The iconic islet has played host to some of the world’s biggest stars
Words Hannah Hopkins
There are many holiday destinations that you associate with A-list appeal – Cannes in France, Mykonos in Greece, Gstaad in Switzerland – but the iconic islet of Sveti Stefan in Montenegro has managed to maintain an aura of hush-hush exclusivity despite having hosted the world’s biggest names. Hollywood stars like Orson Welles, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren were frequent visitors in the 1960s and 1980s, as were Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the noughties, and tennis player Novak Djokovic got married there – hiring out the entire island for his wedding party.
Attached to the coast by a narrow isthmus, the island lies across the bay from Villa Miloˇcer – once the summer residence of Queen Marija Karadordevic – and together these two historic sites now comprise Aman Sveti Stefan. Originally a fortified village dating back to the 15th century, the island has a uniquely atmospheric setting of cobbled lanes, quaint courtyards and remarkable sea views. Pretty much untouched since it was built, walking through the village is like walking back in time, while the interiors have been beautifully and respectfully modernised by the Aman hotel group, who took it on in 2007.
Guests can choose to stay at Villa Miloˇcer for slick, contemporary rooms and easy access to the famous Queen’s Beach, but for a truly original break, you have to stay on Sveti Stefan itself. As soon as we step into one of the Deluxe Cottages on the island you feel yourself decompress. It is utterly quiet, save for the sound of the waves lapping the rocks below, and the colour palette of creams, greys and browns is totally soothing. As well as a living area and bedroom (complete with king-size bed), there’s also a huge bathroom with a free-standing tub, shower, seating area and twin sinks.
Every room is totally unique, with a vibe that’s modern and comfortable, but also has the historic air and ambience of the island. Furniture was designed specially for it and much of the detailing, from the latches to the doors and windows, is based on what would have been on the island originally.
Covering 12,400 square metres, you’re given a map to navigate the warren of streets and stairs that make up the island. It’s fun to find your way around, stopping off to take photographs of the view and the two old churches that sit at the pinnacle of the island. Crossing the causeway at night, with the resort majestically lit up, I can well imagine Sveti being the perfect setting for a Bond film.
Breakfast is served in the Piazza – an open-air square with shady trees where local delicacies are also cooked up at lunch. This being a luxury resort, there’s no breakfast buffet, but a variety of courses including pastries and honey & ricotta pancakes that are served to you at your table. Come evening, you can dine on red wine risottos, black cod with beans and pistachio slices at the signature Aman Restaurant as the sun sets over the ocean. Based on a cliff overlooking the Adriatic Sea, the island’s Cliff Pool is surrounded by a wooden deck with sun loungers and tables and chairs for casual dining.
If you can bear to leave Sveti, take the hotel shuttle car to the Aman Spa, one of the best we’ve ever encountered. Tucked behind pine trees, there’s treatment rooms with rose-filled bathtubs, steam rooms and saunas, as well as an indoor pool and state-of-the-art gym. We indulge in a body scrub followed by a massage and emerge feeling utterly blissed-out. Luckily the pink sands of yet another hotel beach are only a short stumble away, and we spend the rest of the day falling in and out of sleep on sun loungers in perfect tanning conditions (27°C with a cooling breeze) as we enjoy strawberry and banana frappes and roasted vegetable paninis.
Out and About
Aside from the hotel, don’t miss a visit to nearby Budva, a picturesque town of narrow lanes and quaint squares lined with unique shops and restaurants. Grab a spot on the beach area of the Hotel Astoria and sip some Aperol Spritz in the sun. If you have time it’s also worth exploring the Bay of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or visiting the beautifully-preserved baroque city of Perast. There are a number of vineyards within a two-hour’s drive, including the family-run wineries of Milovic in Ulcinj and Masanovic in Crmnica.
Montenegro could well be called the hidden gem of the Mediterranean. With a rare feeling of still being ‘undiscovered’, beautiful surroundings and a fascinating history, it’s no wonder it is considered one of the Adriatic’s most alluring destinations. And with some of the most iconic images associated with the country being the tiny islet of Sveti Stefan, it’s simply the best place to experience it.