Google Montenegro and I guarantee that the first image that will come up will be that of the famous and fabulously beautiful Aman Sveti Stefan, Montenegro’s most luxurious resort.
I had been planning to visit for years, possible since I first laid eyes on this beauty of a hotel, and for my annual birthday celebration, I finally chose to travel to Montenegro. This is my review of Aman Sveti Stefan, the exclusive resort, not the beach or the many hotels in the area which claim its name.
There is a lot of wrong and contradicting information online about the resort, about the facilities, about whether you can visit Sveti Stefan or not, about its prices, about pretty much anything that surrounds Aman Sveti Stefan. So I also wanted to make sure that the correct information was available.
What you will read here is true and confirmed with the staff during my stay as of the end of 2018.
With a price tag that in the summer months approached 2,000 euro a night with breakfast, is Aman Sveti Stefan worth the hype?
History of Aman Sveti Stefan
Aman Resorts are known for being located in extraordinary places. Old palaces, ancient villages, former hospitals, many of the resort’s locations are not comparable to anything else.
Likewise, the names of all Aman properties usually follow and are attached to the word Aman and an ending that is appropriate to the location, like Amangalla in Galle, Sri Lanka. There are very few of the brand’s resorts that do not follow this rule.
One of them is Aman at Summer Palace, probably because the location is emblematic and UNESCO listed. The other one is Montenegro’s most famous landmark: the historical island of Sveti Stefan.
Sveti Stefan is the most recognizable name in Montenegro. It refers to an area, a beach and finally an islet. It is associated with celebrities, wealth and exclusivity. And it is Montenegro’s most expensive resort by far. The next most expensive option is not even half Aman’s price.
The Beckhams stayed at Aman Sveti Stefan one month before me, the Balkan’s most famous tennis player got married there in 2014 and, in the 70s, the resort was a magnet for the rich and famous including Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, and known as the Adriatic playground of the who’s who.
But Sveti Stefan’s fame did not start with these celebrities, or with Aman, the brand is merely taking care of this illustrious medieval fishing village turned casino in Yugoslavia times since 2007 after winning the contract to renovate it to its former glory.
Sveti Stefan as a fishing village
Sveti Stefan was a fishing village in the 14th century which was erased flat during a Turkish war and rebuilt in the 16th century by the Venetian Republic who ruled the area at the time.
The island resort where wealthy guests stay at today was built then and refurbished in 2007. Thick walled fishermen cottages, stone houses, red tiled roofs traditional of Montenegro, and fortress walls were all built in the 16th century to protect the island from invading Turkish armies.
In the 16th century, the island was inhabited by 12 families but grew to about 400 people in the 18th century. An ismuth (a narrow piece of land connecting two larger areas across an expanse of water) was built later to connect the island to the mainland and has been maintained up to today.
The Yugoslav government bought the entire village and relocated the families to the mainland in the 50s when the island was turned into a luxury resort, including a casino that was located inside one of the island’s four churches (and later revealed by Aman during the restoration process).
When the regime fell, so did the resort and with it, the island, until the Montenegrin government, following the country’s independence in 2006, looked for a brand to restore it to its former glory and Aman won the privilege.
As I was booking my summer stay, I did not understand the difference between Villa Milocer and Sveti Stefan.
No other place in Montenegro is so well known and emblematic as Sveti Stefan and yet no other place has prompted so much confusion and false information.
Pretty much every business online tries to impersonate and appropriate the hotel’s name some quite successfully. So much so that I could not figure out the various accommodation options when booking. Let me clarify what Villa Milocer is.
Villa Milocer was the summer residence of the Serbian Queen built in the 1930s and taken over by Aman together with the island and three beaches on the mainland, one of which is where Villa Milocer is.
While Sveti Stefan is only open during the summer months, Villa Milocer is the only accommodation available in the winter when the spa is also fully functioning and the main reason to come to Aman Sveti Stefan, as the winters in that part of Montenegro are cold, rainy and very windy.
Villa Milocer is very different from Sveti Stefan and made of a large two floor stone walled villa surrounded by manicured gardens and facing the sea. Because of its location, it is secluded and protected from the violent winds which the area is known for.
Arrival and check-in at Aman Sveti Stefan
Sveti Stefan is clearly marked for kilometers before you even get there. It helps that the island is visible from the coastal road as you turn from Budva so you just need to follow the signs or your GPS.
In the summer months, the beaches surrounding Sveti Stefan are incredibly packed and the entire area is filled with people coming to take a photo against the country’s most famous backdrop, so driving down to the resort requires good skills in obstacle avoidance and narrow turns.
Once you get all the way to the entrance to the island you only need to give the guard your name and they will park your car and take your luggage while one of the front desk staff comes to pick you up on foot.
Like with many other Aman properties, there are no buggies, and no cars anywhere near the resort. In Bhutan, every arrival at a new lodge meant a five minute walk from the car to the entrance. This ensures that the resort is fully private and protected from any car noise.
The walk along the ismuth is already magical. Because entrance is restricted only to guests or the pre-booked daily tours of the island, this short stroll feels like a walk on the red carpet.
The reception is located right by the entrance to the island, in front of the small church, and since we were early and our room was not ready, we were shown to the Piazza terrace restaurant where we had a drink while we waited for the room.
Our room was ready shortly after so we were given a tour of the island on the way there. Sveti Stefan was a functioning village and so you can expect the narrow lanes, the churches, the many stairs and some small details to help you remember the way back.
This did not prevent us from getting lost every single time as all the lanes looked the same and so we took a different path back to the room every time.
When we arrived at the room, the check in formalities were left on the table for us to fill them in including an indemnity form that was never filled nor collected. We were also told about the boat service running from the island to Villa Milocer and given a brief explanation about some of the island’s quirks.
The resort had left a bottle of red vranac wine labelled for Aman and produced by the partner winery Radevic in the room, together with two wine glasses.
The rooms at Aman Sveti Stefan
As I mentioned earlier, there are two types of accommodation options at Aman Sveti Stefan, the cottages and rooms at Sveti Stefan and the rooms at Villa Milocer.
The two types of accommodations are very different and hard to compare. Even after staying there, I am still unsure which one of the two options I would prefer when comparing the entry level rooms, but I know that if money was no object, I would take one of the rooms with balconies and sea views on the island.
So let’s look at the types of accommodations at Aman Sveti Stefan.
The island is only open from May to October and has a range of accommodation options, mostly because no two houses and hence, no two rooms, are the same. They were all former fishing cottages and so each is different to the next.
Aman did restore them in a similar fashion so there are a lot of similarities across rooms, but the layout and the specifics vary.
The entry level cottages and rooms are bare and rustic. They have thick, white washed walls, wooden beamed ceilings and marble floors with oak furniture and usually face internal streets or rooftops.
Deluxe cottages come with sea views and suites have their own terraces and sunbeds on top of the views.
We booked one of the Deluxe Cottages and, despite it facing the sea, the window in the bedroom was very small. Because the island was designed as a defensive fortress and Aman has kept the structures as it was, large windows are rare.
You can feel the island’s past everywhere inside the rooms. There are unusual holes on the wall and very peculiar layouts owning to the fact that these were built in very different times when there were no toilets and living arrangements were very different.
Our room had a large bedroom area with a wooden desk, a chair and a closet. There was another cupboard where the minibar was hidden and a TV placed on top. Two armchairs and a small table by the bedroom’s only window completed the furniture.
The bed was plush, bright white and soft but otherwise practically empty save for a small beige bed throw and two small bedside tables. The bed lights were mobile and could be placed in one of the four wall hooks.
The bathroom was even more spartan. Entirely white, except for the small amounts of marble and wood on the sink top and the cream marble floors, it was functional and pretty in the way that only a seaside house can be.
The shower was large and the bathtub freestanding. There was a rocking chair where I could have spent countless lazy afternoons dozing off after a delicious lunch.
The shower amenities were made by the monks at the nearby monastery and the bathtub came with bright orange bath salts. Towels were large and fluffy, mirrors were round and well lit.
Had the cottages not been in an Aman property they would have been considered simple and probably rented out for 200 euro a night at most. But this was Aman, so the Deluxe Cottages fetched close to 2,000 euro in the summer months.
Because there is only one Sveti Stefan, and it is a magical place.
More so without the chandeliers, the gold and the ostentatious luxury. Aman does unassuming, understated and simple better than anyone else. It is also the master of invisible service, although Sveti Stefan fell very short on that category. And I expected the service to shine given the rates.
But there was one last accommodation on the island perfect for those looking to truly retire to the comfort of their own private retreat: the Sveti Stefan Suite, which was also, coincidentally, the most expensive accommodation on the entire resort and comes with its own pool, terraces and Adriatic views. It is also priced above 5,000 euros a night during the summer months.
If you prefer to be closer to the beach and want to feel like royalty, Villa Milocer has six luxury suites with parquet flooring, double-sided fireplaces that divide the living space from the bedroom, thick carpets and large bathrooms with freestanding bathtubs.
They also have their own balconies either facing the sea or the forests at the back and are much larger, warmer and cozier than the island rooms, although they have a similar price to the Deluxe cottages.
For extra privacy you can also rent the 2 Queen Marija suites which are located next to Villa Milocer in a separate building and are perfect for a family or a group of friends.
Because it is really hard to choose between the two locations and most guests stay at Aman Sveti Stefan for a few days, the staff confided that most guests split their stay between the two types of accommodations, enjoying both styles on the same trip.
Dining at Aman Sveti Stefan
During the summer months there are a lot of dining options at the resort, both on the island as well as at Villa Milocer.
On the island, there is a Signature restaurant located at one end of the island facing the sunset, in an indoor and al fresco venue split into two levels of terraces and with sweeping views of the sea and the coast towards Budva.
Sunsets at the adjacent bar on the top floor have to be some of the most amazing in the entire country and the bartender can prepare any cocktail you want or you can get the expert barmen to suggest a local wine.
Aman has an extensive list of local wines that are hard to find elsewhere in the country, most notably the more premium bottles that are harder to find. We tried a bottle of Plantaze Vladika which I later purchased at the winery to take home and which was a recommendation from the sommelier.
The menu here is traditional Montenegrin and the chef will be happy to prepare pretty much any Montenegrin dish you want to try. The fresh seafood and fish is a must as the food in Montenegro does not get any better than on the coast.
We pre-booked a Montenegrin dinner which the chef prepared after a conversation with us. We settled for a huge cold platter with cheese, hams, sausages, olives, dried fruits and dips with bread followed by a 1.5kg whole fish cooked in the oven with a ton of vegetables.
The staff cleaned and served it table side and we were not even able to finish a third of it, despite the chef claiming that 1.5kg was “a good size for two”.
The Signature restaurant is only open for dinner and a maximum of two tables are reserved for external guest bookings per night.
The Piazza Restaurant is spread between several levels including some terraces on the edge, right by the sea, and served Italian and Mediterranean dishes under the shade of a few pine trees.
Here the feeling is that of being in the square of any Mediterranean fishing village, right by the sea. The atmosphere is relaxed and laid back, half of the guests have taken their shoes off and opened their shirt top button.
La Piazza serves both breakfast and lunch. The breakfast menu is from an a la carte list with several options including freshly baked pastries and breads, Montenegrin burek, pancakes, eggs in various styles, fresh fruits, cereals, granola, bircher muesli, yogurts, juices, coffee or tea, etc.
There were also lots of healthier options like chia seed porridge and also some savory dishes like frittata, polenta, focaccia or shakshuka with chickpeas.
You could also make your own by picking any of the items available on the menu and building your perfect combination. We tried them all because, well, we had to write this review right?
Villa Milocer also had another dining option, Loggia, with an al fresco location and tables under the shade of crawling plants and flowers and sea views.
The restaurant there served breakfast, lunch and dinner and we favored its menu and its location over the Piazza for both breakfast and lunch.
Lunch had a lot of Mediterranean options with fresh seafood salads in huge portions coming with bright vegetables and beautifully plated.
The breakfast menu included some of the same options at Piazza and some additional ones.
Dinner at Loggia could also be enjoyed outdoors or indoors, especially necessary when the temperatures dropped.
For lunch, King’s Beach had a snack menu that could be ordered from the sunbeds including fresh watermelon wedges, fresh fruits, Nicoise, Caesar or Greek salads, vegetarian panini or burgers, along with a comprehensive cocktail and drinks list.
Queen’s Beach had a similar lunch option which could also be enjoyed on some of the tables and chairs in a shaded area.
Aman Sveti Stefan also has a strong in-room dining menu both for breakfast and at any other time of the day with the option to order pretty much anytime of the day and night with varying menus available at different times.
However, unless you were indeed staying at the Sveti Stefan Suite or coming in the winter, when the cozy rooms must be very appealing, the outdoor dining options were hard to beat.
Food at Aman was invariably great and, considering the prices of the room and the usual Aman rates, reasonably priced. Portions were very generous and dished beautifully presented. The staff were some of the best in the entire resort too.
Facilities at Aman Sveti Stefan
By now you must have realised that Aman Sveti Stefan is huge. There are over 2km of beaches spread across three locations, three pools, a huge spa and gym, expansive gardens and, of course, lots of spaces across the island to sit down or even lay down on a sun bed.
The beaches of Aman Sveti Stefan
Perhaps the most important and stunning part of Aman Sveti Stefan is the beach. There are three beaches located on the mainland and connected via a path that crosses beautiful pine forests.
The main beach is perhaps the most famous and the most photographed in the entire country, no doubt. It is pink and pebbled with the clearest waters you will see that make fishing boats appear as if they were floating in the air.
This beach is only accessible to guests but because all beaches in Montenegro are public, Aman had to make a concession and make the beach also available to anyone willing to pay an access fee. How much? 100 euro per person for a sunbed, umbrella, towel and water bottle. Admittedly, this deters pretty much anyone interested, so the beach remains reserved to guests only.
There is also a small part of the beach, closest to the ismuth, that is reserved for the descendents of the villagers who once lived on the island. They are free to use it with their own towels and you will invariably meet some on your trip.
The next beach along the coast towards Przno, is King’s Beach, about seven or eight minutes walk from Sveti Stefan and also pink pebbled.
This is where Villa Milocer is located and the beach is also accessible to the general public for a fee of 120 euro per day, higher than Sveti Stefan.
This beach is more popular with guests who prefer it to the busier Sveti Stefan which is permanently surrounded by foot traffic in the summer months.
King’s Beach also sees a lot of locals who walk from Przno to Sveti Stefan along the coast crossing the grounds of Villa Milocer which are public.
Despite this permanent strong of passersby, the beach feels peaceful because it is slightly below the promenade level and quite wide, so it feels much more secluded.
King’s Beach is a crescent shaped bay and it is surrounded by pine trees on both sides and a line of buoys protects it from oncoming boats which are not allowed to land on the sand.
Water sports are available to guests here, as are reef shoes (although they were permanently used by other guests) and paddle boards.
You can jump on the resort’s speedboat and go from the island to King’s Beach all through the day, although we could not figure out the timings or frequency and you cannot contact the boatman. He also takes a 1h break for lunch when you would actually want to get to the other side.
The last beach, furthest from the island, is Queen’s Beach, a favorite among guests because it is the only private beach in Montenegro, entirely reserved to Aman Sveti Stefan residents and only accessible via a fence that can be opened with the room key card.
In true Aman style, you will not see any sign or branding on the fence, so only those “in the know” will know to use their access card to enter. It took us a few minutes to figure this out.
Queen’s Beach is the smallest beach of the three although big enough that it never feels crowded. Its shell shape protects it from the waves and the wind and makes it feel really secluded. It is also pink pebbled like the other two beaches.
The pools at Aman Sveti Stefan
Aside from the long beach area, there are also three swimming pools at Aman although they are all quite small. Two of them are located on the island and the third one at the spa.
The only family-friendly pool at Aman Sveti Stefan is the one by the Signature restaurant, located alongside the church which used to be a casino. It has both an indoor and an outdoor area and it is heated when it get cold.
The construction of the swimming pool unveiled the existence of the church which had been practically destroyed and converted into a casino during the time of Yugoslavia.
The area around the pool is pretty small with just a few sunbeds usually occupied by the only families at the resort. While this is a good place to watch the sunset, I found the area too crowded and noisy as soon as some children arrived.
The other pool on the island is located at the back, facing the sea, and is secluded on the edge and surrounded by the rocky cliffs and tall pine trees and adults-only.
There are two rows of sunbeds here, but for the entire duration of my stay, they were reserved from early morning (8,30am). This was truly disappointing and not expected of the clientele one should rub shoulders with at Aman. But alas, the sunbeds here were mostly shaded and I came to sunbathe so I favored the beach.
The last pool is by the spa and it is indoor and heated. It is quite wide and long enough for some proper laps. One end of it is actually outdoors but can be fully closed off with glass windows.
There are lots of beds around it and a relatively warm atmosphere conducive to relaxing or even sleeping.
The spa and the gym at Aman Sveti Stefan
In the winter months, when the beach is not a draw and the island is closed, Aman Sveti Stefan focuses on wellness leveraging its beautiful spa and facilities to welcome international jetsetters in search of a rewarding time.
Sveti Stefan’s spa is spread over two levels and three buildings in Queen’s Beach, away from the hussle of the foot traffic. It is set back from the beach, behind a large garden area covered in manicured grass.
The regular massages and treatments at Aman are taken to a whole new level with the use of wild and local foraged plants and herbs in the products.
The spa’s heated indoor pool is complemented with hydrotherapy suites which come with a sauna, steam room and plunge pools.
Aman also gets a regular stream of specialists coming from a variety of backgrounds from craniosacral therapy to yoga, ayurveda, pilates, etc. Special journeys are personalised for each guest.
Group sessions are available daily with options like kickboxing, yoga, pilates or aqua movement classes priced at 50 euro per person per session.
The gym at Aman was also quite large, almost empty and adequately equipped. It did not have many machines and the largest weights were quite small.
The activities at Aman Sveti Stefan
While Aman Sveti Stefan has a lot of facilities, there is not a lot to do onsite beyond enjoying the place. And to be honest, this is what we did. I had no intention of leaving the property and the surroundings are so beautiful that I just could not get enough.
If you are staying for a longer time and want to explore Montenegro, the entire country is reachable on day trips so the resort is the perfect place to base yourself for all your Montenegrin explorations.
Aman Sveti Stefan has a whole team of in-house guides and drivers to take you on several of the excursions that are available on the activities menu, or anywhere else really.
The gentleman in charge of the activities, also a guide himself, was the kindest and most interesting staff member of the entire Aman team and he shared a lot of insights into the country which made a difference in our stay.
He also helped us organise an excursion to Cetinje and the Mausoleum of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš on Mount Lovcen with one of the guides.
Aman has its own team of drivers and stunning cappuccino-leather black BMW cars to fetch guests around.
Some of the other excursions on offer are wine tours, excursions to the royal capital of Cetinje, the ham village of Neguzki, the medieval town of Budva nearby, UNESCO-listed Kotor and its bay, Mount Lovcen, Skadar Lake, etc.
For sea explorations, the resort owns two boats, a large yacht and a beautiful wooden sailing boat, all of which are available for rent at fabulous prices to match. Montenegro’s coast lends itself to lazy sailing so that would be one of the best ways to spend a day.
Service at Aman Sveti Stefan
I had justified the very high rates to my partner on the basis of Aman’s service promise: “No detail is too small, no request too big”, the brand claims. And much to my disappointment, Sveti Stefan did not deliver on that promise and, at almost 2,000 euro a night, that is just not acceptable.
There were some staff members who were fantastic, among which the gentleman at the activities desk or the staff at the Signature Restaurant and Bar who were friendly and efficient. Some others were just poorly mannered, inexperienced and novice at the business of luxury hotels.
The reception team was particularly below par. We called several times for a few things that never materialised. We needed a nail clipper and they suggested to send someone to the nearby pharmacy to get it for us, but that never came and we never heard about it.
We called to find out when the next boat to King’s Beach would be and they called to find out only to tell it was on its way. So we walked from the reception to the pier and the boat left (empty) just as were going down the stairs. There is no way to call back from the pier so we had to walk back to get them to call the boatman to return again.
When we checked in, nobody explained to us that there were group movement activities like yoga or pilates and we only found out when we visited the spa on our last morning. Our room did not have the leaflet either.
Some of the staff at the Piazza for breakfast were too casual and informal, I felt as if we were at a university bar rather than at a refined 5 star resort.
The beach team is made of inexperienced seasonal staff that looked like students. Their English was not great but more importantly, their service wasn’t either.
We had to get up and walk to their beach chairs every time we wanted drinks because they were not paying attention to guests. They then took forever to bring them and we even saw the staff go to the wrong sunbed to apologise about our drinks taking longer than expected.
We asked for reef shoes to get into the water because the sea was pebbly and rocky, and it took almost 30min to get a pair of old shoes that were extremely worn out and had holes in them.
I asked for an iron and ironing board for a few of my linen dresses and it remained, open, in the middle of the bathroom where I had left it for the rest of our stay, they did not even care to fold it or tidy it away.
We went on a tour to Lovcen and the Mausoleum with a stopover on the way back in Cetinje to visit the museum. And it was closed when we arrived. It was a very long drive to get there only to find it closed and I would have expected Aman to call ahead and make sure, or to simply know their opening hours to save us the steep price of the tour and the wasted time.
The staff didn’t know our names either. We were asked for our room number on multiple occasions, even after eating at the same place twice, we felt that there were new staff members every day, it just was not personable.
I am not even sure we met the GM at all during our stay. This is very rare of Aman where the GM greets every guest on arrival and departure and always comes by to say hi and see if everything is going well. We were not even bid farewell at all, we simply paid the bill and walked off down to the car.
The pool bookings at the only adults-pool on the island was unacceptable and the hotel should not allow this to happen. It made me feel like we were at some all-inclusive 3 star resort somewhere in Benidorm, not at the Balkan’s most expensive hotel.
It wasn’t terrible service, but it was not worth the 2,000 euro a night. It also felt very short of Aman’s standards. Had it not been my ninth Aman, I would have felt taken advantage of. I know that my partner feels like that since it was his first.
I also felt slightly embarrassed for having recommended the hotel so effusively and excitedly for months under the promise of incomparable service, only to find none of Aman’s invisible hand touches.
And this was a shame because the resort is truly magical and out of a fairy tale, so it deserves the best staff it can possible have.
I pondered on the reality of this and why this could have happened. Surely, Aman is able to attract the very best. However, the island is only open in the summer months so the majority of the staff are young (students maybe?) who work only during that period.
You could tell a huge difference between the staff on Sveti Stefan and that on Villa Milocer. You could also clearly tell the long term, older and permanent staff from the younger, seasonal ones. I hope Aman addresses this in the future.
Coming to Aman Sveti Stefan at the end of August, still in the peak season, meant we paid full rate, almost twice as much as the rate in the lower season and approaching 2,000 euro a night with breakfast, service charge and taxes for the Deluxe Cottage on the island.
I am very strict when it comes to rating hotels of this price range and so I expect a hotel of this highest caliber to be absolutely perfect. After all, this must be the most expensive hotel I have ever stayed at and Aman delivered in the previous nine hotels of the brand I stayed at.
Was it worth it?
The fairytale location of Aman Sveti Stefan is hard to beat. The aura of this historical island and the magic feeling of the narrow cobblestoned lanes make you feel like royalty. And I did.
However, the service, signature of Aman and what has made me love the brand so much to the point of making it my most favorite hotel brand in the world, fell short of my well-founded expectations.
The staff are just not up to par and the invisible hand of Aman is nowhere to be seen. Service is friendly and often enthusiastic, but it does not go beyond any other 5 star hotel.
The small details are lost and they indeed feel like too much of an effort rather than anything is possible. It was a real shame because the rest of the experience was a dream come true, but the service just could not take the hotel from an 8/10 to the 10/10 as it should have been.
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