One just has to admire beautiful landscapes of Tara mountain when coming to West Serbia, but – do you know that there are ways to experience more, to get involved and connect with that lavish nature? All of you who are into active holiday, pay attention, because you are in for a true adventure – horse riding, cycling, canyoning and paddling down the Drina river!
FROM BELGRADE: About 180 km
FROM NIS: About 300 km
This time, I came from Belgrade via Valjevo and Debelo brdo (Fat Hill in Serbian). It’s not very far, at least not to reach Debelo brdo. After that there are numerous curves and serpentines until you get to Rogacica downhill.
Still, the route allowed me to visit the so-called Podrinje Gate observation deck. It was sunny, off the season (the end of April actually), so I could admire this wonderful view on my own and in silence. Trees were not all green yet, but those hills already seemed lush.
This was actually an introduction to what to expect on Tara mountain, even though I was here last summer and managed to see a lot. Never the less, Tara National Park is a vast area and it offers so much that one just can’t do it all in one short visit. So, try not to rush it, enjoy the time you have – you can always come back for more.
TARA NATIONAL PARK – VIEWPOINTS
The Park covers 25,000 hectares and it is among the richest ecosystems in Europe regarding the variety of species. It is well known for the endemic Pancic or Serbian Spruce, large population of brown bear and Pancic Grasshopper. The most popular viewpoints are Banjska stena, Biljeska stena, Crnjeskovo, Sokolarica, Sjenic, Oslusa, Ravna stjena and Janjac.
I have visited some of these viewpoints last year (check out the Tara, Things to do post). This time our first stop was the Crnjeskovo observation deck, not far from Kaludjerske bare settlement. New fence is installed, made of light wood, that was such a contrast to green surroundings. Even though it was slightly misty, the view was still spectacular.
Travel agency Tara Tours’ guide Nedjo was walking in front of me. We can see the river Raca gorge from here, he says, Drina valley and Bajina Basta town. Coming out of the gorge there lies the 13th-century Raca monastery, the endowment of the Serbian King Dragutin Nemanjic. The rock called Krstaca with the cross on the top marks the place where caves can be found, those that monks once used for copying old books. The observation deck is also on the territory that belongs to the monastery. “We’ll talk about that later, when we reach Ladjevac spring”, he says.
After taking numerous pictures, we sat down to take a break. There were two couples who came after us, thrilled with the view as they were approaching the fence. It was time to leave the place for someone else to admire in silence. “And we’re off to see the horses”, Nedjo says.
On the hill on the way there really were few horses, just grazing and minding their own business. Besides them, only the light wind could be heard. Not far from here, there is the Equestrian Club Dora established in 2006. Another charming site – an old pine tree in the middle with tables and benches around, stables on both sides, and lovely view through the trees of those curvy Tara hills. If you never tried horse riding, this may be the perfect time to do so, because you can take lessons and go horse riding with a local guide. Those who went through Tara hills on a horse back praise that there is no better way to feel the nature around you.
At the equestrian club they will explain that it is the scientific fact that dolphins and horses have an extraordinary impact on human health and development. Horse riding increases the blood flow in lower part of the body, reducing the stress and improving the body posture. It has a great impact on the muscle functions, good body posture in kids, it strengthens our muscles and spine. Above all that, just imagine riding through coniferous and beech forests, over the valleys full of flowers, next to springs and small rivers – what a great way to really experience the mountain!
We were talking about having lunch and what better place to take a break than in the local restaurant “Kurta”. Owners were outside, the whole family, trying to get things done and getting ready for the crowds for May 1. The place was named after the grandfather and the atmosphere still remains domestic and homey.
For those of you interested in all those rally-drivers’ photos hanging on restaurant’s walls, here are few facts. The family started by opening the small store in 1988 when there was no similar place outside of Bajina Basta town. Six years later, they have opened a restaurant. This is where the route for the famous YU Rally was and so, numerous drivers with their families and friends came to eat and socialize. The atmosphere was so relaxed and easy going, they say, that restaurant’s friends came into the bar themselves to take a drink and they often helped the waitress to set their tables. During those pleasant afternoons, rally-drivers would sometimes leave their signed photos and the family – framed them all.
I gaze at those photos and then look back to our table. We were served with homemade veal under the bell, fresh lettuce, and when they brought hot buns right from the oven, we just had to ask for some kaymak.
This is the mineral spring with the average water temperature of 15 to 18 degrees Celsius. It bursts out 50 liters of water in a second and is considered to have healing benefits especially with skin and eyes issues. Ladjevac can be reached by the 2-km-trail from the Raca monastery. It is situated at the entrance of the Raca river gorge.
Raca monastery was not on my bucket list any more, since I have visited last year and I was able to see the memorial dedicated to monk Hadzi-Melentije. Given the fact that the weather was bad, I had to skip walking towards the spring. This time though, I had a chance to complete the picture. The monastery dates back to the 13th century, while the Raca copying school was extremely active during the 17th century and it was located at only 40-minute-walk from here, near the Ladjevac spring. The story goes that Hadzi-Melentije asked the sultan in Istanbul in the 17th century to allow the monks to rebuild the monastery. He allegedly put his finger on the map saying that they can get all the territory the finger covers. They ended up with about 1,000 hectares. That is why the Crnjeskovo observation deck, as I mentioned earlier, also belongs to the monastery area. This is also the reason why the settlement Kaludjerske bare bears such an interesting name (Monks’ Ponds in Serbian).
As interesting as the history of the place is, Ladjevac itself will make you forget once you reach the spring. We went over the small bridge on Raca river, climbed stone narrow steps from one level to the next. The spring doesn’t look that strong, but it makes you speechless when you see how it tumbles down in numerous streams flowing over rocks and moss, and then roaring down into Raca river!
On our way back to Bajina Basta Nedjo says that people from villages around the monastery still produce limestone. They take 10 to 15 tons of stone from the mountain and heat it up in special ovens. They also have special baths to cool it down.
When reaching the town, our first stop was Tara Tours office. I had the pleasure to go on the boat ride from Perucac Lake to Visegrad in Bosnia through the Drina canyon last year, to meet the owner Goran Glisic and Nedjo the guide. This time we went to say hello to Milica, another employee that I only spoke by phone. The agency does team building and various other tours, and also individual sight-seeing starting this year.
And then I had coffee with Marija from Tara National Park and Miloje from Green Bear society who told me few things about our plan for tomorrow. We were going to paddle down the Drina river!
STAND-UP PADDLING (SUP)
This board paddling became extremely popular over the years, since the sport is available to everyone, it doesn’t require any special fitness condition and the technique is easy to handle. It has a positive impact on human health, given the fact that it increases our balance, endurance, strength and improves the state of our muscles. By sliding the water surface, the person is getting in closer touch with the river/lake than it could ever do if in a kayak or a boat.
So, you come to Tara mountain and you would love to get closer to this ravishing nature, to have your own slow adventure. What better way to do it than by SUP! I wanted to try this for some time, even though I couldn’t really imagine that my first slide would be on the fast Drina and at the end of April. It wasn’t that warm outside, while the river was still pretty cold. Still, Miloje assured me that this is going to be one great adventure, showing me video clips from the last year’s international championship in Austria. There were 34 teams from 17 countries, and Serbia came to be the sixth, even though it was the first time it attended the competition. This year it takes place in France in June.
Well, it all sounds great, but when you get to step on the board that is just rocking all over the surface, you are not that sure you are doing the right thing. But I wanted to try it, right! Even if it means to do it on Drina… In April…
The group from Poland that was supposed to come that morning, postponed their tour, so Miloje took two guys from Bosnia (Jasmina and Edo) and me to the damn. We were given diving suits in case we fall in (and they said that falling in was a must for first-timers), a paddle and a board each. First you step on your knees and then stand up. It takes a bit of time to adjust and to actually make the board slide into the proper direction, but once you overcome that, the paddling becomes a great joy!
This was also the opportunity to see the small river Vrelo 10-meter-waterfall up close. We could barely hear each other because of its noise, and my board was taking some strange courses few times. The longer you go down the river, the more you enjoy its surroundings. Drina is calm at some spots, while fast and rough at others. Never the less, you should just literally go with the flow.
At the small bay we stopped for a break. We had to get wet, since it was too hot outside in those diving suits, even though Drina was seriously cold. (Let me just brag a little, Jasmina and I didn’t fall from the board not once, while Edo took few turns for all of us.) Miloje showed us how to paddle faster, which I loved (great way to burn the ‘ledene kocke’ cake calories we had the night before!).
By the time you get the whole idea of SUP, you realize that you have paddled for 15 kilometers, from Perucac damn towards the House on the Rock, for almost three hours. The stream is a bit stronger around the House, but it’s still manageable to get to the bank. Having in mind that this part of Serbia is becoming extremely popular among Chinese tourists, it wasn’t surprising to see another group there. They were taking pictures of the House and then we came into the focus. We seemed to have inspired few tourists to jump into cold Drina because it was too hot outside. The whole thing ended up with the group photo and posing to dozens of tourists. (Check out a small video clip of our SUP adventure.)
We talked about SUP afterwards while having coffee by the river. Miloje says it’s getting more and more popular, people often come just for a day to paddle down Drina. The tour is 35 Euros per person. Miloje also went stand-up paddling from Perucac lake to Visegrad (52 km) and this tour turned out to be two-day paddling and camping in the canyon. He jokes he is going to take me canyoning through the Raca river gorge next time I come. It lasts for four or five hours, depending on the group, and costs about 70 Euros. Tourists are equipped with the transfer and everything they need for the tour. With the Green Bear you can also go abseiling from Sokolarica viewpoint etc.
Since Jasmina and Edo came from Bosnia to spend a day here and they wanted to see the Banjska stena viewpoint, we all went together. Our plan was to stop by the nearby settlement of Mitrovac anyway.
There’s something about this viewpoint, no wonder it’s so popular. It doesn’t matter how many times you visit, you just have to take “one more” shot, because “the light is just right this time” or “those clouds look surreal today”. It’s possible to reach Banjska stena by bicycle through the woods (Tara National Park has numerous bike trails and there are bicycles available for rent), you can walk or come by car up to 800 meters from the viewpoint.
We didn’t even notice how the day went by so quickly, so we rushed to another hill called Predov krst at 40 km from Banjska stena. Worried about those curves on the road, I thought it would be wiser to drive in order to avoid getting sick on the way. We went down to Perucac lake and then continued to Predov krst and Biljeska stena viewpoint. The road was pleasant, narrow, there were few small tunnels and then we drove up into the woods. Next to the viewpoint there is an old shack that was actually the movie set for one of the popular Serbian films.
When you stand next to the viewpoint fence you realize how surreal the color of those opposite hills is, probably enhanced by the approaching dusk. Due to mist and clouds, they seemed like being painted by hand or at least that some Instagram filter was applied. This is how this enhanced nature of Tara looks in person.
It was getting dark when we went back to Bajina Basta and Dve lipe restaurant to finally have something to eat. This is the first time I tasted kalindzo, stew made of lamb liver, and it was delicious.
This restaurant, along with Drinski konaci accommodation I was in, was the perfect choice. Just imagine to wake up to a pleasant terrace, cross the street and admire the House on the Rock! Then you get to your table on the same terrace with delicious scent coming from your huge traditional breakfast. (Try kachamak with ground white cheese and kaymak.)
Before my trip back to Belgrade, I met Goran from Tara Tours here. We were talking about these few days I spent in Bajina Basta and couldn’t but smile when overhearing the waitress offering “a tiny little quince with a coffee” (quince being the strong traditional Serbian rakija drink made of quince), while the menu had a dish called, when translated, “a tiny little humongous head of the lamb”.
I couldn’t resist one more ‘ledena kocka’ cake before I go, hoping that I will not remember it while driving the Debelo brdo curves!
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