recently only accessible on foot, we had the luxury of a hair-raising Jeep tour with GoBaloo, through the chestnut forest in which the hamlet sits. Legend has it that the forest was so damp and miserable to work in, that local women died prematurely. To attract a bride, a local man would have to plant 100 olive trees to demonstrate his wealth – hence the name – from Italian oliva, and the many clumps of olive trees visible throughout the forest to this day. I loved this trip and thoroughly recommend it.
Lake Skadar – the largest freshwater lake in Southern Europe, which straddles both Montenegro and Albania – will provide you with enough standout Instagram pictures to last a year! Rich in vegetation, abundant in wildlife with more than 270 different species, and dotted with beaches, little fishing villages, and churches, Lake Skadar is stunningly beautiful, and maybe of more interest to the ornithologically minded traveller.
Porto Montenegro and Tivat
Step out of the Regent, and you’re in Porto Montenegro Village. Get lost in over 50 luxury shops, from Villeroy & Boch to Vilebrequin, sip coffee overlooking the marina, visit the old submarine sheds, and look over the old submarines on display, pop down to Buddha Bar for some gourmet food and enjoy the sounds. Walk to the old town of Tivat, three minutes away, and sit with the locals in the quay-side cafes. Dining here is amazing and varied, with so many restaurants and cafes – the 9-hour octopus at Divino by the sea wall in Tivat is out of this world; and the wine, service and food at Marea in the marina, is world-class, to match the surroundings.
Now I’m really going on a diet!
How to Get There
FROM UK – so simple . 10 minutes from Tivat airport, 90 minutes from Dubrovic airport , or 90 minutes from Podgorica airport -and the hotel can arrange trans=fers – or hop in a taxi!
Regent Porto Montenegro – Obala BB, Porto Montenegro Village, Tivat 85320