Monday, July 23, 2007

NYT: Montenegro, An Adriatic Stretch Is Awaiting Its Riviera Moment

By CLAY RISEN

Published: July 22, 2007

THE British writer Rebecca West once called Budva, the largest and northernmost city on the Montenegrin Riviera, “a little white tortoise against the blue sea.” Not much has changed over the course of two wars, a Communist regime and almost 70 years since she wrote that: Budva is still a white-walled jewel jutting into the glass-clear Adriatic Sea, a dramatic entry point to the miles of beaches that stretch south toward the Albanian border. Along its lee side lies a small harbor stocked with fishing and pleasure boats; along its seaside runs an imposing Venetian fortress.

With its narrow stone streets and expansive sea views, Budva reminds many visitors of Dubrovnik, its tourist-choked Croatian neighbor 60 miles north. And Montenegro, having seen what a little tourism can do for an ex-Communist economy, is eager to cash in on the similarities. Though not yet a member of the European Union, it has already adopted the euro as its official currency, the better to draw wealthy Western Europeans. Hotel staff members wear neatly pressed uniforms and speak perfect English. And everywhere roads are being widened, wineries are sprouting and luxury resorts are opening for business — at a steep discount from even Croatia’s tourist fare, let alone France’s or Italy’s.

The old city of Budva teems with shops, restaurants and bars, interposed with the occasional church-fronted plaza. The town (according to legend founded by Cadmus and Harmonia, but more likely settled in the fifth century B.C. by Greek colonists) and its environs abound with ruins, primarily Roman, including thermae uncovered by a 1979 earthquake. The newer parts of the city are not much to look at beyond the beach, although in fairness it’s hard to tell for all the construction and roadwork.

To avoid the crowds, you can head southeast a mile or two to a new strip of luxury hotels rising along Becici’s beach, including the four-star Queen of Montenegro, where a little over 100 euros a night will fetch a balconied room overlooking the Adriatic. The hotel, majority-owned by an Austrian concern, is the result of a rush by international investors to cash in on the Montenegrin coast’s growing popularity. Just up the road is the Hotel Splendid, built by a Russian company; meanwhile, a Singaporean company has plans to renovate Sveti Stefan, a fishing-village-cum-hotel — once luxe, now down at the heels — on a small peninsula a few miles south of Budva.........The New York Times

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