05 August 2019 - Once considered a hidden treasure of south-eastern Europe, Montenegro has become a tourist magnet over the past few years. Its excellent location and exceptional beauty have put the small country firmly on the map as the go-to holiday destination, particularly for those seeking a more luxurious experience.
“After all, when you have such a gorgeous country and God gave you this incredible location, it would be a sin not to do something about it, don’t you think?” says Nikola Milić, co-founder of Hotel Casa del Mare Mediterraneo in an interview for Cecilia Calatrava, Communications advisor for EBRD.
This one-of-a-kind family-owned 4-star boutique hotel on the waterfront of the Bay of Kotor is one of the country’s hottest destinations, and one of the more than 600 small businesses in Montenegro the EBRD has supported since 2002.
“People who come to our hotel are looking for uniqueness and a personal touch. That’s why every room has a completely different interior that brims with the charm and tradition of Kotor Bay,” explains Milana Milić, co-founder and Nikola’s wife. “Our idea was to capture the local Mediterranean vibe.”
Indeed, the hotel is a symphony for the senses: the stunning seaside, the fresh herbal-fruity scent of the lavender fields, mimosa trees, summer pomegranate, tangerine, olive trees. Each of its seven rooms triggers a slightly different experience which transports guests directly to their happy place.
This jewel, now completely renovated, dates back to 2010, when Nikola and Milana (then 24 and 23 years old) decided to get married, have a baby, and also open their first hotel.
“It all happened very suddenly. At the time, people thought we were crazy. Kamenari – the town the hotel is located in - was not known as a tourist destination, but rather as ‘the fishermen town where the ferry boat stops’, and that’s pretty much it”, explains Nikola.
“This was not in our favour when we tried to get some financial support, which we needed at the time. But when nobody believed in us, the EBRD did, which still means a lot to our family,” he adds.
The EBRD, with funding from the Netherlands, paired the hotel with a consultant to help install new software that allowed them to manage the reception and accounting much more efficiently.
Several ‘Wild Beauty Awards’ for the best small hotel on the Montenegrin coast, and seven brand new boutique hotels later, the Casa del Mare hotel group has become one of the best examples of a successful business in Montenegrin tourism.
But the couple didn’t stop there. In 2014, Nikola and Milana decided to give a final polish to the hotel by giving their waterfront restaurant, Bocasa, a first-class reputation.
With the help of an EBRD-funded consultant, they designed a new menu that gives a modern twist to local flavours and ingredients.
“The biggest move forward is the switch from the à la carte model to a tasting menu where we want to present our guests with the strongest postcard of Montenegro,” explains Vanja Puskar, Head Chef at Casa del Mare Mediterraneo and founder of New Balkan Cuisine.
The EBRD’s support also included a training programme for the next generation of chefs taking Balkan cuisine to the next level.
When asked about their secret ingredient to success, the couple’s answer is always unanimous: “love and dedication” – a concept that resonates across both the restaurant and the hotel.