A journey to Europe's best value Airbnb in a surprising location

With little knowledge of Serbia and its regions, I allowed a dream property, rather than the location, to dictate our stay.
A journey to Europe's best value Airbnb in a surprising location

Tom's design-home escape overlooking the hills and mountains of Kosjeric, Serbia.

Did you ever think that the backdrop for your dream holiday could be… Serbia? We all so often focus on a destination when we think of our travel plans but on a trip to the Balkans last week, I put the focus on a dream property experience, rather than hoteling around the main tourist resorts. The result? One of the best holidays of my life for a bargain.

Tom's design-home escape overlooking the hills and mountains of Kosjeric, Serbia.
Tom's design-home escape overlooking the hills and mountains of Kosjeric, Serbia.

Serbia, the off-the-beaten Balkan nation known as being a geopolitical outlier in Europe, may not be a top destination for Irish (or indeed many other holiday makers). But from its capital, Belgrade, known for being one of Europe’s top party cities, to its mountains being home to some of Europe’s least explored hiking and skiing regions, it made an appealing destination for a summer holiday in the age of over-tourism. With little knowledge of Serbia and its regions, I allowed a dream property, rather than the location, to dictate our stay. A quick Airbnb search revealed a swathe of traditional mountain lodges around Zlatibor, one of Serbia’s more popular skiing resorts. However, sequestered a little further beyond them, my search led me to a cubic design-property jutting out into the landscape. €95 a night for a three bedroom pad… I guess we were off to Serbia.

One of the home's charming bedrooms — the property sleeps up to eight.
One of the home's charming bedrooms — the property sleeps up to eight.

To make my escape, I flew direct from Cork to Dubrovnik; a handy springboard to the wider Balkan region as well as just the hugely popular Dalmatian coast. But the journey to Serbia was indeed the destination itself. Following an overnight stay in Dubrovnik, my friend Carolyn and I bussed south to Kotor in Montenegro, a medieval town with the feel of a Balkan Mykonos just with less white-wash and more terracotta. We used the town to explore the region for a couple of nights, somehow finding a Peugeot cabriolet rental for €65 via local Whatsapp contacts. It made for a spectacular road-trip; scaling the Kotor Pass to Mount Lovcen, visiting family-run konobas (taverns) for helpings of local cheese and Prsut (prosciutto) before winding down the coast to enjoy the sunset on Sveti Stefan.

Kitchen with a view, light and vistas flood every angle in the property.
Kitchen with a view, light and vistas flood every angle in the property.

From there, it was onwards to Montenegro’s main city of Podgorica, dubbed by many a blogger as “Europe’s most boring capital” (clearly they’ve never been to Luxembourg). Podgorica, though not necessarily a looker, was a surprise charm and completely tourist free, allowing us to enjoy the local churches, mosques, restaurants and bars like pioneers. But perhaps the 40 degree temperatures had kept folks off the streets, too. Montenegro’s capital was also our station to catch the iconic Bar to Belgrade line, an 11hr rail slog which winds from the Montenegrin coast to the Serbian capital. But we were heading just 8hrs deep to find our Airbnb base.

Serbian mushroom risotto makes a delicious dinner after a day's hiking.
Serbian mushroom risotto makes a delicious dinner after a day's hiking.

Late afternoon after a stunning journey through the Dinaric Alps, we arrived in the small Serbian town of Kosjeric, where out on the tracks, we’re met by our host, Filip, warm double-handed handshakes, clearing offsetting my initial worry for our 40 minute delay. A native of Belgrade, Filip moved back to his grandfather’s land in Kosjeric a decade ago and along with his wife Aleksandra, has since been designing, building and decking out dream properties in some of the country’s most swathes of countryside. Following a stop off at the supermarket to stock up on provisions for the next few days (Filip doesn’t have Airbnb Superhost status for nothing), we make our way out into the region’s rural heartlands until the property appears 720m aloft a hill like a cover scene from Architectural Digest.

Despite its remote setting, the property lies just 12km from the nearest train station
Despite its remote setting, the property lies just 12km from the nearest train station

With its modernist façade and bleached wood finish, the property discreetly punctuates the natural backdrop, blending in sensitively with the nearby pine forests and rolling farmland. It’s a unique look for Serbia, Filip tells me, which has seen the property become a popular hit for well-heeled visitors from Belgrade for whom it’s a popular getaway.

In keeping with the understated vibe, there’s no tour from Filip, just well wishes for a fine stay and perhaps a sense that we’ll be content to wow ourselves with a self-guided walk-through. Walking in the door, it’s an instant jaw-drop moment as picture frame windows across the open plan space immediately spill out on those mountain views. It’s Serbia in Widescreen. Built with whitewashed concrete blocks and native wood pine and oak, the space is rustic and wonderfully appointed without having the sense that all the décor was sourced from a haul to Ikea Belgrade

There’s a gorgeous, chef’s dream kitchen, lounge and breakfast bar, two bathrooms, three bedrooms, a sauna (for those chilly winter nights), and an incredible terrace overlooking the Dinaric Alps as they fold down south towards Kosovo. 

Local materials and a great eye for design create a minimal but stylish aesthetic.
Local materials and a great eye for design create a minimal but stylish aesthetic.

It’s a stunning property by any standards but given those views and the potentially tenner-a-head price tag, it’s exceptional. With our refuge sorted, there was refreshingly little to do but to soak up those views… and explore them a little. We while away our days here with country walks, cooking and enjoying the fireballs sunsets and sunrises each morning. We’re even treated to a musical soirée at Filip’s home down the hillside, joined by his wife Alexandra, his three daughters and five kittens named after the Corleone family. The Balkans never looked or sounded so good and with a trip truly to remember, it was worth it, in every sense, to adjust our travel radar to Serbia.

The panoramic terrace is the perfect spot to soak in the views.
The panoramic terrace is the perfect spot to soak in the views.

Get there

  • I travelled to Serbia by flying with Aer Lingus from Cork to Dubrovnik and returned with AirSerbia and Aer Lingus home via Belgrade and Heathrow. On the ground, Filip’s mountainside Airbnb (listing number 46667057) costs from €90 per night (airbnb.com).

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