Why Serbia is the lovely jubbly jewel of the Balkans
By Vivien Creegor Doubles at Metropol Hotel Belgrade from £165 (metropol palace.com). Regent Holidays (regent-holidays. co.uk) has packages. Return flights London to Belgrade from £58 (wizzair.com). Visit Serbia.travel for information.
SERBIANS have a reputation for warmth and friendliness, but if you want them eating out of your hand mention Del Boy or Novak Djokovic frequently.
Both Only Fools And Horses and Belgade-born Novak have cult status here. A waiter at dinner in Belgrade’s Metropol Hotel the night I arrive, hearing an English accent, says ‘you plonker’ as he pours a glass of wine – though perhaps it’s a judgment on the wine itself.
Serbia is a small, landlocked Balkan country easily reached from the UK, with BA planning direct flights from October 31.
Even without seas, it still boasts many river or lake beaches and one of the best is Bela Stena – a beautiful, partially inhabited island on the Danube, just ten miles from Belgrade.
The country has a rich history and culture, not least in buzzy Belgrade. There’s a mixture of Soviet-style blocks and impressive pre-Communist-era buildings. The conflict that started the break-up of what was Yugoslavia is still fresh in a lot of minds and Belgrade’s remaining bombed-out buildings are an unfortunate reminder.
The capital’s main street, Knez Mihailova, is loud and fun. Belgradians go out every night and even though this is a Monday evening, everywhere’s heaving. Smoking is still allowed in most restaurants despite being banned in many other public areas.
Belgrade Fortress stands on a site where the Danube and Sava rivers meet. It’s been destroyed and rebuilt many times since the 2nd Century.
Inside its walls is the Kalemegdanska Terasa restaurant. Serbian cuisine is a mix of Turkish, Hungarian, Bulgarian and
Greek, the result of centuries of invasions. Expect rolled beefsteak with goose liver and cevapi, ground meat sticks, which are delicious.
Next stop is the Church of St Sava, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world and hailed by some as the most beautiful. The interior was only recently completed and the mosaics and Murano glass are luminous and gorgeous.
Travelling south from Belgrade, past the city of Valjevo, the religious theme continues with a stop at the isolated Pustinja Monastery. I take tea and honey, a traditional greeting from the nuns, who are gracious and friendly but speak no English.
Then I travel to Bajina Basta to join a group rafting on the Drina River. With Bosnia on our left, we glide down. Several miles downstream and there’s the little house on the rock, a tourist attraction that’s perched perilously mid-river. The house has been rebuilt seven times, after being battered by every kind of extreme weather that Mother Nature could throw at it.
After a short trek through part of the Tara National Park for the terrific view from Banjska Stena, it’s on to the historic Sargan Eight, a reconstructed narrow gauge tourist railway in the village of Mokra Gora, which cuts a figure of eight loop into the hills and mountains. It’s a rickety treat.
The locals tell me the world needs to discover their country and I can’t agree more.
dmg media (UK)