With its national parks and ancient harbours, Montenegro may be one of the most magical countries in Europe, but it's easy to overlook when planning a holiday. In fact, as an independent state, it hasn't even celebrated its 20th anniversary. Yet it offers a breathtaking mountain backdrop for leisurely sailing that even complete beginners can enjoy. So, what are the benefits of sailing there and why should you consider it this year?
1. The Montenegrin coast can be sailed in 7 days
At less than 300 km, the coast of Montenegro may not impress with its length but in a single week, it's possible to sail from Kotor to Ulcinj (near the border with Albania) and back, with plenty of time for sightseeing and swimming. And that is the beauty of Montenegro — it doesn't take much to figure out your route. Simply stick to the mainland, choose the harbours you want to visit and you'll be rewarded with romantic town streets and gorgeous beaches along the coast.
2. Friendly thermal winds for beginner sailors
The unique Bay of Kotor is like a parking lot for first-time skippers — a safe place where you can endlessly practice, just be careful of others. The bay runs deep into the mainland, twisting and turning between mountains hundreds of metres high, making it perfectly protected, even from the Bora. As the crow flies, it's only about 30 kilometres long, but if you want to get around it by road, it's over 100 kilometres. The sea in the Bay of Kotor is practically waveless and feels more like a lake. Despite being narrow in some places, you won't be caught by gusts of wind. On the contrary, the Bay of Kotor is famous for a reasonably strong thermal wind, which blows steadily in the afternoon and diminishes towards the evening. This gives less experienced crews a chance to practice trimming their sails in extremely calm conditions.
The only drawback is the large ferries that come in every day to drop their passengers off in the old town of Kotor, which you'll have to avoid. And count on the fact that they can make for unpleasantly choppy conditions when manoeuvring in the marina.
View of the city of Kotor and the Bay of Kotor
3. An undiscovered paradise
Although tourism and yachting in the country is growing and new infrastructure comprising of hotels and marinas is being built, Montenegro is still relatively unspoilt by mass tourism — especially if you compare it to somewhere like Croatia. There are far fewer tourists and if you avoid the major attractions like Kotor, Ulcinj, Budva or Herceg Novi, you'll discover an untamed, unspoilt and largely overlooked country that is both inviting and visually stunning. It may not be large in size, but its beauty will make a huge impact, making for a truly memorable experience.
4. The remarkable islands of Montenegro
It could be an interesting challenge to try and visit all the Montenegrin islands. In fact, there are only fourteen of them and some are even tiny enough that you could walk across them in 10 minutes. However, they have evolved to be so totally unique and captivating that you should definitely check some of them out. At some of them, you will have to pay an admission fee and at others, the number of visitors is limited.
The island of Sveti Stefan is also known as "Celebrity Island" due to the Hollywood stars who have stayed in the luxury hotels built here in the 1950s — Marilyn Monroe, Princess Margaret, Carlo Ponti and Elizabeth Taylor, to name but a few. So if you're cruising around, keep your eyes peeled. The island has only one public beach, which is pricey to enter, but there are three beautiful old churches tucked away in its streets. However, access to the centre of this former haven to Adriatic pirates is strictly limited and regulated.
View of the island of Sveti Stefan in Budva
The island of Mamula is hard to miss, as practically its entire surface is occupied by an Austro-Hungarian fortress with an impressive cannon. The local pebble beaches are nice, but not much used for relaxation. However, the deep surrounding waters are teeming with wildlife, making them perfect spots for a bit of snorkelling and scuba diving.
The island of Sveti Marko seems to be competing well with the mainland when it comes to beautiful countryside. It is practically covered in pine forests, so it's an ideal place to cool off in the shade and take a pleasant walk, especially in summer.
KATICH AND ST. NEDELYA
Even though they are practically just bare rock, the islets of Katich and St. Nedelya in Petrovac Bay have their fans. Interestingly, they are perpendicular to each other and when viewed from the mainland, they merge into one. Proficient swimmers will also be able to reach them under their own steam. There is a small church on the top of St. Nedelya and both islets are legendary for their views.
The island of Prevlaka can be found in the bay of Tivat. Nicknamed the "Island of Flowers" it has always been reminiscent of a floating garden. Although the current olive groves are not at the level of their glory days, they are still the pride of the country. You can also satisfy your curiosity about a life of solitude by exploring the ruins of the Monastery of Saint Archangel Michael and seeing the former cells of the monks.
GOSPA OD MILOSTI
Close to Tivat lies another much more celebrated island — Gospa od Milosti (Our Lady of Mercy). Here you can't miss the 15th-century monastery that occupies most of the island's area. The island is visible from the mainland, but you'll get to see more as you sail past.
5. Kotor, Herceg Novi, Ulcinj, Bar..
Montenegro's biggest attractions are its wild landscapes of towering mountains and deep canyons, and its romantic picturesque harbours. While the famous national parks such as Durmitor or Biogradska Gora, which have their place on the UNESCO World Heritage List, can be found deep inland, the cultural monuments are scattered mainly along the coast.
The UNESCO-listed ports of Kotor, Herceg Novi, Ulcinj, and Bar were chosen for their magnificent fortifications or elegant Venetian-style townhouses (the area was part of the Venetian Republic throughout the Middle Ages), which can also be found in nearby Dubrovnik. In the case of Kotor and Ulcinj, it is a combination of both and the Bay of Kotor itself is a cultural and natural monument.
Cathedral of St. Tryphon in Kotor
KOTOR — THE CITY OF SAILORS
Kotor is known as the black pearl of the Adriatic and while we admit that several towns are referred to as the "pearl of the Adriatic", Kotor is, without exaggeration, magnificent. The old town, with its picturesque townhouses, is directly adjacent to the marina and contrasts with the austerity of the well-preserved military fortifications that climb up to the fortress on the hillside above the town. We recommend climbing the hundreds of steps to enjoy the unforgettable view of the harbour and the bay. Just set off either early in the morning or as the sun sets and don't forget to take water.
Another option is simply to get lost in the narrow winding stone streets and walk around the local sights. Just inside the main gate, you'll be greeted by a clock tower dating back to 1602. But the biggest attraction, apart from the well-preserved historic town, is the 13th-century Romanesque Cathedral of Saint Tryphon. Kotor has always been a city of sailors, and you can get a glimpse into their history and hardships by visiting the local Maritime Museum.
The historic town of Perast guards the road to the outermost part of the bay and to Kotor. It is a former fishing village, so it is smaller than Kotor but comparatively beautiful. The harbour is dominated by the tower of St Nicholas Church and the remains of the fortress nestled in the hills above the town. But the real treasures of Perast lie off the mainland — two islands with churches and a monastery. The first is Gospa od Škrpjela (Our Lady of the Rocks), which was artificially created by piling stones on top of the wreckage of sunken ships — you can visit the local church and museum for a few Euros. However, the other smaller island, Sveti Djordje (St George's Island), is not open to visitors as the monastery is still in use.
Church of Our Lady of the Rocks and St. George's Island, Kotor Bay, near Perast
If you decide to sail the entire length of the coast, Ulcinj will probably be your destination. It is the southernmost town of Montenegro and the last port before the border with Albania. Like Bar, which is about 20 km away, it has a magnificent old town. What we appreciate about both ports is that they are within driving distance of the karst Lake Skadar, which is the largest lake in the Balkans and definitely worth a visit too. Ulcinj and Bar already lie outside the Bay of Kotor and sailing on the open sea is always a greater pleasure. However, depending on the time of year, you might be caught by the Bora or the Jugo/Sirocco that come through with regularity.
All your holiday desires will be well-catered for in Budva. It is known as a vibrant resort with good restaurants and bars and, above all, beaches. The Budva Riviera spans over 40 km and it's almost impossible to find a beach that hasn't been awarded the Blue Flag. Regardless, they are all magical and all sandy, which can be a welcome change from neighbouring Croatia.
More handy sailing tips:
YACHTING.COM TIP: On a 7-day yacht charter you can sail around the local harbours and explore them. But here's an interesting alternative — why not rent a boat for two weeks and continue from Montenegro to Croatia? We recommend adding our popular sightseeing route from Dubrovnik to Trogir (route 2) to your itinerary.
Aerial view of the city of Budva
6. A strategic sailing point
Our UNESCO sightseeing route is a good excuse to extend your holiday and check out some of the nicest ports in Croatia as well as Montenegro. But it probably hasn't escaped your notice that the country's convenient location makes Montenegro an ideal base for longer and less conventional voyages for more experienced crews. You can try neighbouring Albania, Italy across the Adriatic, or head to the east coast of Greece. With the sailing destinations more and more reachable by plane, skippers are becoming increasingly attracted to making crossings — routes don't have to be circular with the same departure and return points. We are growing to like them ourselves too.
7. Bargain prices
Montenegro is still waiting to join the European Union. However, it is already possible to use the Euro here. It's a bit of a bizarre affair. After independence, the country did not have its own currency and used German Marks for a couple of years (also a paradox) before deciding to use Euros.
Despite its luxurious location on the Mediterranean, Montenegro is still a bit off the radar. This is despite the fact that it rivals Greece, Italy and Croatia in sights and culture, and firmly beats them regarding natural beauty. Because of this relative neglect as a tourist destination, it remains cheaper, even in the touristy areas and this will be reflected in the costs of a week's holiday there.
The country is trying to foster warm relations with Europe and is very welcoming to tourists. Residents of most countries can come without a visa as long as they do not stay more than 30 days. However, you must register with the immigration police on entry and check out on departure.
8. Luxury services for discerning clients
Some marinas, such as Tivat (Porto Montenegro), Bar (OMC Marina) or Budva (Marina Budva) are ultra-modern, well equipped and mainly oriented towards luxury yachting, which is thriving in the country. After a day at sea, you can shop in the luxury shops, enjoy delicacies in the top restaurants or relax in the cocktail bars. Outdoor gear is basically not worn here. The Porto Montenegro Yacht Club's marina attractions included the renowned luxury pool or morning yoga on a floating raft.
Pier at a luxury hotel in Porto, Montenegro
For those who prefer conventional sailing, as skippers, we do see a small flaw in the beauty there — the weaker yachting infrastructure for regular yacht charters. Indeed, the smaller marinas in the country provide only basic services. You will find a restaurant or a shop, but you will search in vain for higher-level yachting services. Even charter boats are still scarce here, so there is not as wide a range of boats as in Croatia. If you can't find your dream boat in Montenegro, charter one in nearby Dubrovnik.
Which boat will you take to Montenegro?