Hilton Executive Lounge Review: Belgrade, Serbia

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!

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Entrance to the Executive Lounge in Belgrade.

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.

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The Executive Lounge.

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.

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The Executive Lounge from another angle.

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.

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Breakfast meat and cheeses.

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Fruits.

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Eggs.

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A Serbian bean dish, sausage, and bacon.

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Vegetables and a porridge type dish.

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Breads.

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Jams and cereals.

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.

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Super delicious breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Free for Diamond Status holders.

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.

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Snacks.

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!

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Cute & delicious cheese and peach plates!

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My second portion of a delicious pasta dish!

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Overview of the appetizer area.

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More.

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Awesome fried potatoes.

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Another, not as good as the white pasta sauce.

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.

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Espresso machine.

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Booze.

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The Raika – fig and plum!

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Chips, nuts and popcorn with the booze!

In addition to food, the Executive Lounge has free, good wifi, a computer area, and a number of magazines in a variety of languages.

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Business area.

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.

Who Knew Serbia Makes Good Wine: A Tour Around The Serbian Countryside Trying All The Tasty Serbian Wines!

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.

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Sparking wine tasting at Aleksandrović Vineyards!

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.

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The Serbian countryside.

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!

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Welcome to Despotika (that’s Despotika in Serbian Cyrillic on the flags).

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One of the cool art installations on the property.

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Despotika’s vineyards.

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!).

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Barrel room.

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.

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A really cool glass grape piece from Despotika’s museum. Would love this for my house!

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.

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The King’s Winery.

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.

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Some of those really old bottles in the Kings Winery.

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…

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Tiny tasting of red at the King’s 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).

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The restaurant where we lunched!

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.

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Welcome to Aleksandrović!

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.

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One of the reds.

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View from Aleksandrović’s tasting room.

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: vinarija@vinarijadespotika.rs. 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.

A Delicious Food Tour Though Belgrade, Serbia!

Dan and I spent a long weekend in Belgrade, Serbia earlier this year after our trip to Montenegro, as our Air Serbia flight connected in Belgrade to NYC and we thought, why not see a bit of Belgrade? Since we had limited time, basically 1 day in Belgrade proper, we decided to make the most of our time by taking a food tour through Belgrade, one of our favorite ways to explore a new city! Spoiler alert, we really like to eat and drink! There are a couple food tour options in Belgrade, but we went with the Food Tour Belgrade company based on a fellow traveler’s recommendation.

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Interesting Belgrade.

The first stop and the start of our tour was at the Question Mark cafe, or simply “?,” a landmark in Belgrade. The Question Mark is the oldest operating cafe, or “kafana,” in Belgrade, and its associated with loads of Serbian history. Decorated in a traditional manner, ? showcases gorgeous furniture in its main room, as well as a large beer garden in the back. We were welcomed with the Jelen beer branded (a popular mass produced beer in Belgrade; its ok) swag all over ?!

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We found it – the ?

To start our tour at ?, we tasted traditional Turkish coffee, which is very strong dark coffee prepared in a traditional Turkish (and Serbian) manner and served with a cube of sugar and a Turkish Delight, or a sweet candy. Turkish coffee is really popular in Belgrade, due to it being a part of the Ottoman Empire at one time. The coffee at ? was solid and the presentation was 100%. After we finished the coffee, our guide even showed us how to read our fortune (I won’t spoil the surprise!) More excitingly, we learned that the work Jelen (from the beer brand fame) is one of the most common female names, pronounced “Yellen,” like Helen according to our guide = )

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Turkish coffee at ? in Belgrade.

After finish our coffee at ?, we took a short stroll through a popular and upscale area of Belgrade, before reaching our second destination, a “dumpling” shop.

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A stroll through Belgrade. Could not resist a picture of the cute blue moto.

In contrast to ?, the second stop on our tour was super modern, and Instagramable, store called Ferdinand Knedle. Ferdinand Knedle only makes knedles, or Serbian dumplings, and they are served in sweet and savory flavors, with plum being the most famous flavor. Despite translating to dumpling, they are not the dumplings that I think of; instead, they are more like fried dough balls filled with a soft filling. Our guide described it as something you would eat after school.

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Modern interior of Ferdinand Knedle.

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Menu at Ferdinand Knedle.

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Lots of knedles at Ferdinand.

At Ferdinand, Dan and I each got to pick our own knedle to try. We decided to split the two, opting for the plum knedle and the 4 cheese knedle. Both were delicious and I would love to return and try allll of the flavors. The knedle was quite filling, and I was super surprised to learn that its only a snack here!

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Plum knedle from the outside.

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Interior of the plum version.

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Inside of the 4 cheese knedle.

After the knedles, we took another stroll, this time down a touristy street, and cut into a restaurant with an unexpected back courtyard. The restaurant felt fancy, with waiters in suits, but it was most certainly casual. First up, our choice of Serbian wine of the traditional liquor, Rakija. I had enough rakija in Montenegro, so I ordered red Serbian wine. Dan went with a flavored rakija. Both were sizeable pours and quite tasty.

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Serbian red wine.

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Dan’s rakija.

Shortly after ordering the wine, we were each brought a plate of traditional Serbian appetizers. Our plates included two types of Serbian cheese, two Serbian dried meats, a slice of tomato, an order of traditional sun-dried tomato spread, and the most delicious bean salad. My favorites were the bean salad and and the tomato spread. I really loved the bean salad! However, my favorite food on the plate was a prosciutto wrapped prune. OMG. Absolutely delicious. This type of plate is a popular appetizer plate in Serbia and you can find something similar at more traditional restaurants throughout the city. Pro tip, split one with your travel partner or order it as a meal.

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Serbian appetizer.

After this meal, we stopped at one of Serbia’s most popular ice cream shops, Crna Ovca (or, the “Black Sheep”). Seriously, there was a line outside. I ordered white chocolate blueberry and straticella (my choice!), but there were so many flavors that I would have love to have tried, including Pear and Fennel. How cool does that sound?! The ice cream was excellent and a nice cap to our big appetizer.

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Ice cream from the Black Sheep.

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More ice cream at Crna Ovca!

Our next stop was a quick one, more meats and cheese at a local meat and cheese shop! Good think Serbia does great meats and cheese. Here, were tried 4 dried meats, a sausage, two pieces of Serbian cheese, and breads dipped in Serbian olive oil, more of that tasty tomato paste, and a sweet Serbian jelly. We also tried some fried pork fat, which was absolutely amazing!! By far my favorite dish. I wish I had purchased some to eat later.

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Meats at the meat shop – delish!

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Fried pork fat, even more delish!

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Our meats plate!

Moving along, our next stop was just down the road at homemade Serbian liquor store with a woman very reminiscent of the Amsterdam hostel woman in Eurotrip… In any case, and as you may have gathered, rakija is very popular in the Balkans, including Serbia. We had already tried a bunch on this trip; I hate it, and Dan loves it. Here, we tried an herbal rakija that ended up coming home with us in a bottle too big for our wine bags, some cherry wine, and a few other liquors. Most were too strong for my taste, but the shop was pretty interesting. The owner, a/k/a the Amsterdam hostel owner, was also really sweet and hospitable. Definitely look this shop up if you are into Serbian liquors.

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Some of the liquers.

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Cherry liquer.

En route leaving the shop, we swung by a little market to pick up some raspberries – one of Serbia’s most famous exports. Who knew?! Aside from buying raspberries, the market was super cute and would make a fun stop for tourists!

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Said raspberries.

Our very final destination was the bohemian district of Skadarlija, which is often compared to Paris’ Montmartre. I didn’t really get that comparison, but really nothing compares to my beloved Paris! Skadarlija is home to cute restaurants, cafes, and shops, many catering to tourists. We walked around Skadarlija for a few minutes and ended at an upscale sit down restaurant for another meal of classic Serbian foods. Yes, truly another complete meal.

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Skadarlija.

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Dan and me in Skadarlija.

I cannot recall the name of the restaurant; it is right on the corner next to direction sign in the above picture. I recommend a reservation. For our last meal of the tour, we started with Serbian red wine and Serbian grilled cheese. A perfect combo! Serbian wine is actually quite good and has a long history (which I will write about in another post, stay tuned!) and the cheese was fantastic. Our cheese and wine was paired with a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and Balkan cheese (like the ones we had in Montenegro!) called sopska salad, and cabbage salad. The tomato, cucumber, and cheese salad reminded me so much of a classic Greek salad – incredibly tasty! 

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Grilled cheese salad.

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Serbian salad.

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Cabbage salad.

After, we each were served a plate of cevapi – Serbian grilled meat in a tube form – served on traditional Serbian bread in sandwich type format. The cevapi was very, very good, especially on the pita bread. During our meal, our guide answered all of our questions about Serbia – its history, conflicts, growing up in the Balkans (she grew up as a Serb in Bosnia), and modern day Serbia. Our conversation was really interesting, and reading up on Balkan history will definitely make your visit and a conversation such as this much more interesting. Our tour was over after this meal, and Dan and I set off to see Belgrade’s Church of Saint Sava.

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The delicious cevapi.

Looking back, this food tour was an excellent way to explore Belgrade; we saw a lot of the city and tasted many foods that we would not have been able to try on our own. For those thinking of visiting Belgrade or the Balkans, Belgrade is quite safe these days, despite its outdated reputation of being a war torn country. There is still conflict in the Balkans, but tourists won’t see that on a visit to Belgrade. Today, Belgrade is hip, charming, and a great value to budget minded travelers. Plus, many people speak English due to growing up on US television shows. Belgrade is definitely worth visiting, and is an easy pair with more popular Balkan destinations, such as Croatia and Montenegro, especially from the East Coast of the US due to Air Serbia’s daily nonstop flight from JFK to Belgrade (which I took, it was a fine flight).  Feel free to email or comment with any questions about Belgrade!

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Belgrade’s famous Church of Saint Sava.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Food Tour Belgrade: We did the Serbia On Your Plate Tour at 56 euro per person, which included an English Speaking guide and all food and drink mentioned in this article. The food was more than enough for a meal. This company offers a few other tours, but the one we took is billed as their “most popular.”

 

Virpazar on Lake Skadar: Montenegro’s Wine Destination.

Dan and I finally vacationed in Montenegro earlier this year! I had been dreaming of going to Montenegro for seriously like 10 years, and I was really excited to execute this trip! In planning, and in my last 10 years of Montenegro dreams, I mainly focused on the Adriatic coast: the Bay of Kotor, Budva, Petrovac, and Sveti Stefan. When actually planning our trip, however, I learned that Montenegro has much more to offer than its gorgeous coastline, including a really good wine industry. Yes, who knew?! The center of Montenegro’s wine industry is the tiny town of Virpazar, so we promptly booked a stay in Virpazar as part of our trip.

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Virpazar on Lake Skadar.

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Taking The Scenic Route To The Top Of Kotor, Montenegro!

Kotor is an old triangle-shaped, walled town on the Kotor Bay in Montenegro. Its the most well-known and well-touristed town on the Kotor Bay, and probably in all of Montenegro, despite its small size. Why you may ask, especially if you’ve never heard of Kotor (or possibly even Montenegro)? 1. Kotor, and the Kotor Bay, are totally stunning and make for a gorgeous vacation destination. 2. Kotor is now on the Adriatic cruise ship circuit and smaller (but not that small) cruise ships dock in Kotor for the day. 3. Rick Steves has written a lot about Kotor, and its an easy day trip from neighboring Dubrovnik. In sum, people know Kotor and its a busy destination. If you want off the beaten path, stay down the road in Perast, like we did! That being said, nothing beats the views from Kotor and its a terribly lovely place to spend a day.

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Kotor, Montenegro in a photograph.

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One Day in Kings Landing – 10 Years After My First Visit to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Dubrovnik is Croatian city on the very southern tip of Croatia, just north of Montenegro and across the Adriatic from Bari, Italy. Dubrovnik is split into two parts: New Town, the modern part of town with swanky hotels and restaurants, and Old Town, the beautiful walled part of the city that stars as Kings Landing in Game of Thrones starting in Season 2 (it was filmed in Mdina, Malta in Season 1). Both are worthy of your time.

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Welcome to Dubrovnik!

With crystal clear green water and warm temperatures from May – early October, Dubrovnik has been a popular European and Russian vacation destination for decades, until the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, when Dubrovnik sustained significant war damage. Rebuilt and open for business since the early 2000s, Dubrovnik is back as a major vacation player and home to two busy cruise ports. Rick Steves famously named Dubrovnik “The Pearl of the Adriatic.” As a result of its newfound popularity, tourists are flocking to the city in droves and the Old Town can get crazy busy, especially during the height of summer. If you haven’t yet been to Dubrovnik, you’ve definitely “missed the boat” on this exotic destination, but its still a city worthy of a few days, especially as part of a larger Croatian or Balkan itinerary.

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Old Town Dubrovnik.

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Kotor Bay Wine Tasting: Savina Winery, Herceg Novi, Montenegro.

Surprising to many, myself included, Montenegro makes good, yet relatively unknown, red, white, and rose wine from both foreign grapes (although grown in Montenegro) and a handful of indigenous grapes found only in Montenegro. The most popular indigenous grape is the Vranac grape, which is used in red wine and is easily found in local restaurants and wine shops throughout Montenegro. Vranac, and generally all the wines that we tasted in Montenegro, was quite good. Outside of Montenegro, however, they are difficult, if not impossible, to find. Even Dan, my wine snob, liked Montenegrin wine!

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Montenegrin grape vines.

Since we love wine and wine tasting, I was on the hunt for Montenegrin wineries throughout our entire trip to Montenegro. I was pleased to find a number of wineries offering visits to tourists, but Savina was the only working professional winery that I found (via Trip Advisor) close to Perast, where we stayed for the majority of our trip. As soon as I read the reviews, I promptly booked a tasting via email. It sounded lovely!

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Savina corks.

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Two Days On The Mediterranean Island Of Gozo.

Gozo is one of three Maltese islands in the Mediterranean Sea (the other two being Malta and Comino). Gozo is the middle island in terms of size and a world apart from its big sister Malta. On our trip to Malta earlier this year, Dan and I ferried over to the Maltese island of Gozo for a couple nights to experience old school Malta, and that is exactly what we got.

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Mgarr Harbor, Gozo.

If you told someone that you were traveling to Gozo on vacation, they may have no idea where or what Gozo is. That’s because Gozo receives a lot less tourism that Malta or Comino, despite being close neighbors. This is probably due to the fact that Gozo lacks an airport, so you must go through Malta to access Gozo.  In any case, we found Gozo to be very chill and laid back, gorgeous, a bit of a time capsule, and less expensive than Malta.  

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Quiet Gozo.

Many companies offer day tours to Gozo from Malta and some Blue Lagoon tours offer a couple-hour stop off in Gozo, but I would not recommend these. You will miss out on what makes Gozo special.

WHAT TO SEE ON GOZO, MALTA

Gozo’s most famous site, the Azure Window (of Game of Thrones fame, Dany and Drogo married there), sadly crashed into the sea during a storm in 2017.  You can still visit the site where it was located, Dwerja Beach, and that’s just what we did! Even without the Azure Window, Dwerja Beach is very pretty and an interesting place to walk around a photograph. Just across the street is a popular swimming hole with crystal clear water. There is a parking lot at Dwerja Beach, a handful of kiosks selling food and beverage, and a sit down restaurant on site. I would plan to spend 30 minutes at Dwerja Beach, longer if you want to swim or eat.

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Former site of the Azure Window.

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Swimming behind Dwerja Beach.

Quite close to Dwerja Beach is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu. Ta’Pinu, for short, is a gorgeous basilica overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. And I mean GORGEOUS. Ta’Pinu is particularly well-known for a chapel that, as confirmed by the Catholic Church, has asked parishioners to say Hail Mary three times and then performed a miracle.  Many people make pilgrimages here, and the Pope has even visited Ta’Pinu. Entrance is free and you are not supposed to wear short shorts or tank tops, but this rule was not strictly enforced in the Summer heat.

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Interior of Ta’Pinu.

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View from Ta’Pinu.

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Danny at Ta’Pinu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite places in Gozo is Xlendi, a cute seaside town! Xlendi has great views, cool water front restaurants, and some walking trails. It also has a very small beach that is not exactly swimmable due to its size and boats; however if you take the path around Xlendi to the water, there are fabulous views and a few diving boards built into the coast! Swimming in this area seemed more sanitary than right in the port. There is parking around town. Xlendi would also make a nice town to stay in if you want to be in a town.

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Xlendi Bay.

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Swimming near Xlendi Bay.

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Xlendi at sunset.

Marsalforn is another cute little beach town with lots of restaurants and bars. The beach here is slightly larger and the water is gorgeous. Marsalforn would make another cute town to base your stay on Gozo.

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Marsalforn.

Just next to Marsalforn are the famous salt pans of Gozo. There is not much to do here except snap a picture and buy some salt from the older gentleman selling freshly made salt but its a cool place to see and quite close to Marsalforn. Tip if you’re planning on buying salt, which you should, bring a plastic ziplock bag to put it in. The bag our salt was sold in started to leak.

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Real salt from Marsalforn – just used it Tuesday!

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Salt pans.

If you are a history buff, you cannot miss a visit to the Ggantija Temples on Gozo. Similar to the Hypogeoum on Malta, the Ggantija Temples are ancient temples that were somewhat recently discovered and not much is known about their background. However, the temples are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and date back to around 3500 BC (older than Stonehenge!). There is an interesting museum that you visit before seeing the temples, which provides some interesting information and gives some suggestions as to what the temples may have been used for!

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Ggantija Temples

Just next to the Ggantija Temples is the Ta’Kola Windmill, which is an old windmill that you can visit and climb to the top. We did this, but only because our ticket to the Ggantija Temples included entrance to the windmill, as well. The windmill was interesting, but I probably would not go back. The most interest part was viewing it from the outside.

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Ta’Kola Windmill.

We also visited the Ta’Mena Estate, which is sort of a famous Agritourism farm and winery on Gozo. Ta’Mena hosts tours and tastings every Thursday (and I think Saturday), which you need to book in advance. The tour was quite long, but it did come with a substantial food and wine tasting after the tour. Ta’Mena also opens a shop after the tour selling all sorts of its organic products. The food tasting is enough for lunch.

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Welcome to Ta’Mena Estate.

Victoria is Gozo’s capital city, and its quite a lovely city. Victoria is home to quite winding streets, old school public squares, lots of churches, and a number of restaurants and shops. We spent an afternoon here and really enjoyed this picturesque town. If you are looking to shop, Victoria is definitely the spot. My favorite store was the adorable House of Gozo located right off Gozo’s main square.

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Adorable Gozo.

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So charming.

Victoria is also home to the Citadel, which was way cooler than I anticipated. The Citadel is the old walled-city and it looks straight out of Game of Thrones. It reminded me a lot of Dubrovnik, too. While its a steep climb uphill, the views from the Citadel are worth it. The Citadel is home to some shops and restaurants. Be sure to bring water in the summer.

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Top of the Citadel in Gozo.

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Inside the Citadel.

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Reminds me of Dubrovnik a decade ago.

WHERE WE STAYED ON GOZO

We stayed at the adorable Cescas Boutique Hotel, halfway between Xlendi and Victoria. Cescas is owned by the same people as Ta’Karolina Restaurant in Xlendi and like Ta’Karolina, the hotel is quite modern and swanky.  Cescas is located in a remodeled farmhouse and its really in the middle of nowhere – definitely a place to get away from it all. Cescas has a lovely pool and serves a nice breakfast each morning.

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Dining room views at Cesca’s.

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The pool at Cesca’s.

WHERE WE ATE

As mentioned in my previous post on my week in Malta, we ate pretty well on Gozo.  My favorite restaurants were Stanley’s Chippy Shop in Victoria and Ta’Karolina and The Boathouse in Xlendi. Here are a few pictures of some of my favorite foods.

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Dan and me at Ta’Karolina.

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Fried Gozitan cheese.

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English breakfast at Cesca’s.

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Nutella milkshake paired with Maltese red wine in Marsalforn.

Also, while not technically a restaurant, Lord Chambry Beer is a local craft beer brewed in Victoria. Its available all over Malta in general, even on the Gozo Ferry line(!), and each beer is named after something Malta-related. Definitely worth trying on Gozo!

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HOW WE ARRIVED

The only way to reach Gozo is via the Gozo Channel Line car ferry from Cirkewwa (Malta) to Mgarr (Gozo), which run every half-hour. The ferry was easy and only took 25 minutes. It cost €4.65 per person round trip (more for a car, clearly). You do not need to buy tickets in advance and you actually don’t even need a ticket on the way over from Malta; tickets are only checked on the return trip from Gozo. The ferries have a cafe serving food and drinks, as well as some small souvenirs. There are taxis meeting the ferry in both Cirkewwa and Mgarr.

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Ferry to Malta.

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Ferry to Gozo.

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Pulling into Mgarr Harbor.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR VISITING GOZO

As of July 2019, there are no ride sharing apps working in Gozo. I.e. no Uber, Lyft, ECabs, or Bolt. There are buses that run around Gozo, they are not frequent. If you do not rent a car, a taxi is probably your best bet.

In the summer, its HOT on Gozo. Take a hat and carry water with you everywhere. And on that note, while water is easy enough to find (usually for 1 euro per bottle), places in Gozo did not seem to have great air conditioning. We had trouble cooling down.

Try to spend at least 1 night on Gozo, if not a few, to get a feel for the island.

Take cash out on Malta. There are ATMs on Gozo, but they have been known to go out island-wide.

SOME PICTURES OF GOZO

And, since Gozo was so gorgeous, I will leave you with some of my favorite pictures from Gozo!

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Walking to Xlendi.

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The famous fishing boats.

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Kinnie soda.

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In Xlendi.

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View of Victoria.

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Victoria.

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Outskirts of Victoria.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Cescas Boutique Hotel: Triq tal-Ghajn, Il-Munxar, Malta. A true boutique hotel in a renovated farmhouse in Gozo. Kind of in the middle-of-nowhere, you can technically walk to Xlendi and Victoria. Good breakfast included with booking. Wifi and AC included. Pool on premises.

Ta’Mena Estate: Rabat Road, Xaghra XRA 9010, Malta. A popular winery and farm, with tours offered twice a week (I believe on Thursday and Saturday).  Book in advance via email.

The Boathouse: XLN1010, Xatt Ix Xlendi, Il-Munxar, Malta. Right in downtown Xlendi, next to Ta’Karolina. Closed Wednesday. Open Thursday – Tuesday 12h – 15h30, 18h – 22h. Reservations recommended, especially for waterside dining.

Ta’Karolina: Triq L-Ghar ta Karolina, Munxar, Malta. Open 12h30 – 15h30, 18h30 – 22h30. Highly recommend booking a reservation online, especially to secure one of the romantic tables on the water like we had!

Stanley’s Chippy Shop: San Gorg Basilica, Victoria, Malta. Super casual and no reservations. Bring cash.

Gozo Ferry Line: Official website with timetables.

Gozo Taxi Service: The taxi service that I used to organize a day tour to some of Gozo’s most famous sites. They were very responsive via email and the driver was good. Would use again.

My Best Meal in Malta: Sotto Pizzeria in Valletta!

Being so close to Italy, Italy heavily influences Malta’s cuisine. Pasta, cannoli, and pizza are everywhere in Malta, and we ate a lot of it. However, I kept thinking that it was just not as good as Italian food; a second best so to speak. However, when we dined at Sotto Pizzeria, I was completely blown away and had, by far, the best meal of the entire trip!

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Malta on a map.

Sotto Pizzeria is located in Malta’s capital, Valletta, in a nondescript basement with only a small sign announcing the restaurant.

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Dan Dan at Sotto Pizzeria in Valletta, Malta.

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L’Angolo Divino: A Delicious Wine Bar Near Touristy Camp de’ Fiori!

Dan and my friend, Hugh, is in the wine industry, so when we were in Rome, he sent us over a few dinner/wine bar recommendations to try while we were in town! Usually I am a little picky about people’s restaurant or wine recommendations, but this guy knows his stuff and introduced us to Portuguese wine, which led to our wedding in Portugal! Enter L’Angolo Divino, a wine bar near Campo de’ Fiori, which was definitely our hang out spot when we studied in Rome…. We called and made a reservation same day (and probably did not need a reservation). 

Despite it being late December in Rome, we walked to dinner (it was mid 50s F!) and were promptly seated at a cute table next to a window overlooking the street. The restaurant is quite small and when we visited, all of the patrons seemed to be tourists. This was a bit unsettling, but it turned out great.

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A happy Dan Dan at dinner!

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