Retreat to Budva in Montenegro…
Your brain is still woozy from absorbing the red-gold autumn flamboyance of the Lovcen National Park and the raw wilderness of the rocky Dinara Alps, as you drive down towards Budva. Thank the rocky limestone mountain screen that paints Montenegro’s highway. Its a breather from the final spectacle that awaits. Ready or not, here it comes. Right after the final bend.
There it is sprawled at the foot of the slope…the 35 km long strip of Adriatic coast, the Budva Riviera! The view from the height makes your mouth curve into an ‘O’, eyes wider, neck taller, spine more erect as the cityscape expands and the coast stretches. The tourist capital of Montenegro, sparkling with nightlife and buzzing with jet setters is at your feet. Miles away, and you can still sense the pulsating energy…despite the haze of grey clouds.
The luxe resort town of Sveti Stefan on its exclusive islet floats a couple of kilometers away. Gape away, it deserves all the attention. A fortified fishing village with a history going back to the 15th century, has morphed into a luxe retreat for the rich and famous, Sveti Stefan has had loyal celebrity vacationers in the league of Marilyn Monroe, Bobby Fischer, Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas and Claudia Schiffer. Protected and preserved by Aman Resorts as Montenegro’s most luxurious boutique hotel, boasting of 50 island cottages, 3 beaches, 3 pools, a spa and several restaurants. Who wouldn’t mind a free pass? But its bad manners to keep a medieval Adriatic town waiting.
The ancient coastal town of Budva jutting out of its small peninsula, bears tell-tale resemblance to Kotor, but look again…its own character shines through effortlessly. Budva hides a rich historical past reaching back to the 4th century BC when its first royal citizens, the Greek king of Thebes – Cadmus and his queen, Harmonia, expelled from their kingdom, headed in an oxen cart to find and establish a new home here. No prizes for guessing what Budva means. (“Bous” is Greek for ox). And that makes it one of the oldest urban settlements in the Adriatic. 2,500 years and it continues to be discovered by hundreds, every single day!
Those irresistible Adriatic genes again…defensive, sea-facing stone walls, complete with towers, city gates and a citadel, circling a tightly knit pedestrian town. Entering from the main Land Gate, as you step onto the marble and granite maze of the main thoroughfare, Njegoševa Street, let yourself be transported back in time. The Old Town or Alstadt draws you into folds with its irregular cobbled stones, tiny hidden squares, Mediterranean-style stone houses and vibrant terracotta roofs.
Each narrow lane pulls you magnetically to its white shuttered windows, arched doorways, rustic wood signboards. The familiar, unmistakable Roman influence is everywhere. Romantic open-air terraces with palm fronds, cafes with ivy-covered walls and shady subtropical gardens whisper enticingly. Melt into the curious languor. Disappear into a secluded alley, trail your fingers over the sturdy walls, press your toes against the hardness granite floors. Close your eyes and listen to the silence. Imagine yesterday, centuries ago. Find the original 5th-century entrance that led to the ancient town and step through. You’re Harmonia for one magical moment, frozen in time.
Emerge into a hub of activity at the main plaza. Trace out the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Venetian and Austro-Hungarian from different eras, incongruously juxtaposed, but still harmonious like a melody. Or a fusion salad of grain, vegetables and fruits…each individual element distinct, yet blending into an unusually delicious medley. Austere Austrian stone barracks. 7th-century Catholic Church of St. John with colourful frescoes. 19th-century Church of Holy Trinity with its trio of bells. 9th-century Santa Maria in Punta Church built by Benedictine monks. Leftovers of Roman archeological ruins. And Illyrians, Greek, Roman and Byzantine treasures from 5th and 6th centuries BC, including terracotta dishes, stone wine jars, urns, glass vessels, jewellery, coins, cutlery and medical instruments in the Budva Town Museum.
Finally, head to Citadel, to drink in the panorama of the sea meeting the mountains over the bay. If only you could run a virtual time lapse video in your mind. Defensive walls, which protected the town from unwanted enemies once, have transformed into a peaceful venue for the city’s many dramatic performances productions. Bows and arrows poised in the loopholes that penetrate the stone ramparts then…cameras rest here now. The Adriatic, which once connected Budva to the outside world and served as a trade route for the town’s prosperity, today brings hundreds of cruise ships filled with curious day-trippers. Budva was a lure for merchants and conquerers then and is a magnet for tourists now. Cadmus struck gold! And it still shines.
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