Montenegro is one of Europe's hidden secrets, but that could be all about to change; this tiny Balkan republic plans to put itself firmly back on the map. From 1944 to 1992 it was one of six constituent republics that made up Socialist Yugoslavia but in 2006 its population voted for independence, bringing to an end the former Union of Serbia & Montenegro.
There are plenty of reasons for visitors to come here. The name, Crna Gora in the local language, means “black mountain”, and indeed the interior is a wonderland of magnificent soaring pine-scented mountains. Add to that a blissful 293-km (183-mile) stretch of the coast, giving onto the calm blue waters of the Adriatic Sea, and you have a paradise of unspoilt nature, handily summed up by the Montenegrin tourist board’s motto, “Montenegro, Wild Beauty”.
The coast is where most visitors head for their first foray into Montenegro, with the most popular destinations being the enchanting Venetian-era port towns of Kotor and Budva, with their medieval stone buildings, family-run seafood eateries and recently-renovated hotels. Other sizeable seaside towns that cater for tourists are Herceg Novi, Petrovac, Bar and Ulcinj, though their facilities have yet to be updated to the contemporary-chic level of Kotor and Budva.
What it lacks in islands (which neighbour Croatia is blessed with), it makes up for in beaches. The coast claims to have 52km (36 miles) of beaches, a pleasing combination of long sandy stretches to the south near Ulcinj, curving pebble bays along the so-called Budva Riviera, and quirky rocky little coves hidden away around the perimeter of the meandering Bay of Kotor to the north of the country.
The latest phenomena is the construction of luxury marina-resorts, which combine mooring facilities for sailing boats, along with accommodation, plus restaurants, cafes, spas and shops. If you’re feeling flush, Porto Montenegro in Tivat, close to Kotor, is designed to accommodate some of the world’s biggest mega yachts, and offers a complete package for the rich and famous, including a vast infinity pool overlooking the Bay of Kotor and an international school.
Moving inland we come to the soaring rugged mountains much loved by extreme sports enthusiasts. Ideal for hiking and mountain biking, many peaks rise above 2000m (6560ft), while the highest point, Bobotov Kuk, reaches 2523 m (8277ft). In fact Montenegro is home to five National Parks, which showcase its natural wonders. So you can climb the peaks of Durmitor National Park (look out for bears, wolves and lynx); raft down the River Tara in Europe's deepest canyon where the depths plumb 1300m (4265ft); explore Europe's last virgin forest within Biogradska Gora National Park; or go bird-watching in the wetlands of Lake Skadar National Park.
All this in a pleasant climate blessed with sunshine, beautifully preserved medieval architecture, and velvety red wine. No wonder the rich and famous are snapping up properties, and flocking here on holiday. Now’s the time to go.