Architecture and art, Eastern Europe, Food, Things to do

Off the beaten path: where glorious landscapes and appetizing cuisine collide

I haven’t seen anyone yet wake up one morning and say ‘Yeah, I’d love to go to Serbia’. But this is the kind of attitude you need when it comes to Eastern Europe! Sure former communist countries get a lot of bad rep, but you’d be surprised how many opportunities they hold for tourists who are ready to walk off the beaten path – and Serbia is the perfect example! As long as you’re paying attention to some details, you’ll absolutely love this Balkan country.

A walk through history

Go to Kalemegdan. It’s the biggest park in Belgrade and, rumor has it, the most beautiful as well. This is where you can see the Belgrade Fortress in its splendor. Former military camp, the edifice dates from back to the first century AD, when the uphill positioning made it be also referred to as ‘the contemplation hill’.

Natural proof of its magnificence, Danube and Sava’s confluence point can be admired from a bird eye view on the park. It’s the most valuable national ethnic monument and its spectacular appearance makes even someone who’s plainly lacking in imagination picture the deployment of the troupes before a battle as crystal clear as you can hear the armors rattling and the clash of swords. Also, great view. It makes you feel like the king of Simcity, a great architect who’s managed to perfectly combine the wondrous nature with imposing constructions to defend the place.

Belgrade’s three palaces, another must see in terms of culture. The oldest one, home of King Alexander I, was seriously affected during the two world wars and its appearance is almost completely different today. But it’s really worth visiting because the restorations have been made following the same classical style it was initially built after. The second palace, called The New Palace, is a great example of outstanding Serbian Byzantine architecture, a mixture of different styles – yet so unitary and harmonious.

In contrast, the White Palace is the ‘youngest’ one of the triad and, although’s been constructed in a Louis XV classical style, the fact that has always been a summer residence of the royal family made it the most luxurious and modern. Recently open to the public, the edifice hosts art galleries, while the castle’s an artistic masterpiece itself – as an impressive collection of highly admired paintings are adorning its classy rooms.

A great place to look for relaxation is the Skadarlija, known as the Bohemian part of Belgrade. The most important personas in the history of this country have, since the beginning of the nineteenth century, dined and walked these wonderful valleys up and down. A promenade on the cobblestone paths surrounded by all kinds of colorful, vibrant vegetation will always end inside a classy café or restaurant – you won’t resist the scent of the national food, nor the coffee flavors.

Meet the people

You haven’t properly been to Serbia if you don’t get the chance to meet the people and understand their culture. In spite of having a bad reputation – as most of the Eastern European do, following the stereotype – you’ll find them as very friendly, open and kind people, always eager to help a foreigner integrating and understanding their culture. And there’s another urban legend according to which Eastern Europeans are extremely hospitable and inviting. This one’s true and visiting Serbia without getting in contact with people would be a wasted experience.

As I was saying in the beginning, you’ll have to take some things into consideration whenever deciding to integrate. The first one of these is that taking the cab is never safe in Serbia, because the taxi drivers will charge you a lot for the smallest distances and if they get to spot that you’re a foreigner you’ll have to be ready for a very long, tortuous Belgrade ride even if your destination is five minutes away.

One of the great pluses of this country, besides the beautiful constructions and the nice people is that travelling here is pretty cheap. This is why you may not be willing to pay a hotel room as much as it would cost you in London, for instance. So renting an apartment for a few days is the most handy options for the tourists who come here, while finding yourself a host on couch-surfing sites is another very good idea.

Awesome, unique food

Another taste of the Serbian people is by trying their food. It’s delicious. And cheap! The most expensive restaurants in Serbia are still some of the cheapest in Europe, not to mention a comparison with the Western prices. Besides, you’ll love the food. Cvarci, for instance, are not to be missed. Special dish made of pork, it excellently goes with a glass of red wine and a coleslaw. And the special thing is that’s only homemade, so you’ll rather find it in a guest house than in a classy restaurant. However, following the classy yet traditional pattern, the most delicious and authentic sarmas you’ll ever eat are definitely Serbian. Made of a filling of mixed pork and beef meat, onions, rice, spices and carrots they’re wrapped in either cabbage leaves or vine leaves. Just a glass of white wine and you’re living one of the most exquisite European cuisine experiences.

 

It is said that the best way of understanding any national spirit is by walking and physically empathizing with the place, getting to know its true nature. And since we recommend you a more colloquial approach of the country, visiting museums and art galleries doesn’t close the list of things to do. The mountaineering associations in Serbia develop their activities in different categories, from climbing and mountain biking to caving, orienteering and paragliding. The areas covering a quite rich range of altitudes make it easy for any tourist – from the expert to those who have never experienced trekking before.

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