Thursday, 23 September 2010

Montenegro, Sveti Stefan and Budva

The next stage of the drive took us through and out of the National Park and on to the city of Cetinje, which, for a big city, had a curious absence of helpful road signs and we drove around the same streets several times looking for the main coast road. Cetinje didn’t look especially exciting on a lazy Sunday afternoon, a old-fashioned sort of place with wide, tree-lined boulevards and grand public buildings, many of them fallen into disuse. Apparently the Government is currently moving some administrative buildings back into Cetinje, but for now it a backwater ghost town, with a sleepy sun-baked air and once we had received reliable instructions from a taxi driver on how to get out we drove straight through.

We were back on a main road now where the drivers were able to demonstrate their full repertoire of recklessness and we were glad when we reached the coast and our first destination, the picturesque island hotel complex of Sveti Stefan just south of Budva. This former fishing village perches on an outcrop of rock, connected to the mainland by a causeway. In the 1960s the entire village was converted to a luxury hotel, with a hundred-odd guest rooms in the original stone cottages.

Inside, apparently, there are sculpted gardens and narrow alleyways overhung with flowers, two small chapels and wonderful views out to sea. The hotel was once the preserve of the rich and famous, the likes of Princess Margaret and Sophia Loren feature in the guestbook. I say apparently though because after we had parked the car and walked to the entrance we were turned back by a security guard who informed us that the whole place was closed for renovations. We had planned to spend an hour or so here so we would have had time to stop in Cetinje after all but now we had to move on to Budva slightly ahead of schedule.

Budva is Montenegro’s busiest holiday resort and as soon as we drove in I was glad we weren’t staying there. There was a lot of construction and road works because Montenegro is impatient to rebuild its tourist industry that disintegrated after the war and I think they plan for this place to be their Benidorm or Lido de Jesilo because the place was full of noisy cafés and tacky bars and the holidaymakers there wore bright colours, rude tee shirts and had tattoos. In my opinion this is probably the last thing that Montenegro needs, I didn’t like it but we stopped anyway to take a look.

Actually it was much nicer around the harbour area but it was still a mixture of traditional, elegant modern and horrible holiday grunge as though the city hasn’t yet fully made up its mind what it wants to be. The old town however was delightful and although I say old town it technically isn’t because Budva is well known for the earthquake it suffered in 1979, after which the whole town had to be rebuilt and it took eight years for it to be completely finished. There were some nice shady streets and a fortress wall (€3 admission) but it was small and that was about all so we left, sat down for an afternoon drink in a bar where the waiters were more interested in the World Cup match on the television than the customers (Montenegro’s close neighbour Serbia were playing Ghana) and after a beer we paid and left for the return journey.

Once again, due to the shortage of road signs, I had a bit of trouble finding the right road out of the city but eventually we groped and guessed our way out and found the road back to Kotor where we stopped at a supermarket for evening alcohol supplies and then returned along the coast road that we had used earlier this morning. In a little village called Prčan overlooking the town of Dobrota on the other side of the bay we stopped for a drink in a bar and commiserated with the local Serbian football supporters when Ghana scored in the last minute and stole the game 1-0. After that we dawdled along the coast road, annoying anyone else who happened to be on the road at the same time and then caught the ferry back to Kamaria for a second evening at the Casa del Mare where we started with a game of two of cards where I continued a dazzling winning streak that had started on the outward flight and a couple of Niksickos on the balcony.

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