Montenegro’s newest luxury resort has a Henri-Chenot spa, wooden speedboats and dozens of Venetian-inspired pavilions
It’s exciting to discover an unknown place in a part of the world you thought you knew well. I thought I had explored every corner of the Mediterranean region, from the rocky shores of Greece and Italy to the coves of Malta and Lebanon. But I had never visited Montenegro, a small country wedged between Croatia and Albania on the Adriatic Sea. I was eventually inspired to make the trip by the beginnings of a hotel, One&Only Portonovi, built on the shores of the spectacular fjord-like Bay of Kotor.
One&Only’s first foray into Europe, the resort occupies nearly 20 waterfront acres, with manicured lawns dotted with palm trees. A dozen modern pavilions and villas, inspired by the Renaissance palaces of Venice, house 123 rooms. Portonovi feels like a private island, and indeed it seemed like most guests never left the property during my three-day visit. I was tempted to do the same: my 600-square-foot room had floor-to-ceiling windows, a bathroom with a deep soaking tub, and a glass-enclosed fireplace. It was a pleasure to watch the motorboats go by from my covered terrace.
But one thing I happily left my room for was the food. The hotel has three restaurants: Sabia, which offers an Italian menu created by chef Marco Lucentini; the Tapasake Club, for excellent Spanish and Japanese dishes (ham croquetas meet black cod with miso); and La Veranda, a café run by South African chef Chris Mare, whose team prepared a spread every morning that became my favorite dish of the day – especially the çilbir, a Turkish dish of garlic yogurt topped with eggs, chili oil and fresh herbs.
The crowd around me channeled the energy of this part of Montenegro, where real estate and development are booming. I mingled with young British couples dressed in designer clothes from head to toe, wealthy Azerbaijani families (the country provided much of the investment for the station), casual American women and Eastern European models. The latter were particularly attracted by the Henri Chenot brand spa. Created by the late French wellness guru, the practice is rooted in both traditional Chinese and Western medicine. Acupuncture and anti-stress treatments are popular, as are fad medical regimens like IV nutrient drops and cryotherapy. I chose a massage that uses cupping to release blocked energy and eliminate toxins. That did the trick – afterwards I felt a sense of calm that lingered even after I returned home to Berlin.
I was also curious to explore the mountainous natural landscapes I had seen on my drive from the airport. So, on my second morning, I met Saša Kulinović, a seasoned hiking expert and marathon runner who takes visitors into the wilderness that surrounds the Bay of Kotor. He drove me in a vintage 4×4 up the steep hills above the resort, past small villages dotted with 200-year-old stone houses.
We were heading for the hiking trails of Mount Subra, which is part of the Dinaric Alps, which separates the inner Balkan peninsula and the Adriatic coast. I spent several hours breathing in the fresh, sage-scented mountain air as I followed Kulinović through birch groves and past ancient stone ruins.
The next day, I got a taste of the area’s history as I cruised around the bay on one of the hotel’s wooden speedboats, accompanied by a guide, Bogdan Muratović. We passed through St. George Island, with its 12th century monastery, en route to the medieval towns of Perast and Kotor. We stopped at another small island, Our Lady of the Rocks, home to a 17th century Catholic church built when Montenegro was part of the Republic of Venice. Next to it is a jewelry box from a museum filled with religious artifacts and tapestries.
That evening, I had my last dinner at Sabia – beef carpaccio with delicate slices of artichoke and parmesan shavings – and an exceptional glass of red wine made from Vranac, an ancient native grape of the region. . Looking at the bay, I thought of Muratović’s description of the wine when he recommended it to me: rich, layered, very intoxicating. Just like Montenegro itself.