Gračanica, Kosovo

Photo: Hotel Gračanica
Photo: Hotel Gračanica

Some of your favorite hotels are in Switzerland. The gorgeous mountain views don’t hurt, but it’s the clean design, the forward-thinking service, and the welcoming hospitality that really make the difference. If more hotels focused like Swiss ones do, it would be so much easier to make travel reservations. But old ways are hard to change. So places that are starting fresh have a bit of an advantage. If they’re paying attention, of course.

There’s a new hotel in Kosovo, of all places, that’s definitely paying attention. Hotel Gračanica is just 15 minutes outside of Pristina, the capital city known more for its large conference spaces than its boutique hotels. Add contemporary architecture, minimal rooms, a few traditional elements (food being the most important), and a pool with views of the beautiful countryside for the perfect place to stay in central Kosovo.

Kosovo is a relatively new tourist destination. The still-disputed territory was a war zone less than 20 years ago. But as peace was established, travelers started exploring the Balkan region. Pristina is undoubtedly the first stop, though more and more people are venturing outside of the capital now.

Photo: Hotel Gračanica
Photo: Hotel Gračanica

Hotel Gračanica put Gračanica on your itinerary, but once you started to research the sleepy village, you discovered its fascinating history. The ruins of Ulpiana, an ancient Roman city, sit on the left bank of the Gračanica River. It was destroyed by Slav invaders in the 6th century. The stunning Gračanica Monastery, in the center of town, was built upon the ruins of a 6th-century Christian basilica by a Serbian king in 1321. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its medieval architecture and detailed frescoes. During the Kosovo War, Gračanica became an administrative center for Serbs driven out of Pristina. Many never left. Today, they’re surrounded by rich farmland. Don’t forget to stop at the farmers’ market for local cheese and ajvar (a red pepper relish), wine and raki while you’re here.

But first, it’s time to finally find your hotel. Hotel Gračanica sits just outside of the center of town and only a short walk from Ulpiana. The hotel’s light-filled spaces are decorated with solid wood furniture. An open fireplace warms the small library. Black-and-white photographs line the restaurant’s walls. Your room features bright white linens and jewel-toned accents. While from your balcony, you can see ripples in the pool with fields and hills beyond it.

Over the next few days, you’ll walk to the farmers’ market, ride a bike through the countryside to nearby Badovac Lake, and maybe board the shuttle for a Pristina day trip. You’ll eat homemade chicken soup, fried peppers stuffed with farmers’ cheese, and pan-fried trout in a lemon sauce. You’ll taste an IPA, a Smoked Porter, and a Session Pale Ale at Sabaja Brewery, a craft brewery established by a New Yorker, on your way back to the hotel. And you’ll probably sit by the pool, drink wine, and get to know the people who run the hotel. It’s the Swiss, make that the Kosovan, way.

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