Traditional boats at a fishing village in Montenegro.
Traditional boats at a fishing village in Montenegro. Alexander Nikiforov

The magic of Montenegro

WE HAD just a small taste of it and it whetted the appetite for more. Much more.

Montenegro, a diminutive Balkan country on the Adriatic coast within easy reach from Dubrovnik.

It had eluded us for so long - and its breathtaking beauty made us wonder why that was so.

Jagged mountains, unspoilt beaches, clear green water, a score of medieval villages, and a long and rich history - Montenegro can boast a lot.

Our taste of Montenegro was on a shore excursion from the graceful ship Nieuw Amsterdam during a 12-night cruise from Venice to Barcelona.

The excursion promised to showcase the beautiful Montenegrin Riviera, to take us into the old town of Budva and then bring us back to the port town of Kotor where our ship waited.

A Riviera we hadn't explored before was mighty tempting, having been more than seduced by the charms of the French and Italian Rivieras.

With the glittering beauty of the sea on one side, the forest green of mountains on the other, we wound our way along the Riviera towards Budva, the heartbeat of Montenegrin tourism.

Small green islands (just a few of the 1000 along this coast) dotted the clear water like emeralds on a necklace and the scene was more beguiling than we could have imagined.

"Many famous people come here for quiet holidays," our guide told us.

They don't come any more famous than Brad and Angelina who love to lie low on one of the islands, far away from prying eyes.

"Rich people, especially Russians, love coming here," our guide continued. "It is so much cheaper to moor your yacht here than in Monaco or other places, and it is just as beautiful."

While most of us won't have a yacht-mooring problem, the Montenegrin Riviera is arguably more alluring than Monaco, Antibes or Nice because of its green spaces and nature's charms.

"You can hire a boat and sail around this coast for a small cost," our guide continued. "You will find private bays here with no one else around."

The old town of Budva (it's very old, 2500 years, and one of the earliest settlements on the Adriatic coast), tucked clandestinely inside walls dating from the 15th century, is a mecca for young lovely things in the mood to party, a place where anything is possible.

At 11 in the morning the countless bars, cafes and restaurants were empty but it was easy to imagine them pulsating as darkness set in.

Big brand-named shops sat smugly between hole-in-the-wall bars and inviting cafes. The lovely young things were all asleep, obviously from a big night, so we old things contented ourselves with a wander, a peek, a coffee.

Back at the port town of Kotor the bustle was dynamic with most of Niew Amsterdam's 1500 passengers on shore exploring Kotor, a medieval town which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In September, it was hot, so to step inside the 12th century cathedral of St Triphon was a relief. Even better relief was a gin and tonic in one of the many bars.

The exciting thing about a cruise that takes you to lovely destinations new to you is the introduction to places you simply have to put on your bucket list for a longer visit.

Montenegro, with its not-too-touristy-yet vibe, its green hills and gorgeous bays, is now our destination de jour. We can't wait to get back.

The writer was a guest on board Nieuw Amsterdam

IF YOU GO:

  • Holland America has a 12-night Mediterranean Romance Cruise departing Venice on May 18, 2016.
  • Prices start at $2298
  • It also has dozens of itineraries in the Mediterranean for 2016.

MORE: hollandamerica.com



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