Serbia has not been without its share of troubles but the legacy has left the capital Belgrade with a population of people filled with optimism and a fierce pride in their city, which although not the most charming of the European capitals is almost without doubt one of the most interesting and vibrant of them all.
Historical buildings and cobbled streets sit alongside impersonal tower blocks, green spaces are surrounded by concrete and the old ways have given way to a new hedonistic lifestyle of the free generation. Belgrade is a capital like no other and offers a city break quite unlike anything else, for somewhere completely different there really can be no other choice.
Belgrade is struggling slightly to keep up with the increased demands of the tourist industry, there are only 60-100 hotels in the city and booking is essential whether you wish to stay in a luxury hotel or a hostel pre-booking is absolutely the only way to ensure that you will find a room on your arrival. New hotels are being built to cope with the demand and these are often the best places to stay as they offer all the conveniences of a modern design whilst avoiding the concrete feel of some of the cities architecture.
Square Nine may not be the most attractive hotel from the outside, giving little clue to the opulence that lies beneath the stern exterior, internally the décor makes the most of natural materials, stone bronze and both light and dark woods give a modern yet comfortable look to this older hotel; the retro feel is managed in a way that brings it right up to date making this genteel hotel almost a trendsetter amongst its more dated contemporaries. A perfect location combined with a luxury hotel is always a winner and Square Nine does location and service to perfection.
The cuisine of Belgrade relies heavily on seasonal locally produced foods and is filled with grilled meats, cheeses and bread; salads and vegetables are also a huge part of the diet and often feature heavily on the menu, there are Turkish influences to be seen in many restaurants and the locals have a particular fondness for the highly sweetened Turkish pastries often enjoyed on outdoor terraces with strong coffee.
Head to Skadarlija the bohemian centre of Belgrade for the best restaurants serving local specialities, many have live entertainment and music that is always on the point of bursting out onto the bustling streets; traditional Balkan inns lining the cobbled walkways make this one of the most beautiful areas of Belgrade to sit outside and eat some of the good honest local food.
Belgrade’s position on the Danube and Sava rivers has given the city a love of fish, that although not quite matching the love of meats has still produced a culture of fine fish restaurants, Polet Restaurant in the city centre is decorated in blue and white with a prevalence of brass and portholes, but don’t let this put you off, they actually serve some very decent seafood – the fish soup is always excellent and changes day to day depending on the best of the catch.
The Military Museum is a must see place to visit if only for the shock value of the realisation that this proud city had major conflict on its doorstep as recently as 1999, not only is there a complete history of the former Yugoslavia but there are modern relics from the Liberation Army and quite alarmingly parts of an American stealth fighter that was shot down during the conflicts – this museum shows the effects of very recent history without forcing any agenda on the casual viewer.
Belgrade is fast gaining a reputation as the go to city for a celebration, the low cost of the nightlife and the friendliness of the locals makes this an ideal city to join in with the party, during the summer months everybody congregates at the quayside for one of the many raft parties that are held on either the Sava or the Danube; these waterside nightclubs continue long after the sun has set making the most of the warm summer evenings.
Belgrade has four distinct seasons with the potential for extreme heat or extreme cold, it does however also suffer from higher than average rainfall particularly during the spring months making the prevailing air damp; quirky in the extreme Belgrade is just as beguiling whether it is viewed through a blizzard or through a pair of sunglasses.