Situated in the south of the Adriatic Sea, with a population of over 10 million Montenegro is roughly the size of Northern Ireland and has a similar turbulent history. Neighboured by three of its former Yugoslavian counterparts Croatia, Serbia and Albania, Montenegro is an unforgettable land blessed with a host of worldly wonders including Europe’s largest bird preserve, its deepest canyon, its southernmost fiord, it’s last virgin forest (or so is claimed) and the largest lake in the Balkans.

However the self acclaimed “jewel of the Adriatic” and once hotspot for the rich and famous, still today bears the scars of almost a decade of international sanctions having unwillingly been drawn into a vicious implosion of the former Yugoslavia, although never directly involved in the conflict.

Plight for independence

The Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, made up of Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia, was declared in 1945. Ethnic tensions were masked under the reign of authoritarian communist leader Josip Broz Tito. Still 10 years after his death in 1980 the federation lived on, but under Serbian nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic it fell apart as blood was shed throughout the 1990s. Devastating wars raged in Croatia and Bosnia, and fierce violence flared up in Kosovo, a small province of Serbia. International pressure on President Milosevic grew amid the escalating violence and in 1999 Nato carried out air strikes on Serbia and Kosovo. The UN took over the administration of the Kosovo region making it an international protectorate although legally still part of Serbia.

Serbia and Montenegro had together formed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia between 1992 and 2003, however Montenegro’s leaders had detached themselves from Milosevic’s handling of Kosovo, and following his fall from leadership in October 2000 were evermore keen for state independence. Plans for independence were not forgotten, but it would seem postponed, with the formation of the union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2003. Remnants of the ex-communist state were abolished and a new, looser union between the two republics was created.

This union, brokered by the EU was intended to steady the region by straightening out Montenegro’s demands for independence and averting further changes to the Balkan borders. Under the constitutional charter of this union, there is a federal presidency and defence as well as foreign ministries, however the two republics of Montenegro and Serbia are semi-independent states, which are in charge of their own economies and have their own legislation. The union was set to last a minimum of three years, after which both states could hold a referendum to decide on the future of the union. In May 2006 Montenegrins will hold a referendum to decide if they want to separate completely from Serbia. A voting majority of 55% will be able to approve a ‘yes’ for independence.

Tourism on the mend

However there have been signs that Montenegro is recovering from its somewhat gloomy recent past and rebuilding the tourism industry. World Travel and Tourism Council recently identified Montenegro as “the fastest growing travel and tourism economy in the world”. Lord Byron once wrote ‘”At the moment of birth of our planet, the most beautiful meeting of land and sea was on the Montenegrin coast”. Once the exclusive playground for celebrities, royalty and others could afford the price tag put on its beauty, Montenegro is today attracting an abundance of visitors from corners afar, keen to discover this unique blend of gigantic mountains, clear blue seas, deepest canyons, enchanting lakes and brimming wildlife sanctuary. However, it’s clear to see from the frenzy of construction along Montenegro’s 300km extraordinarily picturesque coastline how the country is intending to rebuild their elevated status.

Potential Property Hotspot

The country’s signature ‘hotel village’, Sveti Stefan – an island resort attached to the coastline by a thin causeway, is receiving particular investment to once again attract the wealthy. The EU is granting financial aid and investment is being ploughed in from around the world as this country strives to return to its former glory. Apparently this resort was the original destination for Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s honeymoon before it was leaked to the press and the destination had to be changed. Even though today’s celebrity equivalents of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor have not yet returned to frequent Montenegro’s exclusive waterholes, the country still retains its lavish splendour that once drew them there and it’s this opulence that is attracting the ever-more adventurous overseas home-seekers, along with their keen eye for a bargain, to this Adriatic gem.
Properties in Montenegro, mainly charming stone houses, are placed along the stunning coastline in amongst rolling green hills and unspoiled freshwater lakes. They are being snapped up by canny Russians, east Europeans and Germans with an eye for a bargain with investment potential, and with there being little doubt that Montenegro is capable of returning itself to its former glory, this Adriatic gem could indeed prove its worth.

Although bargain-hunters themselves, Brits have somehow overlooked Montenegro’s potential in their stampede into other more obvious central and eastern European property hotspots such as Croatia, Bulgaria and Turkey. So if the country boasts unparalleled beauty, a coastline stretching almost 300km, sunshine lasting from May to September, all-year-round activities including skiing, fishing and hunting and a history including the likes of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor – what could the problem be?

It’s possible that Montenegro’s connections with Serbia and their shady past are clouding people’s judgement when considering where to invest their money. However with Montenegro’s push for independence and current bid for inclusion into the EU, as long as Serbia doesn’t hold up proceedings, the real turning point for this small country could be just around the corner. The Montenegrin government is already laying the foundations for this opportunistic future and as well as being open to offers of foreign investment, has endeavoured to remove all red-tape surrounding residency, visa and tax, any possible obstacles for potential homebuyers, encouraging more people to buy into their dream.

How & Where To Buy

Properties can be bought through any one of the many English-speaking agents, and the ideal combination of charming and cheap can be found with some ease. The simple rule is, head inland. The Montenegrin locals like to live on the coast and have done so for many years, happily relaxing on their verandas dangling their feet in the ocean. Head slightly inland, just behind the frontline, and picturesque properties overlooking the peninsular can be found for a fraction of the price of their seafront neighbours.

According to Montenegro Living – the first Montenegrin agency to set up an office in the UK – property in this charming country is on average a third cheaper than can be found in Croatia. The northern coast is known to be more popular and expensive and so the southern coastline with it’s wild and unspoiled beauty holds the key to bagging that bargain. As well as good, cheap coastal properties in the south, the rural and mountainous areas inland should not be overlooked, with an abundance of nature and outdoor activities on the doorstep, these are definitely areas worth investigating. Houses in Montenegro can be bought from as low as £24,000 up to £677,000 (35,000 to 1 million euros). Properties suitable for small business opportunities such as apartment buildings, hotels and bars are now coming onto the market thanks to the lack of purchasing restrictions and are also worth a look.