Via LYBE – Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport
TRAVEL IN SERBIA:
If you are anything like me, I fly to discover the undiscovered.
This summer was full of travel and exploring new places in Europe. Typically, the Aviation Estates travel articles are a guide to vacation destinations in the USA yet this summer I decided to share insight on travel in Europe and the industry surrounding Aviation in Serbia, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. My journey in Serbia is chronicled below. You will find an additional three articles for the other countries in the travel/blog section of the site.
On my journey this summer the place that intrigued me the most was was Belgrade, Serbia and the surrounding countryside as it has a rich history that most Americans don’t know. It is one that as you peel back the layers and make friends with the locals you see how passionate they are about their home. Out of all the places I visited Serbia really captured my heart. This statement may surprise most people its far more common to hear people say how much they love France, Italy, or Amsterdam (the other destinations visited on this trip).
You might be wondering how I chose Serbia? I was fortunate enough to be invited to by my childhood friend to join her family’s summer vacation. This trip was almost 30 years in the making and to finally visit was a dream come true for both of us. My friend was born in Belgrade and speaks the language fluently yet grew up in America. Having the opportunity to experience the country like a local was a once in a lifetime experience with memories I will not soon forget.
Upon landing at Nikola Tesla airport via Air France I was able to go through passport control very quickly and the bags arrived soon after. As we started our drive to my friend’s town, I noticed that Serbia does not have cohesive architecture like many European cities. That said, the architectural diversity is what makes the area charming and highlights the country’s history. As you look out the window you see a landscape that is truly miraculous with plentiful farmland, vineyards, distilleries, natural sparkling water beds, wild fruit, mountains, and rivers. Once we arrived in Lazarevac I was greeted with a quaint main street, lovely park, various restaurants, and an incredible bakery. For me, this town was a gem as I was able to see the place where my friend was born and learn more about Serbian culture and history. Lazarevac is not a tourist destination but one that I enjoyed greatly. After a quick stop at the house we were off to see the countryside and visit St George’s Church also known as Oplenac. This stunning church, vineyard, and mausoleum are surrounded by a sense of peace set high atop the rolling hills just outside Belgrade. In hills of this region you will come across many wineries and fresh fruit stands. The cherries in summer are not to be missed! Our last stop for the day was at Tarpos winery for a wonderful glass of wine and charcuterie board. This winery has a great view, outdoor patio, and some of the best wine I had on my European travels.
Day two was even better than day one. Today we were off to see the town where my friend’s father is from and meet her grandfather who still lives in their family home in Gorjane. Over the years my friend’s father has planted a vineyard and plum orchard and harvests the fruit to make wine and brandy. High atop the hill you will find her father’s legacy, a castle, that he is building for their family. This magnificent castle overlooks the countryside and to me it is a reminder of what the American Dream is all about. Through hard work and dedication her parents were able build a beautiful legacy that provides generations to come a fairytale estate to visit. While here we picked tiny wild strawberries, drank Turkish coffee, and explored the incredible grounds before heading back to Lazarevac. That evening my friend’s uncle would pick us up and take us to dinner and dancing in Belgrade. Once we arrived in Belgrade, we headed to Sakura which is a fantastic Japanese restaurant. In addition to the delicious cuisine the drinks and ambiance were second to none as this restaurant sits on the Riverwalk which offers a grand patio for outdoor dining. Next up, we headed to a floating barge bar, Shake N’ Shake. The atmosphere was classy, and the bar felt as if you were in a tropical paradise as the river breeze flowed through the club. One of my favorite parts of this bar is that they had a female DJ from Girl Panic who had everyone in the place dancing. The night was completed by watching the sunrise on the drive home and reminiscing on our incredible night.
Sunday I truly felt like a local as we relaxed in Lazarevac for most of the day, grabbed breakfast at the local bakery, and took the kids to the park. That evening we had been invited to a musical at the National Theater in Belgrade. While I do not speak the language, I can say the musical was a great experience as the acting and music told a grand story. After the musical we headed to Skadarlija in Old Belgrade. This historic street is one of the most charming in all of Belgrade as you feel as if you have stepped back in time. The rich history of Skadarlija is felt with the live gypsy bands at the restaurants and the quintessential Serbian cuisine. I would recommend trying a classic dish at Tri Sesira “Three Hats”.
The next morning, we headed to Belgrade to explore the fortress at Kalemegdan and the Chapel of Saint Petka. This day was unlike any other as we found ourselves in a big city yet quite isolated as we toured Kalemegdan. This fortress sits high on the hill above the city and overlooks the Danube and Sava rivers offering a breathtaking backdrop. Within the castle walls you will find a park filled with lush grass and trees that frame the beautiful architecture. Walking through the grounds you felt as if you were once again taken back in time. I found the history of Kalemegdan intriguing and would highly recommend you read up on the fortress if you are planning a visit (see the map link for more info). While there we walked down to the chapel and mausoleum of Saint Petka. Upon entering the chapel, there is a sense of peace and serenity. In the chapel they have bottles of holy water that have healing qualities from the stream nearby. It is believed that the water is beneficial to women as St. Petka is the patron-saint of all women. Next to the chapel there is a cave where you can light candles and say a prayer. It is Serbian tradition that you light a candle for the living and the dead and you say a prayer to each so that your prayer is balanced. As we all started to think about what our prayer there was an incredibly loud sound just outside the entrance. Surprisingly it was rain. We felt as if the sky had opened and the noise was a sign of some sort. We all still wonder what if anything it meant but I can tell you it definitely made me feel close to the friends I was with as well as to the ones that I have lost. The brief yet very intense rainstorm kept us hostage for a little bit but after a few discussions we decided it was better to be the person that dances in the rain rather than hides from it. So off we went in a light drizzle to dinner at the Riverwalk once again. This time we decided to try Toro a Latin gastrobar with an amazing outdoor patio and cool vibe. They offer a tasting menu of all you can eat which was a great way to experience the cuisine. I also suggest their jalapeno margaritas. After dinner, we headed back to my friends’ uncles house where we were introduced to Vinjac (the Serbian equivalent to Cognac) and a fantastic chardonnay from Podrum Radovanovic winery. The wine and liquor produced in this region is world-class as the plants grow without needing additional water and the landscape lends itself to any crop you can imagine. In Serbian culture, friends and family alike stop by to say hello and add to the already fascinating conversations about everything from good wine to history. That evening I realized I had not had nearly enough time to explore and decided to forgo one day in Italy. The extra day in Serbia was well worth the cost to change my travel arrangements.
On my last day my friend’s family met up for a sunset cruise on the Danube and Sava rivers. On the way, we stopped at a The Pavilion of Prince Milos a natural sparkling water source that is housed in a beautiful marble building that is surrounded by pristine gardens. Within the garden, you will find a myriad of statues that have been carved throughout a 30-year tradition of the festival Mermer i zvuci. The statues displayed are those of the winners of this festival. The naturally carbonized mineral water is extracted from the wells over 330 feet deep lying under famous white marble of the Vencac mountain. If you enjoy photography or reading a good book in nature this park is a must see. From there we headed to the boat tour at the Riverwalk which was quickly becoming one of my favorite places in Belgrade. After boarding the double-decker boat, we enjoyed comradery and conversation over chilled chardonnay. It was truly the perfect way to experience my last evening. As we cruised the river, we were greeted with an exquisite sunset followed by dinner at Sakura. As the evening was coming to an end, I wished I had more time to get to know this beautiful country. Serbian hospitality offered me one last glimpse as my friend’s relatives took me for a nightcap at a local bar. Sitting there with the two of them I kept wishing I could speak Serbian however with the few words I had learned and their excellent English the night came to a perfect end. I felt that I was leaving with new friends who I hope to visit again one day.
The people of this gorgeous country are very proud of it and enjoy sharing its rich history through conversations as well as their preservation so many historic sites. If you have the opportunity to travel to Serbia just book the ticket!
- Map of Places to Visit: http://bit.ly/SerbiaTravelMap
- Local Travel Agency With 4 Decades of Experience: http://www.panacomp.net/serbia/
- Tarpos winery: http://bit.ly/TarposWinery
- Podrum Radovanovic winery: https://www.podrumradovanovic.rs/en/wines.html
- Barge Bar: http://www.shake-n-shake.com/gallery/
- DJ: http://www.girlpanic.me/
- Sakura: http://www.sakurarestoran.rs/en/home
- Toro: https://www.richardsandoval.com/torobelgrade
- Skadarlija: https://bca-group.net/skadarlija/
- Skadarlija Three Hats Restaurant: https://trisesira.rs/en/
- Belgrade by Helicopter: https://www.toursfrombelgrade.com/belgrade-helicopter-tour
A few observations for when you book your trip:
- The airport is easy to navigate but they do have two terminals in the same building. If you don’t see your flight head to the other terminal.
- The airport is about 30-45 min from the Riverwalk area. I recommend you leave yourself 2 hours to be on the safe side.
- If you are not fond of group tours I highly recommend using a travel agency to assist with a driver who speaks English as driving in Serbia is like the wild west and a good cut through when there is traffic could save you an hour.
- Read up on the history before you visit a landmark as I found every spot we visited intriguing based on the vast history over time.
- Try the local food it is delicious.
- If you like wine and cognac drink local
- Consider seeing the sights by helicopter or plane to avoid traffic
AVIATION IN SERBIA:
In meeting new friends I was lucky enough to meet one that knew quite a lot about aviation as a good friend of his works for Aero East Europe an airplane manufacturer in Jagodina.(See link below) They produce two aircraft for general aviation flying and one that is used as a medical evacuation transport plane. Thus far, a few have even been imported to the US. You can read more on the aircraft at: https://aeroeast.net/
Nikola Tesla Airport is the main airport in Belgrade but there are many others within a short distance of the city, especially by air. In the town of Vršac there is a flight school and an international airport. The main alternates to this airport for flight training are Morava and Nis. If you were to fly between, Belgrade, Morava, Vršac, Ecka, and Nis you would be flying less than 300 miles. That said, the drive would take 8.5 hours and with traffic you might be on the road for 10-12 as certain roads do backup and cause delays when traveling in Serbia.
All other airports (except military) are small sport airports. At the smaller airports there are usually local aviation clubs. In the resources below you will find links to all things aviation in Serbia.
- Aircraft Manufacturer: https://aeroeast.net/
- Airports in Serbia: http://cad.gov.rs/en/strana/21551/Евиденције-аеродрома-и-хелидрома
- Nikola Tesla Airport: https://beg.aero/eng
- Vršac Airport & Pilot School: http://www.saa.rs/en/home/
- Aerdrom Ecka: http://www.aeroecka.com/#pilot-info
- Nis Airport: https://nis-airport.com/en/
- Pilot Training: http://www.saa.rs/en/home/
- List of Airports: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airports_in_Serbia
- Flying Club Example: https://www.facebook.com/AeroklubTrstenik/