Budva, Montenegro, Disappointing in Every Way - Hole In The Donut Cultural Travel

Budva, Montenegro, Disappointing in Every Way

My introduction to Budva, Montenegro was anything but auspicious. I chatted with the owner of my guest house as she checked me in, explaining that I’d been touring the ex-Yugoslavian countries all summer, perhaps with an eye to finding a place where I might establish a base in the future. “In that case, you’d have been better to visit the town of Bar in the south,” she commented wryly.

I’d originally planned to stay in Kotor Bay to the north, but so many travelers I’d met on the road had raved about Budva that I decided to make a brief stop in the city dubbed the Montenegrin Riviera. Later that evening I walked down to Stari Grad, the Old Town of Budva that is enclosed by thick stone walls. Following an inedible dinner at the Hong Kong Restaurant, I picked my way through the crazy maze of streets. Harsh light spilled from storefronts offering gaudy souvenirs and resort wear. The rubber hose of a sewage truck snaked through the reeking streets, emptying septic tanks. Except for the walls and turrets of the old fortification, the Old Town felt bereft of any historical significance.

One shop after another lined the streets inside the walls of Stari Grad (Old Town) in Budva, Montenegro

One shop after another lined the streets inside the walls of Stari Grad (Old Town) in Budva, Montenegro

Disappointed, I returned to my guest house to enjoy the lovely view of Budva Bay from my private balcony, but even that was soon spoiled. As darkness fell, the bah-boom, bah-boom of club music drifted up from the open-air nightclubs that line the shore. Luckily, my guest house had insulated windows and doors, or I wouldn’t have been able to sleep for the racket.

Crystal clear waters of Mogren Beaches. Unfortunately they were tiny and overcrowded, even off-season.

Crystal clear waters of Mogren Beaches. Unfortunately they were tiny and overcrowded, even off-season.

The following day I followed a cliff-hugging path to Mogren Beach, tucked into twin coves carved into the rocky headland. The water was crystal clear but the beaches were tiny and even in low season, people were stacked side by side like so many logs. Backtracking, I stopped at Ricardova Glava beach, a smaller pebbled beach at the base of the city walls. Though still billed as a free public beach in most literature, it has been acquired by the Avala Hotel and fenced off. An entrance fee of 35 Euros (about $38 USD) per couple was being charged, with no discount available for singles. The only relatively pleasant beach I discovered was Pizana, a tiny strip sandwiched between the eastern wall of the Old Town and Dukley Beach Club at the town’s marina. In fact, Dukley served the only good, though expensive, food I found during my entire stay.

Panoramic view of churches inside old walled city of Budva, left to right, Santa Maria in Punta Church, St. Sava the Annointed Church, and Church of the Holy Trinity. Click on photo for larger view.

Panoramic view of churches inside old walled city of Budva, left to right, Santa Maria in Punta Church, St. Sava the Annointed Church, and Church of the Holy Trinity. Click on photo for larger view.

Giving up on my quest for beautiful beaches, I returned to Stari Grad, hoping it would be better by day. Most of the historic churches within its walls were locked up tight, as was the City Museum, so I made my way to the citadel, a 15th century fortification built by the Venetians that forms the southern point of the old city walls. I paid a few dollars to enter the “museum,” a room about the size of a large closet that contained a few nautical artifacts. The view from the old parade grounds was impressive, though the Austrian barracks, which hail from the days when Budva was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were shuttered and locked.

Overlooking the citadel, the 15th century fortifications built by the Venetians to protect Budva from sea attacks. The barracks on the left were added in the early 19th century when the city came under Austrian control.

Overlooking the citadel, the 15th century fortifications built by the Venetians to protect Budva from sea attacks. The barracks on the left were added in the early 19th century when the city came under Austrian control.

Frustrated, I decided to walk the ramparts atop the walls, but even here I was thwarted. Two young men stood at the entrance to the walkway, demanding a fee. They let me pass for free upon learning I was a travel writer, but the look they exchanged was telling. I smelled a scam when I reached the other end of the ramparts, where no fees were being collected at two other access stairways.

Massive stone walls still surround the Stari Grad, or Old Town, of Budva, Montenegro

Massive stone walls still surround the Stari Grad, or Old Town, of Budva, Montenegro

On my final day I walked the length of the bay that had looked so pretty from my balcony. Up close, it was trash filled and smelly, bordered by a park with unkempt lawns, deteriorating benches, and overflowing trash cans. With more than 2,500 years of archaeological evidence, Budva may well be one of the oldest urban centers on the Adriatic. Unfortunately, to a large degree that history has been buried beneath a heap of crass commercialization and unchecked development.

Budva, Montenegro, Disappointing in Every Way

22 Comments on “Budva, Montenegro, Disappointing in Every Way

    • OMG Someone who didn’t like Iceland. I am booked to go next year, what didn’t you like????

  1. Hi Barb, I love your “down to earth” honest travelling critic.

    My husband and I ( both retired and over 60) are going to visit Kotor , then Dubronvniko. Is there a ferry from Kotor to the Bay of Kotor, then take a bus from there to Dubronvniko?

    Enjoy your dream job – travelling and writing and sharing informative information with others.

    Thanks, Hilda

    • Hi Hilda: I’m so glad you’re enjoying my blog. Unfortunately, I haven’t spent any time in Kotor, so have no personal experience with that route. However, I Googled it and see that Bus Croatia runs a route from the enter of Kotor to Dubrovnik, takes 2 hours and 10 mins. I can vouch for Bus Croatia – they’re a great company.

  2. Hi Barbara,

    I have lived in the Kotor Bay (Meljine) as a kid and nowadays I own a place in Budva, where I spend my summer holidays. If you ask me – you have failed in your investigation. Budva is a party town, primarily for young people (no disrespect). If you go there looking for peace and quiet, with calm walks, well then you are definitely in the wrong place. It would be like going to Ibiza in the mid 90’s looking for some quiet.
    Przno, Petrovac, even Rafailovici would have been be a better choice for you.
    Also, having “Asian” food in the middle of Mediterranean is about the biggest mistake you can make. Why not trying the local fish restaurants just 50 m further down the marina, around the corner? I know, because I ended up in the same Asian place after a theater play (during the Theater festival in July) and the food was terrible, but the waiter was honest enough to tell us what we should not order.
    At the same time, having lived in Boka, I know that the place is boring, there is not a lot to do, the water is warm but dirtier than the open sea, the willages (towns) are small. Yes, interesting buildings etc, but no action.
    So in the end, it all adds up to what one really wants. Personally I like Budva – not because of the imperfect cleanliness and partying, but because it offers something for everybody. You just need to know what you are after and where you can find it, which may be a problem for foreign (non-Balkans) tourists.
    All the best,
    Bojan

    • Hi Bojan: I think your comment is spot on! Though I knew Budva was a party place, I never imagined that’s all it would be. I thought at least the castle would have been an historically preserved site (not). I did eat several times at the marina and it was the only place in town I had good food. Keep in mind that I am a full-time traveler with no home base, so while I often focus on local food, I also like to mix it up a bit. Plus, I’m on a budget, so I often look for less expensive options like the Chinese place. In terms of which town I chose, I had limited time at that point and could only do one. I now know that any of the others would have been better. I write about culture, which requires some level of immersion in the local culture, but as you say, finding it in Budva was the problem.

  3. Hi there…I will be visiting Montenegro in a few weeks and will be starting in Kotor before heading to Loven and Skadar lake the next day and was originally planning to stay in Budva the second night, but looking at photos and reading about it, I don’t think it’s really the right place for me to stay overnight (I will of course stop for a quick visit)….can you recommended somewhere else I might enjoy for my second night?

    Would LOVE to see Biogradska Gora if I can fit it in and then just skip Budva all together…thoughts?

    • Hi Ashley. I agree – you can see almost everything Budva has to offer in a single afternoon – frankly, if I did it again, I’d skip Budva entirely. I only drove through Kotor, but it looked nice and has much better reviews. One place I’m sorry I missed is Perast, an old town on Kotor Bay that looks absolutely delightful. If I go back, that’s where I’ll be staying. I’m not familiar with Biogradska Gora, so can’t help you there/

        • Hi Melissa. I have actually seen Perast. Our van drove by it on the way out of the country, and it looked absolutely gorgeous. It’s on my wish list for a future visit.Thanks for your confirmation.

  4. Thanks for your honesty, Barbara. Montenegro is high on my list, and now I know that Budva is probably not the place to stay.

  5. Barb, like you I was disappointed by Budva. I’ve been to Kotor and Perast a few times and love them, love Montenegro. Kotor is nothing like Budva. The bay is enchanting — to sail into it, past the wonderful chapels in the water at Perast, is a peaceful way to enter this small country with a difficult past. Kotor is very small, and although it’s beginning to be a popular stop for smaller cruise ships, but it has no beach, no T-shirt shops, no Chinese food! Please don’t give up on Montenegro — that would be like visiting Atlantic City and giving up on all of the U.S.

    • Hi Libbie: I definitely haven’t given up on Montenegro. I saw all of Kotor Bay on the drive out and Perast,, especially, looked like a place I really need to explore. In no way was my article intended to discourage people fro visiting Montenegro – just Budva!

  6. Barbara, I love your photos and following your travels, but this sounds quite awful. Because you are such an experienced traveler, photographer and writer, I doubt that you did not know how to visit this place. Maybe they clean everything up in the winter? How disappointing this must have been for you.

  7. Hi Barbara,

    Thanks for the article. I have travelled extensively in Montenegro and am very fond of the country though like you, not really a fan of Budva which does often seem dirty and over developed. Kotor on the other hand is a fabulous place with some lovely boutique hotels and some great food. Specifically the Hotel Vardar http://www.hotelvardar.com/ and the Astoria. In nearby Dobrota, there are two more great hotels with superb service! Forza Mare http://forzamare.com/ and the Palazzo Radorimi http://www.palazzoradomiri.com/intro/ I have stayed in both and highly recommend them. Great food too!

    I am slightly baffled as to why any visitor to Montenegro would want to eat a “Chinese” restaurant. That’s just asking for trouble! Budva is full of great restaurants such as Jadran and Perla. Most of the old town restaurants are not very good, there a a couple but the names escape me. When in Montenegro I tend to only eat fish as that’s what they do well. Specifically tartares, carpaccio, grilled fish in general but especially octopus and squid.

    Did you try Torch? http://torchbeach.me/ I have heard good things about this beach. Jaz beach is also fabulous http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g304074-d4875947-Reviews-Jaz_Beach-Budva_Budva_Municipality.html There are public areas and private beach clubs.

    I also highly recommend Porto Montenegro where there are some superb restaurants and a very good hotel called The Regent. The Lido is a great place to eat, swim and chill for the day http://www.portomontenegro.com/en/village/pmyc/lido-pool

    Kind regards,

    Alex

    • Hi Alex: Thanks so much for all that information. I’m a vegetarian, so eating is not always easy for me. Plus, on the day I arrived, I’d been in a bus, followed by a cramped van for many hours and I was tired. All I wanted to do was grab something quick to eat. Plus, as I said in response to a previous comment, I’m a full-time traveler – not a short term vacationer – so like anyone else in their day-to-day lives, I sometimes get a hankering for certain ethnic foods.

      When I left Montenegro, I was in a shared van that followed the entire shoreline around Kotor Bay and I was very impressed, especially with Perast. I’d really like to go back to that area some day. And the owner of my guest house said that the NW corner of the country is particularly beautiful as well.

    • Hi Alex: The owner of my guest house insisted that there are many very beautiful places in the country, and that I should not judge it by Budva. I took a shared van from Budva to Mostar (Bosnia-Herzegovina), and we had to follow the entire shoreline of Kotor Bay to gt there. I must say that it looked mush better than Budva, especially the little town of Perast. I’d go back there in a nanosecond.

  8. Our experience in Montenegro was very different. We were there earlier this year in the summer. We did choose to skip over Budva center, because we had heard that it was a summer party spot, however, the outskirts were amazing, just like the rest of our road trip across Montenegro. We found the people warm and welcoming and the place rich in culture and history.

    I have a few observations about your trip. You followed the hype about Budva Riviera – normally I avoid such advice and avoid hyped up spots because they are known to be filled with tourist traps. This is true about every place in the world, not just Montenegro.

    Secondly, you were in Montenegro! Why would you eat at “Hong Kong Restaurant”? We discovered some delicious local seafood. If you seafood’s not your thing (my wife’s vegetarian) there are plenty of local options with greens and sustainably grown meat (I loved the cevapi!).

    I am not affiliated with any Montenegro Tourism or commercial organization. My feedback is genuine based on some wonderful experiences traveling across the country with my family. If you need tips for future trips, I’d be happy to share some idea 🙂

    • Hi Urooj: Thanks for your comment. I am a full-time traveler, with no home base. I’ve been traveling for nine years now, so I’m not “on vacation.” This is my day-to-day life, and I’m like any other person – sometimes days I want to eat Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Ethiopian, etc. Also, when I’ve been on the road all day, riding rattletrap buses, sometimes all I want is a quick meal (that was the case on the evening I arrived in Budva). I am vegetarian, and, especially when I’m tired, Chinese is an easy veggie meal.

      Since leaving Budva, I have heard that other destinations in Montenegro are much better, but of course, that’s what I heard about Budva. It is often hard to tell what is “hype” and what is not until after I arrive in a place. But I do think it is important to share my honest assessment of the places I visit, rather than sugarcoating things. The fact that I didn’t like Budva is in no way an indictment of the rest of the country.

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