Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.
Today (23 April, 2020): Review of Aman Sveti Stefan (Montenegro).
- Location: Google maps
- Hotel website: Aman Sveti Stefan
- Tip: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso
In a country famed for its beauty, the most iconic images associated with Montenegro are of the tiny islet named Sveti Stefan, a fortified village dating back to the 15th century. Today, the island’s cluster of sturdy stone buildings, together with Villa Miločer, a graceful stone residence on the mainland across the bay, comprises the idyllic beachside resort of Aman Sveti Stefan. While the island’s historic exterior remains largely unchanged, the resort’s interiors have been restored and updated to meet contemporary expectations. The property offers 58 luxury accommodations, 2 km (1,3 miles) of beaches, a standalone Aman Spa, and easy access to the Bay of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Aman Sveti Stefan also features in my top 10 lists of my favorite Aman hotels in the world and Europe’s most astonishing beach retreats.
Have you ever stayed at Aman Sveti Stefan? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Aman Sveti Stefan calls Montenegro its home, a nation situated on the coast of the Adriatic Sea in Southeastern Europe, bordered by Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Albania. It is a land of rugged mountains, lush valleys and pristine beaches where ancient monasteries cling to rocky cliffs and stone churches are a testimony to the past. The resort lies south of Budva, a metropolis of Montenegrin tourism, and between the coastal villages of Przno and Sveti Stefan. It’s easy to get to the resort as it is a 40-minute drive from Tivat Airport, just over an hour’s drive away from Podgorica Airport, and a 2.5-hour drive away from Dubrovnik.
- The impossibly picturesque islet of Sveti Stefan is the country’s most iconic sight. In the 15th century, the fortified village was built to defend against the Turks and became a haven for pirates of the Adriatic. In the 1800s, a village was established on the island with a population of about 400 people. In the 1950s, the Communist Yugoslav authorities moved the inhabitants to the mainland and converted the island into a luxury hotel; however, the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s brought a decline to the resort. Since 2007, the entire village is in the hands of Aman, which reopened the property after a sensitive restoration and renovation.
- Connected to the mainland by a stone walkway, the islet is pedestrianized and restricted to guests only, giving a real sense of privacy, tranquility and exclusivity. With its historic exterior remaining largely unchanged, the islet feels like an exclusive historic Adriatic fishing village rather than a hotel. The island is surrounded by ancient defensive walls and dotted with old red-roofed sandstone buildings, which have been exquisitely renovated to create luxury accommodation and public areas. The pavilions are interspersed by cobblestone alleys, quaint courtyards and romantic piazzas which are shaded by pines, cypresses and oleander.
- The islet houses 50 rooms, cottages and suites, each of varying size and configuration, some with private terraces. These meticulously restored dwellings feature exposed stone walls, wooden-beamed ceilings, minimalist oak furniture, and fabrics in creams and beiges, in keeping with the village’s rustic legacy. During my stay, I was upgraded to a 3-bedroom suite, which comprised two buildings linked by a private courtyard (with view towards the beach). One building housed a large living room and the ensuite master bedroom upstairs, while the other building had two ensuite junior bedrooms (one with king-size bed, one with two single beds).
- Aman Sveti Stefan features three magnificent pink pebble beaches on the mainland, each manned by friendly staff members serving food, drinks, sunscreen, and water equipment, including goggles and paddle boards:
- Sveti Stefan beach is a beautiful 170 m (550 ft) stretch of pink-pebble beach opposite Sveti Stefan island, with around 40 beach loungers served by Aman’s beach team. The beach is open to non-guests, but still feels very private since Aman charges an exorbitant fee to non-guests for the rent of a lounger (100 euros per day).
- Located between Sveti Stefan Beach and Queen’s Beach is King’s Beach, the most beautiful of the three beaches. The beach is 280 m (920 ft) long and only accessible to Aman guests (although non-guests can still make use of the promenade behind the beach). Aman operates complimentary speedboat trips between Sveti Stefan island and King’s Beach.
- Queens Beach is located on a charming inlet, known as one of the Adriatic’s most beautiful locations. Exclusive to Aman guests and completely secluded, the beach features emerald-green water and pink sand stretching to 130 m (420 ft).
- On the mainland across the island is a residence – called Villa Miločer – which is also part of Aman Sveti Stefan. Built between 1934 and 1936 as the summer residence of Queen Marija Karadjordjevic of Yugoslavia, Villa Miločer overlooks the Adriatic Sea from its position right behind King’s Beach, and is embraced on three sides by dense forests of cedar, pine and olive trees. The stone-walled mansion is home to an airy communal living room (which doubles as a restaurant), expansive meeting room and book-filled library. There are also eight spacious, light-filled suites, with parquet floors, double-sided fireplaces, palatial bathrooms and balconies.
- Spread across the estate from shoreline to rocky precipice, Aman Sveti Stefan’s intimate dining venues celebrate the country’s culinary heritage:
- Arva is the resort’s signature restaurant, located on Sveti Stefan island’s westside, with two stone terraces offering breathtaking views of the sunset. Arva’s menu includes fresh pasta, risotto and sharing platters, with house specialities such as Adriatic Fish in Cartoccio with Mediterranean salsa and lemon zest, succulent three-hour braised Octopus Sač, and herb-roasted organic roast chicken with beans and truffled potato puree.
- An open-air piazza is the heart of the Sveti Stefan island’s village setting, with dining venues including an enoteca, taverna and antipasti bar. The à la carte breakfast is also served al fresco at the piazza (weather permitting).
- Villa Miločer restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offers a menu of classic and contemporary dishes showcasing the Adriatic region. The venue includes a wonderful loggia terrace with sea views.
- Queen Beach’s Grill is ideal for a laidback lunch at the beach, serving fresh Mediterranean fare including pizza, fresh salads, and fish and seafood cooked to order.
- Aman Sveti Stefan features an exceptional spa facility on the mainland, overlooking Queen’s Beach and reflecting the architecture of Villa Miločer. The spa has four double treatment rooms, each with a dressing room, shower and bathroom (additional spa cottages are available at Sveti Stefan Island). Personalized health and beauty treatments are offered, combining movement, relaxation, nutrition, and custom-made products based on locally-sourced wild herbs, olive oil and honey. The spa also features a gym with the latest techno gym cardiovascular and weight-training equipment, pilates and yoga studio, and a stunning 24 m (78 ft) indoor pool.
- Aman Sveti Stefan has three swimming pools that are open to guests. The main pool, which is ideal for families, is located besides Arva restaurant on a bluff overlooking the Adriatic Sea; a small portion of this swimming pool is located indoor. Down the main piazza is an intimate terrace with a small cliff pool, which is only accessible to guests. And of course, there is the large indoor pool at the Aman Spa at Villa Miločer. In case you want your own private pool, you need to book the island’s top accommodation, the Sveti Stefan Suite, which is designed over two floors with private pool and large terrace overlooking the sea.
- As with all Aman properties, Aman Sveti Stefan provides guests with personalized guided excursions to natural and cultural attractions in the area – both along the Montenegrin coast and into the spectacular interior of the country. These include boating on the Adriatic, visiting the old town of Budva and the beautifully preserved baroque city of Perast, discovering peaceful Skadar Lake and exploring the Bay of Kotor, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Other activities on offer include cycling, bird watching and water sports.
- As well as its royal heritage, Sveti Stefan island has attracted celebrities and world leaders, including Orson Welles, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Margaret, Carlo Ponti, Ingemar Stenmark, and Kirk Douglas. The superstars used to come here for a private, pristine escape and lucky for you, this element remains unchanged. More recently, tennis champion Novak Djokovic married Jelena Ristić at Sveti Stefan, hiring out the entire island for his wedding party. Also, David and Victoria Beckham found the resort so nice they visited twice – they reportedly vacationed there in the summers of 2018 and 2019.
- Aman Sveti Stefan is a self-contained Montenegrin world of elegant luxury, representing everything that its mother brand Aman tries to achieve: tranquility, exclusivity, and a sense of place. Aman is the world’s most exclusive hotel brand and the company manages a fabulous collection of intimate properties across the globe. The exceptional brand is well known for the understated elegance of its resorts, exquisite attention to detail, minimalist design, heartfelt service, and otherworldly locations.
- Among Aman’s habitués is a group of passionate repeat customers who call themselves ‘Aman junkies’ (count me in) and whose travel plans are determined by Aman locations. It’s a misconception that Aman junkies are always incredibly wealthy people: I prefer to spend my money on two nights at an Aman resort than two weeks at any other resort, as you pay for a unique and life-long memory. In all honesty and without exaggeration, an Aman resort makes some Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton resorts look like a mediocre Holiday Inn hotel.
- The staff at Aman Sveti Stefan provides impeccable service. From the GM who personally welcomes you upon arrival to the guides that accompany you on excursions, everybody at the resort seems to genuinely care about making your holiday a unique experience. It feels like nothing is too much to ask. Aman resorts are famous for their unmatched service levels. To give you a few examples: rooms are refreshed several times per day (but you’ll never see someone from housekeeping), you’ll never be asked for your room number or name (Aman knows its guests), and GMs are very present (and mostly there to welcome you and say goodbye).
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Aman Sveti Stefan is my favorite Aman in the world (so far). While there are other Amans that may offer a more impressive design and more sophisticated service, there’s nothing that compares to Aman Sveti Stefan’s exceptional location, romantic ambiance, excellent pebble beaches, and world-class facilities. Before considering a stay here, you may want to know the following nonetheless:
- Aman Sveti Stefan is a seasonal property. From October to May, the island and its facilities are closed. However, Villa Milocer remains open all year round.
- As mentioned above, Aman Sveti Stefan features three pools: two outdoor pools on the island and a stunning indoor pool inside the spa on the mainland. As the hotel designers and architects had to work within the constraint of existing structures on the historic island, the two outside pools are rather small and not great for swimming laps. However, despite their small sizes, the pools are never crowded since most guests prefer to lounge on the beautiful beaches.
- Aman Sveti Stefan is all about heritage. Everything has been designed to showcase the original features in an elegant and authentic way. So, don’t expect palatial rooms with a contemporary design (like its sister hotel Amanzoe in Greece), but rather compact spaces with exposed stone walls, wooden-beamed ceilings, minimalist oak furniture, and small windows.
- Accomodations on the island are housed in restored 15th century dwellings. There are really no unflattering angles here, but not all rooms come with a view or outdoor space, so if you have the choice, opt for a cottage or a suite overlooking the ocean and/or with private terrace. If you have money to burn, you should opt for the island’s top accommodation, the Sveti Stefan Suite, which comes with spectacular ocean views and its own pool.
- The island is private (and accessible to guests only) but the mainland site and the path between Sveti Stefan Beach and King’s Beach are very busy with herds of other travelers taking pictures of the island (which is totally understandable since it is Montenegro’s most iconic site). Also, Sveti Stefan Beach is public (and very crowded in summer). However, IMHO, the fact that part of the mainland site is open to the public isn’t really a problem: half of Sveti Stefan Beach is reserved for Aman guests (and thus quiet), King’s Beach is only accessible to guests (but there are still tourists walking on the public path behind the beach) and the cove in which idyllic Queen’s Beach is located is only open to guests and feels totally private.
- Several stairs and steep steps make Aman Sveti Stefan island unsuitable for anyone with limited mobility. If you have difficulties walking, it is better to consider at a stay at Aman Sveti Stefan’s suites within Villa Miločer.
- The resort gets some mixed reviews on Tripadvisor, especially regarding the service and food. I was a little worried about this, but that was not necessary in retrospect: my stay was brilliant, and both service and food were top-notch (although maybe not as sophisticated as in Aman’s properties in Asia).
- Be prepared to become an Aman junkie as the resort will raise the bar for your future trips.
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 10/10
- Pool: 8/10
- Rooms: 8/10
- Food: 9/10
- Breakfast: 8/10
- Spa: 10/10
- Service: 9/10
- Value for money: 9/10
- Overall experience: exceptional 9/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and one complimentary lunch for two).
- Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Aman Sveti Stefan (and/or receive many free perks).
- Room tip: Definitely opt to stay on the island as it is the best way to experience Aman Sveti Stefan. If you have the choice, opt for a cottage or a suite with private terrace and/or overlooking the ocean.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The coastal regions of Montenegro enjoy a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, sunny winters. The coldest months of the year are December and January when temperatures can drop to around 7°C (44°F) at night. The coast is at its best in May, June and September. July and August, are the hottest months when temperatures peak between 30-35°C (85-95°F). November is generally the wettest month.
HOW TO GET THERE
Aman Sveti Stefan is located in the centre of Montenegro’s Adriatic coastline, south of Budva and between the villages of Przno and Sveti Stefan. Flights are available to Tivat, Podgorica or Dubrovnik depending on the season. The resort is a 50-minute drive from Tivat Airport and an hour’s drive from Podgorica Airport. Dubrovnik Airport in Croatia, is a 2-hour 30-minute drive away. Transfers can be arranged to and from all three.
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I wholeheartedly agree with your approach about spending two nights somewhere spectacular instead of two weeks anywhere mediocre. This applies to many things in life! 🙂 While this Aman property is beautiful and obviously unique in its setting, I’m surprised at the lack of color, flowers, enhancement. I imagine this property with slightly more colorful interiors and furnishings, fresh flowers, bougainvilleas blooming against all the stone — it would bring the whole setting to life just a little bit more. Thanks for the fantastic write up!
Wow, Aman… For me, that’s the most luxurious and exclusive hotel chain in the world. They are all intimate, for happy few, with a very high entry price. The best to spend wonderful holidays haha 🙂
For a unique experience, I recommend Aman at Summer Palace. It’s in my TOP 3 of the best worldwide resorts.