The tiny island of Sveti Stefan on the coast of the Adriatic Sea is rumoured to be the most photographed location in Montenegro. While planning a trip to the Balkans, it’s nigh impossible to avoid the bajillions of laudatory recommendations naming it as the #1 Must See Holiday Destination for everyone visiting Montenegro. Historical atmosphere, carefully restored 15th century villas, narrow cobblestone streets, high-quality food, turquoise sea and a pink beach – oh my heart-eyed-emoji, how heavenly! And sure enough, it does sound tempting when you put it like that. Often these same people singing the island’s praises conveniently forget to stress the point that it is strictly off limits to the common man. If you haven’t got a black Amex, you have no business on the island.
The luxury hotel chain Aman clutches its five-star tentacles tightly around the whole island and has completely taken it over. Only hotel guests are allowed to stride along the narrow causeway connecting the island to the mainland. Or better yet, few of them actually seemed to strain themselves by walking the distance of a couple dozen metres on their own feet – no, an array of luxury cars with tinted windows did the heavy lifting for them, at least when I was passing by. Rude gatekeepers kept the rabble at bay, ensuring the luxurious air on the luxurious island stays pure for its wealthy patrons.
Many of the Sveti Stefan love notes I’ve seen littering the vast seas of the interwebs all feature this cunning tip: the average joe can game the system by making a table reservation for the hotel restaurant, in which case the guards cannot help but grant entry to the exclusive island. I’m not sure if these protip-sharers are trolling, or if they’re even entirely sane. When the price of a one-night stay at the hotel can be anything between 850 and 6 000+ (yes, six thousand) euros, then what kind of a check might one expect at the restaurant, hmm? And I very much doubt an order of a tall glass of tap water would be tolerated if someone were foolish enough to try and infiltrate the dining crowd of fat cats on the island. Seriously, stop giving this crappy “advice” already.
Onto the “pink beach”. Yes, in certain lighting the tiny pebbles on the beach have a pinkish hue, but a pink beach? Who left the ad agency door open again? There’s a nice, curved stretch of beach facing the island on both sides of the mainland, but only one side is open to the regular folk. And that side is crowded as hell, and also made of sharp pebbles. At this point, it shouldn’t come as a shock that the better, sandy half of the beach is reserved to the hotel guests, though Aman has made some compromises there. For the low, low price of one hundred euros, anyone can redeem a sunbed on the private beach and see how the good life feels for a little while. There is a 1 000 euro fine for anyone caught on the beach without having paid the 100 euro troll toll. Still fascinated by the hospitality of Sveti Stefan?
A common argument for the big shots’ shenanigans is that “it’s free to look” – any old bonehead can ogle the island to their heart’s content, as long as they keep a healthy distance to the better folk. I just wonder why anyone would be interested to loiter behind the gate spying on Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags’ doings. Are people hoping to catch a fallen crumb of the superabundance? Maybe they’re the same people who also keep up with the Kardashians? I just don’t understand.
Personally, I was fooled by the numerous Montenegro Top 5 lists and went to see Sveti Stefan because I believed the hype. This bitter rant is the direct result of a wasted half-day. It rattles me how a highly praised historical location and long stretches of beach can be completely closed off from the public. It’s not illegal, though, and who am I to meddle in the Montenegrin politics. Millionaires need their playgrounds too, right?
However, there is one thing I do ask: could we all please stop hyping up Sveti Stefan as the must-see destination for every traveller? In reality, only a select few are welcome there.
For more on my Montenegro trip in English, click here: Montenegro18EN