This Eastern Europe country, Serbia is shrouded by mystery. In fact, each time I tell somebody that I'll be visiting this place, they are like 'Isn't Siberia very cold?' And of course, I'd correct them by stating that it's Serbia, not Siberia and it was formerly Yugoslavia, which has now been broken down to six countries – Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia and Bosnia.
Flying business class
Since this trip was helmed by Serbia Tourism in partnership with Fly Dubai, I am flying business class …And the service here is top-class. We first fly to Dubai and from there, the flight takes about five and a half hours to reach Serbia. On arrival, there is a 'visa on arrival' programme for Indians, and Indians are exempted from any visa fees. Besides this, Indian tourists can stay in this country for 30 days without a visa, with of course proper documentation.
Serbia's Capital – Belgrade
At first glance, Belgrade is very stylish. There are polished tarmacs, flashy electronic billboards of top-notch brands, Michelin star eateries including a swish restaurant called 'Novak' owned by Serbia's tennis star Novak Djokovic. The city with its beautifully looked after museums, gardens, cafes, cobbled paths is stunning.
The weather in Belgrade is warm though not very humid. Anyway, after a pleasant ride through the squeaky-clean lanes leading to Belgrade, we reach our hotel Museum which is bang opposite the city museum.
Lunch there is typical Serbian fare. The portions are overly generous. We are then served a Serbian drink Rakija which gave us a new high, literally. However, we plummeted down to the ground as our very energetic guide Milica Lenasi takes us on a brisk walk on the cobbled path to discover the awesome city of Belgrade. Our first stop is the Republic Square or the "horse" which is a meeting point for the Serbians. From there it is another "gasping for breath" walk to the iconic Belgrade fortress and a postcard-perfect park. Belgrade with its beautiful cobbled streets, art deco points, churches and cathedrals and museums are extremely stunning.
Dinner is at the Faro restaurant in Beton Hala which serves modern and extremely delicious food. Again, the portions are extremely humongous so another brisk walk after dinner is indeed the need of the day.
The Serbian are extremely fashionable and look fit and happy – I guess the yummy food and the brisk walks make a difference.
Anyway, it's time to see the Saint Sava Orthodox church - this is one of the largest churches in the Balkan and has 49 bells and 18 gold plated crosses.
The Nikola Tesla Museum is the next port of call. Nikola Tesla, the father of electricity, is the pride of Serbia and the museum has induction engines and electricity experiments which can be tried out firsthand.
Food for thought
Lunch is at Miam Miam - owned by an Indian Sudhir Damodaran and his Serbian wife Maria. The food is melt-in-the-mouth, portions are huge, and the dessert made of wild berries is yum.
From there, it is another brisk walk through the city to Titos Museum. Josip Broz Tito was the late president of Yugoslavia and the museum houses his grave along with many remnants of his personal property.
It's time to check out Serbia's scintillating nightlife, and Belgrade's most charming Zemun district is replete with gorgeous cafés with open terraces and colourful flowers. Musicians are playing, people dancing or singing along and the vibe here is almost magical. Dinner is at the bohemian district of Skadarlija right amid this magical setting, and it is indeed magical.
By day 2, Belgrade has been seen and conquered, it was now time to move to Sremski Karlovci. This is indeed one of the prettiest towns I've seen, and it houses an Orthodox church, a school, Art squares and even a little place where a man feeds pigeons' sunflower seed.
From there, the coach revs up to this family-owned museum of beekeeping and wine cellar called Zivanovik vinery. We are treated to a wine tasting session with cheese, so the wines keep flowing and the honey comes close behind.
The next place we go to is Nova Sad, the second-largest city in Serbia. The history of Nova Sad is a little bloody and the heroic exploits of the people of yore become our point of the topic. But can we ever miss lunch? Aqua Doria restaurant serves a hearty meal of fish, salad and dessert, and works extremely well for us.
A lovely Serbian farmhouse in the interiors beckons us next. It is already dusk, and the farmhouse is shrouded in darkness. But as we enter, everything lights up and we are warmly greeted with music, hearty food and wonderful courtesy. But we have to rush through it all as we are heading back to Belgrade.
The next day we head to Zlatibor mountain. On the way, we check out the ethno Sirogojno open-air museum which showcases 19th-century authentic houses. Everything is extremely true to that era and it is indeed fascinating.
Our next stop is Stopica cave. The narrow rambling path to the cave has many steep steps so one has to be careful but the cave by itself is beautiful. Said to be millions of years old, there is a magnificent underground waterfall in there.
…The coach driver then deftly takes us through the narrow road of the mountain to our hotel Mona in Zlatibor. After a good night's rest, we are transferred to Mokra Gora to a fabulous wooden village called Kustendorf which is truly scenic. Many film festivals have happened here, and this resort is fab to soak in the mountainous ambience, go for walks or just enjoy nature.
From there, it is a fancy ride on the Sargan 8 narrow track steam train ride through the mountains and tunnels. From there, we head to Tara National Park to clamber up the narrow track over craggy rocks to see the most amazing view of an emerald green river that separates Serbia and Bosnia.
We get a better view as we go on a boat ride through the green waters that separate Serbia and Bosnia by just the neck of the river.
We are then whisked off to Belgrade to the 5-star Hotel Metropol. Dinner is a stone's throw away at the funky Lorenzo and Kakalamba -the food here especially the lamb and the baklava is delicious.
Indeed, the visit to Serbia was truly magical. Someday soon, I will go back to a wonderful country.