A Rough Guide to Montenegro: Things to Do in Budva
The country of Montenegro still seems to be suffering a little post-Cold War hangover. The place needs a lot of development and a 21st century facelift to cover many blemishes on its terrain.
This would certainly help its tourist industry to compete with more famous resort areas in Europe. Despite the injection of many roubles and the patronage of thousands of Russian holidaymakers it still has quite a way to go.
But don't be put off making a visit to this fascinating country as there are many places to see in Montenegro. In particular the city of Budva.
There are lots of things to do in Budva as it has plenty to offer and is growing in popularity. Certainly worth a day trip if you are in that region of Europe as it's easy to reach and has much to see and do.
Crossing the New Frontier
We travelled there on a day trip from Dubrovnik which is only 115km away along the Adriatic highway in the neighbouring country of Croatia. They were once part of the same nation of Yugoslavia.
The tour operators reminded us that passports were required as we would be leaving the European Union. Nevertheless Montenegro has actually adopted the Euro as its unit of currency which is convenient for travellers.
Top 5 Interesting Things to See and Do
1. Go walking and shopping in the historic Old Town of the city
2. Spend the afteroon swimming & sunbathing at the beaches of Mogren
3. Dance the night away in the varied and exciting nightlife
4. Tour around the undulating mountainous coastline of the region
5. Investigate the history of the area at the Ethnographic Museum
Much of the road on the journey was unremarkable and certainly there were more than a few dilapidated relics from the old Marshal Tito era. Breeze-block housing apartments looking tired and grey and badly in need of rereshment or complete demolition.
But the natural scenery has plenty of merit especially once you start to wind along the spectacular coastline. So, if you don't feel like stopping off anywhere then on a fine sunny day a cruise along the shoreline will be enough to get the canera clicking.
Budva itself is worth the trip as it has developed into a lively holiday destination since the Communist demise. Over half a million tourists visit the town each year with many coming from Russia.
It is noted for its 11km of sandy beaches during the hot summer days and the cosmopolitan nightlife after dark. The most famous beach is at Becici which is 2km long and a busy fulcrum of Adriatic chic.
Unfortunately the town planning department didn't keep up with the development and residential expansion of the town. An integrated and functional road system wasn't fully created with too many narrow streets and dead-ends.
Therefore the traffic on the main roads can be heavy at certain times, especially in the busy summer months. Parking can also be a problem so if you have hired a car be prepared for a long search for that precious space.
The Not Quite So Historic Old Town
Our first port of call, however, was the historic part of the city where we took a step back in time towards the origins of the modern 'Budvanska Rivijera'. The old town is enclosed within a formidable wall built to ward off historic visitors from the days of the Ottoman Empire. Far less welcome than the casual 21st century daytripper I would hope to presume.
In fact Budva dates back as far as 3,500 years ago making it one of the oldest settlements on the coast.
It later lay on the political faultline between east and west after the fall of the Roman Empire.
However the protective wall was actually built by the Venetians when they ruled the area.
This period lasted almost 400 years from 1420 till 1797.
Occupation by foreign forces continued throughout the passing of turbulent years
The Austrian Habsburgs, the French and the Russians all controlled the town at some point. Of course it was also occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II until liberation in 1944.
For those interest in the history of the area there is the Ethnographic Museum which is situated in the centre of the Old Town. This covers the history of Budva from ancient times to the present. You will find art and artefacts dating back to the Hellenic period, the Illyrian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine amongst others.
The wall could do little to prevent the scourge of a sudden attack by Mother Nature. In 1979 an earthquake wrought huge destruction of the old buildings. Nevertheless they have since been restored in an operation that took 8 years to complete.
Therefore there is a strong feeling of pastiche in the old town and much of it has lost some authenticity. Many buildings just appear too new and untouched by the withering hands of time and nature.
This is no bad thing as the style of the town has been preserved and it is a very picturesque location. But you can't help feeling that a little of the sense of history can never be fully recaptured.
As with many such historic centres the narrow streets and reasonably tall buildings offer much shade and cool on a hot afternoon. Even when the sun is at its highest peak it struggles to completely flood the flagstones with baking heat. A blessing for me with my northern European constitution and fair skinned wrapping devoid of any melanin.
Step into Little Italy
As you would expect most of the architecture in the Old Town came from the pen of the Venice draughtsmen.
There is certainly a sensation of having stepped into a 'Little Italy' when you walk around.
Among the notable buildings are old churches to visit within the walls.
There is St Ivan, built in the 7th century and which contains Venetian art, a library and an archive of holy books.,
Also St Marys of Punta from the 9th century.
St Sava dating from the 14th century plus the relatively more recent Holy Trinity church built in 1804.
Shopping and Refreshments
There is plenty to do in the Old Town as it has lots of boutiques and craft shops. It also has a lot of jewellery and antiques on sale. We had a stroll in a little courtyard where many small trinkets, baubles and artifacts were available.
There were lots of military souvenirs in evidence such as martial badges and be-ribboned medals of valor.
After some shopping we took some refreshments. There are several shaded piazzas in the town where you can chill out. We chose an open-air bar with a leafy covering of branches against the rays of the bright sun.
I couldn't resist trying a fresh fruit smoothie which was so delicious that my resistance fell even further with second helpings. The atmosphere was very relaxing, the staff and cusomers all laid back and a perfect spot for an afternoon break.
This historic part of Budva was thought to have been an island in the past but which is now connected to the mainland. A narrow strip of sand grew and eventually converted the 'Stari Grad' into a small peninsula.
Walking Alongside the Rocks
Passing through the many seats and avoiding friendly waiting staff in al fresco restaurants we left the Old Town and walked along the coastal path. We were heading for Mogren beach which is only 150m away and is one of the best in the area. It was time for an afternoon dip in the waters of the Adriatic Sea.
However the walk itself was a mineralogical delight.
The small cliffs that loom over the path boast an amazing natural design of compressed strata.
Constructed in an agonisingly slow process by the earth's subtle forces they are quite remarkable.
It was well worth the wait of countless millenia to enjoy the Budva rocks.
Nature may be able to destruct in seconds but it takes a long time to build these beautiful creations.
The Dancing Girl
Along the way we passed the gymanstic elegance of the statue of the Dancing Girl which stands by the waters edge, albeit only on one leg.
It is a bit of a mystery as not much is known about the statue. One story relates that it was a tribute to the daughter of a rich family who drowned in the sea.
It is also considered to bring good luck if you rub certain erogenous parts of the structure.
This is obvious by the polished parts of the otherwise darkened statue.
The Afternoon Beat of Mogren Beach
We arrived at the beach which is one of two separated by rocky outcrops.
We past dozens of young people jumping and diving into the waves
There was loud disco music thumping from the beach bar.
It seemed a little incongruous within the quiet waters of this sheltered bay area.
But it was holiday season, after all, which is a time for music and amusement so if that's your taste you'll enjoy the atmosphere at Mogren.
Personally I would have preferred something more laid back and with a little cool to accompany my leisurely swim or lazy sunbathing. Apparently the second beach beyond the rocks called Mogren 2 is more relaxed.
But we enjoyed an hour so bathing in the clear and cool waters only occasionally disrupted by the waves caused by pleasure boats and private craft cruising off the coast.
Jet-Setters and High-Rollers
At night, places like Mogren are the favourite hangout of the socialites and in the dark hours the beaches around Budva come alive with revellers and party-goers. It serves up a jet-set ambience in an area that apparently has more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in Europe.
They were instrumental in the property boom of the early 2000s which has since become a major cause of the traffic problems.
Presumably the bright lights still glow in the evenings as Budva has had such poor infrastructure development that there have been frequent electricity shortages. Water shortages have also occurred although the hotels are usually assured of a constant supply of both resources.
Famous millionaires visited in 2007 when The Rolling Stones played the smallest town ever to have hosted the band since their early days. The crowd of 35,000 was twice the size of the town's population. Proof indeed that Budva welcomes old-age pensioners to their shores as long as they can still rock and roll.
The beaches also host dance festivals during the summer to boogie the nights away. They have been compered by celebrity guest DJ's such as Armand van Helden and David Guetta.
As with many similar towns on the coast of Europe there is a large and vibrant cultural festival during the summer. Music, dance and theatre enliven the town and folk music is especially prevalent including performances by international acts.
St Nicholas Island
Opposite Budva is the island of St Nicholas or 'Sveti Nikola' which lies 1km out in the clear waters and shaped like some giant water-ski jump with a forest on top. Here there are also 3 beaches, plus bars, cafes and a thriving nightclub scene.
It also contains some history with the old remains of a church and a convent still existing. Alternatively you can just cruise on a little boat trip around the island and take some pictures. Some of the island is actually only accessible by boat.
Despite the clear vestiges of the planned economy of Communist austerity the town has managed to modernise. A far cry from the old days but nevertheless the local people seem slow in moving towards multiculturalism and equal rights.
There was an application to hold a 'Gay Pride' celebration in the town in 2013.
This was met by over 2,000 signatures on a petition against the march.
To back up the poison pen there were also bottles and stones.
These were thrown at the participants when the small march went ahead. Meanwhile the local fully-armoured police kept order from masked rioters.
There were no such problems at a Madonna concert in 2008. Despite the fact her entourage would have contained artistes whose sexual orientation would have incurred the disapproval of homophobic hooligans.
Montenegro took on the infamous role as a sidekick to the Serbian regime during the Balkans War of the early 1990s. In fact around 40% of the population consider themselves of Serbian origin.
Therefore it is hardly surprising that violent intolerance of minorities may still exist in places like Budva. Perhaps the shadow of neo-Fascism lurks underneath its glitzy summer facade. Many of the young men we saw hanging around the beach sported skinhead haircuts which is no definite indication but a noteworthy trademark perhaps.
All things considered though this 'Montenegrin Miami', as exaggerated tributes have claimed, is still an interesting and exciting holiday destination. If you don't mind some commercialism and you like to party then it's certainly worth considering. In the summer the weather is great and the water is wonderful.
There are two airports nearby which serve the town. Tivat airport is 20km away with flights to places like Belgrade and Zurich. Podgorica Airport is a little further at 65km with flights to many European destinations. However like us you may settle for a short day trip if you are on holiday nearby on the Adriatic Coast.