Fairy tale from Sophia Loren’s childhood

Once upon a time there was a tribe called Paštrovići, living on the most beautiful place on Earth. Even Sun couldn’t wait to see the beauty of the place every morning.  It would appeared early, giving people possibility to enjoy this beauty in its full glow and set as late as it could, sad for leaving, but with the promise of a new day and another joyful sight. But, Paštrovići couldn’t enjoy it just like that; there was a price they had to pay.  Everyone wanted this small piece of paradise for themselves.  Mighty armies came from distant countries, threatening to disturb a peaceful life of local people.

Decisive not to give up of their privilege to live here, brave man armed themselves with weapons and sailed off to confront powerful enemy. After long and exhausting battles they finally made it, coming back home as winners and bringing riches plundered from Turkish vessels. These treasures were used to protect the tribe by building fortified town on picturesque islet with one house for every family in the clan. This way elder people, youngsters and women could stay on a safe place in the case of repeated attack, waiting for good news to come and hoping  to see their loved once again…

Foundation of St. Stefan (15th century) definitely sounds as if it came from some writer’s imagination. No wonder Sophia Loren clamed after staying there: “It’s just as if I have returned to town from the most beautiful fairy tale of my childhood”. This famous Montenegrin hotel still has an aura of past times; romantic, mystic medieval atmosphere which reminds that small, given piece of paradise had to be defended by any means, including high walls with loopholes. It is interesting how small fishermen settlement became so popular among tourists and became world known town –hotel with so many celebrities living the fairy tale every single day while staying there.

I also had an opportunity to taste a bit of it and give you some insider information from the spot. It was April, time when famous town-hotel St. Stefan was still closed for tourists and preparation works were still going on. I was accompanied by nice English gentleman who keeps coming back to Montenegro for more and we thought it would be a nice idea to have privilege and peek into famous town-hotel.  Day was windy and waves were the main culprit to blame for unreal blue color of the sea and clouded sky contributed dramatic look of nature around us.

We were given guided tour trough hotel, which took us back to 15 century, time when this small fishermen settlement started to grow due to agreement with Venice. Brave man from Paštrović tribe kept protecting territory from Turks for several centuries, gaining many privileges within Venetian Republic such as free trade. St. Stefan was known for fishing, wine and olive oil making. In 18century it had even 100 houses and 400 inhabitants. But, as soon as Venice and then Austria left the area and settlement lost its strategic importance, people started leaving it, searching for some better life elsewhere.

Being almost deserted, but perfectly charming and well preserved Mediterranean settlement, in the second half of the 20 century it became a five star hotel, suddenly very popular among celebrities. Leaving the exterior untouched, every house was turned into luxurious apartment. Josip Broz Tito, Doris Day, Jeremy Irons, Sylvester Stallone, Yuri Gagarin, Bobby Fischer, Indira Gandhi, Claudia Schiffer, Princess Margaret,  Ronaldinho, Naomi Campbell, Novak Đoković,  were just some of the hotel’s guests.

Excursion took us trough lanes with interesting names, winding streets took us left and right but with no distinct center of the place. Truth to say, there is small square called Piazza, turned into restaurant area in summer time. There, by the wishing well and in the shade of centuries old cypress trees, once Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti used to have a rest, while Alberto Moravia use to note his impressions sitting at the next table. Presumably, this square was once the center of life.

What caught my eye were charming small compact houses, standing close to each other, often sharing common wall,  saving therefore limited space on peninsula. Surprisingly, they were overgrown with vegetation and greenery around it gave them even more appealing look. Living in Montenegro, I know that even a village without church was not considered a village, but small settlement as St. Stefan had even 4 churches! Each of these medieval churches was closed, but perfectly fitted into scenery. We were informed that hotel was booked for wedding next day and for the wedding ceremony one of the Churches will be open.

We were shown one of apartments with sea view with nice rustic interior providing perfect relaxation and comfort of modern everyday life at the same time. Especially toilet facilities reminded me of the one from the old movies…Town hotel is doing its business nowadays under Aman Resorts brand and offers 58 suits, 3 restaurants, spa, gym and 2 swimming pools. Room prices go between 1.500€ to 5.000€ per night, the most expensive being suite “Saint Stefan” – the one reserved for celebrities and people who can afford it.

I wonder what it’s like to wake up on St. Stefan and live a fairy tale, at least for a day….

Find here tips for getting into town-hotel Saint Stefan

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