Our tasting travels of the Balkans; unlikely to want to eat pastry for a while again but overall a unique culinary experience of the regions cheap eats. Who needs fine dining and fancy restaurants when the real specialities of new countries are found in stalls, takeaways, markets and roadside cafes.
As British passport holders we are incredibly privileged to have access to 174 countries and territories around the world either visa-free or with visas on arrival. These stats rate the British passport #1 in the world (tied with Finland, Germany, Sweden and the United States).
In comparison, the Russian passport is rated #38 in the world with access to 100 countries and territories. Throughout Europe there are only a handful of countries that allow Russians in visa free, as a result Montenegro is an incredibly attractive country to visit for Russians.
Unfortunately the divide between the rich and the poor in Russia is vast. This is reflected by a survey conducted in 2012 by the Levada Centre. Only 17% of Russians possess an international passport; 78% of those surveyed had never been outside of the country and only 3% had travelled outside of Russia more than once a year. Travel (or leaving the country forever) is exclusively for the rich in Russia.
It’s not unusual for privileged Russians to ‘up sticks’, according to the UK’s most reliable source for unbiased information*, The Daily Mail, Russian millionaires now buy one in five of London’s most expensive properties. For Russians who prefer a slightly warmer climate than London, Montenegro is an obvious choice, they’re both Orthodox and, as Slavs, their languages are related.
Montenegro is an exceptionally beautiful country, sadly many of its visitors don’t see beyond its 72km of beaches. The verdant interior is lush and dramatic and offers some outstandingly stunning driving. The coastline around Budva, is the heart of tourism, and is lovingly referred to as the Budva Riviera and occasionally Moscow-on-Sea by our British counterparts.
According to some newfound friends in Budva, Russians now own nearly 50% of properties in Montenegro. Unfortunately this substantial Russian investment in Budva means that it is developing rather hastily in a fairly unplanned fashion. High rise apartments, casinos, open-air nightclubs and gaudy hotel complexes fight for attention along the ever-expanding coastline.
The beautifully quaint old town, a treasure chest of cultural heritage and well worth a visit, is now sandwiched between the rather obnoxious Avala Resort & Casino and the Duckley Marina, which can now thankfully accommodate yachts up to 70m. Perfect for those Russian Oligarchs who don’t want to be out-done by the multi-billionaires with their +100m yachts.
Unfortunately just 400m away from the old town is the Russian playground; gaudy is the prevalent style along Budva’s ‘Bar-Street’. Open-air nightclub sound-systems battle for your attention trying to lure you in to their uniquely themed bars. Who could resist a bar that looks like a pirate ship or if you were feeling continental maybe a Paris (complete with 10m Eiffel Tower) themed bar would be more appropriate. The old phrase “money can’t buy you good taste” is apt, and that is Budva’s problem, it is confused. It is a holiday resort that wants to punch above its weight with 5-Star luxury but unfortunately enters the ring to the theme tune of Serbian ‘Turbofolk’ (possibly the worst genre of music ever!) wearing a bright pink real mink fur coat and 6-inch heals necking shots of Vodka.
This Russian investment is obviously creating jobs and revenue for Montenegro (although most of the people we met working in hospitality were from Serbia) and the tourist industry is clearly thriving. Using Budva as a base we spent 10 days exploring the surrounding coastline and documenting the beaches outside of the typical tourist season. The resulting photographs tell a story all of their own and to some degree answer the question – Is Russian investment going to have a long-term detrimental effect on Budva?