Why book Mamula Island Hotel?
The experience of staying in an exquisitely restored and reimagined 19th-century fortress that stands sentinel on its own island at the entrance to one of the most beautiful series of bays in the world is reason enough. But come, too, for the excellent food, restorative ambience and the focus on sharing the region’s history, culture and nature.
Set the scene
The experience begins when you exchange your luggage for a glass of Champagne as you board the speedboat that whisks you to the island. On one side, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Bay of Kotor stretches away, the rippling bulk of the Dinaric Alps rising precipitously above it from a strip of coastal villages and towns. On the other, the last narrow peninsula of the Croatian landmass concedes to the captivating blue of the Adriatic Sea.
Mamula Island’s smooth, curving walls are a perfect contrast to the rugged rocks of the shore, where Herring Gulls wheel and strut. A golf buggy whirs guests past a small beach fringed with miniature rock coves, across a drawbridge and through an imposing gateway to where a massive circular tower surrounds a glass-covered internal courtyard. Below the tower and sheltered from the sea by the ramparts, the pool deck with its three pools and the main restaurant offers a sociable focal point.
Built in the 1850s by General Lazar Mamula as part of a network of Austro-Hungarian fortifications that guards the entrance to the Bay of Kotor from the Adriatic, Mamula became an Italian prison camp during World War II and lay derelict since the 1970s. Its subsequent journey from fort to smart hotel bears testament to the vision and tenacity of Egyptian billionaire owner Samih Sawiris, who made his reputation bringing off impossible projects – from creating a resort town with a population of 12,000 in the Egyptian desert to transforming former Swiss military town Andermatt into a spoiling ski resort.
Building, overseen by heritage and hospitality specialists MCM Lisbon, took seven years and focused on a minimally invasive reconstruction of the fort that harmoniously combines contemporary amenities with the fabric of the original buildings, all while creating a serene sense of calm, comfortable liveability that makes this new addition to the Design Hotels portfolio uniquely satisfying.
The 22 suites and ten rooms all have sea views. Contemporary panoramic rooms and suites with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and spacious private terraces (equipped with telescopes for stargazing) sit in the crown of the main tower. Below are suites in vaulted heritage rooms with original stone-flagged floors (fear not, there is under-floor heating). Four were once the rooms of the fort’s commanding officers and feature gorgeous fragments of original frescoes reminiscent of Pompeian villas. Spacious junior suites occupy the lofty former cannon rooms of the inner courtyard. Finally, on the ramparts opposite the tower, eight luminous rooms with small private terraces look out to sea on one side and, on the other, have small, shared courtyard gardens with olive trees facing the pool deck.
Polish interior designer, Piotr Wisniewski of Berlin’s weStudio, has used curves and arches to echo the architectural leitmotifs of the historic fort. Neutral shades, natural wools and linens, shaggy North African rugs, comfortable Nordic sofas and armchairs from Danish brand GUBI, and warm brass fittings soften things up, creating the feeling of being in an oasis caravanserai. Artworks commissioned from artists studying at the University of Montenegro Faculty of Fine Arts decorate the walls, and sculptural, bespoke ceramics sit on custom-made oak shelves.
Food and drink
French-Canadian executive chef Erica Archambault, formerly of Michelin-starred Septime in Paris, is militantly focused on the local and sustainable. This commitment is honoured throughout the three dining venues. As well as familiar French, Italian and Spanish names, wine lovers will delight in the extensive list of bottles from regional vineyards.
The Pool-Deck restaurant at the centre of the property is open all day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks, serving delicious, unfussy dishes such as bouillabaisse, lobster, grilled local lamb, and saffron pumpkin ravioli. Outside the walls, the Sun-Deck restaurant projecting over the rocky shore offers a laid-back vibe with drinks, sourdough pizzas, sharing plates, and a raw bar of seafood, including oysters gathered from the island’s clear waters. On the beach, a bar serves drinks, and guests can order a picnic basket for al-fresco lunches and excursions to the mainland.
In the evening, pop into speak-easy style Pinea for imaginative signature cocktails inspired by the local environment before heading to intimate Kamena for sunset Adriatic views and a six-course, casual fine-dining set menu that changes weekly.
The ground floor of the main tower is dedicated to a holistic spa with Finnish and aromatherapy saunas, a steam room, a halotherapy room, a flotation chamber, an experience shower and multiple treatment and ritual rooms under lofty stone barrel vaults. Designed by Swiss brand Ananné with neuroscience and holistic wellness at its core, besides classic facials and massages, guests can enjoy signature rituals using Adriatic limestone and sea sponges to stimulate lymph production and blood flow, join breathwork classes or even wallow in a sound bath. For the more energetic, the in-house fitness trainer offers morning yoga classes on the sun deck above the sea and plyometric training, pilates and full-body HIIT sessions in the small but well-equipped gym.
Just across the water are the pretty bays of Mirišta and Žanjice and the unspoilt Luštica peninsula, where guests can explore ruined forts, olive groves, and traditional hamlets or take a boat trip to see Yugoslav submarine tunnels and sea caves. Further afield, the mediaeval walled city of Kotor and its eponymous bay offer everything from island monasteries, family oyster farms and Venetian merchant palaces to luxury boutiques, nightclubs and fine dining. The untouched nature and astonishing biodiversity of the mountainous interior of Montenegro have extensive opportunities for active adventures and are only a couple of hours away.
The team of 205 staff, led by charming German general manager Henning Schaub, who professes himself “blown away by the energy of the island”, are attentive, smiling and excited to be working in such an exceptional spot, and share this enthusiasm with guests in everything they do.
Who comes here?
Mamula is a destination for those who like intimate luxury and their hotels to be unique and sociable. It’s equally suitable for active types and those who want to restore themselves with treatments and holistic healing. Mamula will also appeal to foodies, sunseekers and those looking for a unique romantic getaway. The hotel also offers cultural delights, regular classical concerts, an artist residency program, and an excellent selection of curated excursions and experiences.
Children 12+ years old are welcome, and beyond the island’s three swimming pools and beach, the hotel has a mainland base for water sports (kayaks, SUPs, water bikes) in pretty Mirišta Bay just five minutes across the water.
There is natural and sustainable design and furnishing, ultra-local and sustainable sourcing of ingredients and certified biodegradable cleaning products. All glass used is crushed on-site for reuse in regional construction projects. In addition, the original 170-year-old cisterns of the fort are used for greywater recycling and storing drinking water produced by an on-site desalination plant.
Accessibility for those with mobility impairments
Heritage conservation requirements and the island’s location have made creating conditions for accessibility impossible.
Is it worth it?
Source: Conde Nast Traveller