Montenegro riviera has all the beauty of the Amalfi coast, amid shimmering fjords and brooding mountains. When Lord Byron visited in the early 19th century, he was spellbound by the glassy waters and the Venetian architecture, describing Montenegro as ‘the most beautiful encounter between the land and the sea’. More than two centuries later, the rest of the world has woken up to the country’s appeal, and ever more British families have bought properties on the country’s Adriatic coast.
‘In 2004, when I started selling property there, people had no idea where it was-some even thought it was in South America,’ says Charles Weston- Baker of Savills. ‘Now, it’s the new Riviera.’ But Montenegro is a world away from the South of France-it’s still possible to buy a waterfront property for less than £100,000, there are plenty of ruins waiting to be restored, and the roads aren’t jammed with cars. ‘It’s got a raw beauty and the locals are very friendly to foreigners,’ says Andrea Marston, who runs estate agency Montenegro Prospect. ‘It feels like the Mediterranean as it once was. There’s not a fish-and-chip shop in sight.’
Montenegro is a Serbian-speaking country bordered by Croatia, Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, plus Serbia and Kosovo. It has white-sand beaches, lakes, and mountains with ski resorts. ‘It’s possible to ski in the morning and sit on the beach in the afternoon,’ says Mr Weston-Baker. Foreign buyers tend to settle around the Bay of Kotor, with its UNESCO World Heritage walled town and views out across the fjord. Airports at Podgorica (55 miles) and Dubrovnik in Croatia (25 miles) offer regular flights from Britain.
There is a diverse array of property on the market, from waterfront homes to restore, for sale with Montenegro Prospects, to bespoke heritage properties meticulously renovated by Monteverdi Estates. ‘Monte-negro represents possibly one of the most exciting investment opportunities in the Mediterranean,’ says Daniel Walker of Monteverdi Estates. Miss Marston agrees: ‘There are some beautiful farmhouses and coastal villas available, and plenty of builders waiting to start a project.’
Tony Mann and Annie Goodsell bought an apartment in Kotor Bay through Savills last summer, after reading an article in The Daily Telegraph. ‘We loved the medieval buildings, the mountains and the weather,’ says Mr Mann. ‘Everything about Monte-negro is wonderful.’ They planned to buy
a ruin to restore, but opted to buy a new-build apartment instead, which will be completed in June. ‘Some of the ruins are incredible, but we decided that it was more practical to buy something new.’
The development, called Buena Vista, has views across Kotor Bay, and guests have the use of swimming pools, a gym and a bar. Prices for apartments there start at €149,000. Buena Vista is a sophisticated development, but there is no doubt that Montenegro is an emerging rather than an established market. ‘Montenegro has the potential to become a high-class destination, but, at the moment, it’s a poor country. There are no Chanel boutiques.’
However, a handful of top-class development schemes will help to change this. According to James Price of Knight Frank, luxury property developments on the Montenegrin coast, such as Porto Montenegro and Sveti Marko, have instilled confidence into the market. ‘There is a critical mass of top-level projects that shows they aren’t one-offs and this has given people the confidence to invest.’ Miss Marston agrees: ‘Not everyone can afford to buy into them, but they offer a great place to go shopping or out for a meal.’
Porto Montenegro in the Bay of Kotor, the Adriatic’s largest and most sheltered natural harbour, will eventually comprise a mile of west-facing waterfront residences around a super-yacht marina with shops and cafes. Properties are built in the local style, and have natural stone floors, hard-
wood cabinetry and outdoor terraces. Prices start at €180,000, which includes access to pools and tennis courts. There are also yacht berths from 12m to 100m. The first apartment buildings to appear on the market sold out within weeks; Savills and Knight Frank are now selling off-plan properties in two further buildings.
Meanwhile Europe’s first six-star resort with palatial villas is being created on the island of Sveti Marko in the Gulf of Tivat, a 20-minute drive from Porto Montenegro. The most expensive properties will have private beaches and moorings, and there will also be a range of smaller apartments and townhouses. The island will be managed by Banyan Tree, which runs spa resorts across the world. In the centre of the island will be a waterfront quayside and piazza with bars, cafes and boutiques and a spa. Property prices will start at €499,000, through Savills.
Montenegro’s allure to British buyers has surprised estate agents. ‘I never thought it would be so popular,’ says Miss Marston. Between 2004 and 2007, average new-build residential prices in Montenegro more than doubled, with coastal towns Budva and Bar leading the boom in property values. ‘There was so little available at the time and the new-builds were very bad quality,’ she explains.
However, the recession has had a dampening effect on Montenegro’s property values. Prices dropped by about 30%, according to Miss Marston, but she believes the credit crunch has worked in Montenegro’s favour by slowing down development and giving the government the chance to get things right. ‘The off-plan market died-people didn’t want to buy things that weren’t built-but this has prevented too large a supply of property. And the build quality is much higher these days.’
Rather than selling off-plan, some developers are offering plots of land for sale with permission to build houses. ‘It’s a great idea. You can choose the plot and the type of house you would like to be built on it and the whole project can be finished within six months,’ says Miss Marston. Two-acre plots cost from £250,000, including building work.
The market has picked up this year: ‘Prices have bottomed, but it’s still a buyer’s market,’ Miss Marston says. ‘As soon as something sells, another good property comes on. There seem to be quite a few buyers around, however.’ James Price believes now is a good time to buy. ‘If you want to enjoy something that will be a very exciting investment in 10 years time, you can make the most of good value by getting in now,’ he says. Mr Weston-Baker believes Montenegro’s unique geo-graphical positioning enables it to attract visitor and buyers from both east and west. ‘Its Mediterranean climate and exceptional coastline are fundamental, long-term attri-butes that make Montenegro highly attractive as an investment location today.’
Even if your property doesn’t appreciate much in value at first, you will be able to enjoy sunny days in alfresco cafes and boat trips in the fjord. ‘Montenegro is all about the “mañana” attitude,’ says Miss Marston. ‘The Montenegrins are very laidback. It’s a lovely place to kick back and enjoy the cafe culture, Italian food and balmy weather.’
Sveti Marko properties are on with Savills (020-7016 3740; www.savills.co.uk/abroad) Porto Montenegro apartments are with Knight Frank (020-7629 8171; www.knightfrank.co.uk/international)
NEED TO KNOW
What to do in Montenegro
Stay The Aman Sveti Stefan’s Villa Milocer has just reopened (www.amanresorts.com)
Visit The village of Donja Lastva has a festival on the first Saturday of August
Birdwatching Explore the Skadar Lake by hiring a boat from fishermen
Lunch For something quick, Cesarica in Kotor has excellent fresh fish
Supper Catovica Mlini has a special position overlooking the bay
Cocktails People-watch from the large terrace of Kotor’s Scorpio