The Balkan Riviera

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el greco

Porto Montenegro, the Balkan Riviera

The resort is courting Russian oligarchs and minigarchs as it prepares to open for its first season

The black-and-white-tiled infinity pool at Porto Montenegro stretches 213 feet and features panoramic views of the Bay of Kotor. It's believed to be the longest infinity pool in the five-year history of the Republic of Montenegro, and a construction crew is currently at work on a surrounding teak deck, rows of cabanas, and a DJ platform. On the opposite shore is a cluster of squat gray houses where Yugoslav Army officers once vacationed.

The pool, now empty, is expected to be filled by July. That's when British ex-hedge-fund manager and Rothschild scion Nathaniel Rothschild will celebrate his 40th birthday with 400 of his closest friends. According to Colin Kingsmill, Porto Montenegro's sales and marketing director, Rothschild's guests will include the ritziest, wealthiest, and most photogenic people on earth. Kingsmill won't say who's coming, exactly, but he claims the "least interesting" person on the invite list is Tony Blair.

The soiree is the highlight of what local officials predict will be the most exciting summer in the history of Porto Montenegro—largely because it's going to be the first summer in the history of Porto Montenegro. Three years after breaking ground, the resort town—located in the western city of Tivat—is preparing to celebrate its first fully functional season. Porto Montenegro encompasses 60 acres of beachfront real estate and has water rights to 160 acres along the Bay of Kotor, which, local officials note, leads to the Adriatic Sea, which leads to the Mediterranean Sea. When all the construction is completed in five or six years, Porto Montenegro will include a luxury hotel, a casino, 700 apartments, and 650 yacht berths. In the meantime, according to Kingsmill, condominium prices have already risen from $600 to nearly $2,000 per square foot. If all goes as planned, Rothschild could celebrate his 50th birthday there, too.

Montenegro has one particular advantage over other powder kegs of the nouveaux riches: Not only is it gorgeous, it's also very poor. Just beyond Porto Montenegro's gated walls is a broken country littered with rusting Yugos and a lot of tall people with unfortunate dentistry. Until 1991, Montenegro was part of communist Yugoslavia; then it was part of Serbia, and in 2006, after war ravaged nearly all of former Yugoslavia except Montenegro, Montenegro achieved independence.

Inside the gates of Porto Montenegro, however, the atmosphere is Miami-meets-Venice with a healthy dollop of Soviet chic: models in thongs, men with spray tans, and four-story apartment buildings. Locals like to brag that the casino from the 2006 James Bond movie Casino Royale is supposed to be in Montenegro. "This has been very good for branding," says Branko V., who does not use a last name and studied marketing in the capital city of Podgorica before becoming a taxi driver. However, Phil Méheux, Casino Royale's director of photography, says the casino scenes were actually shot in the Czech Republic. Regardless, Tivat is blessed with a deep port, which was once the home of Soviet warships—and will now welcome Russian superyachts.

Naturally, the resort town is the brainchild of an octogenarian Canadian billionaire. Peter Munk toured the undeveloped area by helicopter in 2004 and decided it was the perfect site to build a new French Riviera, albeit from 50 years ago—before, he says, the French Riviera became too expensive, too congested, and too French. "The French are a bunch of goddamned spoiled kids," says Munk, the founder and chairman of Barrick Gold ( ABX ), the world's largest gold mining company. "I was in Monaco in the Fifties, when they were hungry and kissed the ass of the British— kissed the ass!—and they did what they had to do to please them, to feed them, to go to bed with them. They were poor then, and the pound was ruling." No longer, says Munk: Now, "they think the water belongs to them."

So in 2008, Munk led the effort to develop the anti-Monaco Monaco in a recently sovereign country where there's no fuel tax, no economic base, and the government is extremely eager to attract foreign capital. (Kingsmill says the Montenegrin Army sweeps the waterfront for bombs every time Oleg Deripaska, the Russian aluminum oligarch and Porto Montenegro minority stakeholder, is due to arrive. Deripaska's spokesman declined to comment.) Munk, 83, doesn't mind that he may not live to see a return on his $135 million investment. "I cannot think of a better thing I've done in my life," he says. "I saw a project that, in a relatively short period of time, could transform not just the global perception but the whole country's economic base."

Perception problems, though, still abound. While Montenegro's history suggests there may be some bureaucratic snags, a greater problem, say local authorities, is the potential clientele. Thirty percent of the people already coming to the resort town are extremely wealthy Russians, Kingsmill says, before adding carefully, "They're not the Russians you find at Monaco." The Russians you find in Monaco, he explains, smoke profusely, wear flashy Italian clothing, and usually come with gaggles of young women and mock-turtleneck-wearing bodyguards.

These Russians have already taken over Budva, a half-hour drive south of Porto Montenegro, and are in search of new ports, nightclubs, and other places to spoil. According to Viia Beaumanis, who is launching the restaurant One at Porto Montenegro, "the threat is real." Beaumanis says numerous Russian oligarchs, minigarchs, and aspiring minigarchs have already snatched up beachfront property—though she suspects that Porto Montenegro is not "glitzy enough for ultra-bling Russians, who'd prefer to dock next to P. Diddy in St. Tropez." Still, Ben Schusterman, the president of Los Angeles-based ElJet Aviation Services, says his company routinely flies groups of seven or eight from Moscow to Podgorica or Tivat. A roundtrip costs $49,000.

Herein lies Porto Montenegro's greatest challenge: discouraging certain clientele while still fostering an environment that attracts the ludicrously rich. Oliver Corlette, Porto Montenegro's managing director, says there's nothing inherently unclassy about newly loaded Russian oligarchs. "We have all seen unsavory British, German, and American tourists, as well as Russian," Corlette says. "We expect [Porto Montenegro] will appeal only to those who appreciate the authentic and subtle forms of luxury, wherever they are from." As proof, Kingsmill says the Russians currently visiting Porto Montenegro are much more like Deripaska than, say, Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian tycoon who was arrested on suspicions of importing hookers during a 2007 French repast. Deripaska, on the other hand, "loves yoga," Kingsmill says. "He comes here with his kids and walks around in his flip-flops and buys them gelato." To assuage any outstanding anxieties, though, Corlette is quick to note that Porto Montenegro "includes a majority of Western Europeans—in particular, British."

Developers hope to soon add Hollywood stars, European aristocrats, and oil sheiks to the guest list. (Kingsmill says there was a lot of Porto Montenegro buzz at the 2011 Abu Dhabi Yacht Show.) Yet Munk doesn't care who comes. He never intended to create a "community," he says. The most important thing, according to Munk, is being in a beautiful yacht, far away from other people. "Here they can just be themselves," Kingsmill says, whatever that may entail. According to Branko, the taxi driver, "Here they are being assholes like there are no other assholes on the earth." That, too, is part of Munk's grand vision: "Fifty years from now," he says, "I hope the Montenegrins are prosperous enough that they don't give a shit about some Brit showing up in a yacht!

By Peter Savodnik
April 14, 2011, 5:00PM EST
Niccolo and Donkey
The coastline is where all the action is. The interior (outside of the capital Podgorica and the royal historical capital of Cetinje) are Balkan backwaters. Djukanovic made this a country on the back of cigarette smuggling through his links with the various Italian Mafias, particularly the Sacra Corona Unita based around Bari. As the article discusses, the Russians are in full view in places like Budva. Corruption is endemic and everyone is on the take.

I'm going to try to get down there for the first time ever this summer as two of my friends will be throwing a party there next year and are securing a few deals.
el greco
Sailing Amid Rothschilds and Russians

by Taki Theodoracopulos
July 14, 2011

PORTO MONTENEGRO—My friend John Sutin, the world’s most generous man, could not believe his ears. Montenegro’s Tivat Airport would not allow him to land because more than 80 private jets had already booked parking spaces. So we landed in Dubrovnik instead.

The Croatian airport welcomed us by rushing us through customs as if we were big shots rather than Nat Rothschild’s guests in neighboring Montenegro. A one-hour car trip saw us reach the Bay of Kotor, where the three-day-and-night bash to celebrate Nat’s 40th birthday was taking place.

Montenegro’s crammed airport had me momentarily thinking of the notorious terrorist Carlos the Jackal . Had a modern Carlos the Jackal decided to strike in Porto Montenegro last weekend, the capitalist system would still exist, but with a hell of a dent in it.

Bushido awaited us in a perfect place in the middle of the marina, a walking distance from all the activities. My black sailing boat stood out among the ghastly super-yachts, the only graceful lady among a bunch of steroid-pumped behemoths. My problem was the two previous nights in London. Wednesday night went on into the wee hours in the company of Georgie Wells, Lily Robinson, and Ophelia Hohler. And Harry Worcester, Johnson Somerset, and Tim Hanbury. Thursday was even worse, with the Spectator party, the Spencer House party for Everyman’s Library books, and finally, the Tatler pajama party at an unmentionable hotel.

Before I go on, I should mention the unmentionable place.

After dining at Bellamy’s, Harry Worcester had the brilliant idea to go to Claridge’s bar for a drink. We were neither drunk nor obstreperous, but we were refused a table although the place was less than a third full. After politely suggesting the management should seat us, the maître d’ came over and asked us to leave. Lord Worcester protested, as did his brother Lord John Somerset. I was at the bar and unaware we were being given the heave-ho. Once I caught on, it was too late. My party was out the door.

Here’s what I think happened and why I am outraged: We were speaking English, we were white, and we had not demanded myriad bottles of champagne. The staff was obviously hoping for Gulf people, whose moolah derives from theft of their own countries’ resources. The idea that four English-speaking European gents with four ladies in tow are asked to leave Claridge’s is as outrageous as it’s foul. Talk about reverse discrimination.

My only recourse is to ask loyal Spectator readers—and those of Taki’s Mag —to boycott the place until Claridge’s takes an ad on Taki’s Mag and apologizes to us.

It was very hard to appreciate Nat’s blast without sleep. During the first night’s sumptuous dinner at the Lido Mar pool —lined with black-and-white tiles—I drifted among the four hundred guests trying to spot a poor one. And I did. Except for myself, there was also a London-based Iranian nightclub owner who was discovered to have flown in by commercial airline and not to be in possession of a yacht. Rumor had it that he was pilloried in the middle of the marina and that young Montenegrins stuck gum in his hair and put insects in his nostrils, but a serious-minded policeman told me it was only a rumor. I don’t remember much about the party except that I found myself next to one of the richest Russian oligarchs, Len Blavatnik , and the conversation went something like this:

Me: “You Russian?”
He: “Yes.”
Me: “You Jew?”
He: “Yes.”
Me: “You billionaire oligarch?”

No answer.

Then he started.

He: “You Greek?”
Me: “Yes.”
He: “You Jew?”
Me: “Not even close.”
He: “You very rich?”
Me: “Father big ship-owner and industrialist, but me make small fortune out of big one. We probably met while you were going up and I was coming down.”

That’s when he burst into laughter.

He gave me his card and his address is in Kensington Palace Gardens, the foreign embassies’ Welfare Row. The trouble was that he could not have been nicer, laughing at my stupidities and drunken talk. He was not at all the ogre one expects when one hears the dreaded words “Russian oligarch.” Live and learn, I guess.

Next evening everyone assembled right in front of Bushido and regaled me with compliments about her beauty. Nat and an assortment of other Rothschilds came onboard, and we had a quick cocktail party before walking across the palm-fringed promenade to Nat’s final evening shindig. There were yachts and private jets galore and some awfully leggy blondes. But for the moment I am sailing down to Corfu and poor little broken Hellas, whose financial problems would be solved tomorrow if power was taken away from the politicians and given to some of the types I met over the weekend.