Serbia is country that has always been a a crossroads, geographically – sitting between Central and Southern Europe and religiously – with the tormented occupation of the Ottoman Empire. The country formerly known as Yugoslavia is the epicenter of south Slavic culture, and was more historic and beautiful than I could of imagined.
There was no better place to dive in deep into Slavic culture than Serbia ~ and the capital city of Belgrade, for that matter. I spent four days in Belgrade and the rest of the week traveling through west Serbian countryside, near Bosnia. The city of Belgrade was settled by the Slavs in 520s AD and literally translates to “the white city,” referring to the white stone fortress that used to majestically sit on the city’s highest hill. It straddles the Danube & Sava rivers and is such an intersection of culture and trade. Historically, Belgrade is one of the most coveted cities in the world as it has been occupied or destroyed over 40 times in the past 2,000 years.Belgrade’s city center is an eclectic mix of European styles that doesn’t necessarily match, but happens to mix well to reflect the intersection of Europe within in the city. The street of Kneza Miloša is worth taking a stroll down as it hosts great shopping and dead ends right to the medieval Belgrade Fortress. There are quite a few important religious monuments and structures in Belgrade including the St. Sava Temple, the largest Eastern Orthodox church and one of the largest church buildings in the world.In Serbia, “domestic coffee” (pictured above) can be found everywhere. It’s traditionally prepared by bringing water to a boil, adding in the coffee grounds, bringing back to a boil and serving in copper pot to be poured into your cup. The loose grounds are supposed to be poured in as well and let settled to the bottom. This takes some time, but encourages you to slow down and let your coffee cool at the same time. A sweet & chewy Turkish Delight is often served with the coffee. For the best “domestic coffee” head to Restaurant Question Mark (literally “?”) just across from the Church of the Holy Archangel Michael.Being landlocked, Serbia is a land of meat & potatoes. But you can find quite an offering of fresh water fish as the Danube and Sava River bring in an ample amount. One of my favorite lunches was at Manufaktura. Sit outside if you can, under the troop of umbrellas suspended in the air. Another great spot for outdoor lunch is Mala Fabrika Ukusa. Both of these restaurants serve traditional Serbian fare ~ paired nicely with a Serbian pilsner or red wine! Ba Ba Lou is a new restaurant featuring international cuisine and a well designed interior. If your looking for Spanish tapas, Cantina de Frida along the waterfront offers some great bites with a lively environment featuring a live band. One of the most famous restaurants was Tri Sesira or “Three Hats,” located on the bohemian cobblestone strip of Skadarska. Two of my favorite places to grab a cocktail was Pivara or Prohibicija in the trendy neighborhood of Sava Mala.
The most prominent Serbian that US History doesn’t shed too much of a light on is Nikola Tesla, inventor of AC power and many other discoveries that make modern life in 21st century possible. Be sure to check out eh Nikola Tesla Museum. Every hour they show a 15-minute video in English.
The time spent outside of Belgrade was so refreshing and a part of Serbia I never knew existed. It was a few days packed heavily with adventure, and I recommend trying to do as much as you can if you’re going to visit western Serbia. A boat ride down the Drina River lead us to the infamous House on the Rock. Such a cool house that was built 45 year ago on a rock in the middle of the river. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Serbian rakia (or “rakjia”). It’s a plum brandy that’s offered at almost every meal or social gathering. It’s a pretty strong drink that is pretty close to moonshine here in the states. We got a tour and private tasting of the oldest distillery, BB Klekovača.
As a parting gift they have us a bottle to bring back to the states, since you can’t purchase it here. Two very important monasteries that we visited shed light on the historic tensions between the Slavs and the Ottoman Empire. Monastery Rača is a 13th century monastery that is secluded high in cliffs. It has housed monks who translated and wrote ancient religious and scientific texts. The church on the grounds was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, and where the original body of St. Sava was buried before being taken by the Turks and burned in Belgrade. The second was that of the Mileseva Monastery, home of the most famous “White Angel” fresco that was actually the first satellite broadcast from Europe to the USA, a symbol of peaceA full day of adventure can be had the Uvac Nature Reserve. We started the day taking a boat up the winding river until we arrived at the Ice Caves. These dark and cool ice caverns were found in the 13th Century and have large magnesium and calcium deposits throughout the caves. Not far from the ice caves A 30-45minute trek up to the viewpoint was one of the most rewarding things all trip, and I’d highly recommend it. The view really was one of the most breathtaking things I’d seen – the winding Uvac river snaking through the canyon was captivating!
If you’re interested in traveling to Serbia, I hope this guide helps! Please reach out if you have any questions about my experience or would like to know more. One of the best resources for the trip was the National Tourism Organization of Serbia, and I recommend you check it out if you’re looking into planning a trip!