First Lady Hideaway

Montenegro beaches rock
Beautiful Budva beach

Budva, Montenegro, should be on your list for a beach vacation. It has all the ingredients of beautiful beaches, great resorts, inexpensive prices, well-regarded beach bars, night clubs and excellent shopping, all in a Mediterranean climate that almost never fails. Budva’s best known beaches are Mogren beach and Jaz beach. Each has its own flair.

Budva is a little-known spot among average American tourists, but the rich and famous discovered it long ago. Many of them visit with their private yachts or at exclusive private island vacation spots. The resort island of Sveti Stefan is, perhaps, the best known. Frequented by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren in the 1960’s, today it continues to operate as an elite leisure complex. It is rumored that the First Lady visits there when she wants to escape the spotlight.

In addition to some of the best climate and beaches in the world, the historic old town area of Budva offers something for history buffs. On a peninsula near the downtown beach areas, surrounded by a typical European old town wall, the medieval city, known as Stari Grad, is, by itself, a reason to visit. It is one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic coast. Legend recounts it was founded by the son of Phoenician King Agenon when he was exiled from Thebes. Today, this “island” is linked to the mainland by a sand isthmus.

Budva has an international airport that connects with flights from many European cities. Montenegrins from all around love to visit the beaches here because in many Mediterranean places, the beaches are not sandy, but are rocky. In Budva, the beaches are large and sandy. One drawback is that the beaches can get crowded. A hint is to consider visiting off season. Even in winter, the climate is frequently warm enough for beach activities, although the water may have a chill. On my recent visit, parasailers filled the skies and the beaches were lined with umbrellas and chaise loungers in straight lines.

Occasionally, a huge concert is held on the beach. Madonna once drew a crowd of 50,000—an almost unbelievable number considering Budva’s population is under 15,000 and the entire country has slightly more than 600,000 people. During the summer months, Budva’s population is said to swell to 100,000.

While in Budva, make sure to visit nearby Cetinje, Montenegro’s former capital, about a half-hour away. An international beer fest is held here in July and there are many music festivals during the high tourist months.

Cetinje, Montenegro, is site of yearly beer bash
Beer festival in Cetinje, Montenegro

King Nicola’s Museum is housed in the former residence of the King. It’s a standout in Cetinje, with all original pieces including arms, wardrobe, furniture and documents. Only the flooring and wallpaper are reproductions. Included in the exhibit are rare photographs of royal life taken by one of the king’s daughters, an early adapter of the camera. The king tried to introduce reforms to Montenegro too quickly and, as a result, was assassinated.

In addition to the museum, the national archives, a monastery and several churches are attractions. A bishop resides here among former government and embassy buildings. Of particular interest is an Ethnographic Museum which demonstrates how Montenegrins lived at various stages in their long history. The Montenegrins have been under the control of a monarchy, the Venetian Empire, the Turks, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Napoleon and many other conquerors, but the way of life in the countryside hasn’t changed much from one ruler to another. It’s fascinating to explore how the country has progressed through the ages.

Looking for that exotic, little-known hot spot for your next getaway? Put Budva and Montenegro on your list.