The history of Sveti Stefan island knows its ups and downs. From the world’s best resort to an abandoned hotel. Next, you will learn all the most interesting about the island of Sveti Stefan in Montenegro and how it looks today.
Table of contents:
- Sveti Stefan Island: general points, how to get there
- Island history until the 20th century
- Rise of Sveti Stefan Island in Tito’s Yugoslavia
- Sveti Stefan island today
- Hotel, prices, beaches, tour, restaurant
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Sveti Stefan Island: general points
The island of Sveti Stefan, or Sveti Stefan, is a rocky reef about 200 by 100m in size, which rises 5-10 meters above the sea.
Interesting to know:In fact, Sveti Stefan is not an island. It is connected to the mainland by a natural neck. So it’s a peninsula. But in all names, even official ones, it has been given the status of an island. This is not the only exception made for this place.
Sveti Stefan is the hallmark of Montenegro and is on almost all postcards, promotional materials and souvenirs from this country.
It’s not difficult to get to this place. The island is in the center of the Montenegrin coast in the Budva Riviera.
- From the largest resort of the country Budva – only 7 km by road and 5 by water. You can get here by any bus from Budva towards Petrovac, Bar, Ulcinj. Buses run every half hour and pass by Sveti Stefan. Or you can swim by boat / kayak / SUP. Boat rental will cost about 30 euros for 2 hours. Kayaking is an all-day swim. Round trip in 5-6 hours – easy.
- And it’s even easier to get from Becici, it’s a suburb of Budva. From Becici it is only 5 km by road. I know that active tourists go even on foot. It’s only an hour walk one way.
- Big overview of Budva: sights, best restaurants, beaches and more
- All about Becici for tourists: restaurants, beaches, attractions
Interesting to know:Sveti Stefan is not only an island, it is also a small village in front of the island. Officially, about 300 people live in the village. In the best years the population reached 450.
Sveti Stefan island coordinates on the map: 42.25590408325916, 18.89137791872732
History of Sveti Stefan Island before the 20th century
A detailed history of the island on 58 pages can be read on Wikipedia, and I will highlight the most important points. They will help you better understand how Sveti Stefan became famous all over the world. And how it lost all its popularity.
- The first mention of Sveti Stefan dates back to 1441.
- The locals of Paštrovići fraternity defeated a group of Turks who pillaged the countryside. It appeared that the Turks were returning after a successful raid on Kotor.
- After the victory over the Turks, all the stolen goods from Kotor went to the locals. And in honor of this event, they decided to build a fortress and a church on a desert reef, which later will be called Sveti Stefan.
- Later, residential buildings appeared on the island around the church. Sveti Stefan has become a trading center and an important logistics hub.
- By the beginning of the 19th century, there were about 100 houses and 400 inhabitants on the island.
- Beginning in the mid-19th century, the island city began to decline. The locals moved to larger cities, immigrated to Europe and America.
- The Balkan wars and two world wars also did not bring anything good to the island. Almost the entire island was destroyed. And by the middle of the 20th century, no more than 20 people remained to live here.
Rise of Sveti Stefan Island during Tito’s Yugoslavia
In the 50s of the 20th century, one of the high-ranking officials of Yugoslavia visited this place. He was offered to create a museum or art gallery on the island to attract tourists.
But tourism in those days did not even exist in Yugoslavia. And the official decided to create a hotel on the island instead of a museum, which would become world-known . There were no such ambitious projects in Yugoslavia before.
And then events developed very quickly:
- 1955 – the project of the hotel was officially approved
- In the same year, houses were built for all the remaining residents on the shore opposite the island. And they all moved there, whether they wanted it or not.
- All the buildings on the island were rebuilt. It is believed that no changes were made to the project. Houses were built according to drawings of the 15th century. The style and architecture of the 15th century have been preserved. Well, they also built three pools on the island, which could not have been in the 15th century
- The island hotel Sveti Stefan opened its doors to the first guests in 1960. It was a 5-star hotel that immediately set the bar high in the hotel industry.
It’s important to know:It was a closed hotel where strangers could not enter. Accommodation in rooms was very expensive even in those days. The hotel accepted prepayment for accommodation almost a year in advance. At the same time, all the rooms were small, since both the architecture and the size of the island did not allow building spacious and luxurious apartments.
The rich and famous enjoyed this exclusivity. And in the very first year, a long list of people wishing to come to this hotel appeared.
Below, just a small list of guests who stayed here for the first 30 years of the hotel’s operation:
- Yuri Gagarin
- Sophia Loren
- Vladimir Vysotsky
- Maya Plesetskaya
- Margaret Windsor – Sister of the Queen of Great Britain
- Sylvester Stallone
- Kirk Douglas
- Umberto – King of Italy
- one of the presidents of Italy
- Claudia Schiffer
- Bobby Fischer
- And that’s just a small part of the guest list. They say all the rooms were booked at the hotel at least 7-8 months in advance.
Good to know:Don’t forget that this is Yugoslavia under Tito’s rule. One of the best friends of the USSR in the West. They were building socialism together. Therefore, the list of guests of the island has always included many celebrities and wealthy residents of the USSR.
Sveti Stefan was included in the top 10 exclusive hotels in the world just 4 years after the opening of the hotel – in 1964. In 1972, the hotel received the Golden Apple Award. It’s the “Oscar” in hospitality industry.
These were truly the hotel’s golden years. That’s how popular it was: in those years, few people in the world knew anything about Yugoslavia. And the world community had only three associations about this socialist country: Tito, Dubrovnik (which today is in Croatia) and the Sveti Stefan hotel.
Sveti Stefan island today
Starting around 1997, the hotel began to fall into disrepair. There were many reasons, but the main one, as always, was war.
- Breakup of Yugoslavia
- Yugoslav crisis
- NATO bombing of cities in Yugoslavia
All this completely destroyed tourism in the country for ten years. And by 2007 the hotel was abandoned. The country did not have the funds to restart this project.
Therefore, they found a wealthy international investor – the Swiss company Aman Resorts, which manages luxury hotels around the world. And in 2009 they leased the island and the surrounding beaches for 30 years.
Interesting to know:This is another exception that was made for Sveti Stefan. All the beaches in the country are public, but for Aman Resorts, the beaches near the island were made private, which greatly outraged the locals. And they tried to defend their right to a free beach in court.
In 2009, the luxury and private hotel “Aman Sveti Stefan Island” opened its doors.
For example, in 2010, Andrea Bocelli gave a concert on the island of Sveti Stefan. And in 2014, the wedding celebrations of the famous Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic took place here. Since 2015, the hotel began to conduct small private tours of the island for ordinary people by appointment.
And everything was going well until the coronavirus pandemic hit the world. In mid-2020, the hotel was closed due to the lockdown and lack of tourists.
- If you are reading this article when we have not yet defeated the pandemic, click on the link and you will find out how things are with covid in Montenegro now, where to do a PCR test and what are the restrictions in the country.
Interesting to know:During the coronavirus pandemic, locals managed to take one of three private beaches from the hotel through the courts. Now the beach has become public and free. But at the beginning of 2023 the hotel is still closed.
We don’t know the reasons. Rumor has it that the management company Aman Resorts left because of this beach, as an investment agreement with the Montenegrin government was violated.
In any case, the hotel is closed, there is no way to get to the island. And the government of Montenegro again needs to think about what to do with the hallmark of the country.
More rumors::Rumor has it that the descendants / relatives of the last owners of houses on the island (until it was taken away by the Yugoslav authorities) are now trying to regain ownership of Sveti Stefan through the courts. And that the nationalization in the 1950s was illegal. Let’s see what comes out of it.
Hotel, prices, beaches, tour, restaurant
For your general understanding, I will tell you how it was here a couple of years ago and what is happening with private beaches today.
- Accommodation in rooms at the Aman Sveti Stefan Island hotel cost from 1000 euros per night for the cheapest
- There is information that there have always been so many people who wanted to stay in the presidential suite that this room was booked through an auction. In 2020, the price of one night there exceeded 60,000 euros.
- The hotel has three swimming pools. Two – for all guests, and one private – for the Presidential Suite.
How to get to the island of Sveti Stefan
Until 2020 there were 3 ways:
- Become a hotel guest: room from 1000 euros per night
- Sign up for a tour: the queue is huge, the groups are small, there are time limits
- Reserve a table in a restaurant. I have not been to this restaurant, but if you see the menu, dinner for two could easily cost 500 euros. And you could still be a little hungry.
As of 2023:The island is closed and none of the options above work. It’s impossible to get in today.
The beaches of Sveti Stefan
There is no beach on the island itself, it is a reef rock. If you look at the island and the neck, then there is a beach to the left and right of the neck. And the third beach is Milocer, which is 300 meters away from the neck.
The third Milocer beach is open and you can sunbathe there for free.
But until 2020, anyone could get to the two beaches near the island and the neck and rent a sun lounger next to the hotel guests. But if everywhere renting a pair of sun loungers and an umbrella costs from 8 to 15 euros, on the beach near Sveti Stefan the price was almost 150 euros per day. For hotel guests the sun loungers were free of course.
It was the so-called protective tariff. You can afford a sun lounger for 150 euros, so you can afford to book a room in this hotel.
Important:After the hotel closes, both beaches are free for all. What will happen next, I don’t know. Maybe the locals will come, put their sun loungers there and charge a fee. But while the hotel is closed, the entrance to the beaches is free for all.
- A rating of the best hotels in Montenegro and what to expect from them, read the article at the link.
In conclusion: Sveti Stefan is heavily overrated. This place is beautiful and looks very Instagrammable. But there are many such places in Montenegro. Besides, you can’t get to the island today.
Your visit will look like this: you come, get out of the car, look at the island, maybe swim and drive back. Is it worth it to go here purposefully? Definitely not. And to stop by half an hour if you are going along this road? Of course yes! And here are the ready-made road trips in Montenegro with map and itinerary for independent travelers.
Resources to help you plan your dream trip to Montenegro
- Flights at the best prices with discounts
- Car rental in Montenegro (cheaper – only by bus):
- Hotels and apartments all over the country: Booking
- Tours, excursions and activities (including extreme ones):
- Comprehensive travel insurance: EKTA
- eSIM virtual card in Montenegro
- Taxi and transfers from Montenegro airports: Intui.Travel