Belgrade is built on a hill on the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers and has therefore been a city of geographical importance for the many civilisations who have fought over it for centuries... the Romans, the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians, and - more recently - as the capital of Yugoslavia until its dissolution in 2006.
It's not surprising then, given its rather colourful past, that Belgrade is a city of such evident divisions. The concrete communist buildings and wide avenues of New Belgrade are a stark contrast against the impressive facades of Stari Grad (Belgrade's Old Town), Skadarlija (the Bohemian district) and the historical reminders of Belgrade's Austro-Hungarian past (the impressive and crumbling Kalamegdan Fortress).
We decided the best way to experience the concrete jungle of New Belgrade was to hire a local guide (a 26 year old history student who clearly remembers the day Nato started bombing the city) and set off on a six hour tour of the area by bike. While the old part of Belgrade, including the Kalamegdan Fortress, is situated on top of a hill, New Belgrade is surprisingly flat. It's also unsurprisingly grey, pretty barren, and styled in a brutalist, communist fashion.
|Cycling past the Genex Tower in New Belgrade|
That said, we did get to see historical landmarks including the Hotel Yugoslavia, where the Queen once stayed, and the Genex Tower. These sites are impressive, but a little reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic zombie movie. Crossing the river to Old Belgrade though, through the sculpted lakes by the Sava River, is something completely different. The beautiful old cobbled streets, local Austro-Hungarian restaurants and river-side cafes of Zemun are definitely worth a visit.
|The concrete columns of the Genex Tower - the top was supposed to be a revolving restaurant when it opened in 1977|
|Perfect setting for a zombie movie - the Hotel Yugoslavia. Diectly hit by two Nato missiles in 1999, it is soon to be developed into a luxury hotel, shopping and residential complex|
|On the bike ferry across the Sava River to New Belgrade|
|The Bohemian Quarter of Skadarlija|
|Pit stop - local Serbian beer|
|The old Police Headquarters - amazingly part of this building (not shown in picture) is still being used as office space|
Onto the food. When I asked our guide, various waiters and our hotel host what traditional Serbian fare consisted of, they all gave a one word response... 'meat'. Any kind of meat, grilled, fried, stewed. The favourite, veal, was often served stuffed with a local unripened cheese - Kajmak- rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried.
It's a cuisine that draws influence from across the Mediterranean (especially Greece) and Turkey too, so kofta-style kebabs are commonplace. The pastries are also incredible, with small bakeries on every corner selling Borek (stuffed, fried pastries) or Sarma (a kind of cheese, filo pie).
|Veal soup. Delicious|
|Another type of 'Sarma' - this time, stuffed vine leaves served with soured cream|
|Veal stuffed with Kajmak cheese|
|Grilled chicken and potatoes with a token lettuce leaf|
|A speciality in most local restaurants - hot, spicy green peppers. Either served raw, grilled, or marinated with vinegar and garlic. Super firey.|
We travelled with Lufthansa from London, via Munich. Direct flights are available with Jat Airways. Our bike tour was arranged through I Bike Belgrade and cost about £15pp, including bike hire, afternoon tour, boat transfer and drink by the river.