Montenegro: One of Europe’s oldest and newest countries

TELL me something interesting about your country. Something that people on the other side of the world who've maybe never heard of it would relate to," I ask.

The tour guide considers the question, then: "Casino Royale was set here. Novak Djokovic got married here last year, there were photos in magazines and on TV all over the world."

Fair enough. Except the tennis superstar is Serbian and James Bond never came to town. When Hollywood was making the movie in 2006, there were relationship difficulties on the set with the Serbians over a politically arranged marriage. In the movie, Czechoslovakia played body-double for Montenegro.

One of Europe's oldest and newest countries. One of those ridiculously tiny but lovable nations that used to feature in comedy movies with a king wearing an implausibly tight white uniform with gold epaulettes, gaudy sash and more medals across his chest than Valerie Adams. Played by Peter Ustinov.

Just across the Adriatic from Italy, it's squeezed between Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia and Albania. Same size as Northland: at 13,000sq km, the 42nd smallest of 50 European countries, just bigger than Cyprus, Luxembourg or Andorra. Looking down, that is.

Oldest because, name a tribe that's marauded the Balkans in the past 1200 years, they've had a crack at this patch of mountains, beaches, villages, goats, boar, olive groves and castles. Greeks, Romans, Huns, Goths, Venetians, Austro-Hungarians, Ottomans, Tito and his mob. The country was re-created from the meltdown of his fantasy Yugoslavia.

Enough scene-setting. Except that we have arrived in Montenegro by the most scenic route imaginable: the motor yacht SeaDream I gliding along the 18km Bay of Kotor, touristically endearingly but geographically incorrectly described as Europe's southernmost fiord.

Tree-clad mountains fall into the sea; orange-roofed villages cling to the bays; cream stone churches genuflect to tiny islands. To add to the drama, there has been no rain for months and a forest fire is blazing on the cliffs.

It is almost impossible to imagine that a century ago it was one of Europe's fairytale capitals with its own king and court, ambassadors from Russia, Prussia, Vienna and Paris, hosting elegant balls in chocolate-box embassies, curtains redolent with the cigar smoke of gentleman spies.

Down to the coast, to Montenegro's present and future. Wikipedia discreetly describes Montenegro's economy, one of Europe's most stable, as based on "services and tourism".

Tourism, however, starts at the bottom of the hill. Budva has been a destination for sunbathing, devil-may-care hedonistic tourists since the Greeks started running their cruise ships into the port around 400BC.

Along the coast, past the new international airport and the former Austro-Hungarian navy base that a consortium is turning into a superyacht marina and resort, the motorway tunnel leads into Kotor.

Inside the massive and genuinely centuries-old walls of Kotor, aristocratic houses line cobbled lanes; tiny, off-centred, old churches anchor quaint and geometrically imprecise squares. Shop signs lure you this way and that. Here, coffee, beer. There, ham or dried figs coiled into bay leaves from Njegusi. Across the square, a woman selling lace tablecloths.

There is much more to discover - ski fields, adventure tourism, art and music and poetry, but in a few hours we have crossed almost half of this tiny, teenage nation, and glimpsed the fulfilled Montenegro.


SeaDream Yacht Clubs make around 40 seven-day voyages between Mediterranean ports from May-Nov. Fares from $7200.

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