Who knew you could Kosher holiday in Montenegro?

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Who knew you could Kosher holiday in Montenegro?

Neil Emilfarb is so proud of his faith he opened a synagogue, community centre and two hotels

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Dukley Gardens in Montenegro for that elusive Kosher holiday
Dukley Gardens in Montenegro for that elusive Kosher holiday

It’s not easy for kosher travellers in fact it can be impossible.             Forever searching for a beautiful destination where food is served under kashrut, observant Jewish travellers either fill their cases with snacks and live on carrots; move a trunk full of frozen meat to an Airbnb or order ahead with Bespoke Kosher.

Now Bespoke Kosher is fabulous and by no means a last resort, but I’m going to tell you about a resort in a spectacular location that offers five star kosher cuisine on site – The Hotel Harmonia by Dukley in Budva, Montenegro. Yes, I was surprised too but this glorious country nestled in the Balkans is full of surprises, not least of all its Jewish history which goes back to the early 4th century.

The bay at Duckley Gardens

Looking for some sort of Jewish connection is part of the job, but archaeologists did the hard graft when they confirmed this date of around 400 AD, when they uncovered a Jewish grave engraved with a menorah and Star of David and that opened a whole can of Yiddishkeit.

In the Middle Ages, Sephardim fled from persecution to Montenegro and carved out good lives, but as with all Jewish fleeing there is always a point when trouble returns. For the small population of Jews in Montenegro this occurred in 1943 under German occupation. Once identified they were taken to   a small camp at Sajmište, and then to other camps where they experienced the same fate as Europe’s other Jews.

I won’t bother you with all the difficulties that Jews encountered under the postwar communist regime, but suffice it to say that suppressed religious practice and mixed marriages makes it difficult to determine the number of Jews in Montenegro today. Neil Emilfarb makes it easy. Not only does he  proudly identify, but he is one of the country’s most prominent businessman and because of him Jews who keep kosher can holiday and feast in Montenegro without that extra bag of Osem.

Hotel Harmonia by Dukley for the easy kosher holiday

Before I tell you more about the man who made this possible, I’ll tell you about the Hotel Harmonia by Dukley. Within walking distance of Budva’s city centre and Old Town which is a riot and full of bars you might visit, the stylish hotel has 45 guest rooms and suites designed for comfort and with enough space for big families. Kosher food is available on room service and that’s because Shalom, the newly opened  5-star kosher-certified restaurant is just downstairs – in the newly opened Jewish Community Centre with its own synagogue.

Kosher delish at Shalom, Montenegro’s sole Kosher restaurant

At this point I need to tell you that the restaurant is available for functions and they have already had several weddings and a bar mitzvah. All of this was the brainchild of Neil Emilfarb. Born in Uzbekistan (when it was part of the USSR), Neil went to America, became an entrepreneur, then moved to Montenegro, where he has made significant investments and boosted its profile as a must-visit destination.

The pool at Dukley Gardens enjoyed by guests at both hotels

He is a man with vision and, when we meet, it’s on one of three private beaches at The Dukley Gardens, his prestigious resort.Behind him, the Dukley apartments and penthouses are staggered down the hill,draped in lush greenery with panoramic views and for three nights one of them was mine.

Dukley Gardens apartment – a memorable residence you won’t want to leave that was briefly mine

As good on the inside is as it looks from the beach, ‘my’ apartment was as swish as any on TV’s Selling Sunset – huge and open-plan, with a roll-top bath in the master suite and a jacuzzi on the terrace. Add the cross-trainer, flat screens in every room and art you would buy for yourself, and the only reason to venture out is for lunch at the Japanese fusion restaurant or a swim in the infinity pool on top of the fitness centre, close to the spa which offers the treatments you want at home but are better on hols.

The beach at Dukley enjoyed by Harmonia guests

Pathways in landscaped gardens get you to the beach for a private speedboat ride to buzzy Budva across the bay. At the 18+ beach there had been a wedding and guests seemed reluctant to leave. Some never do,as The Dukley flats and villas are available to buy and, for permanent residents, there is a school, doctor, dentist, theatre workshops and the Open HeART Studio for craft.

Honestly, the place is a lush village and I should add that you can stay at Dukley Gardens and still eat kosher at Shalom if you fancy. It is in the spirit of his heritage that Neil opened the Community Centre, synagogue and Shalom, which is supervised by the Chief Rabbi of Montenegro Ari Edelkopf. Based in the capital Podgorica, Rabbi Edelkopf opened the country’s first synagogue there in more than a century when the government gave the community land with a 99 year lease.

Neil Emilfarb, Chief Rabbi of Montenegro Ari Edelkopf and Rabbi Leizer Ehrenfeld at the synagogue

As the new Chief Rabbi, American-born Ari could not have been more excited, as he has found his place since being forced out of Russia, where he was Chief Rabbi of Sochi. “My permit was revoked as I ‘represented a threat to Russia’s security,’” he tells me. Rabbi Edelkopf would sooner chat about the Shabbat-friendly Harmonia, which has check-ins timed around Shabbat, mechanical doors and that kosher room service.

Neil, together with the Chief Rabbi and Rabbi Leizer Ehrenfeld from Israel, have transformed a country once devoid of Jewish life. With around 400 to 500 members, Montenegro has one of the world’s youngest Jewish communities and through the centre engages with non-Jews, fostering a deeper understanding.

“The country is enviable for its inter- religious harmony”, Rabbi Ehrenfeld told me.“There have been no public manifestations of antisemitism or negative attitudes towards Israel.” After October 7, Neil flew Israeli soldiers to Montenegro for recuperation and conversations with Chabad before returning to their duties.

The plaque that reminds Neil Emilfarb of his heritage and his gift to Montenegro

Everything happens at the centre, which operates seamlessly beside the uber stylish Dukley Gardens, and secular Neil lives between both. He often attends services where the plaque on the wall reminds him why. Montenegro’s first Jewish centre honours Ciliu and Pitera Emilfarb, his parents. They would be very proud of their son.

Prices for both hotels vary per season: 
Hotel Harmonia by Dukley from € 200 EUR in high season
Dukley Hotel & Resort  – in high season from € 300
Price for kosher dining : € 25  per person and a la carte kosher dining is available.

The Dukley resort is offering a special discount. Just use the promo code WELCOMEUK at the checkout. This will provide a discount for room rates as well as a 30 percent discount at the bar daily.



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