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Sveti Stefan

Sveti Stefan is an Adriatic seaside resort and hotel complex in western Montenegro, 5 km (3 miles) eastwards from Budva, on the Budva Riviera. The original settlement was named after the church here devoted to St Stephen (Sveti Stefan), located on it's most prominent cliff. In addition, there are a further two churches sited here. There are many hotels situated along the Montenegrin coast; after I did a little research in 2005, one of them stuck out like a sore thumb - Hotel Sveti Stefan. In May of that year, I stayed there for seven nights half-board and I hope the photos on this webpage highlight why the hotel itself is actually one of Montenegro's most famous tourist sites. The cost of staying at the time was what I would consider average by any Mediterranean standards. However, for reasons explained in the text below, a single room for one night now costs approximately double what I paid for the whole week there, flights to and from the UK included. Sveti Stefan is probably one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in, but alas, due to its fifteen to twentyfold price hike, one to which I doubt I will ever return.

Hotel Sveti Stefan used to be a tidal island, like present day Lindisfarne in Northumberland or St Michaels Mount in Cornwall, England and in the 15th century a fortified village was built to defend against the Turks. Initially, the island with its fortress had 12 families. However, its primary function was to become a fishing village and in the 1800s, it's population was approximately 400. In the 1950’s, the last residents of the village were evicted to the mainland by the Tito regime. The entire island, now permanently accessible to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, was converted into a luxury hotel. For the most part, the exterior walls of the old fishing village were preserved, whilst the buildings were mostly preserved externally and modified internally to cater for hotel guests. Each of the hotel rooms were placed in separate or shared buildings. Most of the access around the hotel was, and is, through a narrow labyrinth of cobbled paths and steps. New additions to the complex included a terraced restaurant, bars the hotel itself and a casino (which gave the overall impression to myself, as I looked around, that it would make a highly suitable location to film a James Bond movie).


Above: Jacques Cousteau, the famous French oceanographer, described the Adriatic Sea as “The cleanest and clearest sea on earth… with deep sapphire blue”. The photo on the left, taken at Sveti Stefan illustrates his point. Right - A map for hotel guests (2005), prior to the more recent renovations which reduced the number of hotel rooms significantly; rather handy for working out where to go at meal times!

Due to the privacy and uniqueness of Sveti Stefan, in the 1970’s it became only the haunt of wealthy people. Celebrity guests, but to name a few have included in the past, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Claudia Schiffer, Kirk Douglas and the famous chess players Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Sveti Stefan became the most exclusive resort on the Montenegrin coast until in the 1990’s when it fell into decline during the breakup of Yugoslavia. During the NATO bombing of Kosovo and Serbia, Montenegro was heavily used as a corridor to inland targets for military air strikes. Consequently, the whole tourist industry of the Montenegrin coast was severely damaged and people looking for exclusive hotels took their money elsewhere. In this respect, I was lucky to be staying there in 2005; the Montenegrin tourist industry was just in a state of reconstruction. Businesses were re-opening, much required investment to upgrade the facilities for tourists was in an embryonic but at the same time optimistic state and Hotel Sveti Stefan was available for my stay at an affordable rate. However, a few years after my stay the hotel shut when, in January 2007, a consortium put together a successful bid to leasehold with redevelopment rights over the Sveti Stefan site. Completed in 2009 and operating under a 30-year lease, the hotel is now a 5-star franchise hotel. I feel very fortuitous in having been able to stay there when I did and they say timing is everything. Whereas during my stay, the old fortified village was comprised of over 100 hotel rooms, there are now just 50 (albeit much more luxurious). A further 8 grand suites are also available under the same umbrella at the nearby Villa Miločer. And so, (Russians very much included) the nouveau riche have returned once again to this very unique destination.


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