02.09.17

The Balkans Came Calling: Montenegro and Serbia, The Kids Edition

Montenegro and Serbia with kids

“It is stunning”, he said. “You must go.”

This was a conversation I had with my brother in law many years ago as we sat in his London apartment and pored over his albums of beautiful photos of his time visiting Montenegro. Quite honestly, I didn’t know much about the country until then. It wasn’t in the limelight as a must-visit destination by the masses. But here I was with a human rights lawyer, who was working in the region, and he highly recommended this slightly offbeat country to visit. So, this year, we decided to visit.

My sister and family were visiting us in London anyways, so we decided to split the time and head to the Balkan side. We combined Serbia and Montenegro, for a bit over a week, and it was enough time for us. It was a good group too – two sets of parents, who LOVE to eat, explore new places, and are relatively chilled out. And three children,
Little I, my niece (3yrs), Little M, my daughter (2 yrs), and Little R, my nephew (8yrs).

I was a bit concerned initially, as Montenegro is known for its mountainous landscapes, and so I wondered if it would be comfortable with kids, but I have to say that it is exactly the openness and ease of just being in the outdoors that made it all so easy. So much space, that’s all they want. We did walk a fair amount (stroller came in big use), and we also used car hires to visit places as it was the easiest and convenient option with kids. It
allowed us the flexibility to do as we please.

 

 
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Montenegro: Old Town Budva, The Adriatic Sea. The Food.

Montenegro and Serbia with kids
Montenegro and Serbia with kids
Montenegro and Serbia with kids
Montenegro and Serbia with kids
We flew into Podgorisa, and made our base Budva. Budva is known to be a bit of the party, hip area – and quite packed as the season begins. We could see what was going to happen once the peak season hit. There were signs already, and we were glad we were there a little before the actual season, especially with kids. In the old days perhaps we’d hit it up in peak season…but not anymore!

We stayed in a beautiful apartment hotel with three gorgeous bedrooms, and a huge terrace. The apartment itself was very modern, and finished to a very high standard. The huge terrace had a bouncy swing which the kids loved. The balcony adjoining our room overlooked the Adriatic clear blue water, with the mountains as a backdrop. It was stunning to wake up to and enjoy a nice filter coffee. And all of this, at walking distance to the beach too.

After becoming parents, depending on the type of trip, and general location, we tend to consider apartment hotels/apartments because it offers a bit more convenience, more space, especially if traveling in a group, and we saw that the three kids got so much space to run around. While most of our meals were outside, we found comfort in making a simple meal that made them feel at home, especially if their appetites change with the travel schedule. That said, you get what you pay for. So don’t think of it as a cheaper option. I feel that if you want something nice, and at the same professional standard as a hotel, or more, you will have to look around, and pay up. Nowadays the professionalism is quite high, as ‘apartments’ are no longer where someone lives, but managed properties
by hospitality companies who understand guest needs, and we’ve been lucky to say that the extra concierge benefits we received on this trip were very helpful.

We started our wanderings around Budva with a long walk along the Adriatic Sea to Old town Budva. As you walk along the water, you pass all the lovely boats, yachts, and every little nook has a restaurant or a little market. We had a quick pit stop to have a local Gyro which we saw everyone holding, and as we reached closer saw the long lines.
That’s always a good sign. It was yum!

 

 
Old Town Budva has got the old fort walls, (reminds me a bit of Marrakech) but a lot more modern and chic. The boutiques are lovely, and we came back with a beautiful fish sculpture now adoring our piano. Being so close to the coast, the seafood is grand, and plenty. One of our favorite meals was at Porto, a nice restaurant, well known for its seafood. It’s not for the squeamish because they have a pool right in front of the restaurant where your next meal is swaimmng, so you can pick from there, or get the platter of fresh and decide from there. We went with the platter, and for a seafood loving group, it was treat for the kids to see them all too. I had a subtle dish, fresh squid stuffed with more squid and other goodness, while sipping on a nice crisp white wine.
Other dishes included the negushi cheese, a local must have, and black risotto. The portions are very good, and the prices, are very good too. Especially going from London, it felt like such good value.

 

 
Montenegro and Serbia with kids
Montenegro and Serbia with kids
We also visited the Porto Montenegro, which is so ‘rich’, with all the beautiful yachts and elegant dining and café options. The kids loved looking at the big ships! The next time, we will definitely pop in for a meal. We didn’t have enough time to have a meal here as we had to head on to other plans.

We did however have many meat-oriented dishes as the Montenegrins love their meat platters, and boy are they yum. Just fresh meat of all types grilled to perfection. Meat lovers paradise.

 

 
Bay of Kotor, Perast, Freshly shucked oysters
Montenegro and Serbia with kids
The Bay of Kotor is gorgeous. It is calming water against the backdrop of the beautiful mountains with fresh Spring green vegetation, and then the bright blue sky right above, all shining bright in the Balkan sun. Ironically, you want to explode inside with the extent of the beauty you are experiencing, and yet what happens is, you stay in the moment, and the place calms you down, brings in the serenity (as best it can with
toddlers around), and makes you realize how tiny you are in the midst of the magnificent and enormous beauty of nature. It’s quite humbling, and a good reality check.

Kotor itself, within the walls is quite busy, and a tad bit too touristy, but enjoyable nonetheless. We had a cruise ship that had stopped there, so you can imagine the crowds. Still, a lovely wander and quite comfortable with children. Our little ones spent a good half hour chasing pigeons in the square as we sipped on coffee and dessert.

Perast is one small village, charming and a must visit. It’s tiny, and so gorgeous at the
same time, no wonder it is a Unesco Heritage Site now. I can imagine it getting busy, but when we were there, there were just the right number of visitors, and a beautiful string of eateries along the water where you can literally see the fish swimming if you look down. It’s beautiful and sitting there with the ones you love most, and enjoying a delicious meal makes those moments so magical. Every trip has a few of those moments. For me, being there was one of them. We ended the meal with a treat of ice cream for all!

A short pit stop that our driver insisted we do, and we’re so glad we obliged, was on the side of a road, and we walked down a few steps and voila, we were in an oyster farm. A couple and their son run it, and it had six tables for visitors like us who stopped, waited as the fresh oysters were picked and shucked and ready to eat. These types of experiences are what travel is all about I feel, the little things, that our children, and we, don’t always get to experience in big cities. In any other place, our oysters come prepped on a beautiful plate surrounded by ice and other yummies.

 

 
Monastery of Ostrog
Montenegro and Serbia with kids
Being a mountainous region, the winds, and rain are taken seriously. A drive to visit The Ostrog Monastery, a small monastery carved into the mountain is to be planned well, depending on the rain gods. A driver may choose not to ride if the weather doesn’t approve as the roads are windy. Bends, turns, and heights to deal with. Phew! And did I mention that the drivers keep you on pins with their skills! They are very good and
precise, but you don’t always feel so.

 

 
Belgrade
Montenegro and Serbia with kids
Montenegro and Serbia with kids
Montenegro and Serbia with kids
Our next stop was Belgrade, Serbia. If Montenegro was calm, and serene, Belgrade was the opposite – it is active, a bustling city, and lots of people. It still has a lot of charm, many nice restaurants, and bars, and an understated cool vibe floating around. It reminded me a bit of Tel Aviv, in the way that everyone went about enjoying their wine, beer, food, coffee with the least amount of pretense and superficiality, and yet being subtly, very cool. We loved it! We stayed so very central that we literally had to walk down and had a choice of a number of lovely restaurants and bars, and were even a walk to the Belgrade Fortress and Victor Monument, among the other sight seeing spots. Belgrade is not too big, so you don’t need too many days here.

It’s also good for kids as there is enough space to run about, as you can see Little M quite happily running away from us at the Victor Monument, and enough restaurants that are very child friendly. The food is quite diverse, you can have a lovely Carpaccio for the adults, and equally yummy pizza for the kids. There’s most cuisines so you have your pick. One evening we tried out their local chain hamburger joint, it’s a Serbian
hamburger served with a type of creamy white butter. Very unique, but very delicious. The meat is soft and very delicately flavored, the bread warm, thin and soaked with this buttery goodness. The children liked it, and if other things fail, the warm bread went down a treat. Try it if you can.

The other fun place for kids is the Dinosaur Park within the Belgrade Fortress area. You need a ticket to enter, but with ‘almost’ life size dinosaurs watching you walk by, its hard for the kids to miss. And they wont let you miss it! We spent over an hour here, but the trio loved it. It’s well worth it as it was the perfect kiddy activity in the middle of a bunch of adult like outings.

 

 
The People
Montenegro and Serbia with kids
I haven’t mentioned the people, yet. In Belgrade they are urban dwellers, cool, comfortable and open to all. Much like any other city. Montenegrin’s, we were told before we visited, that they were quite conservative, and so many people had stayed off visiting the place.

I say, forget about all of that, and just go! The Montenegrin’s are lovely – yes, they are a bit conservative, and I think its only because they’ve been through a lot in their history, and their only now opening up to the world around them. They are holding on to their beliefs, culture and traditions and it is actually great to see that in today’s fast changing world.

Montenegrin’s needs time to embrace all the changes, and it is happening slowly. But at the same time, it is precisely THIS protection of its landscape, its pride in its beauty and culture that keeps this place still relatively untouched, and pristine as compared to many other developed-tourist spots. The visitors to the land are increasing as people recognize the beauty it has to offer, and the hospitality you receive there is welcoming, so don’t hesitate to visit. You will be glad you did.

 

 
Today I’m humming: (Click to Play) Non, Je ne regrette rien by Edith Piaf

Thank you Saroj – it sounds like an awesome trip!

 

 
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