I remember my first visit to Montenegro in 2006 as a mixture of awe at the landscape and horror at the concrete tangle of Herceg Novi, the border town with Croatia. There were no direct flights at that time so you arrived in Dubrovnik and crawled along the coastline on a terrible road drinking in the views.
“At the moment of the creation of our planet, the most beautiful merging of land and sea occurred at the Montenegrin seaside,” wrote Lord Byron. Almost miraculously the words remain true today:
Before the economic crash Montenegro was crawling with speculators looking for cheap land and property. The town of Budva was sacrificed piecemeal largely to Russian developers but the economic crisis also put paid to many ambitions. When Montenegro emerged from the recession a new era had dawned. Property development in places like Spain, Portugal and Turkey had ruined coastlines and proved to be financially disastrous and other destination countries took heed.
Having gained independence from Serbia, Montenegro set about rebuilding the tourist industry wiped out by the Yugoslav Wars. Named as a location in the 2006 remake of Casino Royale with Daniel Craig was a branding coup despite the fact that no scenes were actually shot here. In 2011 Montenegro shot to the top of the World Travel & Tourism Council performance rankings and it has never looked back.
Ironically, the very slow and bureaucratic planning system has helped preserve the country’s crown jewels along the Bay of Kotor, a World Heritage Site, including ancient walled towns, Venetian mansions and island monasteries.
The first major unified project was the luxury marina resort of Porto Montenegro built on the old naval base at Tivat. John Kennedy, one of the developers with Canadian Peter Muck, recalls the early days. “When we first looked at the site, the government told us that it was not technically possible to develop it as a marina. I told them if we could land a space probe on Mars, we could do this.’”
There was a old general in charge when the team arrived to start surveys. “Photo prohibited” he cried. “But we’ve just bought the site,” replied Kennedy. “No difference. Photo prohibited.”
Millions of selfies have been taken here since that day and the wall of super-yachts anchored in the technically impossible marina gives a hint of the superstar status now re-attaching itself to Montenegro.
In summer Montenegro’s population of 600,000 swells to more than two million – a figure that will rise again as Montenegro’s newest super project is completed. Lustica Bay, located on the Adriatic coastline of the Lustica Peninsula, is a euros 1.1 billion development near Tivat, which now has regular flights from the UK.
Set in 690 hectares of almost virgin land, Lustica Bay is the latest project of the Egyptian entrepreneur and billionaire Samih Sawiris, CEO of Orascom Development Holding, a man described by CNN as a “property tour de force. ”
Famed for building entire new towns, Sawiris was behind the creation of El Gouna, on the Red Sea Riviera, conjuring up a vast Arabian Nights style resort town from nothing but sand and water. Another project that this gentle genie took on, originally just as a consultant, was the new ski resort at Andermatt, in Switzerland. “The army was pulling out and something needed to the done for the village. My report to the Swiss sounded so crazy they said no one would do it – so I said I would.”
Lustica Bay – another difficult location with no road access, steep hills, numerous smallholdings and an exposed coast unsuited to marina development – became the next mission impossible. When finished, it will deliver 7 hotels, 500 villas, 1,000 plus apartments, two marinas, a small school and medical facilities plus shopping dining, spa and sports amenities including a planned Gary Player golf course which should open next year with 9 holes. “The golf course is a challenge due to water but it is a key part of the project,” says Darren Gibson CEO of Lustica Development.
The first hotel, the Chedi, has just opened (July 14) opposite the main marina, a combination of 101 hotel rooms and 60 condo studios for investors. Marina Village, overlooking the Bay of Traste, has already welcomed its first residents.
Architectural integrity is the key to all of Lustica Bay. “The architects wanted authentic local elements, they follow the vernacular style of three floors plus attic and use of stone and wood,” says Slavica Milic, a member of the marketing team. “Everything has variety, so it does not look like it was all built at once but scattered and unplanned which is typical of Croatia and Montenegro.” This unplanned look covers everything from irregular streets to multi coloured shutters – even the floor plans are not identical.
The environment impact has been mitigated in numerous ways. The development is adapted to the natural morphological patterns to lessen disturbance while native species are extensively used. To prevent damage to the seagrasses (Posidonia Ocenica) there will be mooring buoys and pontoons in the bay. Extensive irrigation, recycling, waste management and use of local materials also play a major part.
“The steps we take don’t have to be mandatory, we aim to fulfil future legal requirements. We planned for electric cars from Day 1,” says Spomenka Sotra, project engineer.
Prices have risen dramatically; from Euros 2,800 in 2012 to more than Euros 5,700 per sqm for properties with water views. The range is enormous – from Euros 120,000 for a studio rising to Euros 2.4 million for a top end villa.
“Prices are probably not going to continue this curve in the same period but they are competitive and there is still room for growth. Per square metre we are half the price of western Europe,” says Gibson.
Ahmed Zaki, director of sales and marketing for Lustica Bay adds: “We have 33 nationalities of buyers here, with many from the Gulf. They saw what happened in Croatia to property prices and in Montenegro all the economic indicators are on the rise.”
At some point Qatari Diar’s Plavi Horizonti with a Four Seasons hotel will join Lustica Bay on the peninsula. However this project remains bogged down in owner disputes which became the subject of 2017 Oscar foreign film hopeful The Black Pin, a dark comedy about land politics in the Local Hero vein.
Porto Montenegro, acquired by the Dubai Investment Corporation in 2016, continues to expand. The latest phase of development is the Regent Pool Residences, 62 apartments designed by WATG that pay tribute to the area’s naval heritage.
To future proof the marina, a series of berths that will take yachts larger than any actually existing are planned. Porto Montenegro today has an 18th century resident sailing ship, a Puro Beach area and fashionable shops and places to eat.
“Porto Montenegro is with Lustica Bay the other all-round shining star when it comes to sales rates and prices achieved in 2018”, says Savills Associate Kieran Kelleher. “The village gets better each year with new offerings, retail, and entertainment attracting buyers from all over the world. ”