My trip to Cacak was just in time to see the blossoming trees. It was easy to notice how the city becomes vibrant again with another cycle of nature. Lovely fresh flowers were a certain prelude to the rich historical heritage in the background.
FROM BELGRADE: 150 km
FROM NIS: 190 km
Join me in another journey through Serbia and I will tell you all about things to do in Cacak. I strolled along its streets trying to get the best shot which was easy given that it was all sunny and blooming.
CITY OF CACAK
According to archeological findings and cultural-historical monuments, the area of Cacak has been inhabited ever since 5,000 B.C. There was a vast settlement here during the Roman rule and Roman baths remains can still be seen in the city center.
The town is mentioned as part of the Serbian medieval state in the 13th century as Gradac. It was the residential town of Stacimir, brother of the renowned Serbian ruler Stefan Nemanja. The oldest written document that mentions Cacak dates to 1408.
The municipality is inhabited by 115,000 people, while the population of the city itself is 73,331.
I took a walk with Gordana and Dejan from Tourism Organization of Cacak. There was a charming school building on our left that Gordana attended, while on our right the imposing Cacak high school was to be seen. Across the street – the church. That’s the same church one can find on city’s old drawings, even though with horses and carriages instead of today’s traffic lights and cars.
Erected in the 12th century with two bell towers, it also had a built-in minaret at a certain point. The church is Stacimir’s endowment restored in the 19th century according to the Serbian medieval Raska style. This is where two old bells were found buried in the ground. One was inscribed with the name of the person who donated them, while the other said that these bells were given to this church in 1454. These are among the oldest bells in Serbia.
When it comes to things to do in Cacak, make sure not to miss the National Museum. It is close to the city center and it houses archaeological remains, history and religion relics, medieval manuscripts and so many other artifacts from various periods. If you are in luck to be welcomed by the curator Zorana Bojovic, then you are in for a true step back in time that will take you through interesting history anecdotes.
And one more thing – the old house that is now home to the National Museum is built in 1835 as a house of Jovan Obrenovic, brother of the famous 19th century Serbian ruler Milos. Hence, the real feel of the old city house, with the Obrenovic’s coat of arms in color on the façade. This is the only preserved coat of arms of this kind in Serbia! Other than that, the museum is divided into different sections – from the Neolithic to the medieval, one also dedicated to Ovcar-Kablar monasteries, the other to the period of 1804-1914.
Mrs. Zorana tells us how visitors from Germany are always thrilled to see old swards made by Germans and Austrians for famous Serbs, how Russians or Bulgarians tend to stand by decorations coming from their countries etc. Also, there was a visitor from China who wanted to write few words in the Book of Impressions when he found another inscription there, made by the Shanghai school principal – the school he attended!
Cacak is also proud to be hometown of the famous Serbian artist Nadezda Petrovic. There is the old building that was erected at the beginning of the 20th century by wives of Cacak noblemen. They opened a school for girls which was a curiosity at the time. The building is turned into Nadezda Petrovic Gallery in 1961. One can see her work here, but there are always some other temporary exhibitions.
When walking by the high school, stop by the sculpture in front of it. That is the Nadezda monument by the famous sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. He was working in the US when being asked to make this sculpture of his dear friend and colleague.
Another step back in time awaits at the Roman Baths. At the very center of the city, next to the pedestrian area, there are thermal bathroom remains. Proclaimed as the cultural monument, these Roman baths date to the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century. Various bathroom premises are displayed where you can learn more about the water heating system. I spent the night at the charming Belgrade Hotel and Roman Baths were literally around the corner.
Cacak is also known for few music festivals, being the traditional Fife Festival in Prislonica village, or the popular rock music festival ‘Prica’. The latter began in 2012 and it was held for the first time in front of the Serbian Pub whose owners actually started the whole thing. From eight bands and 2,000 people in those days, ‘Prica’ became one true manifestation, not only with huge stages and the audience of 8,000 people, but with the program for young bands, kids’ carnival, numerous exhibitions and literary evening that accompany the event. The city becomes a hive during the festival!
Located in West Serbia, this gorge separates Sumadija area from Dragacevo valley. The focal points are mountains of Ovcar (985 meters high) and Kablar (885), while the gorge is abundant with West Morava river meanders and thermal springs. Due to its natural characteristics, the gorge has been declared as the Area of Exceptional Qualities. It stretches to 2,250 hectares, 1,700 of which belongs to the Cacak territory.
This exceptional area is also home to 10 medieval monasteries, the reason the gorge is often referred to as the ‘Serbian Mount Athos’.
This gorge is a must-see when traveling to Cacak. Since the main road from Belgrade goes by, travelers tend to stop here for a short break, not even knowing what lies behind those small lakes and how West Morava curves no more than few km away!
While we were climbing the slopes of Kablar to the highest viewpoint at the altitude of 881 meters, Goran from Tourism Organization was explaining that there were five climbing trails here. (Three more are on Ovcar mountain and two on Debela Gora hill.) The peak of Kablar can also be reached by bicycle tracks. You can even drive up to the trail of 800 more meters to the top. One of the seven levels of Serbian Trekking League competition was held here in April 2019 for the first time, along with the mountain race organized by the Serbian Athletic Society.
I tried to remember various details related to flora and fauna, while Goran was saying that there are 700 herbal species here, which makes a quarter of the whole number of species in Serbia. Half of daily butterflies’ species and birds live here in the protected area, on these 2,250 hectares. Another thing I learned was that hornbeams were frequent here, that beech tree “prefers northern slopes with more moisture and less sun”, but also that raven is extremely intelligent and often “disturbs nests of grey falcon”. We stumbled upon a bitter oak tree almost 300 years old, the oldest of its kind in Serbia. One can also enjoy 23 orchids species blooming at the beginning of May…
But, when we finally reached the top and took a glimpse of the curving West Morava river, I almost forgot all the things Goran said! This is the popular view of the Serbian meanders with the panorama of Cacak in the background. And there, on the opposite mountain of Ovcar, Sretenje monastery emerges. What a view!
While strolling along Kablar, you will see the cave high up in the rock. It’s called Turcinovac and it’s pretty hard to get to. It is believed that you can go out of the cave on the other side of the hill. This is where Serbs took refuge for centuries, fleeing from the Ottomans, and there are few interesting stories related to that period. They say that Turks made a ladder and climbed all the way up to the entrance. A woman was making bread in the cave at the time. When she saw them, she hit the first soldier with dough she held in her hands. It made him loose his balance and fall, pulling his comrades and the ladder itself to the abyss. Hence the name of the cave.
There is the cross that sticks out of another cave nearby. This is where the Savinje church is, dedicated to St Sava, Serbian prince and Orthodox monk, because it is believed that it was his hiding place where his healing spring was. It’s a small church of only 10 square meters, that is so steep that no cattle can climb up. That is why monks took up all the material for building the small church by themselves. There are still Orthodox services held here on St Sava religious holidays, and monks and worshipers are still climbing up.
Ovcar-Kablar Gorge gave refuge to numerous medieval Orthodox temples and so, nowadays, there are 10 monasteries and 2 holy places. It is believed that monks were escaping the Ottomans, trying to find safe place for their relics, and that is how this ‘Serbian Mount Athos’ came to life. Just look at the remote spots where monasteries are situated and you will get the picture.
Pick few of the monasteries to visit and make sure to put them on your “things to do in Cacak” list. I went to see Blagovestenje and Nikolje, while Jovanje was emerging from one of the hills surrounded by the West Morava curving flow, that made it look like a peninsula. The one next to it, that looks like an island, is called Pejica, but it’s also known as the ‘Serbian Bled’.
Blagovestenje was built in 1602 and fresco painted in the first half of the 17th century. The monastery is renowned for the 1602 Virgin fresco that is believed to do miracles. The other monastery – Nikolje was even more interesting being on the bank of the river and home to Serbian ruler Milos Obrenovic’s house. You can even see the exact windows of the Obrenovic’s chamber. He spent time here while getting away from the Ottomans. His wife Ljubica was here for the whole year with their children. Their five-year-old son Petar was buried here, after getting sick on the road.
While I learn how the church is authentic, that it was mentioned in Turkish documents dating from the 15th century, it’s special for having a fresco on the outside walls as well and a rare one inside, I was also drawn to the old pine tree in the courtyard. They say that if you go around it three times, make a wish and kiss the small icon hanging from the tree, it will most certainly come true. If it doesn’t, Goran was joking: “You probably didn’t take the right direction.” Still, when you do come here, it seems only natural to take those few circles. “Who knows, right!”
Atomska Banja Gornja Trepca is located 20 km from Cacak (and 130 from Belgrade). It is tucked between hills covered with forests at the altitude of 460 meters. Thermo mineral water of 29,8 degrees Celsius is pretty rare and specific for its chemical characteristics, given that it has exceptional healing properties for treating neurological and muscle tissues. It is used for medical rehabilitation of those with neurological problems, especially when it comes to multiple sclerosis, rheumatism, but also gastrointestinal tract and peripheral blood vessels.
Special rehabilitation hospital consists of several buildings, while the Medical Center ‘Vujan’ opened in 2012 and it is fully equipped with all the medical stuff.
So, few more words about the spas – Ovcar and Atomska, that I had the opportunity to spend couple of nights in. It’s possible to go for a massage or to take a walk in Atomska Banja (banja meaning spa in Serbian), if you are not here for therapy purposes. Medical Center will provide all the necessary info, along with the accommodation. Last year, they say, there had more than 130,000 bookings.
On the way to Atomska Banja, make sure to stop by the Equestrian Club ‘Griva’. Not only that you can book your horseback riding tours or take your kid to a riding school, but the club also collaborates with the medical center in giving a special therapy for motor skills improvements.
Also, right before coming to the spa center, there is Gordana and Cane Minic household, better known as the ’Minic’s rakija house’. In this traditional settings, Mr. Minic would gladly offer one of his 32 rakija varieties – made from plums and peers, or even banana and cabbage. He was rewarded numerous times at the state and regional competitions for the quality of rakija he produces, and he will dare you to try “the one you think you hate, because you will love his version”. (And he was right!)
What makes this spa special is that it’s located in the midst of the Area of Exceptional Qualities of the Ovcar-Kablar Gorge. There are evidence supporting claims that Ovcar banja healing waters were used during Roman times, but also in medieval Serbia and during Ottoman rule.
Thermal waters reach 35 to 38 degrees Celsius and they have healing properties related to rheumatic diseases, spondylosis, arthritis, sports injuries and various skin problems.
When it comes to Ovcar banja, make sure to plunge into the thermal waters swimming pool, and you can do it between the two long Kablar walks. Also, try the so-called ‘wellness breakfast’ at the Wellness Center ‘Kablar’ (so many things on your plate, huge portion and warm crispy pastry).
One more thing – do you know that Ovcar banja should actually be Kablar banja? Here’s why. West Morava river represents the line between the territory of Cacak and Lucani, between lands that belong to Blagovestenje and Sretenje monastery, and also between mountains of Ovcar and Kablar. At some point, in 1896, the river changed its flow and so, healing springs that were on the Ovcar side, now ‘moved’ to the slopes of Kablar. The settlement is still called Ovcar banja though.
The full Weekend In Serbia section