Episode 23

Buying a Holiday Home in Montenegro

Published on: 24th September, 2023

In this episode, join me as I explore the captivating journey of Helen Reynolds Brown, a British expat living in Belgium, who found her dream holiday home in the picturesque coastal region of Montenegro, near the ancient city of Kotor.

Helen shares her incredible experiences, insights, and adventures in this enchanting Balkan paradise.

Discover why Montenegro, with its stunning landscapes, diverse community, and unique charm, has stolen her heart.

From the challenges of navigating the local culture to the joys of savouring Montenegrin cuisine, Helen's story provides a delightful glimpse into the allure of this hidden gem in the Western Balkans.

If you've ever considered owning a holiday home abroad or simply want to explore the beauty of Montenegro through the eyes of an expat, this episode is a must-watch.

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Stay tuned for more exciting stories and adventures from the Englishman in the Balkans podcast!

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It's an Englishman in the Balkans podcast. And as you will know, if you've been following me, Tamra and I went to Montenegro for the first time in four years back to where we'd gone annually. It's a place called Prcanj. It's a small place on the shoreline of the Bay of Kotor, not too far away from the ancient Viennese, I think it is Venetian, sorry, city of Kotor.

Now I knew some time ago that there was a lady from Britain that had something to do with Perch and we were following each other on social media. And that had really gone out of my mind to be honest. But on this one day, Tam and I went down to look at one of our old haunts actually, the Center Cafe, which has changed immensely. But we'll talk about that on another podcast, I'm sure. And then Helen, this lady that I never really met said,

I can see my house. So anyway, we got chatting and I said, would you want the images? And she said, yes. So I've sent them to her and I thought, it'd be really good because she has a holiday home there and it'd be interesting to find out what it's like for Brits living or holidaying at least in Montenegro. So I am over the moon, totally stoked to be joined by Helen Reynolds Brown, who's a Brit. She can tell us who she is in a minute.

and lives in Belgium. So here comes a standard David question. Who is Helen Reynolds-Brown? Goodness. What a question to start with. Yes, I do live in Belgium and I am a trained interpreter and linguist and lifelong language lover and really just a traveler and enjoy.

I've always enjoyed traveling Eastern Europe, Russia. I'm a Russianist and started going to Montenegro about 14 years ago now with my husband on honeymoon. So that gives you a little way into who I am anyway. Helen, what inspired you and your husband to choose Montenegro specifically near Kotor as a location to have a holiday home?

drew you to the place? As I said, we went on honeymoon to not just Montenegro, we started off in Croatia and we traveled down a little bit. As we got into the Bay of Cotter, I just thought, wow, this is just such a gorgeous place. It just got us, it just grabbed both of us. Both of us love the mountains and particularly the sea. Obviously, Montenegro has got a lot of both of those.

My husband sails and we love to swim. We saw the Bay of Kotor and we just absolutely fell in love with it. We spent about a week there traveling around mostly on the other side of the bay to Prcanj, so Morin, Risan. We absolutely loved it and we kept going back. Little by little, we thought, do you know what? If we keep going back, why don't we think about getting somewhere to maybe...

stay every time we go back. And that was the real kind of genesis of getting a holiday home in the Bay of Kotor. Well, the most significant cultural differences you encountered. Initially, we'll talk about the purchase and how, if any problems there were, but how do you find the cultural differences for me and Tamara? For me, I still suffer with it, even though that we're from the neighboring country and the language is exceedingly similar.

But yeah, there are still some differences between Montenegrins and Bosnians who are both exceedingly different from Brits. What was it like coping with the culture? I'll give one away. Is it true that Montenegrins spend most of their day on their back because they're so laid back?

from local people, from people in Western Balkans and from Montenegrins themselves, actually. There we go. It's not just outsiders who say it, Montenegrins say it themselves as well. Yeah, I suppose the first few times it was a laid back nature, the sort of way you never quite know whether this invitation means this afternoon or this evening or sometime this week or just turn up when you fancy it.

Those kinds of things, yeah, that sort of haphazard nature of things, threw us a little bit. And I just think you take that as it comes and it's really the flip side is people are more relaxed. They go with the flow a lot more. It doesn't matter. They don't get caught up with the small things. And that actually, the kind of cultural differences and that culture shock actually is quite a

positive thing, I think, especially if you're spending holiday time. Now, I don't know about working and doing business in Montenegro, but certainly having a holiday there, that kind of relaxed way of doing things is a real plus. Has it been frustrating at times for you with the maybe sometime could be attitude? Is it great at times or have you got used to it now?

think you have to get used to it quite quickly. The only thing is, I think what frustrated me is if like we did, doing some kind of repairs or getting new furniture for our apartment and pinning people down on delivery times and will it get there sometime this week or maybe next week or maybe the week after when we're not in Montenegro anymore. That kind of thing, yes.

It's slightly frustrating to have that laid back attitude. Yeah, I will admit. That rolls in neatly to my next question for you, because I've seen what it's like for people to purchase property in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So it's going to be interesting to see if there are any similarities, because how did you manage as a foreigner? I don't know if you like the term expat, but I prefer foreigner.

How did you handle the legal and admin aspects of purchasing your property in somewhere like Montenegro that doesn't have the super professional infrastructure that a country such as Germany may well have? I agree with you. I don't like that word expat. I like foreigners in a country. Yes, yeah. And things are different.

And administration is different in every country you go to. And we were very fortunate to buy with a company that had a mixture of British foreigners, Brits and local people in the company. And they were so helpful in really leading us through everything, the administration.

paying your utilities, switching your accounts, all of that they went through step by step with us and they gave us a lowdown to start off with. They came to the notary with us and it was really they babysat us through the entire process for which I am eternally grateful. So having people who speak your language and having people who know the lie of the land as well is absolutely…

way to go. You need both sides of things, definitely. Was it a long process? I've seen things here where I live and they don't seem to happen overnight. Plus, trying to find the perfect place for you. Prcanj has got a lot of old buildings that are crying out to be restored, brought back to these wonderful situations that they would have been in many years ago. So maybe

Was it a long process, one to purchase the property? And more importantly, was it a drawn out process as well to find the place that you really said, oh, this is for us? And let me take the other way around. So finding the place, we were looking not very seriously.

for a few months before we had our second child. And then we were online and on the internet browsing for a bit. I wouldn't call that serious searching.

And we were looking for somewhere very small and just for holidays and just for us. So we weren't looking to let it out. So our criteria were maybe a bit different than we were maybe a bit more relaxed in what we were looking for as well. It was actually only the second place we seriously looked at that we turned around and we thought, do you know what? Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Let's do this. So.

Once we decided, it was actually pretty straightforward. As I said, we had a really nice team of people who were helping us out. The previous owner wasn't too far away, so he was able to come and sign documents. There was one owner as well because that's something you have to watch for if there are several owners of a property, they all have to agree and it can get very complicated.

The process of one finding a place, we were, I wouldn't say not choosy, but our criteria were a bit flexible. So that wasn't too much of a problem. And the process, it wasn't that long because everybody was there on site and it was actually waiting for us to go back to Montenegro and sign the paperwork, which was actually the sticking point. So it was a couple of months. It wasn't very long at all.

Having a holiday home, does that entitle you in any way to be able to have residents, for example, or are you the eternal traveller faced with the 90 days in any 180-day situation, which a lot of people don't understand and fall foul of? We have it here and, yeah, I'll open up. I did get fined for abusing it.

before I finally realised what it meant. So are you through a property owner, do you have more rights to stay and visit Montenegro than somebody like me that just cruises in for a two week holiday every year? Not really. No, not really. I believe for residency, you need to be there for 180 something days a year in order to qualify.

No, you don't have to pay the tourist tax if you are the owner of the property. That's one thing I do know. The owners and immediate family members, they don't have to pay the tourist tax. But apart from that, we would have to be staying in the flat for much longer than we do now in order to qualify for residency, unfortunately, but never mind.

Is it your sole holiday location? So whereas before you may have said, well, this year we'll go to Montenegro, next year we'll go to Marbella or wherever. Has this now sort of like focused you, because you have a holiday home, that Montenegro is going to be the place that you go to relax, chill, unwind or whatever? Yes, most definitely. We've cut our money into it and we're going to be going back there. As we're in Belgium, the rest of our family is in the UK.

So, it's either UK or Montenegro now. I'm not sure what our kids will think about that as they grow up because we've been going every year, pretty much since they were both born, and they love it. They absolutely love it, and it'll be up to them to decide where they go later on. But for us, the time being, yes, it's Montenegro for the son and the UK for family. What about language, Helen? I know that you are an interpreter, so you are a...

You are linguistically there. Um, I asked, uh, Tamara's niece, um, who's very good with languages. And she said, she's a polyglot. Ask her if she's a polyglot. So two part question, are you a polyglot and how do you cope, um, with the Montenegrin language? Polyglot. I try my best. My interpreting languages were, I don't interpret anymore, were French and Russian.

So I have a background in Russian and when we started going to Montenegro, I could understand bits and pieces and I was really frustrated. I thought, I'm really going to try, especially when we decided to buy a place, really going to try and learn the language. So for the past six or seven years now, I've been taking classes online and every time we go there, I pester our neighbours, speaking my...

fairly ropey, local language. It's the only language that I've ever learned where you don't really quite know what to call it. I do pester them and we do have chats and things, but it's a slow process. It's a slow process, but even a few words and phrases, they do really help create those links and help you.

get a bit more of an idea, a bit more of a feel for the place and just get chatting to people really. I'm glad you said that because as somebody that is a linguist, I mean, I speak German. I haven't spoken it for many, many years, but I can definitely get by. But I'm always getting ribbed about the fact that why is it after the few decades I've been here that I don't speak the local language fluently? Yes. And it's difficult, isn't it, to either say is it Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian or Montenegrin?

And when I say it's the form of servo creation, it gets into all sorts of discussion points. But it is a difficult language, I find. And although you found similarities with other languages, I still feel that people in Montenegro do cut us a lot of slack, even because we try. My neighbours who are neighbours one side are retirees.

They come down from Belgrade for six months a year. They do the summer season and let rooms. One of our other neighbours, he's a permanent resident. He's Montenegro. There's a lot of confused faces, a lot of pointing, a lot of trying not to use Google Translate, but we do get there little by little. And my language.

is improving, I can get by and do the basics. So hopefully it will continue to improve. But it is a long process. It's a complicated language. And yeah, it's something that, well, you need to keep working on over many years, I think, in order to reach any level of fluency. But people do cut you a lot of slack as a foreigner. And I'm grateful for that.

I want to ask you about this. I'm getting approached quite a lot now from Brits that are looking for somewhere else to live. Not necessarily a holiday home, but maybe somewhere more permanent. In particular, people that are looking at Portugal or were looking at Portugal up until recently, and quite crazily, people saying, well, you live in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What's it like living there?

And I have to say, yeah, it's great, but unless you have a link to the country, I think you're going to feel a little bit lost because it's not going to be one big holiday. What would you say are the positive points for anybody that's watching listening to this, who says, well, all right, David says, well, maybe not Bosnia because I don't have any family connections there. But what would you say the positives are about Montenegro?

And what would you advise anybody who might be thinking of going to Montenegro? Because your advice is like gold dust. There's not much of it around online. The positives about Montenegro, especially where we are, is that it's so mixed. There are all different nationalities, local people. There are lots of people coming from Turkey now.

Lots of people from Germany, France, Brits, South Africans. It's hugely mixed and you will find your community. And online, there's a wealth of different groups, expat or foreigner groups, different interest groups. You will find your community. As well, if you're willing to learn a bit of the local language, that will always help.

and people will warm to you if you learn a little bit here and there. I would really suggest to go there for a holiday, try it out, maybe go off season because it's very different, as you know very well David, off season and in high season when it's very hot and most people are taking their holidays anyway. So go off season, I'd recommend that. And have a poke about.

see what's there, see if you can find your niche if you want to work there or if you want to retire there. Just have a look around, have a drive around and meet people as well. Just go and meet people and have chats with them and you'll find out for yourself that it's a wonderful place. It really is. What are your favourite places to go? Eateries or things that you like to go with your husband and the kids, things to do?

Yeah, you mentioned the kids because we go there most of the time with the kids. So it tends to be quite child related.

We like walking, we like locally, we like to go up to, for example, Gorni Stoliv and have a stroll around there. Fort Gorazda is lovely. It's an amazing Austro-Hungarian fort up on the hill. Amazing sunsets you can see across the bay, the outer bay, you can see the inner bay. So yeah, Fort Gorazda. In terms of

restaurants even in Prcanj, Villa Maria, and this Mademoiselle Lounge, and this what was Cafe Center as well, which as you say has changed a lot, but it's still nice to have a sit in the chill and watch the world go by.

as well as that. I like yoga, so I do yoga sessions at Yoga Boka as well. My friend Max who runs that, he's got an amazing terrace and it's lovely in the evening. It's nice and cool even in the summertime to go up there. And just walking, taking the paddleboard out, getting out on the water, we love that. We tend to stay very local because we've got two.

Still fairly young children. We're getting a bit more adventurous, but still we're not quite out hiking and camping out in the wilds just yet. The kids feature heavily here on this next question. One, how do the kids cope with the local food? And two, what is your favourite Montenegrin dish? Oh my word. Kids love the local food.

Kids love the local food. They are starch-based children anyway. They love pretty much everything and they love seafood as well. So they really love the shellfish and everything around it. They love it. And what else do they really love? Oh, there's all sorts of things I like too. In terms of favourite or...

My favourite regional dish, I do like a good summer. I really do like a good summer. And our neighbour has made it on several occasions. And it's pretty good. It's pretty good. By the way, do you drive down or do you fly from Belgium?

We fly at the moment, we're toying with the idea of driving down. Now the kids are pretty much old enough to deal with that and stop heading along the way, but for the time being it's flying, which can get a bit pricey. So yeah, we'll be looking at driving down in the next year or so, I'd say. That's good because we're en route and we do a mean summer in this family, honestly. And then when you go to Montenegro, you can argue the differences between

the two types of summer. You mentioned earlier on about people looking for places maybe to retire or whatever. Would you ever, I know this is years in advance, but have you ever thought that maybe one day this could be somewhere where you could retire to? Or is it just somewhere that you've fallen in love with as far as holidaying is concerned? For me personally, 100% I would retire there. Yeah, definitely.

I love the lifestyle, I love the outdoorsy nature of the place, the relaxed atmosphere. Yeah, 100% I would be, as I'm moving towards my retirement, I would happily spend a lot more time there and potentially go in there and semi-permanently retire out there. Yeah, I really would. Have any of your relatives gone with you, by the way, close family at all? Because that's...

Normally what happens, I mean, the British side of my family has now moved everywhere around the world, so I feel that I'm a little bit like them. But when they do come here, they really do take to it into what is a very unknown region, whether it's Bosnia-Herzegovina or Montenegro. How does your family feel about it? You said it's Belgium or...

Britain or Montenegro. So you have these three, this like triangle of places. Do your family think you're crazy or do they say, oh, when are you free? Or when is it free? Can we go and take your holiday place for a week or two? I have to say my brother-in-law and his wife are out in our flat on their honeymoon at the moment. So that might give you a bit of an idea as to what we do with it when we're not there. Yeah, we've had friends staying there, family staying there. My mum who is

Now in her 80s, yeah, she came out and stayed with us for a week in October holiday. Yeah, everyone's been out always planning to go out. And sometimes we're having to time it quite carefully to make sure there's no overlap. So it's pretty popular. And as the years go by, and obviously now we're in very much in a post COVID stage, family members are getting back to us going, oh yeah, that's, oh yeah.

Do you mind that we've got a week here in September or in April or May? Would you recommend going there? And how do we get there? And can we stay there? So everyone's interested, family, friends, and yeah, they all stay down there. Finally, what would your pitch be to anybody that's watching, listening about Montenegro from your perspective as a foreigner and yeah,

In the Western Balkans, we are very much a minority community still. It's not like in Spain or Portugal. What would be your pitch to them, you know, to not necessarily sell the concept of Montenegro, but if they wanted to find somewhere else to go, what would you say would be the benefit for people to visit the country? I would say, go now. It's changing very quickly. I think you know that much, much better than I do.

It's changing quickly. Some, in some cases for the better and some cases maybe not, I don't know. We'll wait and see. But it's such a beautiful country. If you like, if you like Croatia, if you like the outdoors kind of lifestyle, if you like something which is a little bit, maybe a bit rough and ready, sometimes a bit haphazard and you want to.

have places to discover that maybe haven't been discovered by a whole host of tourists yet, do go to Montenegro and as I said, have a poke around. There's loads to discover, not just in the Bay Area, but up in the mountains, further out and up towards Jabljak. You've got skiing, you've got hiking. There's so much.

And it's not actually that far away from Belgium or the UK or Germany. And yeah, if you want something a bit different, then really give it a go. Helen, thank you very much for just chatting in a very relaxed way about your experiences in Montenegro. I love the place very much. I live in, I've been in this region now for so long and I never envisaged living back in the UK again. It's just the way it's turned out for me.

And yeah, it's, you know, with Brexit and everything, I just feel a little bit better outside the country. I know that can be political at times, but that's just the way that I feel about it. Thank you so much for your time this evening. I know that you're very busy and let's catch up, keep in touch online and fingers crossed next summer, we can be, yeah, sat on the shore of Lake Kotor.

having a drink, having something nice to eat, and watching your kids have a really great time. Yeah, indeed. And yeah, I will listen out and I'll keep listening to your other episodes as well. So it's really fun to listen to what other people were, other people are saying about the region. And yeah, we'll catch up for a beer next summer then, definitely. Yeah, yeah. I've got first dibs on that. Okay then, have a nice evening, Helen. It's okay, see you, cheers, David.

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An Englishman in the Balkans
Find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina
Encouraging people to find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Welcome to "An Englishman in the Balkans" podcast, hosted by David Pejčinović-Bailey.
In this podcast, you'll get a unique look at life in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the eyes of an immigrant. Each episode, David shares his experiences living in this often misunderstood country, and introduces you to some of the interesting people he's met along the way.
From exploring the rich culture and history, to discussing the challenges and joys of immigrating to a new country, this podcast offers a thoughtful and engaging look at life in the Balkans.
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About your host

Profile picture for David Pejčinović-Bailey

David Pejčinović-Bailey

I am a podcaster, living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sharing my experiences of living in this often misunderstood country.