“Hello, I’m Sasha, your tour guide. Our transport is just arriving.” It’s a pleasant 33 degrees, and the cooling sea breeze is very much welcome. The sun has bathed the stonework of Porto Montenegro in a warm, golden glow. The sea is calm, sparkling with every gentle ripple of the waves. There’s a steady footfall of people strolling along the various shops, cafes, and restaurants situated along the seafront promenade. Any moment I’m expecting a car to pull up outside the Lifestyle Office – the planning hub of Porto (as it is known locally) culture and activity – “Oh no” Sasha laughs, pointing towards the marina, “the only way to appreciate Montenegro’s beauty is by boat.”
Sitting resplendent in the back of a Riva-esque speedboat we made our way out of the marina, and upon looking back to land, you could really appreciate the vast infrastructure and beauty of Porto Montenegro. The marina’s 450 berths are being put to good use, with a couple of very large superyachts moored on Jetty 1, where a yacht of up to 250m can enjoy the vast facilities.
“There really is a cult of the sea here” explains Sasha as we traverse the wakes from other boats. “Our local music, and that of our neighbours, where most others only sing about love, we do too, but it’s a love of the sea, or being in love while looking at the sea, or watching the stars, and their reflection on the sea…”
Being by and on the water is very much ingrained into Montenegrin DNA. It has been a source of protection, food, jobs, and commerce for hundreds of years, most famously throughout the Venetian occupation of Montenegro during the C14th-17th. Indeed, all along the coastline you can see the remains of Venetian culture in the beautiful architecture that they left behind.
The scenery is dramatic. Verdant mountains cascade straight into the sea, giving you the feeling that you’re protected from whatever lay on the other side. This of course means that the sea remains relatively calm, perfect for relaxed cruising along the bays and for hopping between the various seaside towns. Stopping off in the old town of Kotor I learn more about this fascinating country’s history and am completely enamoured with how passionate Sasha – of old Venetian Montenegrin stock – is of her hometown. “I don’t think I could live anywhere else.” I agree with her following our superb lunch of fresh seafood, a Montenegrin delicacy, and a local wine that slipped down rather too well.
Stepping off the boat back at Porto I can’t help but remember when I used to work on deck, and the anticipation of landing in new ports, wondering where my sea legs might have me stumble to. In my time spent working on yachts I travelled to some beautiful places which, although aesthetically pleasing from the aft deck where a majority of my time was spent manning the gangway, there was never much in the way of crew hospitality. Spending more than one week in a place that is your only escape from the often claustrophobic life on board, it is so important for crew welfare to feel welcomed and looked after. There are only so many days and nights in a row, especially during off season, that you can spend in a handful of bars before you don’t even bother leaving the yacht.
It is for this reason that Managing Director of Porto Montenegro, David Margason – an old sea dog himself – has concerned himself greatly with not only providing a wonderful, classy, and vibrant living environment for those lucky enough to reside here year-round, but to ensure that there is a hefty focus on lifestyle for crew.
“There has been a shift. A majority of crew no longer want to spend their downtime in a smoky bar. Of course it’s important to still have those bars, but crew are now wanting access to gyms, to relaxed coffee shops, to feel like they’re not invisible and still on duty even when off the boat.”
While of course wanting to advertise Montenegro as an ideal location for yacht owners to spend their summers, or for charter guests to take advantage of the 0% tax on charters beginning and ending in the country, what is important to the team at Porto is to make known that there are more options than just the usual candidates of Barcelona, Palma, or Antibes for the winter refit season.
“It is often the choice of the Captain where to winter, and we want to put Montenegro at the forefront of their minds when it comes to making this [choice].” While the refit yard is still being completed, with the first intake hoped for by year end, much effort has been made to create a programme of events along with an exclusive Crew Club to draw yachts and their crews to spend their winter in Porto, and indeed, all year long. Indeed, a special package has been created that is available to Captains who plan to spend longer stints in Porto Montenegro; special rates are available at the Knightsbridge School, offering the IB curriculum, as well as access to all the residents’ facilities including the new playing field facility at The Area.
“We have crew beach BBQs and movie nights showing the latest films every week as well as a full program of entertainment throughout the year. We have a private ski chalet with weekend transfers for crew to spend time up in the mountains. There’s a crew gym, and there are discounts in a majority of the bars, restaurants, and cafes in Porto. Belgrade is a 40 minute flight away where there is an incredibly buzzy nightlife and cultural scene, and we will be offering crew planned excursions in partnership with our new coffee shop Cafeteria, run by a young and entrepreneurial team from there [Belgrade], along with opportunities to attend the award-winning Exit festival.” I’m starting to consider returning to life on board.
Later that evening I had a little taste of what crew can expect from their evenings on shore; meeting with the overtly charming Marketing Manager and a few of the Porto team, I was treated to a wonderful dinner at Gallardo, the first steakhouse in the UNESCO protected Bay of Kotor. After the meal I had there, I would petition to UNESCO to protect this restaurant also.
While discussing the incredible achievements Porto has achieved over the past 10 years since the project first began, and the impressive plans ongoing, a refreshingly cold G&T was placed in front of me. Shortly after, the Sales Manager leant over with the pepper grinder. Seeing my confusion she merely quipped, “it’s the only way to drink it.” She was right. It completely transformed my gin. It excited my palate and left me wanting more. Much like Porto Montenegro.