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If you are looking to indulge in a weekend of partying and culture, there is a new European destination coming on strong that's giving the likes of Berlin and Milan a run for their money.


Serbia | BelgradeOnly five years after emerging from the grip of alleged war criminal Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's capital city Belgrade is becoming a mecca for fashionistas in search of trendy clubs and haute cuisine. Prices are half of those in the UK, and the Serbs exude a Mediterranean warmth not found elsewhere in Eastern Europe. In between grooving to Balkan folk-punk and nibbling feta cheese, visitors can hit the beach, explore one of Europe's oldest forts and find out if former communist leader Josip Broz Tito really liked John Wayne - we'll explain later.

Day one

11:00: Musical interlude

The aroma of double mocha espresso wafts from overflowing cafés in the narrow alleys of the Old City with Serbo-pop and brass band music vying for attention.

Stop in at the hip Jukebox, on bustling Kneza Mihaila, for a lesson on gypsy music and cut-price CDs by Serbian artist Goran Bregovic.

14:00: Dish of the day

Belgraders lunch late on terraces overlooking the Danube. Kalemegdanska Terrace restaurant is just below the city's mammoth fortress of the same name. The variety of dishes recalls the influence of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires - time for 10 kinds of Balkan salads, smoked grilled sausages and a piece of luscious chocolate cake.

17:00: History lesson

Stroll through Kalemegdan Fortress, an extensive collection of stone ramparts and battlements dominating the city that the Romans, Celts, Austrians and Turks used to keep out their enemies - often each other.

Its foundations date back to 373 when the Romans had the barbarians at the gates. Legend has it that Atila the Hun is buried beneath Kalemegdan, which derives its name from the ancient Turkish and Arabic expressions for protection against battle. And with good reason: Belgraders claim it is the single most attacked spot in all of Europe.

Admire the masterpiece by the former Yugoslavia's most celebrated sculptor, Ivan Mestrovic. His Messenger of Victory statue constructed in 1928 scandalised locals with its full-frontal nudity.

From the fort you can see Sava and Danube rivers and bucolic New Belgrade. Spot the obelisk that tour guides say is a monument to the 1,500 people who died in "the collateral damage" of the 1999 NATO bombing. The pleasant fortress park is clearly the spot for courting couples.

18:00: You're beautiful

Festive crowds surround live musical performers on the long pedestrianised street Kneza Mihaila. Defying its reputation as an ugly city, many Belgrade buildings have impressive neo-Baroque and Art Nouveau façades and street fountains abound. The bad news is all the signs are in Cyrillic. The good news? Everyone speaks English, even the street cleaners.

20:00: Meat eaters

Time for an induction into the merits of the unpronounceable ustipci (spicy meatballs) and pljeskavica (minced meat patties with onions) at the see-and-be-seen Zaplet restaurant on Rezultati. Smoking and meat consumption seem to be required at all meals.

There is grilled squid with triestino sauce and deep fried courgettes with tomato jam for non-meat eaters. The service is outstanding.

22:00: And the beat goes on

Until you have done a splav, you have not lived. The splavs are floating tented-barge bars that have cropped up in the past five years along the Sava and Danube riverfronts. Reservations are a must to secure a table.

At Sound, the door policy makes lucky entrants feel like they just breached Buckingham Palace security. It all starts tamely with house music, but after midnight, something goes haywire, and party-goers bop to funk and soft techno.

Dress is casual elegant, the vibe friendly and it's clear Serbs know how to handle their drink - by 5am the crowd is still going strong.

Day two

10:00: A Royal occasion

Start the day at the Royal Compound, which only opened to the public this year.

The palace, high on a hill in a secluded park, was built by King Alexander, founder of modern Yugoslavia, at the end of the 1920s. It was taken over by Tito, and then Milosevic, but the King's grandson, Crown Prince Alexandr, was invited back by the government to live in the compound with his family last year. The prince now welcomes tourists into his estate. Art works by Canaletto, Poussin and Rembrandt grace the walls.

11:00: Antiques roadshow

Stay on at the palace to take in the endless array of priceless porcelain, marble columns and antiques. Marvel at the vaulted, frescoed basement, which resembles a Turkish bath merged with a Russian Orthodox church. The highlight is the projection room where Tito allegedly watched his beloved collection of John Wayne movies. Today the Royal family provides visitors with free juice and an autographed portrait.

13:00: Game on

It's lunchtime so head to Dedinje, the area natives call Beverly Hills. Here, look out for Restoran Dorde, which serves game cooked any way you want. Fellow patrons have chauffeurs.

15:00: A grave affair

Also in the Dedinjea neighbourhood, don't miss Tito's grave - a trip to Belgrade is incomplete without a visit. Most Serbs equate Tito with the good old days of a prosperous and peaceful Yugoslavia.

Afterwards, head to Sava and relax on a sparkling clean beach, smack in middle of the city on the island of Ada Ciganlija. The area is great for swimming, cycling on the beach promenade, kayak racing, and soaking up the café culture - weather permitting of course.

18:00: Blaywatch beauties

Go Boathouse hopping. Amsterdam Café is the smartest place for an afternoon cocktail on the Danube. Nearby Blaywatch, inspired by Pamela Anderson and the Serb word "blay", or relax, might be more fun for the boys, as it features a swimming pool with bathing beauties who pole dance on the high-dive board.

20:00: Hats off

Cornbread, spicy peppers and grilled sausages await at the Three Hats, the classiest joint on Skadarska Street, where 19th century artist dwellings have been turned into homey, farmhouse restaurants with violinists at your table. Expect e15-20 for three courses including wine.

22:00: Model behaviour

Finish the weekend at Silicon Valley, or Strahinjica Bana, where busty gals seek out future husbands at the numerous cafés and bars. Supermodel types have a preference for Insomnia, famous for its basement swings. It all begs the question how the Serbs, whose average salary is $250 a month, can afford the nightly diet of chocotini cocktails and vanilla lattes.

Serbia National Tourism Organisation associate Maja Petrovic dismisses the question with ease. "Even when we have nothing, we go out and have a good time. That's just the Serb nature."