Coastal Montenegro (Budva, Becici, Sveti Stefan, Ulcinj)
Thursday, August 7 - Monday, August 11, 2008
But first, finding a place to stay:
We were headed to Becici, the beach just south of Budva and, we were told, the better beach. Nevermind that the woman at Meridian Travel told us her aunt's apartments in Becici are overbooked, and that it's very busy in that area right now (it is THE peak month). Emboldened by our recent experience in Kotor, and armed with all the travel agency info from Meridian Travel, we thought we would find a room for sure. To be fair, we did try to look beforehand but nothing worked out.
"Just ask the people with free rooms at the bus station", she said. "A taxi to Becici is only 3 Euros”, she also said. Neither turned out to be true. The people at the Budva station only had rooms for Budva, not Becici, even though it's only 2 km away. We called the local travel agencies, but none had anything available. Not Good. We took a taxi to Becici – it turned out to be more than double what the woman said... a big deal when you're on a tight budget. There was no one with room available signs in sight. We started to walk into each apartment to ask if they had any rooms... picture Ashok and I hauling our bags going up and down hilly streets with the mid-day sun beating down on us... for 3 hours!... and NOT ONE was available! We got nothing except very sun-burnt.
Finally we gave up and went back to Budva. There, as we were walking down the main street, a group of young guys hanging out yelled out at us if we were looking for a room. After trying for a few minutes to communicate (their English were not that good, and our Serbian even worse), one guy told us to get in his car and he'll show us to the apartment. We did... it turned out to be a good enough place (not that we had many options)... we paid him for the 4 nights in cash.. and we had a room. This was our worst experience yet on this trip, and I hope nothing else comes close.
This is what the apartment looks like from the outside. Our room is the one upstairs:
As in Kotor, we never figured out who the actual owner of the building is. We asked who we thought were the owners for a towel the first day, got only one foot towel (good thing we had our clean beach towels), and never saw them again. The next morning we ran into another guy who got us a small towel (“it's small but at least it's clean”) and a pot so we could boil water to make coffee. He turned out to be an interesting guy that we hung out with the last night but it was never clear whether or not this was indeed his apartment. These things are apparently not that big a deal in Montenegro.
Finally, the Beach:
Lonely Planet described Budva as the beach where you can build sandcastles. Not that I'm complaining about the rocky beaches of Croatia, but the idea of a soft sandy beach was really appealing. With the sleeping arrangement finally out of our way, we headed out to check out the beach and to cool down. We were very disappointed in Budva's beaches. The fact that it's a pebbly beach is the least of it. There's a boardwalk along the beach packed with open air bars that don't start to get crowded until 10pm, cheesy T-shirt and souvenir vendors, fast food stalls, and an old-style amusement park. It's clearly a party beach, but not a hip one like Hvar. For those of you that know New Jersey, Budva reminds us a lot of Belmar. The beach is jam packed with beach chairs for rent, and the water was not so clean. I'm sure lots of people love the fact that it's a party beach, but it was just too crowded and cheesy for us.
The next day we set out to check out Becici beach. It was better... still crowded but not as bad as Budva, but it's still pebbly... so we moved on to Sveti Stefan. Sveti Stefan was at one time a fishing village but is now a private hotel (currently closed for renovation). Here's a picture of it so you can see how pretty it is:
There's a stretch of beach right in front of it (the 3 white lines in the lower right corner of the picture are the beach chairs). It's still pebbly but less crowded and you can't beat the view of Sveti Stefan so we stayed.
On the bus to Sveti Stefan, we passed by some beaches that looked very nice so in the evening we walked back looking for them to see how they are. By this point we have actually walked through the entire 7 km stretch of beaches from Budva to Sveti Stefan. I know we sound like beach snobs but really we're not. It's not just about sand vs. pebbles. The thing is, people here are not very environmentally conscious, and don't think twice about leaving their cigarette butts and food trash on the beach. In comparison, the waters we swam in in Croatia were clean & clear. Maybe it's because the Montenegrans are so laid back they don't care and don't realize the environmental consequences. Sveti Stefan was the best of the bunch, Budva the worst, and the rest in between.
Not loving any of the area beaches and since Montenegro is not that big, we took a day trip to the southernmost beach, Ulcinj, just north of the border with Albania. Here, we finally got our sandy beach.... although it's just like any other beach in New Jersey/ New York or Los Angeles, which is probably why the people there are all locals or from nearby Albania. Don't get me wrong, we had a fun day on the beach. I'm just saying it's not a beach that's worth traveling to. The water was slightly warmer than the other beaches and there were actual waves (all the other ones were really calm). I don't know how clean the water is... there's 12km of beach for people to spread out, and the water's murky with the sand and the waves... probably a good thing.
Overall, I would say Montenegro was a disappointing experience. At least we got to see almost the entire Montenegro coast. It's a shame because the people are so easy going and friendly, and the coast is very pretty. We saw a lot of new development going up all along the coast, and I'm sure they will do well... it's just a question of which type of crowd it will attract. I wonder how long it will last if they don't take measures now to protect their beaches.
One final note... the relatively short ride back to Croatia turned into 6 hours including a 3.5 hour wait at the border. All because we got stuck behind 3 buses of Russians going into Croatia without Visas so they had to get issued on the spot and each person had to be manually typed in! Urgh!