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Montenegro, jewel of the Adriatic, has it all

Montenegro, with its magnificent Adriatic coastline, has long been a mecca for glamorous types...

In the 1980s film stars, models and artists looking for an alternative to St Tropez would head here... with or without their yachts.

But then came the breakup of Yugoslavia in the Nineties and wars in the neighbouring states of Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo.

The events crippled the entire region`s tourist industry and tarnished its image for years.

Montenegro gained independence in 2006 and hasn`t looked back since. The tiny country, about the size of Cyprus, is on all the lists of the great new travel "discoveries" for 2011.

The main draw is the picturesque coastline, made of 72 miles of beaches and dotted with ancient towns... and more than a thousand islands.


And the fact the 2006 James Bond movie Casino Royale was partly "set" here no doubt helped.

We were keen to discover the Hotel Splendid, which houses the casino where 007 (aka Daniel Craig) played poker and fell for Treasury official Vesper Lynd.

Although the Hotel Splendid of Ian Fleming`s novel certainly exists - it was just outside the ancient walled city of Budva, close to where we were staying - it is not the hotel we see in the film That honour goes to a hotel in the Czech Republic! In fact, it seems none of the film is actually filmed in Montenegro, where the story takes place.

Oh well, it was glamorous enough without Bond. After all, we`d already seen Morgan Freeman.

We were staying in the modern seaside resort of Becici, just outside Budva and around a two-hour transfer down the coast from Dubrovnik.

The transfer may be long but we got to see some breathtaking views of the Adriatic coast along the way and had the fun of a ferry ride across the bay of Kotor.

Becici is a perfect little resort for families and couples. It`s a bustling little bay with plenty to do but thankfully no loud bars or nightclubs. You need to walk into Budva for that... or not!

Our hotel, the Queen of Montenegro, was perched high on a pine-dotted ooking the bay with a good view of the beautiful island of Sveti Stefan and beyond.

A comfortable and very well run four-star a stone`s throw from the beach, restaurants and supermarkets, it`s a perfect base for exploring Montenegro.

That`s when we could drag the kids out of the half-indoor, half-outdoor pool!

Who could blame them, though. They often had it to themselves. You won`t find crowds of Brits here - a few Germans maybe and rich Russian mafia-types with their bleached-blonde girlfriends.

The beach is much busier - although the Queen of Montenegro has a private beach where guests can rent sunbeds for a few euros and enjoy some space.

And 20 minutes away from Budva you will discover much quieter little pebble beaches near the old fishing village of Rafailovici.

Having said that, the main beach at Becici never feels TOO crowded. Unlike some Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Montenegro hasn`t fallen prey to the developers.

The country is keen to maintain its image as an upmarket destination. Tourism is suitably understated and all the better for it.

And it is not expensive by any means. Hotels are of a high standard but good value and eating out is affordable, with a good choice of restaurants.

Most cuisine is Montenegrin and Russian, with a bit of a nod to Greece and Italy. Most have menus in English and we paid around 60 euros for lunch for the four of us, including drinks.

We found really cheap eats on the beach, where there are dozens of stalls selling pancakes, salads and fresh fruit very cheaply (pancakes were a euro, fruit just a few euro cents).


The little supermarkets have their own bakeries, meaning we could put together a family picnic for the days we got out and about exploring for well under 10 euros. The local beer and wine is cheap... although obviously you pay a premium for imported stuff. We found very good Montenegrin wine at around 12 euros a bottle.

We did find that excursions from the hotel were expensive at up to 47 euros per person. Th tend to include lunch though a more ambitious trips, like the excursions to Albania or Dubrovnik, they are no doubt the simplest way to do things.

For shorter trips in and around the Budva area there are buses to most major towns every 15 minutes, with half-hour journeys costing two euros for adults (children travel free).

Boat trips are also worth organising yourself if you just want to check out a few of the many islands.

We took a trip from Becici beach out to the tidal island Sveti Stefan and around the other side of the bay to Budva and a couple of deserted beaches for just six euros each. Budva is a gem of a town. Dating back to the ninth century, it has been rebuilt several times, but is still a maze of little winding cobbled streets, churches and squares.

Turn one corner and you are faced with a view of bright blue waters, turn another and you find a shaded square housing an outdoor theatre.

Like Venice or Dubrovnik on a much V more intimate scale, Budva is a perfect combination of culture, amazing architecture, cafes and vibrant nightlife - and of course those beautiful Adriatic beaches.

Couples may prefer to stay here rather than the more family-oriented Becici but they are just 20 to 30 minutes` walk from each other... 10 minutes on the bus.

If you`ve already been adventurous enough to try Croatia and are looking for somewhere different then Montenegro, with its heady mix of cultures, colourful past and delicious food, fits the bill.

And with so many other countries so close by, the possibilities for exploring this beautiful corner of Europe are as limitless as that amazing 72-mile coastline.

What`s the deal

First Choice offers seven nights half-board at the four-star Queen of Montenegro hotel from £1,568 per family of two adults and two children sharing. The price includes return flights from Gatwick and transfers.