We arrived for the first time back in May and we loved it so much, we stayed for a month (when only planning a week). For those of you who know us, you are thinking “nothing new there”. And you would be right – we often change our plans when we arrive somewhere new, and I fall in love. But this was different. I wasn’t sure if that “difference” was born from open restaurants and shops after months of lockdown in Sicily or was there something special here? …
Back in May, we did some of the standard touristic things such as Kotor, Perast, Our Lady of the Rocks, Budva, Stari Grad etc and if you came to this site to read about them, refer to our post in May 2021. We have some info there on some of the cool must-see spots if you are only here for a week or less.
But this post is going to be about wintering in Montenegro in general and specifically Porto Montenegro Marina. Our priorities when choosing a place to stay for the winter include:
1) The ability to stay in one place for 6 months and get caught up on schoolwork for Jack,
2) The presence (or promise) of a strong live-aboard community
3) The availability of maintenance and yacht care facilities to help facilitate winter maintenance and long-term care jobs.
4) Ample restaurants, shops, groceries, and diversions to keep us entertained all winter long tied to the dock.
5) Nice to have, and unfortunately lacking in PMontenegro is the availability of train service to connect to other cities/countries in Europe.
The non-EU status of Montenegro is itself a big consideration, but additional reasons to come and stay here are the outstanding facilities offered in Porto Montenegro – including yacht care businesses, and the extent of winter activities to enjoy.
If you are considering becoming a temporary (or permanent for that matter) Montenegrin citizen or resident, you probably already know that Montenegro is not in the EU or the Schengen area. For everyone except citizens of the EU, this is of particular importance since we Americans are only permitted 90 days out of every 180 days to travel within the EU and Schengen area. This restriction not only makes our summer cruising challenging, but it also makes our overwintering nearly impossible within the EU. We have been managing with extensions and in particular, extensions due to covid, but it is hard to plan for and count on in any event. One may not request an extension until they are nearing the end of their 90 days, and at that point, getting refused an extension makes it difficult to scramble and find alternative winter accommodation – especially when traveling by boat at 7 knots in potentially inclement weather in the winter.
While Montenegro has their own version of the 90/180 day immigration allowance, they are lenient in offering temporary residency to berth slip holders in the marina. Not only will the government permit a longer stay with proof of contract, but the marina also goes the extra mile in supplying an agent, at no personal cost to the berth holder, to obtain this residency card. The one hiccup we had aboard Gratitude is that, as Jack was too young to be considered “crew,” we had to hire an agent to handle just his paperwork. It was, unfortunately, 2500.00 Euro but knowing that we were legal and all paperwork in order, the money was well spent. I have no doubt that many have forgone the paperwork for the children, but we are attempting to gain citizenship here, so it was important for us that everything be done legally and carefully. So, for the first time since we arrived in Europe, we have been able to simply relax and not worry about our immigration status.
Not only are we free to relax in worry free enjoyment all winter, but the abundance of yacht care facilities is also impressive. Based upon the recommendation of other boat owners in the marina, we hired a Turkish company to install solar panels on our hard top, and we also purchased and installed new Victron Lithium Iron -phosphate batteries. We had a few small canvas jobs done and finally, as if by mutual agreement of each room/stateroom ceiling panel on board Gratitude, the headliners from the bow to the stern, from the port to the starboard all began separating. This is a job that we knew was coming. We had a couple of panels in the wheelhouse which needed to be done before we left in 2019 so we replaced them all there. We knew that the rest of the boat was on “borrowed time”, but I never would have expected that they would all decide, at the same time, to just let go. Such is the situation we find ourselves in today. But we are so fortunate that we are in a locale where this type of work is done routinely, and we can have it done before our departure in April. I say this whilst knocking on wood as the work has not yet even begun.
Alec has done a great deal of winter maintenance aboard, including oil/fuel filter changes, oil changes, fire extinguishers checked and recertified, and the emergency ditch bag contents inspected and replaced. Of course, he has also overseen the big solar power upgrade.
Jack and I have been busy with schoolwork and he is soaring through with 94% of 5th grade math done! Highlights from this year’s curriculum have included events leading up to and including the American Civil War, the Gettysburg address which he has memorized, and the events of reconstruction. This was all a very timely segway into the Martin Luther King holiday. He has learned about Polk and the Westward Expansion as well as the 49ers and the California Gold Rush. In Science he has learned about energy, the transfer of energy, we have gone further in depth into Newton and the laws of motion. Jack and Alec have conducted a couple of experiments involving electromagnetic forces. We have studied various scientists, biology, reproduction in humans, plants and animals and cell division. In writing we have worked to develop our outlines and to write cohesive paragraphs and he is continuing to work in Spelling Connections and Grammar books. So, we have had a terrific success on the home-schooling front. I only mention this here because it has not always been this way. But this is a terrific achievement for us aboard Gratitude and one that must be celebrated!
The Porto Montenegro has a lovely Crew Club which, though probably designed more to accommodate the crews of the large yachts in the marina, is lovely for the lowly owner operated boats also. This crew club hosts various events throughout the season, and these events facilitate connections and meetings with others. The liveaboard community is perhaps not quite as strong in terms of children as the previous 2 winters spent in Lagos, Portugal and in MDR, Sicily, respectively, but we are well and making friends and Jack has made a few local friends through the sailing center. An example of some of the trips the Crew Club have arranged, paintball -which Jack absolutely loved! the monthly trip to a different spa which I love, and a few bowling, beer, DJ type events for the people who don’t have an 11-year-old waking up to do school the next morning. We have made friends with hikers who arrange the odd hike which I’m hoping will result in a better understanding of the amazing country in which we find ourselves. There is nothing like a hike in the mountains to clear the head and warm the heart.
PM is a short 3-hour drive from the 1450 and 1600 Ski Centers in Kolasin and berth holders in the marina are treated to free accommodations at the ski lodge there. Additionally, the cost of the lift tickets is so reasonable 15-20 Euro per day, one can go every weekend. There is a nice mix of “green” and “red” (the equivalent of our blue in the US) slopes and a couple of Blacks which none of us explored. We were all delighted with the slopes, and we all took advantage of lessons. Alec and Jack together with Kim and Steve went to the bunny hill and after a small skills test, I went up the mountain with my instructor to tackle the mountain. We were all rusty, the last ski trip we took was probably 5 years ago, but we all survived with nothing more than sore muscles and fantastic memories of a wonderful adventure. I never knew that there was any decent skiing here in Montenegro but there is an effort afoot to improve the facilities and build more ski in/ski out accommodations. Westin is even putting a hotel right at the base of the slopes. I continue to marvel at how much there is to see and do in this amazing country – and yet it was a place I had hardly ever even heard of before beginning this trip! But if you do book travel – based on our short time here, we will not recommend arriving in December! It rained nearly every day during the month. January has been far sunnier, and rumor has it that the sunny days will continue to outnumber the rainy ones from this point forward.
In Porto Montenegro Marina there are 2 small grocery stores but another slightly larger grocery store approx. 5 km away. There is development happening which promises a larger grocery store, more shops and even a cinema but that is 2 years away. For now, the shops which are here are very high end with most boaters like us taking a pass. The restaurants, however, are another matter and we love nearly all of them. Within a very short (5-10 minutes’ walk) one can find pizza as delicious as what we enjoyed in Italy, a good steak, a Mexican kind of fusion restaurant, lots of local places and tons of bakeries. We have been having an amazing time enjoying eating out and socializing in a way we were unable to do last year in lockdown in Sicily. As residents we are permitted vaccines when we are due to have them, and we are very kindly received in the medical facility. We have taken Pratt to the vet for some weird behavior (thank God he is just fine) and the exam and blood tests cost 50 Euro. We have had our own blood taken and tested and it cost 18.00 Euro. This in contrast to the several hundred dollars we spent getting our blood tested in the US. I’m due to have a mammogram this year and a regular checkup is behind schedule so Ill update the blog when I’m able to accomplish this, but I have begun asking around and heard that it is a simple and inexpensive matter to take care of. Which is to say, if you are considering wintering here, I have found no reason thus far to indicate you should not. We have loved our time here immensely. On a slightly more indulgent note, there are a few spas very nearby and each priced reasonably. Also, there are people easy to come by who will wash the inside or outside of your boat and watch and maintain your boat while you are absent. The prices for these services vary so best to inquire before you book. So that is all for now! Wishing all of you a very Happy New Year!!