Friday, 24 July 2009

Sveti Stefan and Montenegro

The famous Sveti Stefan Hotel was created by converting a historic fortified fishing village during communist rule in the former Yugoslavia under Marshall Tito. The accommodation is in the style of individual cottages set around little gardens linked by a rabbit warren of narrow cobbled alleys and steps. The privacy of the location on a rocky isthmus connected by a narrow causeway has made the hotel a magnet for movie stars and celebrities and it was on the shortlist of destinations for Charles’ and Diana’s honeymoon. Then came the Balkan civil wars and although Montenegro was not directly involved, the embargo on tourism forced the hotel into a sort of limbo, ticking over without western visitors. It was during this period that the Hotel hosted the notorious chess matches between American Bobby Fischer and Russian Boris Spassky. Fischer was convicted of sanction busting in the American courts and went into exile as a result.

Now that sanctions are over and tourism has restarted, Sveti Stefan has returned to some of its former glory. Because of its unique geographic location it is an instantly recognisable symbol of Montenegro, their Eiffel Tower or Tower Bridge, and it is pictured on the cover of the country’s only guide book. The hotel is very much the “Flagship” for hospitality in Montenegro and the government use it to impress important visitors. The dining terrace perched on top of a cliff is often used for State banquets and during my two week stay the Montenegrin President hosted a reception for foreign investors and a dinner for the Russian Prime Minister. The normal business of the hotel isn’t disturbed by these occasions and the dignitaries pass through the common lounges to their dining area. Guests watching football on TV were surprised to have the two Heads of State join them for the last half hour of a match.

Of Montenegro itself, the country is still a best kept secret with beautiful coast, gorges, national parks, and a Unesco World Heritage Site around the Bay of Kotor with its many fine, (if slightly decaying), examples of Venetian architecture. To see my stock photos of Sveti Stefan and Montenegro click HERE

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