On a recent trip to Montenegro I was asked to fill out a form which asked: “What is the purpose of your trip? Business or leisure?” Up until a few years ago, it was easy to choose which box to tick.
The choice of Montenegro as holiday destination may still seem to hold a relatively new fascination, especially when compared to her more stalwart neighbours of Greece and Turkey. Yet upon gaining her independence from Yugoslavia in only 2006 there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of tourists seeking a holiday off the beaten path. Offering visitors a kaleidoscopic sea, dramatic mountain scenery, historic towns and a vibrant cultural scene, it is little wonder that Montenegro now appears at the top of many a Hot Spot list, while still retaining the feel of being a hidden gem.
Declared the world’s first eco-state, and with a history of amalgamated cultures dating back thousands of years, Montenegro exhibits European charm in a Mediterranean climate. From the C15th Venetian town to the UNESCO bay of Kotor and the Tara River Canyon – the 2nd deepest canyon behind the Grand Canyon – Montenegro is as beautiful as it is fascinating.
This boom in visitors and global interest – aside from her obvious aesthetic enchantments – owes much to the ongoing development of Porto Montenegro and her environs. Capitalising on the idyllic climate, providing all-season outdoor living, Porto Montenegro is the latest development to enhance residents’ year-round luxury living.
Entering the tenth year of development, and still only 25% of the way there, this project has caused a renaissance in the rejuvenation of Montenegro, positioning her among the very few places in the world where business so perfectly entwines with leisure.
With the project recently falling under the auspices of the Investment Corporation of Dubai, bringing with them a history of hugely successful investments including Emirates Airlines, One & Only Resorts, and Emaar Properties, new energy has been further injected into the project with the appointment last year of David Margason as Managing Director.
“The project needed a refresh” David told me on my latest visit to witness the advancement of the project, “There was something of a lull in the pace of the project and the vibrancy of its lifestyle programme in the period prior to the ICD takeover, and so I had a bit of a standing start last year.” To say that he hit the ground running would be a vast understatement. In the past year alone an incredible amount has been achieved – from the opening of 4 new restaurants to creating a 550 seat theatre – for which David credits his team for their incredible energy and “seven day work week. There were high expectations.”
Conceived in 2006 – the year Montenegro achieved its independence – aside from being perfectly and strategically located for a majority of European countries, the impetus behind the Porto Montenegro project came from the growing demand for a large yacht hub in the Mediterranean that could accommodate the largest of superyachts (<250m). Positioning itself as the quintessential homeport for yachts in the Mediterranean, the Porto Montenegro development offers so much more than the exquisite berthing facilities already in place.
Of equal importance to those behind the project, including the numerous world-class investors, has been the creation of a diverse community of residents, business owners, and investors.
Investors are not only looking for a financial return on their investment, but also an emotional one. It’s a lifestyle investment. We’re creating something very special.
Joining the project at a pivotal and interesting time, David wanted to focus on taking an holistic approach to creating a year-round offering, to build a sustainable and business friendly community, but more importantly, creating “an authentic experience and lifestyle above and beyond the development, which is something more difficult than building the buildings themselves!” Taking a democratic approach to the continued development of the Porto Montenegro community, it is the community themselves who are playing a significant role in suggesting new and various directions for the project. It was important to give a voice to those who have already invested their lives in Montenegro to help build the community infrastructure, enabling more exciting events and entertainment to be delivered throughout the year.
“Everyone is so enthusiastic and energetic when they come here, with many not only investing in their own lifestyle, but in businesses that enrich the community and enable us to deliver a memorable experience with an added element of surprise and delight. It’s a very exciting place to be at the moment.”
This interspersion of business, community, and leisure is at the forefront of David’s mind; when asked if Porto Montenegro is trying to emulate Monaco – for there are clear links between the two –the global recognition and success Monaco achieves is the link Porto Montenegro strives to achieve.
Porto Montenegro is more like the Bay of St. Tropez in many respects, the scale of the community being similar as well as the kind of fantastic venues we both have.
Making a point that Monaco is not a competitor, but rather, a more established example of how business can mix with a diverse community, a special element of Porto Montenegro’s offering is the feeling of belonging coupled with a warm sense of privacy that sets her apart. “Visitors really value this [discretion]. There is a certain level of personal connection and recognition, a waiter in one of our restaurants remembering your name for example, but at the same time, there is a sense of privacy that Monaco seems to have lost in recent years.” This is one of the many reasons why a majority of those who have invested in the luxury properties surrounding the Port decide to live there year-round, taking advantage of every facility.
From playing beach volleyball at the beachfront al fresco gym, to racing R/C yachts at the Porto Montenegro Yacht Club, a seafront outdoor cinema to archery, laser clay pigeon shooting and other outdoor sports that are to be held at a specialist park the size of an international football pitch (due to be completed in August), there seems to be a never ending list of activities and events that visitors and residents can get involved with. In the spring, you can stroll down to the marina in a pair of shorts and enjoy a morning coffee, and be on the slopes by lunchtime in Montenegro’s northern region. Porto Montenegro is perfectly positioned to offer the best that Montenegro has to offer, whilst maintaining its reputation as the most luxurious Big Kid’s playground.
Although very much catered towards providing a year-round, luxurious, fun lifestyle, Montenegro also has quite the business nous. It is very tax efficient and provides an ideal environment for running a business from the comfort of the stunning natural surroundings. The area has come to develop an ever-growing business community; “We have many young, bright, entrepreneurial people coming across from Belgrade and the wider Balkan region, looking for coastal locations with all the facilities they need to run successful and profitable businesses. We have super-fast WiFi, incredible facilities for corporate events like our new covered outdoor performance venue, a boutique performance space that can host up to 2,500 guests in a renovated submarine hanger. This entrepreneurial community add a lot of energy, depth, and stability to the area, and really boost the economy of the various investment opportunities here.”
Montenegro has a young and stable democracy, whose open economy is very investor-friendly. With a 9% corporate and personal income tax, Montenegro has experienced one of the highest levels of foreign direct investment per capita in Europe over the past 5 years. Investors in Porto Montenegro should be comforted by the level of investment as a whole into the country’s economic and institutional framework. The growth in the market has attracted serious investors alongside holiday home buyers which has had an influence on the further growth of the development – “These people feed back into businesses, in the demand for rentals, and right back into their investments.” Rather than investing with an instinctive anticipation, investors can rely on a clear growth curve.
When asked if he is proud of the development, and what he has achieved over the past year, David remains coy; “Of course I am proud. There is this wonderful new sense of enthusiasm for those who have already invested in their lives and businesses here, especially with the tremendous support from the investors in Dubai. We still have a long way to go in the overall development, but there is a sense that this new injection of energy is really working for the investors.”
Party season has well and truly started in Porto Montenegro, the summer calendar of events is packed. “There’ll be no hibernation this winter. It’s all hands to the pump, especially as everyone’s expectations for next summer are already so high. Maybe we’ll take a break next Autumn and take advantage ourselves of these incredible facilities we have created!” It will be well earned.