Zlatibor town (Kraljeve Vode): After a wonderful visit to the Studenica Monastery, we made our way to the mountainous western Serbian region of Zlatibor. It is said that Zlatibor was named after the white pines (Latin name is Pinus sylvestris variegata zlatiborica) with yellow needles that once covered the beautiful slopes of Mt. Zlatibor which is at an altitude of 1000 metres above sea level.
Zlatibor is the name given to this mountainous region, rather than a particular place, although the tourist centre of Kraljeve Vode (previously called Partizanska Vode) at the heart of the region is referred to as Zlatibor. This area was first inhabited by the Ilyrian tribe Parthini. Since the town is just four hours from Belgrade, it is a favourite with domestic tourists too. The whole area is a vast rolling plateau between the rivers Susica and Uvac, the eastern slopes of Mt. Tara, and the western slopes of Murtenica. The highest mountain is Mt. Tornik at 1495 metres, and we found out that our hotel was also named after this peak.
We checked into our hotel, Hotel Tornik at Zlatibor which was a great choice, though there were some initial hiccups (review at the end of the article). All are evenings were spent relaxing at the town centre, where locals and tourists would congregate to eat a meal, listen to music played by amateur musicians and just see the world go by. We got to buy some of the tastiest cherries that I have ever eaten from local vendors, who also obliged us with a picture!
Mokra Gora: After a heavy breakfast, we set out to visit to Mokra Gora which was a drive of about 40 minutes. Mokra Gora means ‘Wet Mountain’ in English.
Nikola, our guide had made previous bookings for a ride on the historic Šargan Eight train (pronounced Shargan). The starting/ending point of the Sargan Eight journey is in Mokra Gora, the train station is located just off the main road going through the village. The station itself looks so quaint with wooden houses nestled in between the verdant surroundings.
This narrow-gauge line between Mokra Gora and Šargan Vitasi stations is 15.5 km long, with 22 tunnels (the longest one is 1666 meters) and 5 bridges along the way, and a round trip took 2.5 hours. I realised every place that we visited had so much of history behind it and we had to view them not just as a place for tourists. It was originally used to connect Belgrade (Serbia) to Sarajevo (Bosnia & Herzegovina) but was abandoned in the 1980s. However, it was restored in 2000 when Mokra Gora became a tourist destination and started taking tourists on a nostalgia trip. It is known as Šargan Eight, because of the route it takes which is in the shape of figure 8. After a fun-filled ride on the train, which included a picture with the driver, we made our way towards the wooden village of Drvengard, which was just a few minutes away.
Drvengard: Küstendorf also known as Drvengrad and Mećavnik, is a traditional village that the Serbian film director Emir Kusturica built for his film ‘Life Is a Miracle’ from 2003 to 2004. You can read more about the filmmaker here, where we are told that this has become his primary residence. Kusturica was the 2005 recipient of the Philippe Rotthier European Architecture award for this venture.
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.”
Drvengard, literally means ‘timber town’, and all structures are made from wood. We went past a central chapel dedicated to St. Sava (mentioned in my previous blogs), the Stanley Kubric Theatre (American film director, producer, screenwriter, and photographer), and many other log cabins and timber houses that overlook the mountains. These were shifted from other parts of Serbia. The streets and some houses bear the names of many eminent personalities such as Nikola Tesla, Novak Djokovic, Diego Maradona, Ingmar Bergman, and Ivo Andric. There are some nice cafes in the complex and we had lunch in one of them. In the village are also artisans, who are selling their wares.
The next day we were slated to drive to a surrounding region of Zlatibor called Gostilje and also visit the Stopica Caves.
Stopica Caves: Also called Stopica Pecina, these are limestone caves that are rather remarkable. We park our car and have to trek to reach the caves that are accessible by steps. The limestone layer in the cave dates from the Triassic period and is more than 100 m thick. Research has shown that the amount of water passing through the Stopića cave is three times less than the amount of water that enters the cave, thus it is certain that there are still some undiscovered channels. The inside of the caves is illuminated and that makes walking a lot easier.
Only a limited number of people are allowed inside so that there is no overcrowding. A guide takes you through the caves and explains about the large sinter pools, which are formed from the layers of limestone, and are the unique feature of the Stopića cave. Siliceous sinter (geyserite; fiorite) is a deposit of opaline or amorphous silica that occurs as an incrustation around hot springs and geysers and sometimes forms conical mounds (geyser cones) or terraces. In this case a large number of pools of different sizes creates a wall with water overflowing the pools. Some pools are up to 12 meters long and up to 7 meters deep. The first written documents about the Stopića cave date from 1901 and the Records of Serbian Geological Society, while the first speleological research was conducted by the Serbian scientist Jovan Cvijić in 1909 and 1913. Czech speleologists conducted the first diving explorations in 1984 and discovered underground passages and five halls that are two kilometers long.
After visiting the caves, we also stopped to buy some natural honey that was being sold at a shop near the car-park. And there are clean washrooms too near the car-park.
Gostilje: From the Stopica Caves, we drove towards the village of Gostilje, which attracts visitors to the beautiful waterfalls and undulating meadows. The people of the area are supposed to have been extremely hospitable to guests (Gost in Serbian means guest) and hence the place was called Gostilje. The waterfall is one of the biggest in Serbia, as the water of Gostilje River pours down the 20m high limestone cliff before it joins the Katusnica River. Downstream it forms smaller waterfalls and cascades until it joins the river Katušnica.
When we reached there, we found a family of campers with little children and I couldn’t help thinking that it was a perfect place to get children to enjoy the beauty of nature and the outdoors. Few other visitors had got their pets too. It was indeed idyllic and serene and we could just stay there for hours. But it was time to get back to Zlatibor to spend our last evening at the resort.
Review of Hotel Tornik, Zlatibor:
As a resort in the mountains, a hot day can get uncomfortable without air conditioning, but the house-keeping were prompt in giving us a couple of pedestal fans and thereon it was a good stay. The buffet for both breakfast and dinner was very good and the spa is pretty decent too. However, the best part was the view of the town and the mountains from the hills. The evening was spent relaxing at the town square, where locals and tourists congregate in the evenings to eat, relax and have some recreation.
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Serbian sojourn (May 2022)