Mama Shelter opens up latest boutique hotel in Belgrade

A quick hop, skip and a jump; Israeli tourists are flocking to the up-and-coming Balkan city

St. Sava cathedral in Belgrade, Karadjordje Petrovic statue  (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
St. Sava cathedral in Belgrade, Karadjordje Petrovic statue
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
In the Balkan city that never sleeps, there is a perfect place to rest your head.
Opened in early March, Mama Shelter Belgrade is the latest hotel by the boutique chain that also includes hotels in Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Bordeaux in France, as well as in Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro. Another property in Prague is set to open in the coming months and other sites in Lisbon, Dubai and London are in the works.
Designed by São Paulo-based designer Amor Jalil, the decor of Mama Shelter Belgrade pays tribute to the Serbian capital’s rich history, with a modern twist in the kilim rugs and vintage prints.
Guests in the 125-room hotel are treated to a large dining room and incredible 550+ sq.m. terrace overlooking the Kneza Mihaila, also known as Prince Michael Street, the iconic pedestrian thoroughfare in the Serbian capital.
As Kneza Mihaila is one of the oldest streets in the city, it is not entirely surprising that during the construction of Rajićeva Shopping Center (in which Mama Shelter is located), old Roman statues were found; they were moved to the country’s national museum, which is a short walk from Mama Shelter.
The known history of Belgrade goes back more than 7,000 years. The city has been occupied by several empires, including the Romans and Ottomans, who ruled the Balkan capital until the 20th century. It was totally leveled at least seven different times, with the architecture clearly reflecting some of the different periods.
“To Balkanize,” meaning to divide a region or body into smaller mutually hostile states or groups, pays homage to the region’s turbulent recent history. The NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999 is still visible, with two former governmental and military buildings that were destroyed being kept as monuments to the war.
But that history is part of what gives Serbia and Belgrade their magic.
Tourism in Serbia has increased significantly in the last few years, with a total of 176,750 tourists this past January, up 11% from the same month in 2017. According to the Tourist Organization of Serbia, there was an increase of 16% of foreign tourism last year, with 42% of visitors staying in Belgrade.
While the Chinese and South Americans make up the majority of foreign tourism to Serbia, Israelis started looking toward the Balkan country in 2012. With direct flights from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport to Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport, they began trickling in, looking for a country with cheap prices and good cuisine.
But it wasn’t until last year that Israelis began coming en masse to Serbia, which has become the new destination hotspot, with an increase of 171% in Israeli tourism from January to June in 2017 compared to the same period the previous year. Israelis also made the greatest number of overnight stays by foreign tourists in Belgrade in 2017 – 55,336 – a whopping increase of 649% over 2016. China came next in tourism growth in Belgrade, with 128% more overnight stays.
With various different and unique neighborhoods just a short walk from Mama Shelter, guests can go from sipping coffee on one of the many crowded cafe terraces or in one of the hundreds of bookstores which grace almost every street in Belgrade, to Skadarlija, a bohemian pedestrian street popular with locals and tourists alike.
One wonderful place to catch the sunset is a short walk from Mama Shelter – Belgrade Fortress, which is situated in the large Kalemegdan Park, full of shaded paths that take you past the medieval fortifications of the old citadel, museums, sports centers and gardens to the wonderful views of the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers.
After a long day, head to the hotel’s terrace and gaze over The White City’s citadels with a glass of wine or socialize with friends over foosball and ping-pong tables before heading inside to the restaurant, which has both local and international cuisine to offer. With the DJ taking care of the atmosphere, finish dinner off with homemade sorbets or ice cream before heading out on the town for another drink in one of the local Kafanas (taverns).
While Belgrade may be years behind other European capitals in terms of economic development, the nightlife has been compared to cities such as Ibiza, with locals heading out every night to the Kafanas or clubs that dot the city’s various neighborhoods.
After a long day taking in the sites, head back to Mama and happily crash into the king-sized bed and rest up before another day in Belgrade.

The writer was a guest of the hotel.