Travel enhances life, broadens perspectives and extends horizons. The benefits should be the same, whether on a visit to an undiscovered region in your own country or a long haul trip to an exotic far-flung destination. Travel heightens life. While it is good to discover exciting new places, learn about different people and cultures, there is also great comfort in returning to places and people that have left a lasting impression. That feeling can be like coming home. For me, Belgrade is such a place.
Belgrade is a cityenjoyed by those who live there and by the increasing visitors who are discovering its many qualities. Be it just hours, a few days or even some years, time spent in Belgrade can be rewarding, largely down to the people who keep this city alive. Vibrant, openhearted and slightly enigmatic, Belgradians are made of the same infectious stuff that beats through the city itself.
When away from Belgrade I am always talking with friends about where to go and what to do on my next visit. Thankfully, I have always found that Belgrade is a city that is welcoming to visitors and easy to navigate. The wide boulevards, sprawling green parks and even the monumental state buildings combine to imprint a street map on the mind. Anyone can feel at ease in this city, even though it still holds enough secrets to hold a repeat visitor enthralled.
Travel, for business and pleasure, has brought me great happiness and many wonderful memories. My time in the Balkans, in Serbia and, indeed, in Belgrade has left a deep impression on me, too. When I travel, I like to schedule my own trips, draw up my own itineraries and make the bookings myself. It becomes part of the holiday: finding the most suitable accommodation, arranging car hire or travel tickets, and checking out the best restaurants and bars to discover. I actually enjoy it, despite the headaches it can cause. It is so much easier to do this than only a few years ago. The profusion of travel and destination sites make online booking so simple, and reviews are everywhere. Indeed, the hardest part can be finding a reliable source with recommendation that can be trusted.
I do not take well to guidebooks. For the Balkan region, though, I love the Bradt guides, with their detailed information and advice written by people who actually know and love the place they are writing about. These writers do not patronise or pander to trends, nor do they pay overdue attention to the fickleness of fashion. At the other end of the scale, I love the Hg2 Hedonist Guides. These little black books are a delight, an indulgence. By detailing the hottest bars, coolest hang-outs and swankiest boutique hotels, the Hg2 city guides add a touch of luxury to any trip. Taken together, these two contrasting styles sum up much of what I enjoy: a normal life of culture and nature, with a dose of luxury thrown in for good measure.
Sometimes, though, there is good reason to ask for more specific guidance. That is when a good network comes into play. Often on business trips, I need to source activities that are a little out of the ordinary and, when I cannot be there in person, I want to know that my friends and clients will be looked after by the best. Thankfully, I have someone I can trust to provide that level of tailored travel advice in Serbia. Like the best relationships, it started quite fortuitously when I met Belgrade man-about-town Ivan Agbaba. After spending time together, when he opened the doors to some of the best of Belgrade and beyond, I built enough faith in Ivan and his successful Belgrade VIP concierge business to invite them to draw up schedules for a range of trips, both business and pleasure. From glitzy city adventures to out of town excursions and the chance to play with some pretty impressive big boys’ toys, Ivan has delivered the goods every time I have had need to call on him.
To have a network of reliable friends is a gift to be earned through time, commitment and an open heart. This can become doubly valuable when travelling. With unrivalled knowledge, a web of useful contacts and a passion to share his home city, Ivan can make any trip special and provide the extra touches that make a place feel like home. But he is just one. I am fortunate to have made many such friends in Belgrade.
Belgrade is a city made for friendships. It buzzes with an energy that clamours to be shared. Once you let this city into your heart, it will have you hooked.
Marcus Agar has been commissioned by Wannabe Magazine to write a series of observations. Click to read in Serbian to read (translated byRanko Trifković) or for an interview in English or Serbian.