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> An island where every house is a hotel room

Published date: 30.08.2004 16:45 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

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AN OLD Montenegran expression which continues to go down rather well with the friendly and approachable locals is, "Rest during the day so you can sleep in bliss at night".

After a few days in this country tucked in like a wedge of cheese on the Adriatic coast between Croatia and Bosnia to the north and Albania and Greece to the east, you realise that Montenegro is one of Europe's undiscovered gems.

And it's just the place to rediscover that feelgood factor when you're fazed by the pace of life back home.

There are 117 beaches enjoying the warm blue-green waters of the Adriatic, history and heritage galore in the shape of Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals, and a fantastic choice of seafood restaurants with over 116 species of edible fish to choose from.

With the weather mainly hot and sunny, visitors tend to take their time to explore. Many agree that being splayed out by day on a sun lounger and then slumbering in the scent of mimosa on an island bathed in moonlight is a dream escape.

The historic island fishing village of Sveti Stefan was a favourite with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The fortress which became a hotel, with every cottage and building now a hotel room, was doubtless shaken at times by their domestic eruptions.

In the late 60s and early 70s, this place was listed regularly in the Top 10 of the world's most exclusive haunts, attracting major stars and royalty, including Princess Margaret.

In the early 90s, some 45,000 Brits a year would holiday on the beaches of what was then the southern end of Yugoslavia.

Viewed from resorts like Budva, this exclusive island village hotel of Sveti Stefan is an Eastern European version of St Michael's Mount and has been dubbed the St Tropez of the Balkans.

The film link lingers on. Hollywood movie makers keen to find places of scenic wonder made fantasy films here, like Jason And The Argonauts and The Long Ships, and only last spring Jeremy Irons stayed in the cottage favoured by the Burtons while making Mathilde.

Richard Widmark, Sophia Loren and Kirk Douglas might now be names in a dusty hotel register, but current icons like Claudia Schiffer have also stayed in these parts.

Despite all this scattering of stardust, however, Montenegro rarely offers anything less than excellent value - and that is why tour operator Holiday Options pioneered the place as a new destination when peace returned to this corner of the Balkans.

A peak season hotel week in summer starts around £599 - but it may be worth checking beforehand that your hotel room or cottage enjoys sea views and that you are fit enough to walk up the steep web of narrow lanes which may await you.

Sveti Stefan is a 40-minute drive from Tivat airport, with direct flight time of two and half hours from Britain.

After crossing the causeway and passing through the old battlement walls, the experience of having arrived somewhere special takes over.

The whole village, with its stone flagged alleys, steps, squares, courtyards with gardens and clusters of cottages at all levels are shaded by oleander, mimosa and palm trees. Besides the extensive hotel accommodation, there is a small church, bars, an al fresco terraced restaurant and saltwater swimming pool built into the cliff.

Half-an-hour's drive beyond the border with Bosnia, into Croatia, lies the historic walled city and cruise port of Dubrovnik, now largely restored since the horrors of the civil war.

Montenegro, comparable in size to Wales with some 600,000 friendly people, has eagerly re-embraced more peaceful times too, with folk who practise traditional family values.

Although its currency is the euro and the nation is within the Serbian alliance, Montenegro is awaiting a date for an independence referendum.

For centuries, it was an outpost of the mighty Habsburg Austro-Hungarian empire, keeping the Ottomans at bay. The eastern side of the Adriatic coast, stretching from Venice down through Slovenia and Croatia, is a shoreline with a beguiling mix of picture postcard fishing villages, small towns and beaches tucked against a wall of non-stop white limestone mountains hiding the hinterland.

Inland lie more peaks with high pasture valleys, forests, sparkling rivers and farming villages that sit out the winter under heavy snow.

Although nothing can match the grandeur of Dubrovnik, Montenegro has something rather special of its own in Kotor. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a port set in the largest fjord outside Scandinavia.

Holiday Options offers a range of excursions which you can book when you get to your hotel - or you hire a car to explore the interior.

Autumn and spring bring a wealth of bird life, especially migrants like waders, ibis, pelican and duck. Summer is the time to catch the boat from Virpazar, and to sail across the waters of Skadar to the Pelikan restaurant and relish the catch from the lake - freshly-caught trout, eel, or sensational succulent carp chop.

The bill should be little more than £10 for two, even if you wash it down with Vranac, a local red wine with a label showing a beating heart, extolling the cardiac benefits.

For a lighter snack, pause at bars and cafes for wonderful ham and cheese platters and by the seaside, sample superb fresh seafood with an Italian influence.

After that, it might be time to obey another local maxim - "Man lives to rest".
By Guy Mansell