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One&Only Portonovi, Montenegro: all the luxury of the French Riviera in the Balkans

One&Only Portonovi (One&Only Portonovi)
One&Only Portonovi (One&Only Portonovi)

From the terrace of my room, the sky looks the same shade of blue as the waters of the Adriatic Sea. My sapphire-coloured canvas is interrupted by a lush green mountain on which terracotta-coloured roofs pop out. Every so often, the tranquility of this quiet corner of Montenegro is disturbed by a small boat or a large cruise ship, but never for long.

In the distance, the enduring series of mountain chains and valleys between which the sun eventually settles is a sight of eternal beauty, one that charmed author George Bernard Shaw and actress Sophia Loren, and made One&Only choose this exclusive location for its first European property.

Where?

Enveloped within the development of Portonovi, in the coastal town of Hercog Novi, the hotel sits on a former military base alongside a French Riviera-style marina lined with super yachts, high-end villas for private purchase, apartments, art galleries, and award-winning fine-dining restaurants.

With access by road, sea, and air, getting here could not be easier. We drove along a beautifully scenic road from Dubrovnik, which took an hour. Alternatively, you can get off at Tivat (50 minutes) or Podgorica Airport (two-and-a-half hours).

The historic old town centre, a mere 10 minutes away, boasts remains of a fortress built by Bosnian king Tvrtko I in 1382. Relics from its turbulent past under the Turkish, Austrians, Venetians, and Spanish are on show as you walk down its cobbled streets. Kanli Kula, meaning a bloody tower, was built under Ottoman rule, and the Church of St Archangel (Michael Crkva Sveti Arhangel Mihajlo) in Belavista Square is from the Austro-Hungarian era.

Style

The design and architectural influence for One&Only Portonovi comes from the Venetian and Byzantine roots of Montenegro. The palatial reception area, where white embroidered curtains dance to the gentlest breeze and Murano glass glitters, is a wonderland of artistry and craftsmanship, with unusual pendant lamps wrapped in twisted branches, opulent marble fireplaces, and elegant chandeliers.

A similar style influences the rest of the hotel, where high ceilings, arches, and earthy colours bring the greens from the mountains and blues from the sea to life.

"We researched the historical and cultural characteristics of the destination," says Jean-Michel Gathy, the legendary principal designer at the award-winning hospitality & design consultancy firm Denniston.

Medieval towns of Perast and Kotor are a boat ride away (O&O Portonovi)
Medieval towns of Perast and Kotor are a boat ride away (O&O Portonovi)

"Montenegro, which was on the Silk Road, was greatly influenced by the Ottoman presence. The different buildings are articulated among themselves, forming an animated whole with columns, galleries, and cornices surmounted by corbels. The garden is reminiscent of Venetian classicism from afar, but it is much more fanciful than it looks,” Gathy says. And they do. Perfectly manicured green spaces, planted with fragrant flowers and palm trees, line all the pathways, hiding some structures from view and bringing others to the foreground.

Which room?

The year-round resort boasts 113 luxury guestrooms, suites, and villas, and 10 private homes, with stunning views of the Bay of Kotor, a Unesco World Heritage site. Each room has a balcony looking out to the gardens or aqua-coloured sea – or both. Apart from the main structure, there are several more intimate villas with between six and eight rooms, each with its private pool, accessible only to guests from the building.

The rooms are modern in design with three key tones: grey, brown, and beige. A customised wall unit accommodates a mini bar with a selection of premium beverages, a study, and a stack of carefully selected coffee-table books on cocktails and art.

All rooms use earthy colours like brown and grey with hints of autumnal orange (O&O Portonovi)
All rooms use earthy colours like brown and grey with hints of autumnal orange (O&O Portonovi)

While the living space might be pared back and masculine in taste, the bathroom is everything one could desire. The spacious room is bright from the glass window overlooking the bay and comes complete with a day bed, a bath which turns into another day bed, a shower, wardrobes, a dressing table, and two vanity units.

Food & Drink

One&Only Portonovi has three restaurants on-site, each specialising in different cuisines with decor to match. Tapasake, the Japanese beach club, combines small plate dining with refined Asian fusion flavours. From sashimi to poke bowls, there is an abundance of seafood delicacies fresh from the waters of Montenegro, and other ingredients come from local farms where possible. The interior design is sophisticated, using reclaimed timber, dark wood, and stone with hints of oriental. In keeping with the rest of the theme, the furniture is all grey with a dash of orange in the soft furnishings. Tapasake is all about a loungy, Ibiza-style vibe, by day and night.

In the centre of the property, La Veranda is an all-day diner serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu takes inspiration from traditional and European cuisine, serving everything from veal and lamb to buzara, a local garlicky mixed-seafood dish cooked in red sauce. Ask the sommelier for a perfect wine pairing.

Right on the sand is Sabia, a beachfront and poolside Italian eatery with panoramic views of the Bay of Kotor. At the entrance is a welcome display of freshly prepared penne, spaghetti, and tagliatelle, waiting to be covered in flavoursome sauce. A steaming hot plate of carbohydrates is what you need on a pleasant evening by the seaside. Once done, retreat to the cosy Caminetti bar for a quiet drink and cigar by the fireplace.

Facilities

Is there such a thing as too many pools? With five outdoor and one indoor heated pool, there is plenty of place to swim. Couples can sit along the adults-only Tapasake pool, while families can build sandcastles along the stretch of private beach next to three kid-friendly ones.

Chenot Espace is home to the hotel’s only indoor pool (O&O Portonovi)
Chenot Espace is home to the hotel’s only indoor pool (O&O Portonovi)

If you work out on holiday, you are in luck, as there is seldom a gym with such magnificent views of rolling hills and an infinity pool. If a spa is more you, then Swiss brand Chenot Espace have a selection of treatments from manicures to massages plus hydrotherapy, a sauna, and a hammam. There is also a four- to seven-day detox programme curated and monitored by expert doctors and nutritionists.

Extracurricular

You cannot leave Portonovi without a visit to the medieval towns of Kotor and Perast, where winding streets lead to unexpected historic squares home to Romanesque churches. Kotor is one of the oldest fortified cities in Europe and still oozes that charm. Wander down its narrow, cat-filled streets in hunt of a hole-in-the-wall café or a local bakery.

There are several ways to get there from Portonovi: take a scenic drive along the coast, or a 45-minute boat that starts from the hotel and stops at Our Lady of the Rocks along the way. Either way, you are guaranteed breathtaking views of mountains and coastal towns.

Neighbouring Serbia may have built a reputation for producing fine wines, but Montenegro is not far behind. Ten minutes from One&One Portonovi, Savina Winery has revived an 18th-century vineyard to produce award-winning wines. The family-run and owned business sits atop a hill on the site of a working monastery of the same name. Surrounded by woodlands and panoramic views of the bay, guests can sample some white, red, Chardonnay, and rosé from vines that grow footsteps away.

Details

Rates at One&Only Portonovi start from £710 per room per night, including daily breakfast and VAT. For further information or to make a booking, please visit oneandonlyportonovi.com