Next time you travel to Western Serbia, go a bit more to the south from Cacak town and stop by Ivanjica. And then just choose among all those things to do in Ivanjica, whether to see history monuments, go Golija mountaineering, to visit 13th century monasteries or caves and lakes. It’s all there in a range of few dozen kilometers!
FROM BELGRADE: about 190 km
FROM NIS: about 215 km
Imagine a town surrounded by high mountains, tucked in the valley with a spectacular view of rocky peaks. If seen from above, a group of red rooftops emerges. Yes, that’s Ivanjica! With clean air and cold winters (as this one is), it often seems as being cut off from the rest of the world, but it’s also home to people of such witty character. It makes it the right place for Nusicijada Festival, that’s for sure! (Not only that the famous Serbian 19th century playwright and satirist Branislav Nusic to whom the Festival is dedicated, has never set foot here, but Ivanjica was also known as being “at the end of the world”. The main character in The Cabinet Minister’s Wife play is threatening to her son in law that he will be sent to Ivanjica. This gave locals the idea to bring Nusic himself “to the end of the world”.)
My journey was even more interesting since I was not coming from Belgrade, but from Kokin Brod to the west, driving across the damn on the Zlatar Lake. The mountain road took me through settlements of Jasenovo, Mocioci, next to the Mucanj Mountain, all the way to Katici village after 40 km or so. Drive the next 15 km and you will get to Prilike village, another 15 and you will reach Ivanjica.
THINGS TO DO IN IVANJICA
Located in the southwest of Serbia the town was officially established in 1833. This is probably the largest municipality in the country when it comes to the vast territory it covers. The population is 32,000, with 12,000 living in the actual town. Ivanjica lies on Moravica banks, the river that springs in Golija Mountain at the altitude of 468 meters. The area was declared an air spa in 2000. Half of the municipality is covered with forests.
The first impression is going to be that this small town is certainly charming with few landmarks to see down town. Take your camera and do some exploring by foot, it’s always the best way.
There is a wide pedestrian area in the town center (this is the place to try the local krempita cake) and almost next to it there is the Stone Bridge across the Moravica river. They say that this is the largest one-arched bridge in the Balkans. It is built in 1906 using the stone blocks only. It’s still operational in regards of the traffic and locals are often to be seen stopping here and chatting.
Further down the river there is the old Power Plant to be visited. It dates back to 1911 and it was the seventh ever built in Serbia at the time. It works even today, powering the park’s lanterns, but it’s actually transformed into a museum. There is also the concrete damn 9 meters tall with the artificial waterfall. It’s possible to stroll next to the river and the Park Hotel which, they say, is the best accommodation in Ivanjica.
One can’t come here without hearing few local anecdotes, one of them being related to the Power Plant. The story says that locals from the whole area contributed to the construction so that even the households in remote villages could get the electricity. Nobody knew much about it at the time, but people were promised the artificial light. But when the Power Plant was finished those villages were still in the dark. Local authorities explained that “they tried everything they could”, “they wanted everyone to get it”: “But as it turned out, the electricity just refused to be delivered – upwards!”
Another one says that “once upon a time in Ivanjica” when railway tracks spread throughout the whole of Serbia, people in Ivanjica decided to build a railway station. Well, you have to agree that this is the right place for that Nusicijada Festival (every August), given the fact that the station building is still standing even though those railway tracks have never reached the town!
Joking aside, there are few interesting places to visit in the center such as the 1836 church dedicated to the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helen. Being the only remaining building from that period, this is also the church that survived two huge fires that destroyed the rest of the settlement both times.
Draza Mihailovic’s monument is located across the street. He was the renowned King’s Army General during the World War II. While strolling Ivanjica’s streets I also stumbled upon the interesting souvenir shop. According to the owner, this is the actual house where Mihailovic grew up.
It’s time for a coffee break now, so grab krempita or princes krofne dessert, before we take a short ride.
At only 7 km from Ivanjica towards Guca village there lies the Hadzi-Prodan Cave, named after the famous 19th century Serbian Uprising leader who used it as a shelter. Never the less, Neanderthal tools were also excavated here dating back about 40,000 years, along with few remains made out of quartz which is rarely found in Europe. There is also the small church next to the cave entrance, built at the same spot where the original one was erected in 1809.
The Cave is 400 meters long, stretching onto two floors. The entrance is 3 meters wide, but the path then narrows down into a small corridor, leading into a great hall. The Cave is yet to be open for tourist visits.
The conservation work is still not finished, but people from Tourism Organization of Ivanjica were kind to show me around. My thrill was somewhat stirred up when, given the flash lamps and the noise we made, the whole colony of bats came out of the dark! Even Radomir (Raf), Head of the TOI Office, who lead me into the cave, said that “this has never happened before”, letting me choose whether to continue or turn back. After taking another breath, reducing the noise and pointing those lights to the floor, I covered my hair and we leaned forward, taking one step at the time. How else would I be able to see those intricate cave decorations that seemed to be going up towards dozens of meters high ceiling!
For those of you who are into adrenaline activities, the zip line is going to be opened in 2019 near the Hadzi-Prodan Cave. They say that it’s going to be “the longest in Serbia”. The advantage of this location when it comes to others in the country is that it will go both ways for 530 meters.
This is the highest mountain in the southwest Serbia with the Janko’s Stone peak as its highest (1833 m). It is declared an air spa and the first category Nature Park in 2000. Also, Golija was declared by UNESCO in 2001 as the Biosphere Reserve. It’s abundant in forests, clean mountain water springs, variety of herbs and wildlife.
Not only that Ivanjica goes back to 1833 when the town was founded, but it also goes up for 1833 meters! That is the highest peak of Golija. No wonder I couldn’t wait to climb up there, even though I have already heard that the mountain was pretty wild stretching to such vast territory. When the day has come for Golija exploring, the morning was all cloudy and foggy. Even though the weather was great for days (it was October 2018), this was Golija showing off with being so unpredictable. Still, this was once in a lifetime opportunity to see the mountain wrapped in a thick fog!
There were clouds and mist all the way up. Have in mind that Golija roads are mostly macadam, which means you won’t be able to drive fast, and that everything is pretty far. You won’t even notice the length you covered until paying attention to all those hours you spent driving. Prepare yourself for few dozen kilometers of road in various directions, going up and curving all the way through the woods. The must-see spot is the Ticar Lake (or Daicko Lake). It is located on the Daicko Hill at the altitude of 1,500 meters. It was barely visible in the mist among the lush pine trees. Golija is also famous for the Sky Tear Lake in Okruglica and Kosanin Lakes. All of them are natural which makes them rare.
While we were driving up towards the Janko’s Stone, we slowly got out and above the massive cloud. The sky was clear at the very top while clouds were gliding up the hills. This is where I heard the story on how the highest peak was named. “Once upon a time there were brothers Janko and Ranko”, who fell in love with the same girl. In order to decide who gets the girl, they came up with the competition. The first one to bring one huge rock all the way up is to be a winner. Janko got there first. “And then? He got the girl?”, I asked. “No”, they said: “He came here first. And then he died!” (One doesn’t know whether to cry or laugh!)
At 16 km from Ivanjica to Golija there is Kumanica village with the so-called Roman Bridge. This is where the West Morava river is actually called Moravica. This was the old route often taken by merchant caravans. The bridge itself is believed to be built and rebuilt few times. It’s 14 meters long and 4 meters tall. According to beliefs, it was erected in the 15th century and it shows Turkish style characteristics. Since locals always referred to it as to the Roman, it is believed that some old memory remained as a legacy to an ancient Roman road that went through here.
Going back to Ivanjica, we also visited the Kovilje Monastery situated in Smiljevac village. Kind nuns prepared a tea for us which was more than welcomed after hours of driving through the fog. We were shown what kovilje (or the Feather Grass) looks like, the plant that covered surrounding hills for centuries. Given its strange leaves, locals tended to contribute mystical characteristics to this “fairy grass”. Thus, it is believed that there must have been some ancient pagan sanctuary here that preserved the name throughout history.
The same name was given to the Monastery that houses two churches, one of which is built into the cave. This one dates back to the 12th century and it has been mentioned in 1606 for the first time. The second one was erected during the 17th century. This is where you can admire fragments of the 13th century frescoes, but also parts of ancient statues found nearby.
It is 1,520 meters high (Vasilija’s Peak being the highest), and its specific nature characteristics are proven to be beneficial for healing anemia, respiratory diseases, bronchitis and asthma. The mountain is abundant in forests and pastures. In Milandza village the oldest school in Ivanjica’s area was built along with the church in 1833.
They say that Javor is the important historical mountain, since this is where battles of 1804, 1876-78 and 1912 wars occurred. The old border between Serbia and Turkey went through here once.
There is the monument dedicated to hero of one of Javor’s wars at the top of the Vasilija’s Peak. It’s still possible to stumble upon traces of military walls while strolling through pastures. A great view goes all the way towards surrounding hills. You will feel a nice breeze. If you continue driving next to a small church, you will end up coming into Stitkovo Village and the Uvac Lake.
There was also Vasilija’s Fountain next to the road. “Once upon a time there was a girl called Vasilija”, starts another of Ivanjica’s stories. She was in love with the guy from the same village and this is the very spot where she was waiting for him, in the midst of the harshness of the local winter. “And then what happened, did he come?”, I asked naively. “No”, they said: “She waited and waited. And then she died!” (Oh my, what’s with these stories! Remember the one about Janko from Golija?!)
At only 12 km away from town lies the Kusici Village. Along with Devici and Katici, this village is regarded as the first to open it doors to rural tourism of Serbia. With the altitude of 1,000 meters, these villages are already popular among tourists. A must-see is also the Crkvine observation deck with one incredible view of all those lavish mountains.
If one is to continue towards Ivanjica town, there is also Lazarica church to be seen. It is dedicated to the great Serbian 14th century leader Lazar who lead the army into Kosovo Battle in 1389. According to beliefs, this is where one of battle’s heroes Bosko Jugovic was buried. Nine oak trees were planted here in 1911 symbolizing the nine Jugovic brothers.
Typical for Western Serbia and Ivanjica accordingly, are monuments called krajputasi. There are lots of those here lined up and freshly restored. Krajputasi monuments are traditionally erected as tombstones “above empty graves”, dedicated to soldiers killed in foreign countries and buried in unknown places, if at all. Even though the tradition goes back to the 14th century, the majority of monuments dates from the period of the World War I.
It lies west of Ivanjica, near the Katici Village. Jerina’s Town is the highest peak at the altitude of 1,534 meters. Mucanj is recognizable for its rich karst relief, rocks and caves. Tourists flock here because of the St. Sava’s Spring where, according to beliefs, one of the most popular Serbian Saints hit the rock with his stick, while climbing the mountain. Healing water broke out of the rock, they say.
It so happened that Katici Village was my first stop when coming to Ivanjica, while Mucanj was the last. Katici is well known for rural tourism and great accommodation at the altitude of 1,000 meters. Houses are traditionally covered by the so-called Mace stone, referring to the nearby settlement. This area is declared an air spa in 2000. Tourists can engage in farm work or picking barriers, fresh traditional cheese and kaymak are available, and they can even take a ride to Mucanj in a tractor trailer.
There are only 2 km to the top. While Aleksandar, who is the experienced mountaineer and the local tourist guide, is showing me how the view from Mucanj covers some great distances, explaining the mountaineer marks along the way (one of which turned from being round into a shape of a heart, marking some sort of a special place), locals were digging out potatoes next to the highest peak. This is the famous potato from Ivanjica. Given that it grows in such altitudes, it’s purely organic with no typical garden pests.
While gazing around towards mountains in so many shades of green, it’s easy to remember the krempita cake, that thick Golija fog, Feather Grass plant, forests, households, zip lines and bats, but also those somewhat heavy stories (regarding Janko and Vasilija), and witty anecdotes related to the Power Plant and the railway station. (Not to mention the Nusicijada Festival!)
Next destination – Arilje, town of raspberries
The full Weekend In Serbia section