It was some years ago, maybe seven or eight, that a few friends proudly told me they were going on holiday to Croatia. The pride wasn’t from some sense of bragging that they were going away and I wasn’t (although there may have been a bit of that).
It was more that they were going to somewhere exotic, uncharted waters, an undiscovered paradise beyond the remains of the Iron Curtain in the east of the Europe.
Well, you only have to go to somewhere like Dubrovnik today to see how much has changed. While tourism was certainly growing back when my friends went, it has now reached breaking point.
The entire city feels like a coastal fortress built by a casino or a theme park. (That’s not to say I don’t love the place – and more on that another time.)
But where is the next frontier? What will someone be writing about in a few years’ time as the destination that was once exotic and is now just part of the European summer trail?
Funnily enough… I think the answer is just kilometres away. Let me introduce you to Kotor, the Dubrovnik of Montenegro.
Those in the Balkans know the wonders of Montenegro’s coast. When the summer heat hits they head to the water and the coastline becomes the epicentre of the region’s social life. But it’s relatively unknown to those from further west.
The first place on the coast you hit coming from Dubrovnik is Herceg Novi, a beach town less than two hours by bus (if there’s no hold up at the two immigration points).
The biggest holiday resort area is a further two hours by bus – a much more developed place called Budva.
And in between the two is the real gem, Kotor.
It’s set on a bay – but not just any old bay. This is one of the most stunning parts of the country with the shimmering waters, the dramatic mountains that come almost to the beaches, and the snaking coastline border between the two that creates rises and dips of the tree-covered range overlapping each other from any angle.
The old town of Kotor is surrounded by old fortified walls but an extension weaves out up the mountain behind like an extra tentacle of a sea creature. It leads to a fortress at the top that was used to watch out over the bay for any potential invaders.
Today it’s one of the main tourist attractions in town – although it’s a long and tough climb, especially in the heat of summer.
The fortress was needed for more practical reasons previously.
Kotor was a key site for invasion – not for its beauty but for the strategic advantage of a ship port along the Adriatic. But for about four centuries it was controlled by the Venetians and it is their influence that you can see in the architecture of the old town.
Just outside the fortified walks, though, yachts and motorboats are tied up to the piers.
The small beaches are full of tanned locals; restaurants are set up along the water; and a jetski can be heard doing tricks not too far away.
Kotor is a town set up for tourism. Nearby Budva and Herceg Novi are even better equipped (although not as beautiful).
The infrastructure is here and the amazing coast has always been. The prices at restaurants and bars is about a quarter of those not far away in Dubrovnik. So what is missing?
Perhaps cheap flights from major European destinations or maybe just awareness?
Either way it won’t be long until the hordes are here. I’m sure of that. Is this the next European holiday hotspot? I think so.