Not one 007 scene was actually filmed here, though (the Czech Republic and Italy were used instead), and right now I’m experiencing the reality of rail travel in Montenegro, where you’re more likely to be served a plastic cup of Turkish-style coffee than a sparkling glass of Chateau Angelus.
I’ve spent the last 10 hours on a rickety overnight train from Belgrade, and only now am I beginning to reap the benefits.
It’s clear, as I look out of the carriage window, Montenegro boasts scenery as good as anything in Casino Royale.
Rising imperiously into the cloudless, bird-peppered skies are craggy, grey mountains, while below lush green fields and a deathly still lake steal the show.
We’re passing through Lake Skadar National Park, and for 20 minutes I bob my head out of the window, marvel at the scenery and inhale the crisp, clean air (the conductor, a sharp contrast to the polite suited waiter on the Casino Royale train, brushes past smoking a cigarette).
Whereas Bond and Lynn arrive in ‘Montenegro’ at a sumptuous hotel surrounded by Bentley limousines, I disembark at Bar’s tatty station and take a rattling old bus to Budva, the country’s major tourist hub.
I’m staying at the Hippo – Montenegro’s only hostel. It’s run by an American, Dave, and his Russian girlfriend, Nadya, a genial couple who tell me most holidaymakers in Montenegro are Serbs, unlike the nearby Croatian coast which attracts more Western tourists and, as a result, is far more expensive.
Montenegro only gained independence from Serbia in 2006, but the two countries are on good terms.
“If you’d like to see hot girls from Belgrade in their bikinis, come to Budva in summer,” jokes Dave.
I hire a bicycle and pedal towards Budva’s seafront, where instead of bikini-clad women I find a throng of clattering tools, bulldozers and hollering workers. Pedalling further I reach the first in a series of gorgeous little bays boasting squeaky clean sand and enticingly clear seas, where summer water temperatures top 28˚C. These are renowned
for being the best beaches in Montenegro, but visiting early in the season, apart from one local family enjoying a picnic, they’re completely deserted.
Eventually, the empty bays give way to flash hotel complexes – including Sveti Stefan, a tiny island resort linked to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. It’s popular with the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Sophia Loren and Claudia Schiffer.
After chilling and admiring the views from the adjacent beach, I enjoy a large espresso in a nearby café (for 70 cents) before heading back to Budva.
Towards the town centre I find a mini Monte Carlo, with glossy yachts anchored against a marina fringed with relaxing restaurants. Next to the marina is the old walled town, which was levelled by an earthquake in 1979. It has been miraculously put together again and now includes a nice jumble of boutique shops, cafés and churches.
The next day I bus it to Kotor, a town spread out alongside southern Europe’s deepest fjord. Its medieval walled section is twice as large as Budva’s – and therefore twice as easy to get lost in – but the highlight is exploring the ancient fortifications, which lace the mountains above.
There’s no funicular railway – for now – so it takes an hour’s huffing and puffing to reach the top. But it’s worth it.
The further you move away from the sea of orange roofs, church towers and the delightful bay of Kotor, the better the photo opportunities.
Later, back in Budva, we head to Nadya’s favourite restaurant, the Stari Ribar (Old Fisherman), and enjoy a platter of four enormous sea bass, fresh crusty bread and cavernous bowls of vinegary salad. After gobbling up the feast, assisted by a few bottles of local white wine, and agreeing what a gorgeous little country this is, we chuckle when the bill arrives. It’s just 11 Euros each.
As tourists and airlines catch on, I have a feeling that next time I visit Montenegro the prices won’t be quite so friendly.