The slow upward creep of airfares over the last decade has made summer travel to Europe a pricier endeavor. Add a strong euro to the equation, and suddenly travelers looking for good value are priced out of many of the most traditionally popular European destinations. But there are still plenty of cities and regions offering that winning combination of good value, beautiful surroundings, and interesting reasons to visit.
Once a destination for the rich and famous, tiny Montenegro has only recently begun a comeback after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia drove it off the tourism map more than a decade ago. June 3 will mark its first anniversary as an independent country, but Montenegro remains a destination undiscovered by most North Americans. With so much to offer, from miles of beaches to mountains, glacial lakes, and pristine forests, it's unlikely that the country will remain a secret for long. Though a concerted effort to improve the infrastructure is in full swing, the tourism industry is still rough around the edges, which can be a boon for travelers on a budget looking to explore the country and appreciate the natural beauty before getting priced out. Matthew Case, who interned with the U.S. State Department there last year, says travel in Montenegro is best approached with an "energetic and adventurous attitude."
The energetic and adventurous will be rewarded by sites like the walled mountain town of Kotor, the ancient beach town of Budva, and Sveti Stefan, an island-hotel of red roofs set against the blue sea, about which Case says, "It's a place that you only need to spend a couple of hours in, but it's a great photo opportunity." And throughout the country, eating and drinking is affordable. "Dinner for two was never more than €25 (about $33; see XE.com for current exchange rates), including wine and dessert," says Case.
Though there are many construction projects to modernize existing hotels and build new properties, some of the supposedly luxury properties aren't yet up to snuff. But those seeking more modest accommodations will find plenty of fit and affordable places to stay. Three-star hotels and private vacation apartments and villas make up the affordable middle ground. Both VisitMontenegro.org and VisitMontenegro.com maintain databases of hotels, rentals, and private accommodations, and Case says that in most towns, "local tourist offices will have multiple listings of houses and apartments for rent."
Flights are pricey year-round. A sample search for flights from New York yielded prices in the $1,500 to $2,500 (including taxes) range for both winter and summer. However, it's possible to pay much less by booking a flight to nearby Belgrade, Serbia, and then tacking on a Jat Airways flight to Podgorica or Tivat, Montenegro. For example, on the same mid-April travel dates, the tax-inclusive cost to book a round-trip flight from New York to Podgorica, Montenegro, was $2,297, whereas the cost to book a flight to Belgrade and then a separate flight to Podgorica came out to a much more reasonable $938.