A wedding of two close friends brought us to this little corner of Europe. We had considered leaving Karina with her grandparents, but the trip was long, and those same friends who were getting married insisted that we bring her to help celebrate the special occasion. I'm glad we listened.
We had been in London the week prior so the travel involved was more manageable than if we went direct from New York. If you don't plan for a stopover in a large city in Europe, expect 2-3 stops to get here. With a baby this may be a little much. We prefer to plan stopovers for large trips like this, plus it's just more fun (see London city guide).
The first stop was Dubrovnik. We did not stay the night here, but we did allow a few hours to see the big castle in the city center, made famous by the Game of Thrones, as well as have one of the best fish dinners of our lives. The remaining four days was spent in Montenegro. For the purposes of this city guide, we will combine both countries.
Where to stay
The gem of Montenegro is the Sveti Stefan, a walled city from 1442 that was converted into a playground for the rich and famous in the 1960s and more recently purchased and renovated by the Aman resorts. Rooms here can fetch upwards of thousands of dollars in the off season. I do not recommend staying here with or without a baby. First, it is completely antagonistic to strollers. Stairs and changes in elevation are everywhere. One of the wedding events was held there, and while I frequently do crossfit and consider myself in fairly decent shape, I was a complete wreck after navigating the stroller and carrying the baby. Throw in my wife's high-heeled shoes and it was a nightmare. But it is one of the most beautiful and enchanting buildings you will ever see.
Rather, you should stay at the Villa Montenegro. Perched on a hill, you have a magnificent view of the Sveti Stefan. The owner of the hotel, Phillipe, has a soft spot for babies and made our stay super comfortable and extremely memorable. He reserved a little area where we could take the pool chair cushions and make a little play area for Karina, as well as made sure the umbrellas were expertly positioned so that the baby had shade, while mommy and daddy could get a tan. Did I mention he also served me a complimentary tasting flight of the areas local liquor? Pool days are the best days at this hotel. Admittedly, most days were pool days, hence why this post is so short, but I wouldn't have had it any other way (plus baby wasn't quite ready for the ocean water yet).
The rooms were also amazing for a family. We were staying with friends, so we split a two bedroom suite. The hotel provided a pack-and-play that served as Karina's crib, and Phillipe made sure we had ample spoons (Karina's favorite toy at the time) as well as ice, towels and pillows so we could make play areas for her.
Not on the island of Sveti Stefan, but still part of the Aman resorts is the Hotel Milocer. This one-time residence of royalty has been converted to an incredibly intimate resort. Our friends stayed here during the wedding and the ceremony and banquet after were held here. If you can afford it, I would defintely recommend staying here. It has an incredible private beach as well as paved sidewalks and compact gravel trails that are perfect for baby.
Where to eat
Fish restaurant near Hotel Maestral
The fish in Dubrovnik was spectacular and takes the award for best meal of the trip, but this little hidden gem takes a close second. Situated on the beach to the front and left of the hotel if facing the water (forgive me for not remembering the name, but its easy to find), this place will bring the catch-of-the-day right up to the table to let you choose the most appealing. A special olive oil and garlic sauce is served with the freshly made bread and is very addicting. Try to refrain from eating too much bread because the fish is fresh, satisfying and very memorable. Served with ample vegetables and potatoes, four of us almost couldn't finish it all. The price is pretty reasonable as well.
This is the restaurant in Dubrovnik I wrote about in the above intro. Tucked down a side street after entering the city through the main gates, this masterpiece of a restaurant sits within an ancient yet sturdy stone structure. We ordered the sea bass special, lobster bisque and a shrimp pasta. None of the dishes disappointed. Just as we were about to order the local Montenegrin wine, the sommelier advised up against it.
"The mountains are the most beautiful in the world, but the wine is not so good," he shared.
So we let him pick a nice Italian wine for us.
The restaurant at Villa Montenegro
With a bar fashioned after a boat and a view to die for, the food at the hotel was some of the best of the trip. A continental breakfast consisted of straight-outta-the-oven pastries, French-pressed coffee, and freshly squeezed juice. It all comes complimentary with the room, and for an additional fee you can get eggs. The hamburgers and pasta dishes are also very good.
I highly, highly recommend renting a car. Ubers and taxis are not reliable and I just felt safer with my own vehicle. While this is a safe area, it is still in my opinion a third-world type country, and it's best to be as self-reliant as possible. The car rental situation at the Dubrovnik airport is very easy and convenient, and was suprisingly cheap. I did not need an international drivers license either.
The drive to the Dubrovnik castle is about 30 minutes from the airport, and the Sveti Stefan is about 2.5 hours from the airport in the opposite direction. So if you check out the city first, plan on a 3 hour drive to your destination in Montenegro
On the way, you will have ample opportunities for sightseeing. We stopped at the Savina Herceg Novi semanary and church. This church is still operating, has views of the surrounding mountains and vineyards and has incredible Greek Orthodox style religious paintings inside. The cemetery attached has some impressive graves with etched portraits of their inhabitants.
About 45 minutes from Sveti Stefan you will have to take the Kotor Ferry, which is an incredible experience in and of itself. Steep mountains plunge into the pristine waters and tiny homes and stone cottages line the water's edge. The ferry costs a couple bucks and we never experienced much of a wait. It runs 24 hours as well, and there is no need to purcahse your ticket in advance.
Things to Do:
Even though I am very against renting a hotel room here if you have a baby, it is necessary if you want to see the interior. That or be lucky enough to have a very successful friend who has his reception cocktails there. I am fairly certain if you call ahead, you may be able to arrange a tour. This is highly recommended -it is truly magical inside.
The beaches around the Sveti Stefan
There is a public beach to the left of the Sveti Stefan. For a small fee you can rent some umbrellas and chairs and have a beach day to rival all other beach days. The sight of the Sveti Stefan, protected waters and mountains to your back create an enchanting atmosphere. There are some beach cafes that serve food and drinks. While I did order a beer, I did not sample the food. The beach is easy to get to on foot, or by car if you bring the whole family.
Each morning I would sneak out (with permission of course :)) while my wife nursed our child and did a few quick laps in the bay. The water feels great and prepared me for a day at the pool with baby and wife.
The Dubrovnik Castle in Old Town
This ancient wonder is where King's Landing gets its inspiration. The only difficulty getting entry with baby were the stairs just after entering the main gates. After you navigate those stairs, it's smooth sailing on polished cobblestone streets. We visited at nighttime, which was spectacular and magical. The side streets contain many shops and boutiques. The stores closer to the main entrance are more expensive than those hidden farther in. Word to the wise, don't purchase wine or alcohol here. It is very expensive and there are better options in the town outside.
We passed many inns and hotels and I imagine lodging is readily available and at all price points. Be sure to check out the restaurant we posted about above.
Scroll through some more pics of our trip!