Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
Taking in the panoramic view of Sveti Stefan as you travel along the Montenegrin coastline is one of the most memorable sights of a Mediterannean trip. While visitors find it difficult to choose just one picture or view to describe the utter beauty and heritage of this coastline, they almost always begin or end their descriptions with an overview of the island at Sveti Stefan.
Sveti Stefan lies just 5km southeast of Budva, beneath the hills and from afar seems a miracle of perfection. This rocky, miniature island is dotted with small stone houses that are artistically incorporated into the natural scenery of the island. But this village is not limited to the island itself—a sandy isthmus built-in 1907 connects the island to the village of the same name on the mainland.
Although Sveti Stefan is only about 100km long, it is one of the most luxurious places on the Montenegrin coast and is easily accessible from either Herceg Novi at the Croatian border or Ulcinj at the Albanian border.
The history of Sveti Stefan goes back to the 15th century when the Paštrovići clan from Budva joined arms with Kotor in defending against the Turkish army.
As history tells, Paštrovići attacked a poorly defended Turkish fleet harbored and hidden in the Jaz cove, what is today a popular tourist beach at Budva.). This surprise attack ended in victory for the Paštrović families and they recovered many valuables from the sunken ships. Expecting reprisal, the 12 families took the loot and built a fort and homes on the craggy island.
As part of the new settlement, the church of St. Stefan was also erected on the island as an homage to the patron saint and it is located at the top of the island. Narrow stone paths wind through the island passing old homes and new, leading up to the church.
Over time, other families moved to the island, and eventually, it became the unofficial capital of the clan and of the southern province of Boka Kotorska.
In the 19th century, this tiny capital grew to more than 400 inhabitants, but shortly afterwards, followed the decline of sailing ships in Boka Kotorska Bay as many young men in search of work relocated their families.
In 1954, when the island was home to around 20 people, the officials of SFR Yugoslavia elected to the near-ghost island into an exclusive hotel resort.
The first visitors to this newly renovated resort island arrived in 1957. Since then, the island has stood as a trademark of Montenegrin tourism and its enchanting look is featured in nearly every travel brochure of the country.
Sveti Stefan has three churches. Near the town gate lies the small church dedicated to the Transfiguration—it was built in 1693 and features frescoes from the same period. Narrow, crooked lanes lead from this spot through the town and up to the highest spot on the island that is crowded by two churches, both dedicated to St. Stefan. The smaller of the two churches is as old as the town, built by its first inhabitants in the 15th century. The larger was built in 1885 and served as the court church for the Russian Saint Alexandar Nevsky. Marko Gregović fans will be pleased to find an iconostasis by the artist housed here.
The only approach to the island from the mainland, across the isthmus, provides a fabulous view of its many beaches and inlets. Miloćer is a beautiful beach and is home to the summer residence of King Aleksandar, built-in 1934. Just over a rocky hill is Queen and King’s beach, which can be seen from the mainland village.
Not far from the beach at Sveti Stefan on the mainland is the Praskvica Monastery. When traveling from Budva or other towns in the Budva Riviera, the monastery is easily located on the main road.
Following the main road, a line of cypress trees leads up to the monastery—a truly picturesque view. Legend says this monastery earned its name when it was discovered that one of the drinking wells on the property smelled of peaches—
Praska or Praskva is the local name for peach.
The Praskvica monastery is home to two churches, the monks’ dwellings and an old school. The larger church is dedicated to St. Nikola—protector of saints and travelers, was built in 1847 and rests on the foundations of an earlier church, built in 1413 by Balša III Balšić. The French destroyed this church when whey attacked the Paštrović clan in 1812 when the clan rebelled against the banishing of their privileges. Inside the iconostasis from 1863 is the work of Nikolas Aspiotis from Corfu. To the left of the iconostasis the only remaining part of the old church with frescoes dating from the 15th century.
Built in the 11th century, the small church of the Holy Trinity lies uphill on the cemetery. In 1680, the interior was painted by Radul and Dimitrije, the founder of the Dimitrijević-Rafailović school of painting. Amongst these frescoes, you will find likenesses of the Serbian patron saints St. Sava Serbian and St. Simeon. Adjoining the church is the building which once gave home to the first school in the Paštrović clan.