A part of Europe that presents a unique character, differing from the rest of the continent: The Balkans. Consisting of former ‘Yugoslavia’, but with Bulgaria substituting Slovenia, the balkans are a perfect choice for backpackers. With the exception of Croatia, which gained more popularity in recent years thus becoming more expensive, balkan countries are relatively cheap and have a lot to offer. From outstanding climate (most months), to breathtaking nature, beaches, culture, food, friendly people; you’re really up for a treat. My first stop in the balkans was Serbia, got to Belgrade from Budapest taking a €20 bus that took about 6 hours.
I spent a short time in Belgrade; ‘Tara National Park’ by the Bosnian border seemed appealing, so I decided to spend some time there. My time in Belgrade was split into three different stints, each for one night. Belgrade is a hub for most airline services in the region; possibility to get get to any city in the balkans without stopping in Belgrade is low. As a result, I found myself in Belgrade more than once.
Booked an Airbnb in ‘Savamala’, a pretty centric neighborhood close to most attractions; the one bedroom apartment cost me €9/night. The landlord owned three apartments in the same complex, so I contacted her directly every time I made it to the city, to book one of her apartments. Around that area, had good traditional food at ‘Dva Jelena’, nice cocktails at ‘Shootiranje’, and heard good live music at ‘Tranzit bar’ and ‘Jazz Bašta’.
Started looking up accommodation options around ‘Tara National Park’; a town called Mokra Gora seemed to be a reasonable option. The town is close to the park and is also home to Drvengrad, a village built for ‘life is a miracle’ film by Emir Kusuturica.
I had to rent a car from Belgrade to get there, as trains run to Mokra Gora only during the summer. Regardless, I highly recommend renting a car, as transportation in the area is limited and there are no taxi services.
Stayed at a house at the bottom of Drvengrad hill, the owner, Bogdan, was exceptional. The house was spotless, had all basic needs, snacks and homemade ‘Rakija‘ that he made himself! Bogdan helped me out in a few instances; getting the car out of the reservoir as you can see above was one of them. Highly recommend staying at his place; he is more than just a host. His place can be found here.
I would say the main attractions in the park can be seen in a couple of days. Among the attractions worth seeing are Zaovine lake, Vidikovac Banjska stena and Mitrovac. If you happen to visit the park in the winter, Zlatibor mountain has a world class ski resort, which is also pretty affordable.
Hiking trails in the park were clearly marked for the most part. My favorite one was the hike to ‘Vidikovac Banjska stena’, a view point overlooking the Drina river, which separates Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
On my way to the viewpoint, I came across several primitive chairs, situated in strategic locations with awesome views. Nice surprise!
The view point ‘Vidikovac Banjska stena’ is absolutely amazing. Luckily, the park was almost empty when I visited, as the beginning of April is considered off season. I had this view all to myself for the couple of hours I was there.
Here are a few more pictures:
Crnjeskovo was another observation deck, at a pretty high elevation, yet the hike was not too difficult. Among things to see around that area is ‘Sv. Trojice – Manastirski Stanovi Church’ and ‘Jarevac Dam’. The dam is a popular starting point of the hike to Crnjeskovo.
As mentioned earlier in the post, Drvengrad is also a popular attraction in the area. Director Emir Kusturica built the city after the disheartening Bosnian war, between 1992-1995.
The city is entirely built out of wood, and its streets bare names of influential figures, such as Che Guevara, Diego Maradona, Nikola Tesla and Novac Djokovic. The city is self-sufficient, containing all basic needs of a city, a hospital, church, police station, prison, restaurants, playgrounds, etc.
Emir Kusturica stated: “I lost my city [Sarajevo] during the war. That is why I wished to build my own village. It bears a German name : Küstendorf. I will organize seminars there, for people who want to learn how to make cinema, concerts, ceramics, painting. It is the place where I will live and where some people will be able to come from time to time. There will be of course some other inhabitants who will work. I dream of an open place with cultural diversity which sets up against globalization.”
My first Balkan experience was incredible, was pumped to keep exploring this region after. Luckily, Mokra Gora was right at the border with Bosnia & Herzegovina, so a day trip to Višegrad, Bosnia was possible. A bus takes you there in an hour. On another note, there is more to see in Serbia, Novi Sad is definitely on my list for next time.