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Review: Exploring Croatia & Montenegro

Specialist Holiday - Historic

Exploring Croatia & Montenegro

  • By SilverTraveller John-Hayden-Halsey

    16 reviews


  • 2013
  • Partner

51 people found this review helpful

We chose a fourteen day luxury ‘All inclusive’ holiday with Saga in April 2013 to enable us to comfortably explore the Dubrovnik region in Croatia & Budva region in Montenegro.

We took a morning flight in bright spring sunshine from Gatwick with British Airways. Flying ‘First Class’ to the newly re-constructed airport at Dubrovnik on the Adriatic Coast of southern Croatia. Flying over the High Alps, Venice and for some three hundred miles southward down the magnificent unspoilt coast of croatia.Identifying ‘en route’ many of the most famous Croation Adriatic maritime resorts and myriads of offshore islands that provide a yachtsman’s paradise of uninterrupted sheltered cruising from the resort of Pula in the north all the way down to Dubrovnik near the border with Montenegro in the South. We quickly realised and agreed that we must on a future occasion take a yacht charter sailing holiday and sail down to Dubrovnik and on to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro.

Following landing at Dubrovnik airport, short distance inland from the legendary medieval erstwhile maritime city state of Dubrovnik, we were driven by luxury coach down to the ancient Roman maritime settlement of Mlini . The thirty minute drive down to the coast was spectacular with awesome views over the mountainous terrain running directly into the Adriatic Sea at Mlini some seven miles along the coast east of Dubrovnik countryside Where Marshal Tito, the longtime erstwhile head of state of what was then Yugoslavia, now Croatia, built himself a truly magnificent villa on a headland within the midst of a military camp together with a naval facility close by at Kupari within a mile of this villa.

The Hotel Astarea A modern ‘All inclusive’ hotel set in established gardens amongst olive and citrus fruit trees at Mlini occupys a stunning location overlooking the sea. Our suite was situated on the western aspect of the hotel with exceptionally beautiful totally uninterrupted direct views over the gardens to the sea with further views over a lovely adjacent private garden surrounding a lovely pan tiled 19th century villa set amidst ilex oaks, olive and citrus fruit trees .

The general facilities at the hotel are simply outstanding and include a simply vast immaculate indoor pool at garden level below which there is a magnificent new outdoor pool set amidst landscaped gardens serviced by an excellent waterside bar and restaurant situated directly above a good sea bathing beach.

A glorious balcony runs across the seaward side of the hotel itself on the third floor at the reception level adjacent to which Saga Tours have their own ‘self service’ bar allied to three private reception rooms all of which give onto the private terrace area dedicated to Saga guests. The advantages of being able to serve yourself with whatever you may wish to drink throughout the day from this facility is really wonderful. As are the panoramic views over the bay, looking out to the offshore islands some two miles out to sea. The sunsets from this balcony can be simply heavenly.

Professionally conducted tours
There are a various tours available virtually daily. But be warned, taking daily tours becomes very exhausting and expensive. We carefully chose specific tours to see special places of interest which included a fabulous drive along the coast north of Dubrovnik, then inland to the legendary city state of Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina. To see the wonderful 16th century Stari Most Bridge over the River Neretva. Destroyed during Autumn 1991 when the Croats drove the Bosnian inhabitants of the city from the western side of the River Neretva to the eastern portion of the city, the old city. Which led to many inhabitants running the gauntlet under sniper fire across the great bridge in both directions. As members of families and lovers risked their lives to visit one another across this iconic bridge. Until eventually the bridge was shelled to pieces by Croatian artillery , collapsing into the river below. Since which time through an international aid programme this glorious bridge has been faithfully re-built in the image of the original. Anyone who has the opportunity to do so, should visit Mostar and walk this bridge for themselves, an experience never to be forgotten.

An annual diving festival for those brave enough to take the awesome plunge from the Stari Most Bridge is a test of manhood for the young and not so young bloods of Mostar. Encouraged by a host of beautiful girls and young women together with large crowds comprising of locals and mult-national tourists.

The Ancient Water Mills of Mlini
Mlini was once famous throughout the Mediterranean as a source of flower, since pre-Christian times. Once ground by a number of water mills, powered by the spectacular cascade that runs down from the mountains through Mlini. Ships carried and traded the flour from Mlini over vast distances for many centuries. Today you can still see traces of some of the ancient flour mills. The cascade itself in extra-ordinarily spectacular with tens of millions of gallons of mountain fresh clear spring water debouching into the sea at Mlini every day.

Srebeno Beach at Mlini is one of the most enchanting places for swimming in vodka clear sea water imaginable. Unfortunately the beach itself is made up of white pebbles but below the tide line ( 2-3 metres between tides) there is sand. Just above the Mlini aspect of this beach is a charming small bar/restuarant for drinks and sustenance. Where sun loungers can also be rented for use on the tiny cove below.

Mlini Boat Hire
Small outboard powered dingys can be hired from the cafe overlooking Mlini Harbour for use in the environs of Mlini and exploring the beaches and coves, sea conditions permitting.

Ferry boat to Dubrovnik in Croatia Dubrovnik just seven miles north along the coast from Mlini is one of the most remarkable, exciting and beautiful erstwhile maritime city states in the world. The fortified walls are beyond imagination in both scale and military architectural complexity. Think Carcassone or St. Malo and then some!

The coast is very beautiful hereabouts, with huge caves and rocky inlets.

Taking the ferry boat from Mlini a matter of five minutes walk from the Hotel Astarea to the enchanting little recently restored harbour at Mlini, that is so perfect that it resembles a period film set. You easily imagine Charlton Heston or Russell Crowe to drive down the limestone paved quay in a Roman Chariot drawn by white horses and board a waiting Roman Galley berthed alongside. We enjoyed a glorious half hour to forty minute voyage along the beautiful coast north to Dubrovnik. Passing within a few hundred metres of Marshal Tito’s palatial villa en passage. Tito famously entertained Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton here, having collected them by helicopter from their yacht ‘M.Y. Kalisma’ berthed at Dubrovnik. Thereafter taking them for a run down the coast aboard his own yacht, the then fastest motor yacht in the world. Escorted by by two motor torpedo boats,that were the only naval craft capable of keeping pace with Tito’s yacht.

Dubrovnik Harbour
Entering the spectacular harbour at Dubrovnik is a unique and exciting experience, as the boat passes the fortifie harbour mole where once a huge chain attached to a giant capstan within the tower that commands the entrance, was winched into place to close the harbour to any would be invaders. Passengers then step ashore onto the very same quays employed by the great Dubrovnik Rennaissance merchant adventurers in the 15th and 16th centuries. You have arrived a what was a great Roman trading centre before Christ trod the earth,

The Great Fortified Walls of Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik features a two mile walk along the ancient battlements that is absolutely not to be missed which affords stunning views over this great and beautiful unspoilt city, also of the coast and offshore islands nearby. The battlemented walkway is so narrow in places that walkers are forbidden to wear knapsacks when walking the city walls. There is a modest charge levied at the points of entry, for walking the walls but it is well worth it.

The Dubrovnik Maritime Museum
The maritime museum is also a must, with models of amazing vessels from Dubrovnik traded with London during the 16th centuiry when Henry VIII was on the throne of England.Durbronik as once one of the wealthiest and most powerful maritime city states on the Adriatic or more to the point in the world during the 15th century rivalled Venice. The sheer magnificence of the architecture is such that it defies description.

A Council of Aristocracy
The city was ruled by a ‘council of aristocracy’. Who elected one of their own whom they awarded the title title of ‘Rector’. As head of this maritime city state. Who occupied the the Rector’s Palace in a manner mirroring that of the Doge in Venice. A visit to this palace is one of the essentials of visiting Dubrovnik, along with the Sponsa Palace, that served as a heavily fortified Mint, treasure and customs house. in Luza’s Square.

Orlando’s Column Orlando’s Column erected in 1418 is actually a statue of an armed medieval knight. Below which cut out of the stone base is a measurement known as Orlando’s Right Arm which was the Republic’s standard measurement known as the Ragusan cubit or Dubrovacki lakat, equivalent to 51.2cm. The measurement was employed by the citizens of Dubrovnik to measure trade goods for centuries.

The Stradun
The magnificent Stradun also known as Placa, is a vast paved avenue that was once a canal that served to make the ancient city port of Dubrovnik an island. The Stradun runs from Luza’s Square towards the main fortified entrance gates to Dubrovnic.

Onofrio’s Fountain
Onofrio’s Fountain built in 1444 AD was constructed by the Italian architect Onofrio della Cava to both store and provide constant fresh water for Dubrovnik brought down by aquaducts from Mount Srd, parts of which date back to Roman times.

Beyond Onofrio’s Fountain is the heavily fortified western gate,known as the Pile Gate which features a moat with a bridge that was built in 1471 AD.

St. Blaise
An early Christian Armenian martyr is said to have appeared to a priest in Dubrovnik in 791 AD warning of an impending attack on the city by the forces of Venice, who were subsequently kept at bay. Although the story may have little truth in reality, the city adopted St. Blaise as their saviour and patron saint in around 1,000 years AD. Statues of St. Blaise adorn the city.

The Elaphite Islands off Dubrovnik
No visit to Dubrovnik would be complete without taking a ferry from Gruz Harbour at Dubrovnik out to the unspoilt and largely undeveloped Elaphite Islands of Kolcep, Lopud and Sipan. All of which are lightly inhabited, with few roads and wonderful cliff paths that lead to lovely bathing beaches. There are small venues at which to stay on the islands which include private dwellings whose owners offer informal, rudimentary B&B facilities by arrangement. Any local harbour side cafe will advise on where you might find such a place to stay, other than the various small seasonal hotels. The islands are very beautiful but facilities are not luxurious. Nevertheless for those seeking tranquility, these islands provide it, except in July and August.

We drove into Montenegro by luxury private coach through the new EU Border Post built by the Croatian Government to accommodate the entry of Croatia into the EU in July 2013 in order to stem the flow of refugees and criminal gangs from Montenegro and Serbia. The border post serving Montenegro a quarter of a mile further on was nothing more than a shed beside the highway adjacent to a small series of individual customs’ vehicle and passport inspection stands. We noticed one driver descend from his Mercedes saloon, casually place some currency notes within his passport, hand this to a customs officer who immediately removed the notes and waved the driver back to his car to continue his journey into Montenegro without further ado. However, we also noticed another Mercedes saloon en route towards Croatia at this Montenegro border control, being subjected to relatively strict inspection, with all the occupants of the vehicle taken into the customs building whilst the car was examined by a small group of police with mirrors attached to poles that they inspected the underneath of the vehicle with whilst also removing all the contents of the car interior and boot. The car was still there when we drove away and we were told by our tour guide that the police would probably have been working on a tip off that this car was involved in drug smuggling.

Motoring down to the Bay of Kotor took us past a roadside boat park full of high powered small cabin cruisers, speedboats and offshore powerboats, most of which we were told had been stolen in Italy and driven across the Adriatic, a mere 3-4 hour trip in a fast boat, of which there were a large number visible.

We crossed Kotor Bay in the narrows at Bijela to Diana aboard a shiny new car/lorry ferry, one of a fleet of three such ferries. The road the other side took us the short distance to Tivat where President Putin has a villa at the resort town of Tivat overlooking the new international super yacht marina of Porto Montenegro created by the Russian aluminium oligarch Oleg Derapaska in partnership with Nat Rothschild, Lord Rothschild’s billionaire son.

Tivat Airport & Porto Montenegro
We noted the passenger jet runway at Tivat to which a service runs from London twice a week but is currently largely used by those with private or chartered private jets to join their ocean going yachts berthed virtually at the northern end of the single runway in the vast marina complex that continues to be expanded with the building of luxury apartment blocks.

We were based at Budva for a week from where we made an excursion to Lake Skada to enjoy a bird watching cruise on the largest fresh water lake in Europe and a mountain excursion to Cetinje and through the mountains down to the ancient medieval maritime walled city state of Kotor which was simply spellbinding and worth a visit as a holiday base in itself.

Kotor Bay & Porto Montenegro at Tivat
We were particularily interested in seeing the new Porto Montenegro marina complex and maritime resort. So we drove over to Tivat to explore the beautiful Tivat Peninsula and Porto Montenegro. We were not disappointed, The marina facilities are simply outstanding supported by the finest range of shopping facilities attached to any marina in Europe with luxury apartment buildings overlooking the marina berth and the incomparable Kotor Bay. The largest fjord in Europe with a backdrop of snow mountains.

We loved Montenegro!

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Other Members' Thoughts - 5 Comment(s)

  • Su
    about 6 years ago
    Amazing information! I will use your expertise next time I visit!
  • Kenbob
    over 7 years ago
    Lovely. I wish I was there.
  • yorkshirecat
    over 7 years ago
    Hi John, thanks for an informative and well written review. Croatia is on our "must visit" list so this is very timely. Just a few queries: Did you stay at the Hotel Astarea for the entire first week and make all the visits in day excursions? Were these excursions included in the cost of the holiday? What was the food like at the hotel? Is there any waiter service or is it all help yourself buffet? I read an older review of the hotel which said Saga guests had to pay for their drinks if they wanted to enjoy the evening entertainment. Is that still the case? What accommodation did you stay in whilst in Budva - it sounds like my sort of place. Many thanks, Carole
  • John-Hayden-Halsey
    over 7 years ago
    We agree with your comments.
  • greta36
    over 7 years ago
    We holidayed in Montenegro last May and agree with how beautiful the county and primarily untouched from major tourism. However, there is the influx of luxury yachts and cruise lines, which we felt are erasing the innocence of Montenegro, in particular the development of casinos throughout the main resort areas. Don't get me wrong, this is no way a 'Las Vegas', but when talking to the very friendly locals, they are being out priced in all areas due to more affluent visitors being introduced into their country, making life hard for the locals. By all means visit this wonderful country but bear a thought for the locals and how they need our money and not the 'big operators'