It’s thrilling to discover an unfamiliar 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 tiny country wedged between Croatia and Albania on the Adriatic Sea. I was finally inspired to make the trip by the debut 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 almost 20 waterfront acres, with manicured lawns punctuated by palm trees. A dozen modern pavilions and villas, inspired by the Renaissance-era palazzos of Venice, house 123 rooms. Portonovi feels like a private island, and indeed, it seemed as if 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 tub, and a glass-screened fireplace. It was a joy to watch the boats motor by from my covered terrace.
But one thing I happily left my room for was the food. The hotel has three restaurants: Sabia, which has an Italian menu created by chef Marco Lucentini; the Tapasake Club, for excellent Spanish and Japanese dishes (ham croquetas meet miso black cod); and La Veranda, a café helmed by South African chef Chris Mare, whose team turned out a spread each morning that became my favorite meal of the day — especially çilbir, a Turkish dish of garlicky 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 in head-to-toe designer resort wear, well-to-do Azerbaijani families (the country provided much of the investment for the resort), the occasional American, and model-like Eastern European women. The latter were especially drawn to the Henri Chenot–branded 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 on-trend medical regimes like IV nutrient drips and cryotherapy. I chose a massage that uses suction cups meant to release blocked energy and eliminate toxins. It did the trick — afterward, I felt a sense of calm that lingered even after returning to my home in Berlin.
I was also curious to explore the mountainous natural landscapes I had seen on my ride from the airport. So on my second morning, I met Saša Kulinović, a hiking expert and seasoned marathon runner who takes visitors into the wilderness that surrounds the Bay of Kotor. He drove me in a vintage 4 x 4 up the steep hills that rise above the resort, passing small villages dotted with 200-year-old stone houses.
We were headed to the hiking trails of Mount Subra, part of the Dinaric Alps, which separate the interior Balkan Peninsula and the Adriatic coast. I spent several hours inhaling fresh mountain air, fragrant with sage, as I followed Kulinović through groves of birch trees and past ancient stone ruins.
The next day, I got a glimpse of the region’s history as I zoomed around the bay on one of the hotel’s wooden speedboats, accompanied by a guide, Bogdan Muratović. We passed St. George’s Island, with its 12th-century monastery, on the way to the medieval towns of Perast and Kotor. We stopped at another tiny island, Our Lady of the Rocks, which is home to a 17th-century Catholic church built when Montenegro was part of the Venetian Republic. Next to it sits a jewel box of a museum that’s filled with religious artifacts and tapestries.
That evening, I had my final dinner at Sabia — beef carpaccio with delicate slices of artichoke and flakes of Parmesan — and an exceptional glass of red wine made from Vranac, an ancient grape variety indigenous to the region. As I looked out over the bay, I thought of Muratović’s description of the wine when he’d recommended it to me: rich, layered, highly intoxicating. Just like Montenegro itself.