East of Eden: Croatia and Montenegro

18 May 2009 By Kate Hubert

As the Med fills up for the summer season, some eyes are looking to the east with its quieter waters. Many say that today, Eastern Europe is the way the Western Med used to be in the glamorous early years of the superyacht, when Burton and Taylor might have shared a dock with Onassis and Jackie Kennedy, and you felt James Bond might drop in at any moment for a martini, in full evening dress, of course. But that doesn’t mean that countries like Croatia and Montenegro are mere backwaters – in fact they are working hard to provide the modern facilities demanded by today’s superyachts and their crew.

Occupying the Adriatic’s Dalmatian coast, Croatia and Montenegro used to coexist under the Yugoslavian flag before the Balkan Wars. Their post-conflict attraction for yachties is clear: the classic Med climate and crystal seas, a huge array of secluded anchorages and fascinating ancient mediaeval towns. But until recently this was a double-edged sword: The tiny, quaint harbours are only able to squeeze in a few superyachts.

Builders have recently seized this “opportunity gap” as new developments are springing up everywhere. It’s clear the Croatians are keen to grab a piece of the superyacht action. Of the country’s 40-odd marinas, more than 20 now can accommodate some superyachts. And this year saw the launch of the Mandalina Marina and Yacht Club in Sibenik, Croatia, billed as a megayacht marina with berths for yachts up to 70 meters and a 900-ton synchrolift.

The minor fly in the ointment is that only Croatian-flagged vessels can start their charters in Croatian waters, so instead many charters often begin in nearby Venice, or in Montenegro to the south.

Montenegro also is positioning itself to become a leading superyacht destination, and it has a lot to offer. Lying at the southern end of the Dalmatian coastline is the Gulf of Kotor – the longest fjord in southern Europe. Here azure seas are surrounded by high mountains, and you can discover well-sheltered anchorages and unspoiled beaches. The old town of Kotor is a World Heritage Site and is called, “the best preserved Mediaeval town in the whole of the Mediterranean....” These riches have meant that sailing permits and harbour fees recently have jumped dramatically in response to the new, lucrative large-yacht market. This has upset many smaller yacht owners, who feel they’re being priced out, but so far the rates have not been prohibitive to most superyacht budgets.

Perhaps the most dramatic way the country is making itself attractive to large yachts is the construction of Porto Montenegro. This is more than just a megayacht marina – an entire village is being constructed. The chief investor, Canadian businessman Peter Monk, explains the advantages of the site: “Yachts are getting bigger and bigger and people are complaining that they can’t find berths for them. That’s no problem in Tivat. It used to cater [to] warships.”

The plans are for Porto Montenegro to have 650 berths with depths from 4.5 to 16 meters. The development also will include dry dock and “refurb” services, as well as high-end restaurants, designer boutiques and hotels, all designed to blend with the traditional local architecture. Starting this June, 27 berths for yachts 25 meters and larger will be available during Porto Montenegro’s “soft opening.”

Croatia and Montenegro are staking their claims as premier superyacht destinations. Italian motorboaters have been crossing the Adriatic to visit for years; now the rest of the fleet is following. In addition to offering natural beauty and historical treasures from the Romans, Venetians and Illyrians, the real bonus is that these countries are planning for the superyacht invasion – not just trying to retrofit existing marinas and harbours.

Have you been to Croatia and/or Montenegro? Recommend the best spots.


Porto Montenegro:

Croatian Marinas:

General country and yachting info:

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