Why Is Sveti Stefan Closed to the Public? Montenegro’s Elitest Island

Sveti Stefan or Saint Stephan is one of Montenegro’s most stunning locations. This tiny islet is attached to the mainland by a thin stretch of pink pebbles and is adorned with 15th-century terra-cotta roofed buildings.

As one of the most eye-catching sites on Montenegro’s Budva Riviera, Sveti Stefan often graces the covers of travel guides, websites, and postcards. Of course, travelers to Montenegro are excited to explore this iconic destination. However, some don’t realize until they reach the island’s iron gate, that one of the country’s most gorgeous properties is closed off to the public.

During our visit to Sveti Stefan, we wondered why this historic island is unattainable, with its entrance blocked by a huge iron gate. In Croatia, islets like Primošten and Rovinj are celebrated tourist attractions. Why would Sveti Stefan be any different?

History of Sveti Stefan

The speck of offshore land is just over a mile around, making space a hot commodity. Originally, the island was used as a means of coastal defense with a fortress that housed 12 families. In the 15th century, the settlement emerged into a fortified village of sorts, built to defend against the Turks. The island was also a popular hangout for Adriatic pirates.

Later, in the 1800s, about 400 local families converted the island into a more traditional small village. Ensuring that they maximized the limited land available, they constructed their stone houses right up to the edge. Even today, this unique design makes the island both visually and structurally alluring, especially with the painted white shutters.

Communist rulers decided that the island would be used for tourism.

Fun Fact: Brad Pitt’s first starring role in the movie “The Dark Side of the Sun” was filmed on Sveti Stefan.

A Communist Resort

In communist times, the government decided to use this island to its advantage for tourism purposes. Thus, the local villagers lost their homes and were moved to the mainland.

During the reconstruction, the thin isthmus that connects the island to the mainland was made. In technical terms, a gravel strip that connects an island to the mainland is called a tombolo.

Additionally, the family homes were converted into singular lodgings and the Praskvica Monastery was turned into a Communist casino. Once complete, Sveti Stefan established itself as an exclusive resort accessible to only the high-profile elites of the world.

Montenegro’s Elite Island sits away from the chaos of the mainland.

Top 5 Popular Tours in Montenegro

  1. 🛥️ Explore the UNESCO-listed Bay of Kotor on this Boka Bay 8-hour boat cruise. Along the way, passengers will tour the man-made island of Our Lady of the Rocks, Porto Montenegro, and ex-Yugoslavian submarine tunnels, and swim in the Blue Cave. Pickups are available from Kotor, Budva, Herceg Novi, or Tivat.
  2. 🚣 At nearly 4,300 feet deep, the Tara Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world, only behind the Grand Canyon. This adventure-filled rafting trip takes you down the Tara River and provides hassle-free pickup.
  3. ⛰️ Montenegro’s hinterland is stunning, and this tour visits some of the most beautiful attractions including the coastline of Kotor, Tara River Canyon, the Durmitor Mountains, Black Lake, and Ostrog Monastery, possibly the most magnificent in Europe.
  4. 🤿 Anyone staying near Budva will find this laid-back snorkeling tour to be the highlight of their trip. Covering 20 miles of coastline, the snorkeling excursion stops at an island and provides spectacular perspectives of Budva.
  5. 🔦 Take a train ride to the entrance of the cave and descend into a cool and large underground chamber. Explore the natural rock formations in Lipa Cave with ease on this group tour with a guide.

List of Celebrity Visitors to Sveti Stefan

A wave of celebrities and high-profile clients have visited Sveti Stefan, especially in the 1960s and 1970s including:

  • Kirk Douglas
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • Doris Day
  • Geraldine Chaplin
  • Orsen Wells
  • Sophia Loren and her famous film producer husband Carlo Ponti
  • Princess Margaret
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Sidney Poitier
  • Richard Vidmark
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Jeremy Irons
  • Swedish athlete Jan Ingemar Stenmark
  • Italian King Umberto II of Savoy
  • Soviet Astronaut Yuri Gagarin
  • Model Claudia Schiffer
  • Andre Marlow
  • Alberto Moravia
  • Andrea Bocelli

Best Boat Tour: Blue Cave, Mamula Island, Submarine Tunnels, and Our Lady of the Rocks

Sveti Stefan was also used to host political conferences and served as a chess venue. As a result, world-class chess players like America’s Bobby Fischer and Russia’s Boris Spassky visited the island, as well.

Bring Sveti Stefan Home With You: Sveti Stefan Room Separator or Large Wall Mural

The resort ultimately fell to decline in the 1990s when Yugoslavia dissipated.

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Please Elite Only

To recreate the old charm of the island, the Montenegrin Government opened up international bids for a refurbishment project. In 2007, Aman Resorts secured the contract and was granted a 30-year lease, for the entire island. The resort finished its revitalization project and opened in 2009.

Stunning views of the Montenegrin mountains from Sveti Stefan.

Today, Sveti Stefan is now entirely taken over by the luxury hotel group. This international franchise caters only to the most elite with 5-star properties located all over the world. Also, with a 7:1 staff-to-guest ratio, their properties boast unmatched service and the essence of a peaceful sanctuary. Interestingly enough, 13 Aman properties are located within UNESCO heritage sites.

At this time, Vladislav Doronin, a Russian billionaire, businessman, and real estate developer, is the Chairman and CEO of Aman Resorts and Hotels.

There’s a rumor that the property is so elusive that members of the press are restricted from taking photos while on location. Of course, this would make sense to protect the privacy of the resort’s most elite guests.

Sveti Stefan Room Rates

So how much does it cost to stay at Aman Sveti Stefan? Some online pricing suggests room rates begin at 1,500 dollars a night. However, if you search “What is the cheapest Aman Resort?” guests can get a general idea of pricing.

Check This Out: Sveti Stefan Glass Print

The search results reveal “…the cheapest Aman Resort is Aman Sveti Stefan, which can be booked for as little as $640 per night if you do your research.” It also states, “Paid room rates to hover from $640 to $1,500 per night.”

The cheapest Aman resort is located in Montenegro at Aman Sveti Stefan.

Modern Day Fortress

Although Sveti Stefan is a resort of luxurious opulence, it’s ironic that this island that once served as a fortress still functions as one today. Only in these modern times, its walls are used to keep the elite in and commoners, like us, out.

Why is Sveti Stefan closed to the public? The fortress-like walls keep the everyday folks out.

Best Way to Experience Sveti Stefan

Sadly, Sveti Stefan continues its reign as a resort dedicated to only the world’s wealthiest tourists. Still, the property and island remain off-limits to the general public. However, at least we can experience a small piece of how the other half lives—by swimming next to the island!

Joking aside, the beautiful clean beaches in front of the island are open and quite accessible to everyday folks. In fact, spending a day along its shores will only set you back 2 euros per hour for parking.

 

Truly, one of the cleanest and least populated beaches on the Budva Riviera is located in front of Sveti Stefan. This may be due to the highest parking lot fees that we encountered which cost 2 euros per hour.

Another option is to enjoy Sveti Stefan over a tasty meal, coffee, or cocktail. For instance, those looking to splurge can opt to enjoy Aman’s mainland restaurant, Olive Restaurant & Bar. (Currently, the Olive Restaurant & Bar is closed until further notice.) Personally, we enjoyed watching the sunset on the terrace at Restaurant Adrovic Sveti Stefan, pictured below.   

Sunset view on the terrace at Restaurant Adrovic.

Lawsuit Shuts Down Property

The reason that Aman Sveti Stefan is closed is due to arbitration between the current management of Adriatic Properties and the Government of Montenegro over an alleged contract breach. Specifically, Adriatic Properties sought 100 million euros from the Government of Montenegro, claiming that the government would not guarantee that the beaches surrounding the property would be for resort guests only.

To clarify, the hotel claims the beaches should only be used privately by Aman guests, as agreed upon in the contract developed over 14 years ago. However, the government continues to allow public access to Queen’s Beach. Although the state owns 58.6 percent of shares in the resort, the matter is now being settled in the London Court of International Arbitration.

In response to the public being denied access to the beach, locals broke down fences that were erected to close off the Sveti Stefan beachfront and then attacked the property’s security. The Public Enterprise for the Coastal Zone Management has refused to put up a new one.

The beaches surrounding Sveti Stefan are considered some of the most attractive destinations on the Adriatic coast.

Devastating Ruling for Locals and Tourists

In essence, Aman claims that it now cannot appropriately do business here, unable to provide its elite guests the privacy and peace they deserve. Unfortunately, the London Court of International Arbitration ruled in favor of the Adriatic Properties saying that the beaches belong to the hotel until all official proceedings are finalized.

Aman Remains Closed

According to its website, the Aman Sveti Stefan remains closed but Villa Miločer is now accepting guests. Those who stay at Villa Miločer can access the private island by private tour. In addition, the Olive Restaurant & Bar remains closed until further notice. The property states, “We will provide an update soon regarding the reopening.”

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