If you want a feel of Albania without actually crossing the border, buzzy Ulcinj’s the place to go. The population is 61% Albanian (68% Muslim) and in summertime it swells with Kosovar holidaymakers for the simple reason that it’s a lot nicer than any of the Albanian seaside towns.
The Romans had the right idea, building their summer villas on this lovely bay. If only the new crop of developers had a scrap of their classic good taste. Still, once you get down to the pretty beachside promenade where lush Mediterranean plants perfume the air and a 16th-century Venetian fortress guards a tiny stone harbour, the aberrations up the hill are barely visible.
Impressive Stari Bar, Bar’s original settlement, stands on a bluff 4km northeast off the Ulcinj road. A steep cobbled hill takes you past a cluster of old houses and shops to the fortified entrance where a short dark passage pops you out into a large expanse of vine-clad ruins and abandoned streets overgrown with grass and wild flowers.
This charming little spot offers a cramped family-friendly red-sand beach and a surprisingly good selection of restaurants. An enigmatic ruin rests on a craggy island offshore, and just enough old stone houses remain to counterbalance the large-scale resort at the northern end of the beach. The walk from here through the woods to Sveti Stefan is exceedingly beautiful.
Bečići & Rafailovići
Welcome to the Benidorm of Montenegro! Like the Spanish tourist town, Bečići has been completely swallowed by large resort complexes, complete with swimming pools, nightclubs and casinos. If the primary objective of your trip is to flit between the pool, pokies and sand, cocktail in hand, this is the place to do it.
If you’ve got your own wheels and fancy getting well off the beaten track, this pretty area near the Albanian border makes for a pleasant and peaceful drive. Take the road leading northwest from Ulcinj. After 17km you’ll reach the large village of Vladimir where a marked turn-off to the right leads to the lake.
Traditional Paštrović-style architecture differs from the rest of Montenegro, favouring rows of terrace houses with stone walls, small windows, single pitched roofs and ‘hog’s back’ curved terracotta tiles. This charming village offers some lovely examples and although gentrification is evident, the focus has been on restoration rather than demolition.