There comes a moment when one would gladly escape the city and all that concrete and hide among dense trees reflecting against water surface, somewhere where it’s possible to breath in and out, where intact landscapes leave a man speechless. Even better if one can learn about the local history and culture at the same time. If you are among those, and you also like buckwheat pie or pancakes, there’s just the right place for you. Pack your bags and go to the Zlatar Mountain!
FROM BELGRADE: 266 kilometers
FROM NIS: 312 kilometers
At least what was in my mind when I planned my journey to this part of Serbia. A now, while I write these lines with my eyes gazing form one green hill to the other, I remember how I tried to take pictures of the 15th-century church these days, how I stared at colorful traditional rugs at the house dating back to 1900, and I can hardly believe that there, just a few days ago, I climbed the steep 1,200-meter-track!
UVAC SPECIAL NATURE RESERVE This park of nature lies in southwestern Serbia, it is surrounded by mountains and covers the area of more than 7,500 hectares. Two thirds of the Reserve is located at the Nova Varos municipality territory, while the rest goes into Sjenica. It ranges from 760 to 1,322 meters of altitude.
The Reserve is the best known for the canyon of the river Uvac that cuts through high cliffs. Given the specific soil qualities, there are lots of caves in the area and it’s possible for visitors to come into the so-called Ice Cave, rich in white decorations. The park is home for 130 bird species, among which the griffon vulture is the most famous – one of the two vulture species left in Serbia. This is where the bird was actually saved from extinction. The Uvac Reserve is the second largest of its kind in Europe and by far the largest in Balkans.
You can’t really come to Zlatar and then skip visiting Uvac. And believe me, you wouldn’t even want to! The river is 119 km long, but there are three dams built on it which is the reason the area has three stunning lakes – the Uvac or Sjenica Lake (this is where you will take the meanders’ cruise and hike up to the viewpoint), the Zlatar Lake (the usual stop on the way from Belgrade to Montenegro, in Kokin Brod village), and the Radoinja Lake. All the three are connected by Uvac which curves more or less all the way through the mountain range. But that’s not all! Along the river it’s possible to see the griffon vulture flock flying above, the bird that survived thanks to the enthusiasm of people of the Reserve and that now proudly rules the sky above Uvac.
“There was the time when there was less than 10 of them, but now we can proudly say that the Reserve is home to 400 to 500 adult birds and 104 nestlings”, Micko the guide says while steering the small boat through the Uvac Lake. My jaw dropped when he stated that the griffon wings can range up to 3 meters and that it can cover long distances. That is how birds from the Serbian Reserve stopped by Greece, while two of them flew all the way to Israel and one even took the 3,500 km flight – to Yemen!
Micko slows the boat down while we pass by the rocks where one young bird stands. This species is not able to fly off the ground as most birds do, but it takes high cliffs to plunge into the air. Few of us on the boat were cheering for it to somehow catch the wind and rise up among clouds, because it would fall into the lake otherwise becoming helpless and threatened.
“The griffon vulture can fly as high as 12,000 meters”, Micko continues while we blink in disbelief. I mean, just imagine a bird, an eagle that is able to fly as high as an airplane! It’s also the vulture that never attacks a living creature and that can absorb almost any disease or poison it swallows along with dead animal flesh without jeopardizing its own health in any way. This bird can even absorb anthrax!
The Reserve is nowadays again home to two more restored species – the cinereous or the Monk’s vulture and the so-called Egyptian eagle, and there are efforts to restore a habitat for another eagle once again – the Bearded vulture or Lammergaier. It’s the species that feeds on dead animals’ bones. It’s almost incredible to imagine how nature got it all together. You bring a dead animal to feed the vultures, one species eats the flesh, the other the skeleton, and all the possible diseases just “heal” within birds’ bodies – while their dignified sky cruise decorates the area over the steep cliffs and green peaks!
The Reserve cruise that costs about 13 Euros (the price goes up if booked with agencies and other tour operators), will take you on a boat ride through the Uvac gorge, you will stop by the Ice Cave (Ledena pecina) which is another interesting sight to see (going all the way through dark corridors with only a hand lamp to light the way), and you will be taken beneath the viewpoint which you are supposed to climb up to in order to see the Uvac meanders from above. There are few viewpoints along the river and we stopped by the Great Peak (Veliki vrh) that was 1,230 high and just across the Prayer (Molitva) viewpoint.
If you are not that fit, you should be prepared for a slippery and steep climb that goes up the goat trail. If you are, this will be a pleasant, moderate half an hour hike. Since the path curves into bushes and goes up all the time, you can’t really see where it ends. Not until you reach two benches on the top from where it will take another 100 to 200 meters of flat trail to come out to the viewpoint. But then, the first look of the Uvac Canyon rewards you with such a bliss that you just know that every drop of sweat you left on the trail is so worth it! The spectacular meanders curve towards Sjenica town, while tourist boats seem so tiny looking from above. From time to time, the white-headed king of these rocks calmly flies by!
Your cameras will get heated without a doubt, you will still be able to pose for selfies regardless to the fatigue, just like our little group from Micko’s boat was. To our surprise, there was a small place here where we could have a coffee. Nice little wooden cabin was serving coffee, rakija (national drink) and water. There, you just need to find a table among the trees and to raise your glass to the view that stretches for kilometers! And don’t worry, there will be time for that too since you should be back on the boat in about an hour and a half.
(The boat ride at the Reserve usually takes off at 10 am, it takes you beneath the viewpoint around noon and the tour finishes at 3 pm. Bear in mind that there are no toilets on the way and that it might come handy to bring a bottle of water or a snack or two. Expect to be tired afterwards. But you will certainly be proud and full of impressions!)
ZLATAR The mountain in the southwestern Serbia with the highest peak of Golo brdo at 1,627 meters. This part of the country is popular among those who love active vacationing, those who seek hiking tracks and bicycle trails in the summer or skiing tracks in the winter, who enjoy the Adrenaline Park here and who prefer the intact nature to “blinging” shops and bars.
Zlatar lies at the point where the Mediterranean and the mountain climate meet. It is abundant with sun throughout the year and with different air flows that merge here. That is why spending time here is recommended to all those with cardiovascular problems and high blood pressure. The mountain is covered with forests and pastures, and so it’s only natural that it’s famous for its white cheese and that hectares of fields are reserved for buckwheat.
My visit to Zlatar seemed to have begun and ended with the buckwheat. Firstly, I tried some buckwheat pancakes while planning my tour around the area with people from the Tourism Organization. Afterwards, I went to learn more about the plant and its qualities. But, for now, I took off in my little car and went from one Zlatar village to the next, didn’t want to miss anything!
From the main road to Nova Varos (coming from Belgrade), there are 12 km to drive to the Special Nature Reserve Uvac. If you continue taking the same road over the dam at Uvac Lake, you will be greeted by endless hills, some covered in forests, others in pastures and grass. From time to time, I even got the impression of driving above the mountain peaks so that I could almost reach those fluffy white clouds in the sky. You will have the same feeling when walking among the pine trees on Zlatar mountain. While you stroll around you can’t even imagine what view lies beyond the forest, but it just overwhelms you when you get the chance to peek out through the pines.
Never the less, we should go back to our road trip. The next thing can’t really be missed since it’s right there by the road.
DUBNICA MONASTERY It’s located in the Bozetici village, 19 km away from the main road or 7 km from the Reserve Uvac. According to some, there used to be an older building here that dated back to the beginning of the 15th century. It had its biggest rise two centuries later when the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church was Gavrilo Rajic Raskovic, one of the well-known representatives of noble Raskovic family who were related to the royal dynasty of Nemanjic. This is where, they say, kids got baptized and couples got married in secret during the Ottoman rule.
Not more than 7 km from the Reserve where it seems that there’s nothing but pastures on both sides of the road – there suddenly emerges a small stone building. When you come closer, you will realize that it’s actually the monastery. Arch-gate, small church built of gray stones, wooden bell tower and a statue of patriarch Gavrilo. Monastery building lies on the left, and you just can’t help but tip-toe here, trying to make your steps as silent as possible not to disturb the walls emerging from the hill. There are various flowers along the path. If you happen to run out of water (as it happened to yours truly), you can refresh at the monastery fountain.
When entering the church through the narrow corridor, you will feel a slight temperature change. No matter how warm it is outside, it will be pleasant inside. There are few small rooms, one with souvenirs, others with frescoes. I have put some money on the counter and took couple of candles, and then slowly went outside. There seemed to be no one around. That’s probably the reason why I got the impression that I might wake someone up if only my shoe gets stuck again in the cobblestone path.
ETHNO-VILLAGE STITKOVO They will say that this is the typical ethno-village, but still “alive”. True, given the fact that people still live here. This is the village with architectural heritage that was once headquarters of the noble Raskovic dynasty. Houses are built in a row, all facing the church. Their construction is more similar to urban houses from the 19th century that can still be seen in towns of Uzice or Nova Varos, than to the rural origins. Each of the houses has a stone-built basement and the locals say that they were built out of material of former Raskovic’s mansions. The other thing that makes these houses unique is the fact that each of them has a year carved above the door, the year when they were individually erected. They say that basements served as shops, bakeries and that the village got its name after one of the crafts – shield making (shtit in Serbian).
Driving another 7 km, I was excited to see the sign for the ethno-village. Not much has changed since I have visited years ago. While you drive into the village peaking outside to the old houses on the left, densely built up the hill – you can’t seem to help but feel curious and unpleasant at the same time. I mean, you are peeking into people’s houses after all.
The village is small. It takes few hundred meters to reach the church which is in the center of the settlement. There is a school next to it, while old houses are divided in several rows up the hill. I parked the car and had the same feeling again… Few people that were outside were obviously amused by the fact that someone “got lost” into their valley. Since there is no street after the church, it seems like you did come to the end of the road. Still, there is one new thing (at least for me) – a nice terrace, traditionally decorated and made of wood where you can take a break and decide where to go next. And as soon as possible too, trying not to disturb those busy people around…
My route was as follows – I drove back the same way and then, instead of taking the turn after the Reserve towards the main road and Nova Varos, I turned left and continued to villages of Radijevici and Drmanovici. There was another 10 km or so among lovely pastures. The road was empty, quiet and I could easily stop and take few shots of the landscape. In Radijevici village I planned to stop twice: to see the church built as an old traditional house that will celebrate its 200th birthday this year, and to visit the Puric family who are known for being the largest producers of buckwheat and spelt in the country. Did you know that buckwheat is gluten free, that it is recommended to those with cardiovascular problems and those with difficulties related to cholesterol, blood sugar or digestion? The plant itself can only grow in hill areas about 1,000 meters high. And then when you try the local buckwheat specialties… Oh my! My hosts in Radijevici say that buckwheat was long forgotten in Serbia for decades and that it was only rediscovered because locals here preserved traditional recipes such as the one for the buckwheat pie!
NOVA VAROS The town in southwestern Serbia that is home to 16,500 inhabitants, half of whom live in rural areas. It has a good multicultural tradition. Nova Varos lies on the main road from Belgrade to Montenegro and it is situated beneath the Zlatar mountain, with the altitude about 1,000 meters.
Even though the town is not that big, it’s worth dedicating a whole day to strolling around. There is a lot to see here, especially if you love the geographical area of Stari Vlah – that stretches from borders with Bosnia and Montenegro to the Ovcar-Kablar gorge in Serbia – the region that was once the administrative part of the Rashka state, Serbian country founded by Stefan Nemanja in the 12th century. Nova Varos sprouted, they say, around the 16th century when it was important to secure the merchant caravans on the road from Constantinople. Here, you will be advised to start your visit with stopping by the Heritage Museum first, since this is where you will learn all the essentials about the history, locations to visit, Raskovic dynasty and the WWII commander Petar Bojovic’ birthplace. Among other things, the Raskovic’s 1560’s saber replica is to be seen here.
Houses around the main street date back to the beginning of the 20th century, while the town’s mosque and the church are built at the end of the 19th. The Museum itself is situated in the old building of the so-called kaymakamiya or the headquarters of the former district’s chief – the building that was extremely modern for the late 19th century when it was constructed. It represents a true decoration of the town’s center today reminiscent of the former wealth. If you continue strolling down the same street, you will come across other architect reminiscences of past times such as Music’s House, Armenian House or the Kulic’s House. Mister Pedo Korunovic was nice enough to show me the latter. As a descendent of the Kulic family, he says that they also had the Kulic Han before WWII and later the renowned hotel. This particular house was built in 1900 by totally natural materials. “Like they do in Sweden today”, my host says.
Since you are here, you will also pass by the gallery of Muhamed Hamko Rovcanin. Take some time to maybe hear the artist himself explain why one of his wooden sculptures bears the name of Brain-eater and how “all the heads are empty ever since”; or to take you through the feelings and memories captured on his canvas; to show you his songs and charming bags made out of the old rough traditional fabric. Or better yet, you can even come out with few authentic, handmade souvenirs…
Oh, and I nearly forgot, make sure to try the local kebab!
Next destination – Things to do in Zlatibor
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