Montenegro

Why I Want To Attend Spark.me 2019

Spark.me is a yearly conference taking place on the rugged and beautiful coast of Montenegro. It has become one of the most carefully curated business and internet conferences in Southeast Europe. Over the years, it has attracted a growing following of attendees and industry leading speakers in the fields of branding, marketing, business development, innovation, and startup ecosystems.

The obvious reasons for attending Spark.me in 2019: 

Networking: Spark brings together professionals from across the spectrum from different industries. A conference this diverse in attendees and speakers allows you to meet new friends, possible new business partners or clients. It gives you as the attendee an opportunity to succeed in growing your business and network. 

Education: Spark provides a unique learning experience. Since the goal of the conference is not to be the biggest, the organizing team designs an experience geared toward learning and developing skills. 

Location: The location of the conference in the past has been amazing. Located just outside of Budva, the conference was held on the sunny coast of Montenegro. This year, the conference is receiving an upgrade by moving to the Bay of Kotor specifically Porto Montenegro in Tivat. The picturesque location serves as the perfect backdrop for a convergence of industry leading minds.

These are the oft repeated reasons for attending Spark.me, and they do factor heavily into why I attended in the past, and will do so this year again.

(You can still pick up tickets for Spark.me happening May 25-26.)

However, there are a few more reasons. These are usually what I tell people to really sell them on the experience. 

The real reasons to attend the Spark.me conference…

Spark.me is a carefully curated experience.

The time and energy that the organizing team puts into not merely running through a checklist to make sure the conference happens, but carefully crafts an experience is evident. The planning happens almost year round. The speakers who are chosen are particularly selected. The stage is thought through from an audience’s perspective. The ambiance is geared toward those attending. Spark.me is not only a conference, but a designed experience. 

Secret sauce of the organizers…. They care!

The event is put together by a community which cares about the larger community. The beauty of the Spark.me conference is in the details and attention paid to little things leading up to the conference, during it, and afterwards. 

If you pay attention to social media, you will notice different members of the team connecting with potential attendees and answering questions. During the event, the organizing team give recognition for special days (including birthdays) of attendees and create an experience even for the speakers. They notice the small things because they care. 

The opportunities to meet the right people. 

While we all know that a major reason to go to any conference is for the opportunity to network. However, the Spark.me offers the opportunity to make sure you are meeting the right people. With a conference planned so closely around the experience it provides, it easily attracts like minded people not only from the immediate Balkan region but from across the globe. In 2018, Spark drew 580 people from 28 countries. This type of diversity in a close setting brings the right people together to make change happen, encourage new ideas, and perfect existing initiatives. 

Lastly…

For Startups, Spark.me brings the opportunity to pitch and learn from investor coupled with the opportunity to win a trip to be seen in the TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019 Startup Alley, on October 2-4, 2019.

I’m looking forward to Spark.me and seeing a community that has welcomed me over the last 5 years. Watching this conference grow from relatively early stages in 2015 until today has been exciting. I look forward to seeing what speakers, the conference will bring to the stage. I can’t wait to see friends that make yearly pilgrimage. And I look forward to making new connections that will undoubtedly last through the coming years. 

If you do visit Spark.me in May, check out some of these tips on what to do during this time of year.

Rural Tourism in Montenegro: The views of Lipovo Village

In the late summer days toward the last part of August, my family and I decided to escape the summer heat of Podgorica in exchange for the fresher air and cooler temperatures of the mountains. We booked a farm stay option through Meanderbug.

Meanderbug is a sustainable, social enterprise which helps underdeveloped areas through rural tourism. With a variety of options spreading across all of Montenegro, Meanderbug has created a network of partners surely to offer something for everyone to enjoy a rural tourism experience.  

We made our choice to stay on a family farm just outside of the mountain town of Kolasin, a growing winter desitnation regionally for its skiing. However, Kolasin and its villages have an opportunity to capitalize on a longer season offering a more profitable opportunity for a large spectrum of citizens. 

 We also have a few friends from Kolasin and more specifically Lipovo so it made the stay more intimate for us. During our stay, we found out that our hosts are related to a few of our friends.  

Here are a few reasons to enjoy the Dulovic Farm in Lipovo.

Location

Lipovo is set about 12 kilometers from the northern Montenegrin town of Kolasin. The Dulovic Farm is set at the end of Lipovo village. More importantly, the village is set in the middle of three or four peaks which are all accessible for a day hike. This location makes Lipovo advantageous for adventurers or families who enjoy exploring nature together. The farm serves as the perfect base for multiple mountain outings during a Montenegro farm experience. 

Hospitality

Gordana and Dragan are some of the most hospitable people that I have met in Montenegro. Hospitality is characteristic among the cultures in this part of Europe. I have seen it displayed personally on a variety of occasions in different ways. Gordana and Dragan went above and beyond in their care for us. 

Our three small boys took them very quickly, and followed Dragan closely when he made any moves toward the barn. He welcomed them warmly to help take fresh eggs, pull vegetables from the ground and witness the process of making “Kolasinski sir” a local, layered cheese to go with the fresh bread for the morning’s breakfast. 

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Perspective

We have lived in the capital, Podgorica, for a few years now. Before moving to Montenegro, we have lived in Dallas, Portland area, etc. We are used to city life. The quicker pace and active lifestyle is comfortable for us.

However, a stay in Lipovo offers a completely different perspective of life in Montenegro. Some say, “more authentic,” but I feel this is too strong. Farmers have a different way to gauge life around them, a different approach and mentality. I believe it was healthy to experience this as a family. 

Our kids learned about pulling fresh vegetables from the ground, taking fresh eggs from coop, and caring for animals. As a family, we were forced to slow down, enjoy a slower moment, and allowed to breathe in a little deeper. To be honest, I was uncomfortable. I didn’t know exactly what to do. But I enjoyed it!

Environment

As you can see from the pictures, the environment and surroundings is quite specatacular and awe inspiring. The dramatic cliffs of the mountains presented a backdrop perfect for any sunset. The sunset itself presented an array of colors. The coolness of the evening contrasted greatly with the warmth of the late summer sun. 

However, the local environment also presented some of the struggles that farmers and those living in rural areas face. Living at the end of Lipovo village makes trash collection a desperate problem to solve for the country of Montenegro as a whole. Farming as a way of life has its own challenges for providing a sustainable future, however, the country which prides itself as an ecological state can do more to address trash strewn throughout the country. 

Rural tourism brings great potential and promise to Lipovo and other villages like, however, proper solutions to trash disposal need to be adopted especially for these areas. 

 Let me be clear this is a challenge to be conquered. It definitely was not a reason to pass on visiting the Dulovic farm in the small village.

I would recommend visiting Lipovo and staying with the Dulovic family especially for those who want to slow down and enjoy the outdoors a bit more. It is a wonderful place to launch for a hike, a place to unplug, and location to connect who you are with as well as a new culture.

Visiting Montenegro: What to do in May

May has been called the best time to travel to Montenegro. The tourist season is not in full swing at this time. The weather has warmed, and late spring rains have all but cleared completely out of the country. The air is fresh still slightly cooled in the evenings and early mornings. The days are full of sunshine making the sea good for a swim on a warm, sun-filled day.

I tell most of my friends and family to come visit Montenegro during May for the above reasons. I also tell them to be ready to visit the lesser known areas. Of course, the Bay of Kotor is majestic especially from the top of St. John’s Fortress. The coastline is dotted with old towns that capture the imagination of a bygone time. However, most of the magic and majesty lies in the lesser known areas. My recommendation is to visit these and catch the usual spots as time allows.

Explore Lake Skadar

Lake Skadar takes the name from a northern Albanian town, however, the majority of the lake lies in Montenegrin territory. It is the largest lake in the Balkans with a diverse ecological system. The lake is becoming one of the most popular areas for exploring Montenegro. Historically, the area around the lake has contributed significantly to the culture of the country feeding its wine and cheese industries.

Lake Skadar has so much to offer the traveler the tone could easily spend a holiday there. And if you do, I would recommend my friends at Undiscovered Montenegro and their villa that rests above the town of Virpazar. Traveling around the lake visiting the village of Rijeka Crnojevica among other villages that play sanctuary to the local birds and animal life is a treat. They also provide some of the best photo opportunities in the country.

Relax on a Farm

An up and coming part of the tourism industry and important aspect for rural development is agro-toursim. Montenegro offers a vast amount of rural area and farmland to get out of the city/towns to relax. The beauty of Montenegro is the size which makes it easy to enjoy a farm stay in the North while having access to the regular tourist attractions and towns.

Visit my friends at Meanderbug to explore the possibilities of staying in the countryside of Montenegro. They can help you plan and book the perfect spot that will fit your needs and wants the most. Step outside the norm and unplug for a few days in the villages of Montenegro.

Drive Mountains to coast

It is said that one can spend the day in the mountains hiking and enjoying the rugged nature of Montenegro then head to the sea for a late lunch or dinner on a similarly rugged coastline. I would agree, and do so from firsthand experience. Such an experience allows one to take in this small Adriatic country from a different perspective. The smaller roads that wind North and South; East to West across the countryside expose some of the best scenes from the country that would never be experienced without such exploration. For a taste of what a drive across the country offers watch the video below.

Rest on the Sea

While I recommend visiting Kotor, Budva, and Porto (especially if you want a little luxury), my suggestion would be to visit these towns, explore their history, and enjoy. However, stay outside of them. Look for the smaller villages along the coast which offer accommodations. Or if you are a digital nomad visit my friends at Playworking. Mix work and play at Montenegro’s first coliving space on the coast for a retreat while not completely neglecting your work.

Whether you decide to bring your work along or leave it at home, take a few days to rest along the coast of Montenegro. If doing so, consider coming to Spark.me for a bit of inspiration for your work while you recharge. The Spark.me conference is hosted just outside of Budva, Montenegro the beautiful resort of Mediteran.

I would recommend the boutique hotel experience of Casa del Mare along the coast. To escape even more outside of the towns, you can check out some of the offerings from my friends at Meanderbug, here.

Hike among the villages

For the more adventurous traveler consider exploring the “wild beauty” of Montenegro by taking a tour through the mountains from village to village. A lot of work has been done to restore old paths and trails that once extended across the country. Now guided tours are offered to help navigate the terrain. One highly recommended tour is the Peak of the Balkans which actually goes into Kosovo and Albania. You can find more information here.

Wherever you decide to spend your holiday in Montenegro, May is the perfect time to explore the country. Being a smaller country, a variety of experiences are possible. From the mountains to the sea, Montenegro offers adventure, rest, a slower pace, and whatever else you can dream up. Visit Montenegro in May.