If anybody tells you that visiting Montenegro in winter is a waste of money, don’t you believe it. We have brought in the New Year in Budva Old Town four years in a row. Of course, summer vacation in Montenegro means overcrowded beaches and noisy nightlife until dawn. Some people need it. But autumn, winter, and spring are perfect for comfortable living on the Budva Riviera and visiting other regions of Montenegro and even neighboring countries.
The New Year celebration in Budva is always lively and fun. Numerous visitors from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina come there to greet the New Year beneath the walls of the old fortress. One beautiful night, under the stars and palm trees, you dance together with numerous happy people and such Balkan music stars as Goran Bregović, Zdravko Čolić, Željko Samardzić, or Željko Joksimović. Probably, you will not feel Montenegrin at that party, but you will see the unity of other nations. It’s something magical.
Oh, you don’t like noisy parties. Two kilometers of beach are at your disposal. Take a bottle of champagne and meet the New Year to the accompaniment of waves and rustling of palm trees. However, music will be heard from the old town. Yes, Budva doesn’t sleep that night, but every party comes to an end, sooner or later.
Last New Year started with drizzle and wind, but January 2nd brought the sun, heat, blue sky, turquoise color of the sea, and +14 degrees Centigrade. The city came alive immediately: cafes filled up with people (mostly women) and young fathers with prams came out on the promenade. Yes, this is a distinctive feature of Montenegro: the number of women is lower than the number of men, therefore mothers can sit in a cafe with friends while men look after their children.
Well, the weather became good and we were ready to head for our favorite route along the beach from Budva to Pržno to Sveti Stefan. It is 9 km, but if you get to Budva, you should have dinner in the fishing village of Pržno, and look at the famous (and the most expensive) beach of Montenegro: Sveti Stefan. If walking such a route is hard for you (you are about to return to Budva), you can take a bus Budva-Sveti Stefan for 1.5 Euro or the taxi for 8-10 Euro. However, I suggest you get off the bus in Pržno, enjoy fresh fish in one of three local restaurants, and go through the park, the former royal residence of the family of Karadjordjevic in Milocer, to Sveti Stefan. It’s just 3 km.
Pržno is a fishing village with a tiny beach and three restaurants whose tables stand right near the water. We always try to ignore the view of the enormous and awful casino built nearby. Thank god, it doesn’t operate in the low season. Otherwise, it is an idyllic place for dinner on a sunny January day, and the food is delicious.
Locals get their main income during the high season: from May to September. From October, most cafes on the embankment are closed excluding ones that are visited by locals. The Budva Riviera goes into hibernation, and that’s what we like most. The sun, palm trees, the sea, and almost no people. The entrance ticket to the Sveti Stefan beach costs about 100 Euro, but only in summer. In autumn or winter, you can stroll there free.
The Budva Old Town is one of the oldest cities of the Adriatic. It is more than 2500 years old. There are several legends connected with its name. One of them is the story about lovers, mason Marco and beautiful Helen, who couldn’t be together because of disapproval of the girl’s parents. The young people jumped from the city wall into the sea, and turned into two fish. People heard the sea whisper, “Let two be as one,” (it’s “Budu dva” in the local language). Two fish have been the symbol of Budva. You can find it on the wall of one of the old town buildings.
The walls of the city were built in the 15th century by Venetians to protect it against Turks. There are several gates, and passing through one of them, you find yourself in a labyrinth of narrow medieval streets leading to a citadel and two churches. If you are hungry, don’t hesitate to visit one of the numerous restaurants or cafes. Food is delicious here, especially meat. This is something like a cult. Don’t order more than one dish. Portions are gigantic.
It’s strange that although living near the sea, Montenegrins prefer meat. They consider meat a real mans food and usually prepare yummy dishes from lamb, pork, or turkey. The most popular way of cooking is “na zaru” (grill), another one is “ispod sača.” They place a big pot on the bonfire, cover it with an iron cover, put hot coals on it, and wait several hours.
I also recommend to taste čorba: thick veal soup prepared from tender veal with carrots and celery. The recipe is a little bit different in every restaurant, but the soup itself is always delicious.
Even pizza is wonderful there, but you can safely ignore local wines and desserts. Yes, unfortunately, it is not Italy. I suggest tasting Bosnian Tvrdoš from Trebinje and Macedonian Vranac. They are good. Of the white wines, Macedonian Adria and Croatian Malvasia aren’t bad.
You want something more exotic, do you? The Montenegrin house specialty is chicken inside a lamb. Several chickens seasoned with spice are sewn up into the belly of a lamb or baby goat and roasted on a spit. The meat is served separately and chickens are seasoned with honey. Weird? But why not? In France or the Czech Republic, duck meat is seasoned with raspberry or cranberry sauce.
The most famous restaurants of the Budva Riviera are Tri Ribara (Three Fishermen) in Rafailovići and Jadran in the center of Budva. The first one is respected for their hard work: they fish every day. Other restaurants buy their fish, sometimes even abroad.
I visited Jadran for the first time about 20 years ago. With all due respect to Krsto, its permanent owner from 1976, their cuisine became mediocre, the restaurant became touristy, and prices became too high.
I suggest leaving the center of Budva and heading to the living quarters of the city where you will find restaurants “for locals only,” for example Kužina (the street of Novembra 20, GPS: 42.2927537, 18.8482388). There, you will get delicious food (in my opinion, the best in Budva) for a reasonable price. If you don’t speak a word in the local language, don’t worry. Just remember or write down the following:
- meso ispod sača – stewed meat
- teleća čorba – veal soup
- pljeskavica – big cutlet
- cevapcici – small cutlets
and you will enjoy the best dishes of Montenegro even in the high season, in summer.
Over the past few years, we have become accustomed to visiting Budva so often that I decided to start learning the local language. It is Croatian-Serbian. Irina, my wife, already speaks it for many years. More and more of locals understand me with every month of practice in shops, farmers markets, post offices, taxi…. It’s a pleasure, although, my skills often bring comments such as, “You speak so well. Are you from Slovenia?” Probably, I should visit Slovenia to know where they will think I am from?
Note: People in Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina speak one language with minor variations.