You guessed it; Dan and I took a food tour (actually 2!) when we visited Iceland back in February 2020. We choose to tour with Wake Up Reykjavik because it fit into our schedule, but there are a few in town. From my online research, these tours are similar and you try some of the same foods. And on that note, what is Icelandic food you may ask? An interesting mix of fresh, local seafood, the most amazing rye bread, local butter and lamb, licorice flavored things, and, among some other things that I’m sure I’ve missed, hotdogs!! Yes, my favorite, hotdogs! Our tour provided a good overview of Icelandic cuisine and a look into modern Icelandic life, at least in Reykjavik, through our very cool guide, Tinna. I would recommend this tour to tourists with a few days in Iceland, foodies, and those on a budget wanting to try some good food. That being said, the tour was still approximately $95 USD, but everything in Iceland is expensive and this tour offered a lot of quality, classic Icelandic food.
Dan and I went to Iceland exactly one year ago, in February 2020 over Valentine’s Day(!), and despite being kept inside for an entire day due to Storm Dennis, we had a fantastic time. Since our main hobby is eating and drinking, we obviously joined a food tour in Iceland – 2 in fact! One of these was a full day private Golden Circle Gourmet tour with Magical Iceland. This tour is most certainly the most expensive food tour I have ever done (and probably will ever do), but everything in Iceland is expensive and I found it to be worth the hefty price tag. Booking was easy via email correspondence with the owner and main tour guide, Ymir. And, when our original date had to be rebooked due to Storm Dennis, Ymir was quick to reach out to us and reschedule (or refund if we preferred).
I have to add to this post prior to publicly publishing that Dan and I went to Iceland in February 2020 – pre-pandemic. Things were normal and COVID was just a slight thought in the back of our minds causing us to carry extra hand sanitizer. While things have certainly changed since February 2020, Iceland remains a great destination and it looks like they are some what opening up in 2021 (fingers crossed)! Happy future planning (February 2022?).
Dan and my last international trip pre-Coronavirus was an escape to Reykjavik, the largest city in Iceland, over Valentine’s Day weekend. Yes, another cold-climate country in the Winter (read about my prior cold-climate February trips here and here)… We enjoy visiting cities in their off-season, as you can usually find deeply discounted flights, particularly from the NYC area (hopefully that’s not a pre-corona memory of the past) and these destinations are less crowded in off-season, yet almost everything we want to do, see, and eat is open for business. And, honestly, its often colder in New York than the winter destination we visit, which was the case last February in Iceland. Further, Iceland is a super easy, five and a half hour flight from NYC and a long weekend (Wednesday night – Monday evening in our case) is a good amount of time to see the highlights. However, had I known that this would be our last trip pre-Coronavirus, I would have definitely stayed longer and seen more of Iceland.
Earlier this year, Dan and I spent a long weekend in Belgrade, Serbia. There are many, many hotels, hostels, and bed and breakfasts in huge Belgrade, but we choose to stay at the Hilton Belgrade because of the perks that come with our Hilton Diamond Status. There were other reasons as well, like location, a sweet spa with a “Caribbean shower,” and recently redone interiors, but our Diamond Status was what lead us to this hotel in the first place. If you’re unfamiliar with Diamond Status, its Hilton’s top status of hotel goers and we achieved it via our Hilton Aspire credit card. You can also achieve it via many night stays (I believe its currently 60 nights) or accumulating a certain spend. Diamond Status comes with a number of perks, including room upgrades, a welcome amenity, free breakfast and, our favorite, access to the Executive Lounge!
An Executive Lounge is basically a private club room for certain patrons of Hilton. The quality of an Executive Lounge varies by property, but, outside of the US, they generally all offer a quite space, your own concierge, and food and drink during certain times of the day.
In the Belgrade Hilton, the Executive Lounge was located on the second floor of the hotel, just about the checkin area and very close to the hotel’s ballrooms (lots of weddings on the weekend here!). This particular lounge was on the small side for a Hilton Executive Lounge, but it was very nice. You reach the Executive Lounge by swiping your room card and then checking in with the employee working the door by providing your room number. Once you check in once, they tend to remember you. Hilton is very good about remembering it Diamond members. Once inside, the Executive Lounge is basically one room decorated in a modern fashion.
As you can see, the room is set up with low tables and chairs, with a series of televisions playing major news channels in English. Along the wall there is a street view with bar style seating and a kitchen area in the back of the room, where all the food and drink are located. The private lounge restroom is also in the back of the lounge.
One or two Hilton staff members work the lounge throughout the day, hence remembering the Diamond members. We found the staff to be helpful, nice, and quite friendly!
Like most Executive Lounges, the Belgrade lounge offered breakfast, non-alcoholic drinks and very light snacks throughout the day, and a happy hour each evening for a couple hours. As is pretty standard at Hilton lounges, breakfast was substantial, but not huge, and offered a selection or hot and cold foods. The variety changed slightly each day.
Kind of off topic of the Executive Lounge, Diamond members also get free breakfast in the hotel restaurant which, in my opinion, often offers more options and better food. In Belgrade, this was my made-to-order Eggs Benedict breakfast in the restaurant. Those hash browns were 100%!!! The cons, its way more crowded than the Executive Lounge, is not as relaxing, and it usually takes longer.
After breakfast ends, most Executive Lounges put out some grab and go snacks, the quality and quantity varying by hotel. Belgrade’s were particularly bad – just these Big Corny bars. At least they were Serbian made. And they were kind of tasty.
In all the Executive Lounges that I have visited, happy hour is the busiest and most popular time in the lounge. Happy hour is usually a 2 hour period, in Belgrade from 18h – 20h, where the lounge puts out essentially a small dinner spread and offers alcoholic beverages. During our stay, the food was quite good, and we actually made a meal out of it one evening! The Belgrade lounge offered a variety of dishes, a selection of which were always Serbian dishes. You can eat as much or as little as you want. This is definitely a good option for a pre-dinner snack or a full dinner if you don’t feel like leaving the hotel!
In addition to substantial food at happy hour, the Executive Lounge also puts out free booze! In Belgrade, the Executive Lounge set out some local beers, a couple bottles of Aleksandrovic wine (which we visited on our wine tour!), and flavored rakia, as well as some standard hard liquor! The alcohol was replenished frequently. In addition to alcohol, an espresso machine, as well as sodas, canned juices, and still and sparkling water are always available when the Executive Lounge is open.
In addition to food, the Executive Lounge has free, good wifi, a computer area, and a number of magazines in a variety of languages.
STEAL OUR LOUNGE
Hilton Belgrade: Kralja Milana 35, Belgrade, 11000, T: +381-11-7555700. Great hotel, and highly recommended! Access the Executive Lounge with the Hilton Aspire Card.
Dan & I are big wine fans, and we love trying wine in less popular wine destinations. For example, we’ve done wine tours in South Africa, Montenegro, and Mendoza, to name a few. We spent a long weekend in Belgrade, Serbia last fall and upon researching for our trip, learned that Serbia has a wine country! Yes, Serbia has a wine country (actually multiple ones!) that is quite good, complete with its own indigenous grapes! As such, we promptly booked a wine tour.
Our tour, which we did with Private Serbia Tours, took us around the Šumadija wine region in central Serbia to three different wineries. It was actually supposed to have been four wineries, but one was unexpectedly closed due to a sewage issue… Our tour started early in the morning with a pick up at our hotel in Belgrade. We were the only two on the tour, so after the pick up, we drove about an hour outside of Belgrade to visit the first winery. The drive was on a modern highway, and our guide told us that we were only a six hour drive from Thessoloniki. Had I know that, I would have tried to squeeze in some Greece on this trip! Once we got off the highway, the countryside was quite different than Belgrade. Few modern cards; lots of tractors and horse drawn contraptions.
We reached Despotika Winery, our first stop on this tour, about an hour or so after our pickup! Despotika is a young and hip winery, making grapes with both traditional (i.e. French) grapes and indigenous Serbian grapes. Despotika’s theme is – “We’re still not the oldest, biggest and most famous, but we decided to be the best.” Love it, and also love that Despotika lived up to this theme! In addition to being the best, Despotika is designed to be really cool, and the owners have put a lot of work into this place. Lots of art and cool architecture. This would be a fabulous place for a wedding!
Our tour of Despotika began with a walk through the property, which included sightings of grapes being harvested and the extensive wine cellar, and ended with a tasting – and by tasting I mean nearly a full glass – of seven wines. Yes, seven wines. The tasting was a mix between white and reds and well known grapes and local varieties. The entirety of the tour took about 1.5 hours, and Despotika ended up being our favorite stop on the tour! I think Despotika had the coolest grounds and the best wine (true to its slogan!).
Despotika also has a really interesting wine museum with lots of Serbian wine artifacts that we visited as part of the tour and a decent gift shop. Very interesting. Pro tip – buy Despotika wine at the vineyard. Prices at the vineyard were wayyy better than at the airport.
After drinking a lot of good wine at Despotika, our guide drove us to the capital of the Šumadija region, Topola, for a visit to the well-known King’s Winery. The King’s Winery is part Serbian wine museum and part small winery. The King’s Winery started years ago when the Serbian Royal Family grew grapes on the surrounding hills and produced Trijumf (the name is currently in use by winery Aleksandrović) wine. Production stopped due to the conflicts in the area in the late 1900s, but picked back up in the early 2000s. Today, the King’s Winery produces a limited amount of wine each year, which you can purchase on the property.
At the King’s Winery, we did a self-tour of the historic wine cellar, which has wine making equipment from the early 1900s and an amazing wine cellar housing some really old bottles. The visiting was quite interesting, and shed some light on historic Serbian wine production.
After our self-guided walk-through the cellar, we tried two tiny tastings of the King Winery’s wine. These wines were not nearly as good as Despotika. But I guess good wine is not really the point of the Royal Winery…
We skipped buying a bottle the King’s Winery. I mean, we we were worried about running into serious luggage weight issues… Since our third stop, which was also our lunch stop, was closed, we ended up having an al fresco lunch in the town of Topola (name that I cannot pronounce in the pic below).
For lunch, I finally tried the national Jelen beer and Dan and I both ordered pasta. The meal was fine, but the al fresco seating was the real winner. The restaurant’s terrace was lovely! If you do eat here, the portions are enormous, definitely large enough to share.
The final winery that we visited on this tour was Aleksandrović Winery. Aleksandrović is one of the most well-branded Serbian wineries and one of the few that exports its wines outside of Serbia. Aleksandrović’s most famous wine is a line called Triump (i.e. Trijumf from the King’s Winery) and its all over Serbia.
At Aleksandrović, we watched a short video about the winery, took a tour of the barrel room, and then moved to the back deck for the wine tasting. Unlike Despotika, Aleksandrović requires patrons to purchase tastings by the wine, but its only a few dollars per taste (which is just smaller than a 1/2 glass). I think we tasted five wines for about $15 per person. The wine was good, but not as good as Despotika. The best things about Aleksandrović are its wine selection of wines and the gorgeous tasting setting. Of the three wineries that we visited, this would be the easiest to visit on your own.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Serbian Private Tours: We did the Royal Footprints Wine Tour for 219 Euro for both of us. The price included door to door transportation, all wine tastings, an English guide (also the driver), and a little gift at the end of the tour. For the entire day, I thought this was worth the price. That being said, it is expensive for Serbia.
Despotika Winery: 11423 Vlaski Do, Smederevska Palanka. T: +381 26 302 126
E: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can do tastings on your own. I recommend calling or emailing in advance to set up a tour and tasting. Since its a young, working winery, I am not certain tours are offered daily.
King’s Winery: Zdužbina Kralja Petra I, Oplenac bb, 34310 Topola, Oplenac, Serbia. T:
+381 34 6811 280. You can just walk in for a tour and tasting, or to buy wine. Call to confirm hours, but it seems to be open daily in high season.
Aleksandrović Winery: Village of Vinca, Topola – Oplenac, 34310 Republic of Serbia. Individual visits: Dragana Srbljanin, curator, mob: +381 (0)62 262 277. Tamara Colic, curator, mob: +381 (0)62 262 186. Reservations recommended for individuals, mandatory for groups of ten and up. Open Monday – Saturday 8h – 19h, Sunday 10h – 18h. There is not a restaurant on premises.
Knezev Han: The restaurant where we ate lunch. Karadjordjeva 4, Topola Serbia. Right in the center of town. T: +381 34 812111. You probably do not need a reservation. Eat outside if you can.
ON A BUDGET
Serbian wine is inexpensive, particularly for the general quality. If you are on a budget, save money and taste various Serbian wines in Belgrade. You can find Serbian wine in most restaurants in Belgrade.