Charming Kotor Bay and Budva Montenegro

Kotor Bay and Budva reveal the charms of this delightful part of coastal Montenegro

Beaches, Culture & History, Europe, Gastronomy, Luxury Travel, Wellness

Mark Bibby Jackson visits Kotor and Budva to stay at the Hyatt Regency Kotor Bay, and discover the charms of this delightful part of coastal Montenegro.

There is something about the first swim of the year. I don’t mean doing laps in the pool or dipping your toes in freezing cold North Sea waters on a bleak January morning, but walking out into the sea and feeling the refreshing waters immerse your head. Then you realise winter is truly over and life is rather good.

Checking into the Hyatt Regency Kotor Bay, I could hardly wait to dip my toes in the Adriatic, after our drive from the capital Podgorica, stopping off at the former capital Cetinje. But first, we have to endure the most wonderful lunch at the resort’s Lighthouse restaurant on the terrace in the glorious sunny weather that is to dog us throughout our stay in Montenegro. The grilled octopus is excellent and other members of our press group praise the tuna salad.

Hyatt Regency Kotor Bay

The Hyatt Regency is set on one side of the most delightful bay surrounded by mountains that glisten as the sun is about to set. The Hyatt group took over management of the luxury resort last year, so this is their second season. However, the hotel is very much a family-run affair with the children of the owners still taking senior roles.

After lunch I walk to the nearby local beach where I stand in the waters gazing across to the far side of the bay before taking a few lazy strokes. The water even in early April is fine for swimming and the sea is blissfully calm. The inlet off the Adriatic Sea is cut in the shape of an M. The mountains on the far side of the bay are spectacular with little villages dotted around them.

Hyatt Regency Kotor Bay Photo Gallery

The resort also has a more private beach as well as a large swimming pool and an inside pool attached to the spa.

After my swim I go for a stroll along the one road beside the resort to explore the local scene. The Hyatt is a few miles outside of the town of Kotor but there are several restaurants within walking distance, or you can take the public bus into town, which costs €1.

Hyatt Regency Kotor Bay Spa and VRMAC

Due to its favourable ‘rose’ winds – a nautical term, I am to discover – and beautiful location, the resort was originally turned into a health spa by the Yugoslavs in the 1950s. Although asthmatic children have been taken here to recover for much longer. Apparently, the Venetians discovered the areas therapeutic qualities more than two thousand years ago.

The following morning Dr Marina Delic shows us around VRMAC health and wellbeing retreat, which is situated in the resort and has a series of health programmes, including auto-immune, anti-ageing, de-stress and detox. They also have exercises such as yoga, hiking and tai chi.

VRMAC health and wellbeing retreat
VRMAC health and wellbeing retreat (not Dr Marina Delic)

Dr Delic is an impressive woman who runs the health centre so it is a privilege she could take some time explaining all the facilities. According to her, all of the equipment is state of the art, including one that analysis the function of the lungs.

You do not have to sign in for a VRMAC retreat to benefit from the resort’s wellness offerings. The spa has a steam room, pool, ice bath and gym, as well as a sauna. The previous evening before dinner, we had a wonderful massage at the Hyatt Regency Kotor Bay spa. The soothing oils revitalised me, preparing me for our meal which was also al fresco at the Lighthouse, as the evenings were still warm.

Boat Tour Kotor Bay

After our tour of VRMAC, we go on a boat tour of Kotor Bay with our guide Bruna Dončić and captain George.

I have always loved boat trips, especially those spent outside on deck with only factor 50 to protect you.

View from Our Lady of the Rock Kotor Bay Montenegro
View from Our Lady of the Rock

Our first stop is at Our Lady of the Rock, which is situated next to an island containing St George, not our captain but a 12th century Benedictine monastery. This used to hold the cemetery for the nearby village of Persat, and is dominated by the most beautiful Cypress trees. It is now a seminary and not open to tourists.

Despite all appearances, Our Lady of the Rock is not a natural island. In 1452, the Martešić brothers discovered a painting of the Virgin Mary on a rock in the bay. It had been washed up here by the tide possibly from a shipwreck. Shortly afterwards one of the brothers recovered from an illness, and this was attributed to the miracle of Mary.

The island was built on the carcasses of ships which formed the base for the church constructed to house the painting. It took 18 years and more than 100 ships. The island itself is in the shape of a ship. The event is celebrated each year in the Fašinada Festival in Persat, on 22 July. Although the original painting is now kept in a museum in Persat, a replica stands in the pretty church on Our Lady of the Rock.

The island makes for an interesting visit partly due to the story and partly to the silver offerings pasted around the church, and the museum which tells the story of the island. It is also stunningly beautiful.

From there we take the short boat hop to Persat and walk along the seafront, which takes only a few minutes as Persat is a village of 200 people although there are 20 churches. Mind you in summer the population expands to 3,000 with the tourism influx.

Things to See in Kotor
Kotor Cathedral
The 12th century Kotor Cathedral

The main draw of Kotor Bay is the old walled town of Kotor. It is particularly popular with cruise liners and can become overrun in the summer, which makes the Hyatt Regency a welcome secluded respite.

Kotor is UNESCO listed and preserved as if the Venetians were still in occupation with hardly a stone out of place.

The excellent Bruna informs us that around half of the heritage of Montenegro is contained within these walls. In 1979, Kotor was badly damaged, like much of Montenegro, by an earthquake and the people had to evacuate for seven years, but the conservation overseen by UNESCO was brilliant if painstaking.

Inside the city walls the Old Clock Tower dates back to 1602. This is the traditional meeting place for inhabitants of Kotor as well as waylaid cruise passengers. Next to it is the Tower of Shame where misbehaving citizens used to stand to atone for their misdemeanours. Festivals, especially during the lavish New Year’s Party, are held here.

Kotor consists of a series of squares, each with their own particular attraction. The 1166 cathedral is dedicated to Saint Tryphon. You can get excellent views from its first-floor balcony down to the square below.

One of the more interesting of the many churches in Kotor is Saint Luke’s which used to be both Catholic and Orthodox. If you have more time, you can take the Ladder of Kotor some 1,350 steps to the ninth century fortress which dominates the town.

VRMAC Walking Trail

The following morning is supposed to be a day of leisure. Instead, we decide to take the VRMAC walking trail up the mountains to the rear of the resort.

We had been warned of snakes the evening before but not about the slippery nature of the rocks. The trail is well marked but not easy to find from the hotel so I would ask directions from reception or locals. It has plenty of shade, but is very steep so take lots of water, allow plenty of time and wear appropriate footwear – at times we felt as though we were gliding on ice. The views justified our exertion.

VRMAC Walking trail
Provisions left along the VRMAC Walking trail

In the afternoon we take a taxi to Porto Montenegro, which is the playground of the rich. Countless expensive boats are docked here. We lunch in Tivat which is a more down to earth port from where you can take boat tours around the bay for €60 an hour for the whole boat. Tivat also has a small airport with direct flights to the UK.

We take a boat taxi back to the resort where we make further use of the Hyatt’s spa facilities. The sauna has a round window which affords beautiful views of the mountains on the far side of the bay. Now the sun is starting to set the rocks begins to glow as the day’s heat diminishes.

Kotor or Budva

On our final full day, I take a wonderful dip in the waters before breakfast. Then we take a taxi to the nearby city of Budva.

Budva is a rival to Kotor for its heritage and beautiful beaches.
Budva is a rival to Kotor for its heritage and beautiful beaches.

While Kotor has been preserved in its entirety, Budva has been turned over to tourism. Apparently, it draws 60 percent of the country’s tourism arrivals. That is not to say the town has become a mini Costa Bravo. Although not UNESCO-listed, the second century citadel is very well preserved and has a wonderful library as well as beautiful views down to some of Budva’s 18 beaches. You can also see all thew way to Hawaii, the name given to St Nicholas island by the locals due to its shape.

Budva has an interesting Archaeological Museum. The town was populated by the Greeks from the fifth century BC, although people are known to have settled here four centuries earlier. The oldest artefact in the museum is a fifth century BC helmet. Most of the pieces were discovered in two necropolises and many of them were unearthed in the 1979 earthquake. There is also a wonderful crocodile mosaic that is from the second century AD. The museum has one of the largest collections of Roman glass in the world, with Zadar, Croatia. This includes glass bottles which were contained in funeral urns. We were most fortunate enough to be shown around the museum by its art historian Sandra. I recommend you contact her before your visit.

After lunch close to the harbour, we walk towards Sveti Stefan, which includes an island which has been linked to the mainland by a bridge since Tito’s time. Sveti Stefan was converted into a luxury resort run by the Amman Group but has been closed since Covid, allegedly due to a dispute over public access to the beach. The Beckhams have stayed here, and Djokovic was married on the island, but now anyone can laze on the hallowed sands and wander around the former resort’s grounds, although the island itself is kept locked behind a gate.

Budva Montenegro
Returning the beaches to the people at Sveti Stefan

Budva is a short taxi ride, boat or bus from Tivat airport. A public bus runs between Kotor and Budva. You can also hire a boat to take you to the nearby islands or jump on the boat taxi.

We return to Kotor in time for another session in the hotel’s spa, and a swim in the bay’s waters before our final dinner alfresco at the Lighthouse restaurant.

Montenegro is a wonderful country. I was pleasantly surprised by the capital Podgorica, and delighted by the beauty of Kotor old town, the bay and Budva. The Hyatt Regency Kotor Bay is an amazing place to stay. The ambience is incredible, the views mesmerising, the food delightful and the service to point throughout. The only drawback was checking out early on our final morning to catch our transfer back to Podgorica airport following the route we had taken a few days earlier. Next time I will fly to Tivat, for I am sure to return.

Things To Do in Montenegro

To discover more things to do in Montenegro, visit :

Flights to Montenegro

Mark flew with Wizz Air from London to Podgorica, staying at the Hilton London Gatwick Airport with Holiday Extras. There are also flights from London Stansted to Tivat with Jet 2.

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Mark Bibby Jackson

Mark Bibby Jackson

Before setting up Travel Begins at 40, Mark was the publisher of AsiaLIFE Cambodia and a freelance travel writer. When he is not packing and unpacking his travelling bag, Mark writes novels, including To Cook A Spider and Peppered Justice. He loves walking, eating, tasting beer, isolation and arthouse movies, as well as talking to strangers on planes, buses and trains whenever possible. Most at home when not at home.

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