City breaks: New kids on the block


IF your clients have pottered in Paris, ambled around Amsterdam and seen the ruins in Rome, maybe it’s time they bade a fond au revoir to these European favourites and dipped into the emerging cities of the former Yugoslavia.

Ljubljana, Zagreb and Belgrade might be new to the British city-break market, but all three have centuries of history and culture that they are keen to impress on city breakers looking for the new Paris, but at prices that won’t break the bank.

In Belgrade, for instance, two people can tuck into a three-course meal with wine for under £15. Nightclubs don’t charge an entrance fee and serve Serbian-sized cocktails – that means big – for less than £2.50.

For those who fancy a few days in Ljubljana, Holiday Options offers three nights’ bed and breakfast in a five-star hotel from £150 per person per day. Agents who want to dynamically package a break can find one-way flights with EasyJet from Stansted to Ljubljana starting at £24 in March, excluding taxes and fees, while the four-star Hotel Slon Best Western Premier has double rooms from less than £100 per night bed and breakfast.

Clients who decide to head east will also find churches and museums to explore, and restaurants brimming with local and international cuisine. Here are a few suggestions:

Belgrade, Serbia

What to see
At the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers, Belgrade is one of the oldest cities in Europe. These days, along with the historical sights such as Kalamegdan Fortress, Tito’s Tomb and the mansions in the old city dating back to the 1800s, there are bombed-out buildings to see – a reminder of the scale of the fighting in the 1990s.

But that’s all over and the Serbs are working hard to get Belgrade back on the map as a lively city-break destination that won’t break the bank. Shopaholics will find an abundance of clothes and shoe shops, with Italian designer wear at a third of the price back home.

Where to stay
There’s everything from a Hyatt Regency to basic rooms in a typical Serbian hotel. The new five-star all-suite Aleksandar Palas is off the main shopping street and has steam showers, flatscreen TVs and music systems – expect to pay from £130 a night.

Who flies there
JAT Yugoslav Airlines has daily flights from Heathrow to Belgrade; British Airways flies four times a week.

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Abercrombie and Kent has three nights in a one-bedroom apartment in the Aleksandar Palas from £599 per person bed and breakfast including BA flights and private transfers.

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Zagreb, Croatia

What to see
The best sights are in the Upper Town – walk or take the funicular – where there are churches and museums to visit, and restaurants and coffee bars for a well-earned break. Daily tours of the Lower and Upper Towns with guides dressed as famous people from Zagreb’s past – with prices from £7.50 per person – include visits to Zagreb Cathedral, Dolac Market, St Mark’s Church and Zagreb Café to taste its famous pepper biscuits.

Keen shoppers will find malls and boutiques to browse, and cafés for people watching. The Zagreb Card – about £9 for three days – gives free public transport and discounts at museums and restaurants.

Where to stay
Try the old Regent Esplanade for a touch of history or the Westin Zagreb for Starwood-quality modernity. There are also plenty of three and four-star options.

Who flies there
Croatia Airlines flies daily from Heathrow to Zagreb with return fares from £152. A two to three-hour train journey links Zagreb to Ljubljana, which is served by EasyJet.

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Superbreak offers one night at the Regent Esplanade from £66 per person per night with breakfast.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

What to see
The focal point of the city, and one of the most visited attractions in Slovenia, is Ljubljana Castle. Once a Roman stronghold, it was rebuilt in the 16th and 17th centuries, and is now accessed by a 15-minute ride on a miniature train with commentary. Down below, stroll through history in the medieval Old Town or dip into one of the museums or galleries. A Ljubljana Card – £8.50 for three days – is a good way to see it all.

New hot-air balloon rides over the city offer the best view for £55 for just over an hour.

Where to stay
There are hotels to suit all pockets. The Art Nouveau-style Grand Hotel Union, a favourite with visiting statespeople and celebrities, is preparing to celebrate its centenary in October after a renovation that has turned it into an elegant 327-room four-star property.

Who flies there
EasyJet has a daily flight from Stansted to Ljubljana. Adria Airways flies daily from Gatwick to Ljubljana and has summer services from Manchester and Birmingham.

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Holiday Options has three nights’ bed and breakfast at the five-star Hotel Lev in Ljubljana from £469 per person including scheduled flights from Gatwick and transfers.

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