Friday, June 08, 2018

Surviving Sveti Stefan in Montenegro

Isn't this place stunning? Like it just stepped out of a fairy-tale book.

The magical Sveti Stefan isle in Montenegro.

If I were to sum up the whole story of this historical, magical and captivating Sveti Stefan (St. Stefan's Island) in Montenegro into one word, then it is -- SURVIVAL. The medieval island has managed to survive and exist through the years, and recently though, out of compromise.

It is called St. Stefan in dedication to the St. Stefan church in the small island, which I learned still offers mass every Sunday up to this day.

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The medieval islet on the Adriatic Coast with a narrow white sandy isthmus connecting to the mainland was built in the 15th century as a fortress to defend against the Turkish pirates. In the course of history, the island became a fishermen's village. It was said that there were 12 families that used to live here.

In the 1960's to the early 1980's under the Yoguslav Regime (the defunct Yoguslavia), the historical village was transformed into an upscale hotel and town. Many world-renowned celebrities and political dignitaries partied and stayed in this hotel. It was the playground of the rich and famous, and the powerful in Yoguslavia. Tito (Josep Broz Tito, the leader of then Yoguslavia) was frequently seen here. The islet I also learned was free for anyone to enter.

When Yoguslavia was divided and war erupted in the Balkans, the hotel suffered and was in total disarray. When the war ended, the hotel reopened again but visitors swear that it was not the same as it was before. Things were never the same.

The isthmus connecting Sveti Stefan to mainland civilization has been, helaas, partly cemented for easy driiving of vehicles into the island.

The early 2000's paved way for new future plans for the island. It was up for bidding.

In 2009, the rocky islet reopened again, but this time as an exclusive resort under the name of the 5-star hotel chain and resorts, Aman Resorts. The hotel chain won the 30-year lease of the islet which includes the Villa Milocer on the mainland, located not too far away. The hotel is unfortunately not open to non-guests and I can perfectly understand why. In the past, there were regular paid tours (twice in a day).

When I first learned about the story of Sveti Stefan, I felt indignation. What? A historical monument owned by a hotel? How dare they? How could the Montenegrins do this? Why did the government let this happen?

But after reading quite a number of articles and feedback from many locals living in the area, I learned to fathom the bitter pill of reality. The truth is that, after the break up of Yugoslavia and the Balkan War, it took massive efforts for the locals to rebuild their lives and for the government to run the (new) country. Picking up the harsh pieces of what's left in life, to move on, being sore and wounded, having a depleted treasury, with only hope to carry on... is never easy. There was poverty after the strife. Everywhere...

Sveti Stefan on the map. It is approximately 9 kilometers south of Budva Old Town.

The hotel did reopen, but it could not maintain the highest standards of upkeep, let alone preserve it. Sveti Stefan is a historical gem of architecture that Montenegro should be proud of to showcase to the whole world. Hence, to save its future, the islet was leased to the highest bidder.

Sveti Stefan had to survive. I hope temporarily.

The beach on the bay is only for hotel guests and locals living in the area.

Souvenir photo.

There is an apt saying, "Beggars cannot be choosers."

I am pretty much sure though that after 30 years of the lease, Montenegro will be a different country (even now, it already is!) and surely far more well-off and on a better place than when the islet was given up for lease.

So the island has been saved from ruin and restored to its medieval glory! Sveti Stefan is officially called Aman Sveti Stefan now but many people call it Sveti Stefan dropping Aman, the name of the resort hotel.

Although, many people argue and agree, and I quite admit it too, that it is much nicer to look at the island than staying there. I mean the resort is a bit isolated and small, personally, it's not my kind of thing to lock myself up in an expensive resort, haha. I just hope that one day, after the 30-year lease, the government of Montenegro will reclaim the islet and give it back to the people. I honestly would not mind if the government will charge a fee for tourists and non-locals to enter the islet.

TIP: The Olive Restaurant on the bay across the islet provides a lovely place to have lunch, snacks or dinner with a beautiful view of the Sveti Stefan islet.

Restaurant Olive on the bay of Sveti Stefan.

Late lunch with a view at Restaurant Olive.

We were first served with bread, and butter, and carrots.

I was here with friend Bubbles and we had lunch at the Olive Restaurant. I highly recommend the place, as this is the nicest place with a direct view of the islet and it is just a 100 meters from the beach. I like the fact that the restaurant has a glass enclosed terrace extension as well, which is perfect for not so good weather days.

Also, the dishes we had for our late lunch were delicious, although mine was on the quite salty side. Bubbles had chicken penne while I had a mix of Halloumi cheese, Serrano ham, and vegetables. The presentation and service were quite good too.

So for the perfect sightseeing of Sveti Stefan, this restaurant is a good place to visit and hang out for a bit.

Vegetables with Spanish Serrano ham and Greek Halloumi cheese. This was delicious but the veggies and the sauce were just too salty.

Pasta: Chicken Penne.

Sveti Stefan view of the restaurant.

If you follow the pathway in front of Olive Restaurant, it will lead you to a trail which I believe goes to Villa Milocer, which is also owned by Aman Resorts. Bubbles was not keen on walking further so I only followed the trail for a few hundred meters. On this trail, you will witness a much better dramatic view of the islet as well.

Interestingly, locals who live in the area of Sveti Stefan have privileges, such as locals can use the beach for free. Locals are also allowed to enter the islet on Sundays to attend church services at the St. Stefan Church. Quite glad that they made these privilege benefits pact with the local community since the islet truly belongs to the people there.

We came here to Sveti Stefan with a car. I heard there are buses from Budva and it only takes a few minutes. Sveti Stefan is approximately 9 kilometers to the south from Budva old town.

I love my veggies. The restaurant should have used less salt and soy sauce since the halloumi cheese and Serrano ham is already salty enough.

During the summer months, the hotel place sunbeds and parasols on the beach.

Travel Period: April 2017
Destination: Sveti Stefan (Budva), Montenegro

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All pictures were taken by a point and shoot pocket camera or a smartphone.

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