Montenegro fun

Our plan to travel to Montenegro this October originated with a desire for late summer sunshine and some serendipity when looking at potential travel sports in the nearby Croatia. One of the reviews for a hotel we were looking at insisted that anyone staying in Dubrovnik did a day trip to Montenegro, just to see the beautiful scenery and experience the slightly different culture. After realising flights direct to Tivat were significantly cheaper than those to Dubrovnik 60km up the coast we were sold – we were going to Montenegro!

People are usually drawn to the main cities on the coast of Montenegro (which is where we stayed for our brief trip), but as the entire country is only roughly half the size of Wales, a trip to the beautiful northern Durmitor national park isn’t more than half a day’s drive, even on the mountain roads. 

We were lucky enough to be provided accommodation by the beautiful Hotel Splendid on the outskirts of Budva, 30 minutes along the coast from Tivat, where we landed. The location was perfect – we were within walking distance of the Old Town of Budva, a stunning town encircled by stone walls right on a rocky peninsula – the stuff of actual dreams! Rather than being the tourist trap we expected, the old town was pleasant to walk around, despite some large tourist groups. I would definitely recommend visiting out of peak season, as we did! It’s known for being a little too busy in mid-summer. The other side of out hotel further to the south was a coast path all the way to the famous Sveti Stefan semi-island, which is considered the most exclusive area of the Montenegrin coast, in part due to the hotel of the same name situated there. Both the Old Town and Sveti Stefan were decent walks right along the beach – we were pleasantly surprised to find gorgeous coast paths in each direction straight from our hotel, saving us walking on the main roads.

The pics below are of the gorgeous view of Sveti Stefan and the hike up to the viewing area. Running optional! There is also a road up there.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving at Hotel Splendid, as the photos didn’t give too much away. After I arrived I was actually blown away by the beauty of the place – although the hotel is technically a ‘conference and spa resort’, it provides so much more than board rooms and work stations. The hotel itself is a 5* beach resort placed pretty much directly on the sand – the view from our 5th floor bedroom window was of the stunning hotel pools and the beach and mountains that Montenegro is so famous for. This was an absolute highlight of the hotel – I will never get tired of looking at photos of that view!

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Not surprisingly, I wanted to ‘gram every photo taken from this balcony

Hotel Splendid also has the best spa in the region, allowing it to stay open to guests year-round. In the colder winter months, the VERY extensive multi-pooled spa with various saunas is a haven for visitors globally. Sadly we didn’t get to use the spa facilities during our short stay but without a doubt would return again in off season to test out everything on offer! I was lucky enough to be offered one of their spa treatments, however, and I opted for a back and neck massage (because of severe DOMS from boxing) which was good. Being used to mainly sports massages, I asked the masseuse to work her magic potentially a little TOO hard, and at one point it did feel like she was trying to harvest my shoulder blades, but have no doubt that softer massages are also available! 🙂 I would loved to have come back for more treatments (the menu and products used are both very extensive) so that’s definitely something to plan for the future!

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Poolside seemed like the perfect location for some quick HIIT (after much sunbathing)

The food at the hotel was provided in a buffet style in the main hotel restaurant and was good. Particular favourites included the homemade breads (always a winner) and cereal selection. However one thing I would say is that being vegan is nigh-on impossible – I ended up eating pretty much the same food for breakfast and dinner every night (which was really good but did get monotonous). Nothing has allergy advice on either so it is difficult if you are following a specialised diet, although I presume if you asked in advance they would be able to provide all the information to you, as they were very helpful in general. For meat-eaters, however, there was a diverse range of dishes, including many local foods. On our last evening we visited the beach-front restaurant, Promenada, an oriental style restaurant serving up a diverse range of foods. I was REALLY impressed with the food here! I would recommend a visit to each of the hotel’s 3 restaurants and 4 bars if you do visit – there is such a variety of food available there’s bound to be something for everyone. 🙂

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This is how happy I felt in the marina next to Regent Porto!

On our last day we visited nearby Tivat and Kotor, both situated on the nearly Bay of Kotor. I am SO happy we decided to visit Tivat – it has one of the most gorgeous marinas I’ve ever witnessed. Think: the opulence of Oman and Cannes but with the unspoiled beauty of a national park. See pics. 🙂 Regent Porto Montenegro, a relatively new luxury hotel, was generous enough to offer us a visit, and it was a fantastic first experience of Tivat. Situated right on the front of the marina, Fiann and I enjoyed a wholesome lunch in the sunshine with some of the best (and friendliest) service I’ve ever received. After a tour of the hotel (including an introduction to the myriad of wellness activities offered there), Fiann and I settled by the pool for some post-lunch reading. Nb/ the below pictures are of the only pool open so late in the year HOWEVER they also have a huge infinity pool open until the end of the season from May/June time (weather dependent). Sadly we were unable to visit it, but were told it has been voted one of the top infinity pools in the world. High praise indeed. I can’t comment on the facilities or rooms as we haven’t stayed there (yet), but plan on heading back early next year, and would love to write a review then!

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After managing to drag ourselves away from the pool, Fiann and I drove to the nearby town of Kotor. We were told to visit by pretty much everyone, but whether it’s because we were in a rush or because it was such a stark contrast to the tranquillity of the Regent Porto, we were slightly underwhelmed with Kotor. As with many large towns, you don’t seem to get the magic and cosiness of smaller towns. However, as it was recommended by so many people (and as we hadn’t hit our step count yet), Fiann and I paid our €8 each and headed up the approx 1350 steps and 1200m to the Castle of San Giovanni. I can’t recommend this more if you like good views, exercise and ruins! We climbed pretty quickly (chasing sunset) and were not disappointed. Unless you’re very steady on your feet, maybe don’t head up at dusk – the route back down (which, granted, Fiann and I ran) was hellish in the dark, but also very fun as it was lit up by huge flood lights. 10/10 would recommend! If you’re looking for the views without the hike, drive up the nearby serpentine road – it goes up and up and up into the mountains and it is possible to stop in various lay-bys for spectacular views over the bay of Kotor. It’s also quite sickening if you don’t like heights or narrow roads!

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The ruins of the castle in Kotor – image by Jet Setting Fools

TL;DR The long and short of it is that you MUST visit Montenegro. Top tips would be to stay in Tivat or Becici, the small town just outside of Budva where our lovely hotel was situated. Plan to visit outside of peak season – the best months are apparently May and September, but the good weather continues well into October (it was 26 degrees and beautifully sunny everyday the week we were there).

  • Visit Kotor and climb the ruins.
  • Say hello to every cat you see.
  • Eat lots of food. Being vegan is hard.
  • Visit Durmitor National Park, drive the serpentine road and visit Lovcen for stunning mountains and views.
  • Visit Sveti Stefan to see how the other half live. Since you won’t actually be allowed in (without paying), climb up to the viewing spot past Praskvica Monastery views.
  • Follow @gomontenegro and @wtdmontenegro for more inspiration of what to do and where to go!

Fun fact: The Splendid conference hotel name was actually used for the 2006 James Bond film “Casino Royale” (Hotel Splendide), although the vast majority of the film was actually shot in the Czech Republic. They even have a casino on the top floor that people visit from far and wide called ‘Casino Royal’. I like this fact.

Nb/ Hotel Splendid very generously offered us our three nights stay free of charge. However as always, all thoughts and views are my own. We will be back soon without a doubt!

Where to visit in Copenhagen

If you know me or follow me, you’ll know that I’m queen of long weekends away – a short flight or drive to a cute hotel somewhere I’ve not been is all I need to refresh and reset entirely! My most recent escapade was to the city of Copenhagen in Denmark. My boyfriend was working out there the week previously, so I jetted off after work on Friday to join him. Copenhagen lends itself perfectly to long weekends away, because it is small, nearby and doesn’t contain 6 million tourist traps you feel obliged to see. It’s cute, friendly and oh so Instagram!

 

If you’re lazy and ‘just want the bloody recommendations’, scroll down to TL;DR 🙂

 

Saturday
On Saturday we decided to walk half way across Copenhagen to Østerbro, located to the north of the city centre. It as a 45 minute walk (very doable if you’re looking to build an appetite!), and from the city centre could take you via a bunch of city parks and Torvehallerne, a cute market between the parks. We travelled via the botanic garden, which was a lovely tropical respite from the cold. It’s free to get in and if you like plants (who doesn’t?), it’s beautiful. In Østerbro we headed to Souls, a restaurant that was recommended to me by multiple people. It’s relatively new but is clearly doing well – apparently it’s absolutely packed all day everyday. After trying the food I could see why – it was absolutely incredible! The restaurant is plant based but doesn’t sell itself like that. It’s just really good food in a really lovely restaurant (aesthetic goals!). 10/10 would recommend. On our way back to the city centre we managed to miss the little mermaid statue (basically the main reason tourists visit Østerbro), which was slightly disappointing, but then again, apparently so is the statue. Instead, we headed to the Art museum for a little look around, and saw Rosenborg castle. I can imagine the gardens surrounding them would be lovely for picnics in summer, but as it was, it was a little too cold for a sit on the grass! After much walking we were super hungry for dinner, so after a visit to the hotel spa, we headed to a Thai restaurant called Baan Thai Isarn just around the corner from the hotel. I am SO happy we found it – I have to say it was the best thai food I’ve eaten since being in Thailand, and really generous portion sizes too!

Sunday
We walked to Christianshavn via Nyhavn docks – pretty, quite touristy but well worth a visit. Christianshavn is located on lots of different islands, giving it quite a nautical feel. It was pretty much empty when we went there but there were some nice looking cafes – it looks like it might once have been pretty run down, but was kinda bohemian and gentrified in a lot of the areas. We found the Church of Our Saviour, which has a cool spiral spire. We went down to Christiania (recommended by some, told to avoid by others) and had a little wonder around. Christiania is the hippy ‘freetown’, where the inhabitants live free of the constraints of Danish government. Drugs are unofficially ‘allowed’ here, and it’s got a bit of a reputation as an unsafe place, but during the daytime it seemed fine! Lots of cool homemade houses, bicycles and greenery – would recommend a little visit if you’re passing by. After Christiania we went back city centre way (pilestræde), heading for lunch at 42 Raw. This restaurant has three stores around the city, but has a trendy independent vibe to it. It’s not cheap (but where is in Copenhagen?), and has some truly delicious vegan food, without being too hippy raw style. It doesn’t seem faddy, just has lots of great food and is filled with a ridiculous number of young, good-looking people! Again, would recommend if you’re looking for good healthy food, but don’t forget to book – this also gets incredibly busy (testament to how good it is). There are lots of places to eat around this area/Strøget (the main pedestrian shopping street) if you have a look around.

Vækst hosted us for dinner, and treated us each to a full set menu (we forwent our veganism for one night to try their vegetarian and fish menus), paired with a wine per course. I have to say, Michelin stars seem to mean nothing once you’ve been here – it was absolutely on par with the best restaurants I’ve been to, and the service was incredible too. Really friendly staff makes the difference between a stuck up restaurant and an excellent one. This was definitely the latter!

Monday
After a pretty large breakfast, Fiann and I headed to the north to fælledparken in Nørrebro, the largest park in Copenhagen. Apparently in the summer it’s super popular, but we only saw a few walkers in the cold! It’s very pretty regardless. We headed via the lakes back down to Grød (groed), a famous porridge bar in the Torvenhallern market we passed on the first day. It’s kind of like a more upmarket Spitalfield’s market (and much warmer as it’s in a glass building and heated). The porridge options were so good, and perfect after a cold walk! I was recommended Grød by just about everyone who has been here, so it was nice that it lived up to expectations.

Monday was a relaxed day – with the icy weather and large amount of porridge in our bellies, we didn’t fancy staying out for too long, so instead headed to the hotel for a spa afternoon, followed by a quick visit to the prohibition bar Ruby and then dinner in the room. Very conveniently there is the Tivoli food hall just around the corner from the restaurant. The food hall itself contains lots of different restaurants, but most of them didn’t serve vegan foods. One that did, however, was Gló, a new restaurant to Copenhagen that was founded in Iceland. We got takeaway ‘salads’ (huge bowls of deliciousness with added vegan ‘meat’ from oumph – if you haven’t tried this yet you really need to!).

Tuesday
As Tuesday was our last day we loaded up on the delicious breakfast buffet before heading out for a long walk to explore any unknown corners of Copenhagen. It turns out it’s really not that big – to get anywhere you want to go as a tourist it’s really only going to be 1h maximum to walk, although I can see why people cycle too. There are bike paths everywhere and unlike the other great cycling city, Bristol, it’s totally flat.

We ended up meeting my cousin for lunch at falafel factory, a small chain selling delicious falafel sandwiches and platters. My cousin, having previously lived in Edinburgh, was able to give us plenty of insight into what it was like to move to Copenhagen for an English person. She’s only been there for 6 months, but to be honest, all it took was 4 days for me to consider living there!

 

TL;DR

Restaurants/cafes:
Souls – One of the most aesthetic restaurants, with a huge focus on sustainability and conscious eating. It has an Australian vibe (perhaps no surprising when you realise the owner is in fact Australian), mixed in with the classic Danish ‘hygge’. Not cheap, but full of flavour. It’s not just another ‘trendy vegan place’, it actually serves fantastic food.

Baan Thai Isarn – I knew nothing about this restaurant before heading out on the hunt for dinner, but I’m so glad I found it! It’s almost certainly not fully vegan, but we were able to find plenty of delicious vegetarian dishes. If you’re in the area, grab one of their red curries (basically a green curry but red). The portion sizes are big enough to have more for lunch the next day too!

42 Raw – This café has three stores around Copenhagen and seems to always be packed. It sells completely plant based foods, as well as catering to other intolerances too (dairy, coeliac). I loved the veggie burger, but also think their sandwiches are probably underrated – Fiann’s was incredible! Get the sweet potato fries with aioli.

Väkst – Whilst not completely vegetarian, Väkst bases all its dishes on local Nordic vegetables, meaning I was drawn to it straight away. Their evening menu is done in a way that I’ve only ever seen at Michelin starred restaurants. The flavours blend together amazingly, and the wine pairings are perfect! If you’re looking for somewhere a little special this is the place. Also note the incredible greenhouse and plants (read: v instagrammable).

Grød – Think porridge is boring? Think again. Grød is a porridge bar that provides delicious flavour combinations and ‘make your own’ porridge bowls. It also serves other breakfast dishes, such as chia pudding, as well as savoury risottos etc. If you need a good warming up, this is where it’s at.

Gló – The ethos of Gló is to allow busy people to find healthy, delicious meals on the go. It’s not totally vegetarian or vegan, but provides plenty of options for both, with the main emphasis on the vegetables of a meal. Try their Buddha bowls if you’re looking for something filling but light, or their wraps for on the go goodness.

Naturbageriet – This small and unassuming bakery is so adorable I wanted to take everything home. They sell traditional Danish and Nordic pastries but without dairy and/or gluten. It’s just really cute and the lady who runs it is so sweet. Remember to go before lunch so it’s not all sold out!

 

Hotel
We stayed at Axel Guldsmeden, one of a chain of eco hotels dotted around the world. The main ethos is that they’re sustainable, providing bamboo toothbrushes, non-bleached bathrobes and even recycled loo paper. None of this detracts from the beauty of the place though, with it managing to feel like a fantastic boutique hotel, instead of a chain. The customer service is second to none (although I’m not sure if this is a Danish thing or specific to the hotel!), and we even got upgraded because our bathroom door handle fell off (the one issue we had during our stay). The rooms are like mini apartments, containing four-poster beds as well as a little sitting room and beautiful bathrooms that are unbelievably aesthetic. If you’re not interested in soulless hotels and want something a little different (but still upmarket), this is the place for you! Also check out their Manon les Suites hotel – it’s basically instagram in a hotel.

Things
Little mermaid statue – diminutive and not even got a tail, but it is the most famous statue in Copenhagen (fun story: we walked all the way there, then forgot why we were there and ate brunch instead. Never actually saw the statue so we just googled it instead).

Nyhavn – canal docks with pretty cobbled streets, big wooden boats and colourful houses.

Strøget – A good shopping street, mostly pedestrianised

Parks – Kongenshave, Botaniskhave (botanical gardens), Øster anlæg and Fælledparken are all pretty and worth a visit!

Tivoli – one of the world’s oldest amusement parks. Not that pretty but quite cool to imagine how terrified you’d be on all the rides.

Carlsberg brewery – not something I have much interest in visiting, but Denmark is the home of Carlsberg, so perhaps worth a visit!

Christiania – the ‘freetown’ where lots of the Danish laws don’t exist. Fun fact: you can’t buy a house there, you have to apply and then you might get accepted and given one. It’s strange but actually pretty cool. Go in daylight.

Torvehalle – a great market filled with stalls selling food and drinks.

Round tower, Rosenborg castle, Church of Our Saviour, Amalienborg (the queen’s winter residence).

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Bye bye Copenhagen, we’ll be back!