A leisurely tour of the Gulf of Kotor, by car or by boat, reveals a place that is increasingly conscious of both its past and its future. The bay’s namesake medieval old town, with its limestone captain’s homes and quaint squares, is like a “best of” compendium of Ottoman, Venetian, and Hapsburg architectural styles. But on the night I arrived, one of the largest new yachts in the world—Al Mirqab, the sleek steel 436-foot behemoth belonging to the Prime Minister of Qatar—was looming just outside the 16th-century town gate. A few miles along the shoreline is the baroque gem of Perast, a picturesque jumble of gray bricks and red tiles that was a major seafaring capital when this area was under Venetian rule. Its population has since dwindled to 400, though its 16 churches and 17 palazzos, most closed or crumbling, are still there, along with several dockside restaurants.
As word of Montenegro’s unique charm spreads, the predictable celebrity rumors are spreading with it: that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie made an appearance on the coast this year, after a visit to Bosnian refugees (true); that Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones bought a palazzo fixer-upper in Perast (false, though they were spotted there recently); and that model Natalia Vodianova was closing in on two apartments at Porto Montenegro (true, but she backed out after a reported tiff with Nat Rothschild, another investor in the development).
The new buzz marks a sharp shift from the past couple of decades, when the tourist industry catered mainly to budget-conscious Serbian families. But avoiding the white plastic beach chairs (or the cruise ships that crowd Kotor in high season) is as easy as veering left when the main road goes right. Across the bay from Perast, a half hour’s walk up a steep overgrown path, is the ancient stone village of Gornji Stoliv, which has no streets or stores and a population of two. It’s essentially an Adriatic ghost town with exceptional views, a 19th-century church whose bell still rings on the hour, and a grazing bull that’s tied by its horns to an olive tree.
In a country this tiny, with the smallest GDP in Europe, any venture as ambitious as Porto Montenegro is destined to have a colossal impact. When its final phase is completed in a few years, the marina development will be composed of about 700 apartments and multiple hotels, shops, restaurants, and a farmers’ market, in addition to 650 berths, 150 of them large enough for superyachts. Dozens of boats are already there, such as the hulking, 213-foot Sputnik, owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, another Porto Montenegro investor. Large enough for a helicopter pad, Sputnik is actually just a shadow boat for Deripaska’s even larger yacht, Queen K. All boats in the marina benefit from tax breaks and duty-free fuel, thanks to aggressive government incentives. And Munk clearly isn’t cutting back on costs, as evidenced by the mature palm trees he’s imported from Uruguay and by his A-list design team, which includes Tino Zervudachi and Martin Lane Fox. “I have Rupert Murdoch coming in on his boat this week, and he’s not going to come back with his friends if I’m skimping on the trees on the dock,” Munk says.