Tivat or Kotor? That is the question.
This past summer I knew I wanted to do some travelling in southeast Europe. There were a cluster of countries that I was yet to be acquainted with, and I had pieced together a puzzle that would see us visit Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro.
Our base for the first three was pretty easy to decide and we opted for the capitals – Skopje, Pristina and Tirana – but Montenegro wasn’t that straightforward. The big, sunny seaside finale had to be just right so that we could get the balance between activity and relaxation.
I had made the call to break up the Albania to the Montenegrin coast route with a stop in Podgorica – Montenegro’s capital and largely lifeless city. In hindsight, it was probably the wrong move, but it didn’t spoil the trip and I did find some value in the visit.
But after that, what was next?
I knew we’d be heading for water as we were flying from Tivat Airport back home to Manchester, so I looked at the three major tourist centres on the Mediterranean, which are Budva, Kotor and Tivat.
Budva looked like an attractive option, with its youthful vibe, renowned party scene and sandy beaches. Kotor offered a UNESCO-listed fortified Old Town, brimming with history and architectural beauty and a great perch in the Bay of Kotor. Last but not least, Tivat was the more traditional holiday setting – a small coastal settlement with a relaxed and comfortable way of life.
All three offered great things, but Budva’s location as the easternmost destination ruled it out. If we wanted to go, then we could do so on a day trip.
Then there were two…
I had whittled it down to Tivat and Kotor and it was at this point where the decision became difficult. Before doing any real research, I thought that Kotor was the go-to place. I’d seen most people on Instagram and Facebook centre their Montenegro travels around Kotor – and why wouldn’t they? It is a Montenegrin tourist haven, with boutique hotels and snazzy hostels mixed in with winding streets and cobbled paths. Souvenir stores can be found on every corner, while restaurant-lined squares are buzzing with selfie-taking tourists.
But Kotor isn’t cliché, because there is plenty going on. Aside from the incredible walled town centre with a wealth of historic architecture, there’s a swimming arena, beaches, an abandoned hotel and incredible scenery that caresses the Gulf of Kotor.
I could understand why this was the destination of choice for so many, but it wasn’t mine.
I eventually chose Tivat and, if I am being honest, I’m not really sure why. I assume it was some sort of gut feeling, mixed with a good location between both Kotor and Budva, as well as a good choice of hotels.
We arrived in Tivat at about six in the morning after travelling a couple of hours from Podgorica. We were tired and couldn’t check into our hotel because we were about six hours too early, so I ended up falling asleep on a beachside bench, only waking when it was time to head back to get the key to our room.
Despite our wait the process was arduous. Our hotel had overbooked and informed us that we couldn't stay there. Out alternative? To either stay in a hotel a few miles out of town or relocate to an apartment in the block behind the hotel.
We haggled a part-refund out of our hosts and opted for the apartment - a wise move considering that it turned out to be even better than the offering our hotel would've had.
After finally getting into our room, the next task was to catch up on more sleep. We did that and were then ready to explore our surroundings.
A day trip to Kotor...
Kotor had been down on the itinerary as a day trip, and so on our second day we took the bus to the historic, bayside town to see what it had to offer.
The journey was long as part of the road that goes around the Bay of Kotor is one lane, meaning long waiting times and passenger patience unlike many other major tourist destinations.
But the journey in was most memorable for a different reason, as on the approach we came across an abandoned hotel, which turned out to be an unbelievable mini-adventure. Kotor was off to an unlikely, but brilliant, start and I couldn't wait to be inside the city walls.
What we found was a trove of small shops, mazing street and beautiful architecture which all came together to produce an intriguing experience. Kotor reminded me of Dubrovnik, but on a much smaller and less-polished scale.
Just wandering around was the main attraction in Kotor, discovering various lookout points and wandering around the multiple squares that the town has to offer.
Even outside the walls there were things going on. An in-the-sea arena was something I'd never seen before, and right by that was a bar and restaurant which backed onto the bay. We ended up chilling out a little further along on a small stretch of pebbles beach, by clear waters that were perfect for snorkelling.
Kotor was abuzz with people, restaurants, hotels and hostels, but I couldn't help feeling that we'd dodged a bullet as we made our way back to our apartment.
To Tivat we go...
A bullet dodged sounds a tad harsh and, really, it is. But I knew after day tripping to Kotor that having a base in Tivat was the right thing to do.
Its location between Budva and Kotor was a deciding factor, but it is what Tivat had to offer as a holiday destination that won me over.
Firstly, the beaches were in high supply and there was variety on offer. Whether it was pebbles, sand or just the promenade edge we wanted, Tivat gave us a lot of choice. They also had lots of reasonably priced sunbeds and cabanas at places with cheap food and drink, and even cheaper stores within walking distance.
Brilliantly-priced stores were also part and parcel of Tivat's answer to a town centre, and the delicatessen at the supermarket was the source of one of our dinners that week - a homemade meat and cheese sharing platter.
A beautiful coastline and breathtaking views are two things that really make Tivat great - but the jewel in the Montenegrin crown comes in the form of Porto Montenegro.
This all-new marina opened in 2014, transforming the face of Tivat and helping to establish Montenegro as one of Europe's hottest summer holiday destinations.
Porto Montenegro welcomes thousands of yachts and boats each year, whose patrons can take advantage of one of the Adriatic's most beautiful ports.
The majestic Regent Hotel is the standout building in the port, cutting an impressive figure against incredible sunsets each evening. It is joined by a host of fantastic restaurants from the fine flavours of Morocco to the rustic luxury of an Italian.
Porto Montenegro's clientele is made clear with expensive art dotted around the harbour. But although the ambiance is "posh," everyone is made to feel welcome.
While the likes of Kotor and Budva are good for day trips, Tivat is a slice of homeliness on one of Europe's freshest and most impressive coastlines.
Choosing Tivat over Kotor seemed a risk and an action contrary to the words of others at the time, but looking back it was a stroke of genius and a worthwhile decision.