Thanks to Game of Thrones hysteria, Croatia has shot to the top of many traveller’s bucket lists, but the neighbouring country of Montenegro has its own epic scenery that looks straight out of Westeros—with half the crowds. Around an hour from Dubrovnik (a.k.a. King’s Landing), Montenegro’s fjord-like Boka Bay has the jewel-hued waters of a peacock’s tail and is encircled with red-roofed stone towns that date back to medieval times. With this timeless transportive power, Boka Bay makes for an easy weekend jaunt.
Islands and towns
Boka Bay is made up of clusters of pretty seaside towns with mild Mediterranean climates, the most popular being Kotor, Herceg Novi, Tivat, and Perast. The best way to experience this UNESCO-protected area is by boat. As you’re walking through the largely pedestrianized old stone towns, you’ll find no shortage of wooden boats bobbing along the shoreline, and locals are more than happy to take you for a spin around the bay. Ask to stop at the little island of St George (a manmade island) and the nearby natural island, Our Lady of the Rocks. Both magical islets are near Perast and a boat ride should cost no more than €5 (Montenegro uses Euros despite not being a member of the EU). The Baroque town of Perast in the shadow of the dramatic limestone mountains is certainly worth a wander—through most use it as a jumping-off point to visit the islands.
Fifteen minutes away by car (taxis are cheap and plentiful, but there’s no Uber), the walled town of Kotor is a must-see for many visitors in the area. It’s also a stop for cruise ships, so be forewarned that the tiny labyrinth of cobblestone streets can get busy. Escape the crowds by going for a hike up to the fortress along the town’s stone walls that snake up the mountainside in a manner that evokes the Great Wall of China. The hike takes about an hour. Kotor—and Boka Bay in general—is absolutely brimming with churches. Kotor’s Roman Catholic St Tryphon’s is one of the oldest, dating back to 1166, which makes around the same age as Notre Dame, and you can still spy the last remains of Byzantine frescoes under the arches.
Herceg Novi, a town of staircases and ancient forts, is another must-see. There’s a weekend farmers’ market in the main piazza where actual farmers hawk local specialties like wildflower honey and rich cow cheeses. Stock up on the utterly indulgent kaymakcreamed cheese, which tastes like the love child of clotted cream and a triple cream brie. Just a few minutes’ drive from Hercog Novi is Savina Winery. For around €35 a head, you can have a private wine tasting of Montenegrin wines from grapes harvested onsite, as well as at a nearby monastery. Tastings also include their in-house olive oil and rakija, a strongfruit brandy. If that doesn’t leave you spinning, the dizzying views from the winery over the bay certainly will. Živjeli! (Cheers!)
Dine at the water’s edge
It’s hard to have a bad meal in Boka Bay. The seafood—mussels, shrimp, bass, bream, and flounder—comes from the glassy seawaters and Mediterranean oils, sun-sweeten herbs, fruits, and vegetables all battle for the staring role on the plate. For on-trend eats with sweeping vistas of Perast, try Verige 65. Another chic eatery is the delicious Bocasa. This is a good one for during the day because it’s also a beach. If you’re hankering for something more traditional, try Feral, a rustic sailor hideaway in Herceg Novi.
Where to stay
For the past few years, Boka Bay has been abuzz with talk of the new Portonovi resort, which will include residences, Europe’s first One&Only hotel, an Espace Chenot Spa, and a superyacht marina by D Marina. This year, it’s finally opening. Starting this summer, Portonovi’s Village and Marine Sea View Residences will be available for holiday rental, ranging from studios (€350 per night) to four-bedroom apartments (€1,000 per night). There’s also a Lifestyle Office that can arrange boat trips, winery tours, adventure activities, etc. Also on site, there’s an impressive Montenegrin and international food and drink offering. Book at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to get there
Boka Bay is easily accessed by both Tivat Airport and Croatia’s Dubrovnik Airport. Tivat is 18km away and takes about 40 minutes, as it requires a ferry transfer. Dubrovnik is 33km away and takes about 45 minutes to an hour or more, as there may be queues when crossing the border into Montenegro. Taxi transfers are easily arranged, and it’s simple and affordable to rent a car (though parking can be a problem in the smaller towns).