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Land of wild thyme and honey - a gourmet guide to Montenegro - Montenegro

Where to stay

The Chedi Luštica Bay Opened in 2018, this elegant and refined waterside hotel is the first to arrive at the new, upmarket Marina Village in Luštica Bay. Its 111 sleek rooms are equipped with all the amenities, from state-of-the-art Bose speakers to Lavazza espresso machines and Acqua di Parma toiletries – those in the Marina Wing all feature a kitchenette and a balcony overlooking the peaceful harbour. Its indulgent spa (also open to non-residents) provides a variety of authentic Eastern treatments in keeping with the Asian philosophy of the Chedi brand. Facilities include both indoor and outdoor pools, a private beach, a game room and a 24-hour gym. The friendly and impeccable service is the icing on the cake. Doubles from £208. Marina Village Luštica Bay, Radovići, 00 382 32 661266, chedilusticabay.com

Palas Hotel Right on the seashore in Petrovac, a small coastal settlement surrounded by hills, this hotel built in 1983 retains its old-fashioned atmosphere – something between a Wes Anderson set and old-time Yugoslav stay. Sea-view rooms have a balcony overlooking Katič and Sveta Nedjeljia islets and lovely Petrovac Bay, dominated by a 16th-century Venetian fortress. Among the facilities is a recently built wellness and spa centre. More accommodation is available at adjacent Palas Lux, with 48 new suites and apartments. Doubles with half-board from £50pp. Ulica 1, Petrovac, 00 382 33 402456, hgbudvanskarivijera.com

Ramada by Wyndham Podgorica Conveniently located on the edge of the city centre, this offers 110 well-equipped, spacious rooms and suites. An elaborate breakfast is served on the top floor, with panoramic views of Podgorica. An extensive list of facilities includes free private parking, spa and gym. Doubles from £84, including breakfast. Bulevar Save Kovačevića 74, 00 382 20 622623, ramadapodgorica.me

Regent Porto Montenegro In a can’t-be-beaten spot right in the heart of the Porto Montenegro complex, the hotel overlooks the palm-fringed superyacht marina. Room options range from the nautical theme of the original Venezia Wing, inaugurated in 2014 and celebrating the region’s ties with La Serenissima, to the flawless decor of the newer Regent Pool Club Residence, opened in 2017. Acclaimed designer Tino Zervudachi of MHZ did the interiors for both. Choose from one of the many treatments available from their spa menu, take a dip in the secluded infinity pool on the second-floor balcony or unwind with a custom cocktail, sunk in a leather armchair of the Library Bar, with its distinctive London gentleman’s club feel. Doubles from £271, including breakfast, spa access and parking. Obala BB, Porto Montenegro Village, Tivat, 00 382 32 660660, regenthotels.com/porto-montenegro

Travel Information

Situated in south-eastern Europe, Montenegro boasts a sprawling Adriatic coastline, rugged Dinaric Alpine peaks and historic towns. Time is one hour ahead of GMT and currency is the euro. Direct flights from the UK to Podgorica Airport, close to the capital, or Tivat Airport, near Porto Montenegro in the south-west, take just under 3 hours.

Ryanair offers flights from London Stansted to Podgorica.
Easyjet flies from both London Gatwick and Manchester to Tivat.

National Tourism Organisation of Montenegro is the official tourism board, with plenty of ideas, inspiration and useful information to help
you plan your trip.

Where to eat

Prices are for a three-course meal for two, excl. drinks, unless stated

Ćatovića Mlini A former mill turned into a world-class tavern thanks to the vision of Lazar Ćatović, who has managed this family-run, pleasantly old-fashioned establishment for over 25 years. Start with a traditional crni rižoto (black risotto) with prawns, squid and monkfish, continue with crispy deep-fried octopus accompanied by a bottle of ruby-coloured vranac and round off with the local almond and caramel cake, bokeški kolač. From £86. E65, Morinj, 00 382 32 373030, catovica-mlini.com Ciao Bella With its pink interiors, this dainty gelato and prosecco bar is as Instagrammable as it gets. Sip a limoncello-prosecco cocktail at a table right on the promenade of Marina Village. Ice creams from £1.70; drinks from £8. Marina Village Luštica Bay, Radovići, 00 382 67 999916, catovica-mlini.com

Ciao Bella With its pink interiors, this dainty gelato and prosecco bar is as Instagrammable as it gets. Sip a limoncello-prosecco cocktail at a table right on the promenade of Marina Village. Ice creams from £1.70; drinks from £8. Marina Village Luštica Bay, Radovići, 00 382 67 999916

Conte For beautifully presented fish dishes, this restaurant on the seashore in Perast has few competitors. Start with the Conte Premium platter (prawn tartare, scampi carpaccio, fish carpaccio and octopus salad) and continue with the house speciality – prawn-stuffed gnocchi with shrimp sauce. Book a table on the waterside terrace for views of the two islets of Our Lady of the Rocks and St George. From £72. Obala Kapetana Marka Martinovića BB, Perast, 00 382 67 257387, hotelconte.me

Moric Farm In the rural setting of his family-owned certified organic olive farm, Ilija Moric will give you a friendly yet informative insight on Montenegro’s prized oil. The guided degustation is followed by a sumptuous snack with local delicacies under the stone vaults of the tavern, where the 300-year-old mill still makes a fine show. Try his cheese in olive oil and a slice of fragrant lenja pita. Electric bikes are available for rent to explore the Luštica Peninsula at leisure, at £26 per day. Book in advance. Tour with tasting £15pp. Tići, Luštica, 00 382 67 603535

Murano Wine and dine in style at Regent Porto Montenegro’s fine- dining restaurant. The decor is an ode to the glass-making tradition of the Venetian island it is named after, from the mosaic art of Svetlana Ostapovici to the sleek glass chandeliers and the precious handmade Murano tumblers at your table. The menu offers a sophisticated take on Adriatic cuisine, focusing on fresh seafood and rigorously locally-sourced ingredients, reflecting the philosophy of executive chef Marko Živković. The Regent’s Gourmet Corner, also located on the hotel’s ground floor, is perfect for a more informal experience, with a scrumptious selection of patisseries. From £90. Obala BB, Porto Montenegro Village, Tivat, 00 382 32 660660, regenthotels.com/porto-montenegro

Panorama Restaurant
On the top floor of the Ramada Podgorica, this restaurant offers sweeping views of the capital. Its excellent team of chefs, led by the talented Nikola Čelić, delivers a good balance of traditional and international dishes with Mediterranean flavours and tastes. To sample the local cuisine, try the smoked carp, a delicacy of nearby Lake Skadar, and continue with the traditional Podgorica popeci, a pork fillet with a cheese and prosciutto filling. From £44. 74 Bulevar Save Kovačevića, 00 382 20 622623, ramadapodgorica.me

Radevic Estate A boutique winery located in the historic village of Rogami, a 10-minute drive from Podgorica. Since their first harvest in 2009, Goran Radevic and his American wife Renee have developed award-winning syrah, cabernet sauvignon and a very distinctive rosé. Goran is the perfect host, taking you on a journey through the world of wine. The hour-long tour includes a tasting of three award-winning wines, a grappa and an array of small bites. By appointment only. Tours from £21pp. Rogami-Piperi BB, Podgorica, 00 382 69 276055, radevicestate.com

Sabia Restaurant Enjoy a stunning view of the Boka Bay coastline at this Riviera-style restaurant of the brand new One&Only hotel in Portonovi. Located bang on the beach, it combines locally-sourced ingredients with delicious Italian flavours thanks to chef Marco Lucentini and his Umbrian heritage of simple, earthy cuisine – think gnocchi al ragù or cappellacci ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach. Given its location, seafood has a starring role too, with a dedicated raw bar menu. From £70. Portonovi, Kumbor, 00382 31 691011, oneandonlyportonovi.com

The Spot This stylish yet relaxed, all-day option at The Chedi Luštica Bay is a great address for just about anything from a healthy breakfast to after- dinner drinks, offering an alternative to the hotel’s main dining room, The Restaurant. Executive chef Željko Knezović, who trained at Noma in Copenhagen, delivers sophisticated Mediterranean dishes on the waterfront, with the emphasis on Adriatic seafood, although meat lovers won’t be disappointed with the likes of slow-cooked melt-in-the-mouth veal cheek with beetroot and broad bean purée – a recipe from his childhood, appropriately called ‘From My Mother’. Cocktails are served well into the night with a menu built around foraged herbs and blended by master mixologist Marko Dragić – try his award-winning Chedi Brew. From £86. Marina Village Luštica Bay, Radovići, 00 382 32 661266, chedilusticabay.com

Stari Mlini A former mill turned restaurant in an idyllic setting, right on the waterfront at the mouth of the Ljuta river. Dara Djurica has been at the forefront of this family-run address since its opening in 1976. Everything they serve is based on family recipes and either grown in their garden or sourced from neighbours. Oysters, mussels and clams make for the perfect starter, followed by their house special, the ‘Fisherman Stew’ (chunks of white fish and potatoes). A slice of dobrotska torta, their almond and maraschino cake still made according to the 100-year-old recipe, is also a must. A walk in the garden, among luxuriant vegetation and fish ponds, is a delight, especially at sunset. From £86. Ljuta BB, Dobrota, 00 382 32 333555, starimlini.com

Winery Garnet A small wine producer in the heritage site of Godinje, in the heart of the Montenegrin wine region and within Lake Skadar National Park. Miško Leković’s family have lived here for centuries. Sit under the pergola and let him guide you through his wines, accompanied by a platter of homemade bread, prosciutto and cheese and rounded off by a selection of his liqueurs (the cherry one is particularly delicious). Miško also offers walking tours of the region. Advance booking required. Wine tasting from £13pp. Godinje, Virpazar, 00 382 67 355535, winerygarnet.com

Food Glossary

Condiment made with peeled and roasted peppers and aubergines
A stew prepared with several kinds of fish (such as dusky grouper, scorpionfish, moray eel, grey mullet and cuttlefish) and served with polenta
Filo pastry stuffed with meat, cheese, spinach or potatoes. One of the oldest Balkan dishes, originating in the times of the Ottoman Empire
Seafood in red or white sauce, a speciality of the coastal area
Small sausages made of pork and beef mince
A rich dish prepared with full-fat kajmak (a creamy dairy product that’s similar to clotted cream) and cornflour
Crni rižoto
Black risotto infused with cuttlefish ink
A traditional morning drink – in between a cappuccino anda latte macchiato – so-called because it used to cost one German Mark (the country’s currency until 2002)
A tavern or informal and inexpensive restaurant
Lenja pita
‘Lazy pie’, an inexpensive apple pie that is easy to prepare
Njegusi prosciutto
Dry-cured ham, smoked over beech wood, similarto Italian prosciutto crudo
Sweet or savoury fritters made on special occasions, excellent with cheese, cream or honey
A low-fat Montenegrin cheese with a hard texture and salty flavour
Traditional alcoholic drink made with fruits such as plums, apricots, cherry, pear or prunes. Commercial versions typically have 40 per cent alcohol, but the domestic ones can reach as high as 70 per cent
A species of bleak, a small freshwater fish endemic to Lake Skadar in southern Montenegro
Montenegro’s most important grape variety

Food and Travel Review

Any welcome to Montenegro is likely to include the sweet taste of soft priganice (dough fritters) dipped in a cup of thick flower honey, traditionally offered to newcomers. The assumption is, perhaps, that you’ve made some effort to get here. ‘People needed sugar to regain energy after their journey,’ explains Ilija Moric, the owner of the only certified organic farm in the area, who makes olive oil like his ancestors have for the past 300 years.

The farm is in the village of Tići, in the heart of the Luštica Peninsula. This luxuriant corner of paradise in the Bay of Kotor, a mosaic of winding bays kept together by narrow channels, has been a Unesco World Heritage site since 1979.

‘That’s about as old as those plants there,’ he exclaims, pointing at the beautiful, knotted olive trees of his estate – six hectares dotted with some 1,000 trees and home to a flock of goats, 15 sheep of the local Pramenka variety and a couple of friendly donkeys. ‘It’s a small grove,’ he says, ‘but I prefer to think of it as a big garden.’

Olive trees punctuate the coastline all the way to the southern towns of Bar and Ulcinj, where some of them, at the venerable age of 2,000, have become a tourist attraction in their own right.

‘Montenegro counts around 12 indigenous varieties of olives, but the barska žutica is the most important one,’ explains Ilija, doling out a sample of oil in cobalt blue tasting glasses. He warms his glass in his hands, smells and sips. ‘Can you taste it? Freshly cut grass and Granny Smith apples.’ The fine balance of fruity and piquant flavour is the result of a sun-drenched land and a rocky terrain with thin layers of terra rossa, a terroir particularly rich in iron.

The tasting takes place in the tavern, where a 150-year-old press and a stone mill twice its age tell the tale of the Moric family better than any words. The precious jars of cheese in oil – sir iz ulja – are also stored there, prepared in winter as a food reserve. The cheese is first left to dry for a few weeks in wooden boxes in a shady, windy part of the courtyard, then it’s cut out and soaked in olive oil, and it can last up to three years. Ilija recalls how in the past women used to season it generously with salt to prevent people overeating: ‘As the saying goes, “Cheese every day, but one cheese in a month.” The salt also improved preservation, allowing sailors to take it on their voyages.’ Sailors being an important part of local lore: the Bay of Kotor was known for its brave seafarers, many of whom are buried under the cypress trees of the monastery on the island of St George. It’s one of the country’s most-photographed spots, along with nearby man-made islet Our Lady of the Rocks, named after the discovery of a Madonna and Child icon on a rock in the sea in 1452.

The region has harboured a strong naval fleet since medieval times, peaking at 300 ships in the 18th century, when Boka rivalled Dubrovnik and Venice. Its well-preserved historic towns are now a must for any visit to the country, from Venetian Herceg Novi, almost at the Croatian border, to baroque Perast and fortified Kotor, in the most secluded corner of the bay. Jagged mountains plunging into the sea make for a landscape of extreme beauty. The peaks also protect from cold weather coming from the north, creating an oasis of luxuriant vegetation – think agave, palm trees, mimosa, oleander, pomegranates and herbs – so even when the top of Lovćen Mountain is covered in snow, flowers bloom by the azure water.

Montenegro’s little-known cuisine reflects the twists and turns of its history, bearing the influence of all those who have set foot here throughout the centuries, from the Romans to the Venetians, Ottomans and Austro-Hungarians. ‘It really depends on where you are in the country,’ explains Željko Knezović, executive chef at The Spot, one of the sleek restaurants at The Chedi Luštica Bay. ‘From the rather heavy meat-based dishes of the north, to the fish recipes of the coast, which are strongly influenced by Italian cuisine. There’s an incredible variety for such a small country.’

The flavours of Montenegrin coastal food are those found across the Mediterranean – large, juicy tomatoes, sweet purple onions, red peppers and aubergines, as well as big bright yellow, full-flavoured potatoes from Grbalj, a sort of national treasure. And herbs. Plenty of them. ‘The Luštica Peninsula is abundant in sage, basil, rosemary, mint, wild oregano, pungent thyme,’ Željko continues. ‘Montenegrin cuisine isn’t a spicy affair – salt and pepper are the main seasonings, so herbs are the distinctive trait of our flavoursome food.’

Opened in 2018, The Chedi is the first luxury hotel of the brand- new Marina Village in Luštica Bay – six more are due to open soon (a Ritz-Carlton is promised in 2024), as well as an 18-hole golf course. Upmarket hotels are springing up like mushrooms and they act like big magnets, attracting further investments and more, shinier, developments around them.

This tiny Balkan state, half the size of Wales, is finally set to get its fair share of attention, reviving the times when it used to be the playground for the likes of Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Margaret.

Also in the Bay of Kotor, Porto Montenegro is emblematic of the changes that have taken place over the past ten years or so. The former Austro-Hungarian (and later Yugoslav) naval base just outside the coastal town of Tivat has become a superyacht marina, bordered by upmarket cafés and designer boutiques worthy of Monaco. The five-star Regent Porto Montenegro proudly dominates the ritzy waterfront. Its fine-dining Murano restaurant is considered one of the area’s most elegant addresses, and rightly so. Executive chef Marko Živković set foot in its shiny kitchen as a chef de partie right after its opening in 2015 and quickly rose through the ranks. A low-profile, smiling personality, Marko is a man of the sea. When not toiling over a hot stove, he loves to spend time fishing on his boat and preparing meals for his friends. ‘It would not be enough to feed my restaurant customers,’ he jokes, ‘but we try our best, offering the freshest seafood, caught right on the hotel’s doorstep.’

Being at the forefront of the hotel’s four outlets (including its more casual Gourmet Corner, and two bars) is not an easy task and Marko is well aware of the challenges of presenting, and preserving, his food heritage to a demanding international clientele. ‘Our focus is on locally sourced food and although our demands are big, we want to support small local suppliers. That’s why we spend the winter months out and about, on the hunt for local producers.’

In the south-eastern part of the country there are different delights to be found. Leaving the coastal road behind after the quiet town of Petrovac (which enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame in 2006 as the setting for the Bond film Casino Royale, although the scenes were actually filmed in the Czech Republic), it’s only a 30-minute drive to the scenic little town of Virpazar, the gateway to Lake Skadar. Shared with neighbouring Albania, this vast expanse of water is home to rich flora and fauna, including an impressive 282 bird species.

Eel and carp are freshwater delicacies not to be missed. The former is usually cooked on a barbecue, or in a crepulja, a terracotta dish covered by sač, a heavy iron top. The large, fatty carp is preserved through a process that involves salt-curing and smoking with wild pomegranate or willow wood, which imparts a unique aroma and reddish colour to the fish. Smoked carp is a culinary delicacy that is usually paired with local wine.

No shortage of that here. The area around Lake Skadar, all the way to the fertile valley near Podgorica, is home to the country’s finest wines. Ćemovsko Field, Europe’s largest vineyard, is a never-ending expanse belonging to state-owned Plantaže where nearly 30 different grape varieties are grown, the most important of which are the autochthonous krstač and vranac. Aside from Plantaže, wineries are often small, family-run affairs, more often than not managed by idealistic, somewhat eccentric characters.

The hairpinned road by Lake Skadar leads to Garnet, a traditional winery in the historic hamlet of Godinje, a mostly deserted 600-year- old stone settlement worth the detour in itself. It holds the ruins of the summer residence of the Balšić dynasty, who ruled these territories in the 14th and 15th centuries. Now, this is a place reserved for those of a romantic disposition – like winemaker Miško Leković. ‘My family has lived here for 13 generations,’ he explains, uncorking a bottle of his deep ruby vranac under the pergola. Considered the grandfather of Italian primitivo, a rough translation of vranac would be ‘black stallion’, indicating the character of this wine in a country where reds are colloquially referred to as crno, black.

Goran Radevic is another man who followed his dream, with a life fit for a novel. His Radevic Estate – 15 minutes from Podgorica – is a long sought after achievement. ‘My grandfather is responsible for my love of winemaking. I was grafting grape vines before I could read and write,’ says Goran, a former medic who studied and worked abroad for years in lands as varied as China, Oman, South Africa and the Cayman Islands. In 2007, he finally ‘dropped anchor’ and returned to his homeland. Two years later, his first bottle was made. He has since developed award-winning syrah, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and a ‘tropical’ rosé as well as a white port.

Over at Honey and Wine Jablan, between Lake Skadar and Podgorica, Vienna-born Angelika Temper and husband Borislav Jablan have created their own haven after inheriting a 300-year old stone house. Here they produce natural vranac wine, honey and honey brandy and last year they started an adventure with natural orange wine, the skins left to macerate in amphorae under the cellar’s stone vaults. ‘We both work in the capital,’ says Angelika, removing her yellow beekeeping attire after a hive inspection. ‘But being in nature and growing our organic produce is what we love.’

A smooth, well-balanced shot of their honey brandy does the rest of the talking. This is a land where hellos and goodbyes are accompanied by the sweet taste of honey, and a determination to harness centuries-old customs to the needs of the 21st century has, in the past few years, been elevated to an art form.
Marina travelled courtesy of the National Tourism Organisation of Montenegro and the Tourism Organisation of Tivat, with thanks to The Chedi Luštica Bay. montenegro.travel

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