Second trip of 2022, let's take the route less traveled in Serbia. If you have been following us for a while, you will probably realize that Europe is our least favorite place to travel in (we have our reasons) but in my quest to find a place with no PCR tests and visa headache, I stumbled on to Serbia!
However, I also had an epiphany: we may not always be able to carve out time from work to visit my favorite off beat gems in Africa but we can plan off the beaten track trips even in popular destinations.
This guide to Serbia will not cover any of your Instagram popular places like Novi Sad, Belgrade or Zlatibor. Not even Tara national park. I designed this trip to be filled with hikes that are far away from the cities and towns.. which means there will be far few people traveling through these parts. Right up our alley. So let's go and discover the real beauty of Serbia.
Day wise itinerary:
Day 0: land in Belgrade and drive to Ivanjcka
Day 1: Uvac Canyon, St Peters Church, Studenica Monastery
Day 2: Rosomacka Canyon hike. Tupavica Waterfalls hike.
Day 3: Prerasts of Vratna hike. Djerdap National Park hike.
Day 4: Borski Stol hike. Drive to Belgrade.
Day 5: Belgrade and fly home
If you are flying from Dubai, you don't need a test to go to Serbia and return (if you are fully vaccinated). Please check your country's rules before flying.
Flights, Visa and Immigration (if traveling from UAE with an Indian passport)
Direct flight from Dubai to Belgrade with Fly Dubai.
No visa needed if you are a Indian passport holder. We were not asked anything - the immigration officer just checked our passport for stamps and let us go.
Safety and hygiene
A lot better than Egypt but don't expect that people will wear masks outside the city. Do your due diligence if being safe is of priority to you.
Solo traveling in Serbia (as a woman)
The place felt safe.. but as always, be smart and use common sense if you are going alone without a local guide.
Best time to visit
Shoulder season is always the best time to head to anywhere in Europe - even the more underrated ones.
Language and People
English, as you would expect, is not the primary language anywhere outside the city. If you are going with a guide, you should be ok.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel Insurance is highly recommended - we have our own, but if you are looking for one try World Nomad. Carry local currency for small purchases and tipping.
Choosing a guide
Now, this is part depends on where you are going. If you are only doing the cities like Zlatibor or Novi Sad, you will still be able to go on your own by using public transport. Now, if you are going to the countryside like we did, I recommend getting a guide/driver. No one speaks English, there are no signs in English and most of the places are hidden gems in the middle of godforsaken villages.
For this trip, we went with Balkan Roads. He was a star - one of the most reasonably priced agencies I found. You can get in touch with him by whatsapp and he will respond within a few minutes. He was on time, his English was great and he was passionate about showing us his country. One of the most earnest guides we have ever had. Highly recommended.
How expensive is Serbia?
It's cheap - local food, transport, the small boutique hotels are all reasonably priced. Depending on where you are heading and number of days, expect to spend no more than EUR 350-400 per person.
How long to spend in Serbia?
It is a great place to take it slow but it's also perfect if you are looking for a quick adventure fix. Spend 7 days if you want to enjoy a mix of cities, culture and hikes.
We did not have a lot of time to indulge in the local cuisine, it was similar to the food we had in Albania - be ready for a whole lot of byreks and dairy along the way.
Where we stayed
Milos, our guide, had a few suggestions for us. Since we were only in the room for sleeping and we were mostly in remote villages, we went with your basic 4 star fixings.
After landing late at night, we drove 3 hours to a small village called Ivanjcka in the South West of Serbia.
Bright and early, a beautiful spring day awaits. After a local breakfast, we made our way to the first hike of the day - the Uvac Canyon. The drive was through high forests... we were thrilled to see all the snow!
After about an hour, we arrived at our hike point. You have to park here and hike up, unless you have a 4x4. The hike is about 2 kms one way. Highly recommended to wear good hiking shoes. We finally made it to the view point where you can see the river meandering 100 meters below us. The landscape around was incredible as well. With two massive vultures flying around, I felt like we had walked into a scene from the hobbit movie.
I guess this place will be more beautiful in the summer but it will be busy with locals and tourists alike. We loved having the place to ourselves; definitely a different vibe when you go off season.
We then stopped at another small town called Novi Pazaar. We strolled around for a bit before grabbing a freshly baked potato byrek for lunch.
After which, we drove to St Peters Church. This is said to be one of the oldest churches of the canonical territory of the Serbian orthodox church. It is also considered to be one of the spiritual centers in the Ras area.
Our last stop for the day was a historically significant gem as well. The church is an architectural marvel with Ras and Byzantine style white marble frescoes adorning the walls dating back to the 12th century.
It was eerily quiet that time of day.. not only was the church incredible spiritual, the surrounding area was a treat as well. Don't miss this one.
We then drove to a small town called Nis for the night.
Another magical day awaits with not one but two hikes. Both these hikes are located in the Stara Planina area of eastern Serbia.
The first one was the Rosomacka Canyon. We drove through an idyllic village called Slavinja to get to the canyon. Your final stop for the hike would be a small village called Rsovci.. park your car and hike up.
A straightforward hike will bring you to the canyon in about 45 minutes to 1 hour. We were finally face to face with the unique structures.. called Rosomacka pots. The impressive gorge was created by the river Visocica.
The canyon is filled with deep pots inside rocky pits which further emphasize the uniqueness of this place and it's beauty. The best view of the canyon is from the top or along the left side of the river bank.. so definitely wear good boots and climb up.
Our second hike of the day was just in the next village.. a short 20 minute drive later, we parked our card and decided to hike.
This is a rather long one.. about 2.5kms one way. However, the hike is one of our favorites with the most scenic walks through a forest covered in dense snow.
Hidden deep in the old mountains bordering Bulgaria, this waterfall is one of Serbia's true hidden treasures.
It is said to be marvelous any time of year but more so in the winter when the whole waterfall turns into a giant ice wall. It was like a scene from Narnia. If there is only one hike you can do on your trip, make sure it is this one. It was simply breathtaking.
Two more simple hikes but both covering long distances. First up the Prerasts of Vratna - the tallest stone gates of Europe. This was another simple hike with a few sharp inclines.
The three natural phenomena of eastern Serbia are not only the highest stone arches in Europe, but also a rather unique occurrence in the world. It is such a rare and unusual natural phenomena that is so grandiose and impressive the second you set your eyes on these massive caves. The Vratna area was once a huge cave which collapsed under the influence of different natural processes, leaving behind it these magical natural sculptures. This was yet another place that was off beat and otherworldly. The natural wonders of Serbia are one of a kind.
Last stop for the day was the Djerdap National forest. It was a long drive up the mountains but the scenic views of the Danube made the trip well worthwhile.
This gorge, better known as the Iron gates, is the deepest and longest one in Europe. The town you see across the river is in Romania. It was postcard perfect and the best way to end yet another outstanding spring day.
Saved the best for the last. Our toughest hike yet was up the Borski Stol. This mountain belongs to the Carpathian mountain range of the Balkans region in eastern Serbia; near a small town called Bor.
We are no strangers to high altitude hikes but this was not an easy one. The highest peak here is 1156m... the path was slippery with a steep incline and covered in snow.
This is about 4.5kms one way... so account for at least 4-5 hours to finish this hike. The best views of the old mountains are from the edge of the limestone cliffs. Just be mindful of your step and you will be fine. Even if you cannot make it all the way, you can hike as far as your legs will take you...
Was it worth it? YES. It was one of the best hikes we did on the trip.
Around 3 p.m. we were back in the car, driving back to the capital. We had to drive a good 3 hours to get to the city.. but no complaints as we drove along the Danube and made scenic pit stops.
Our last morning was relaxed with no stress of PCR tests. We did a few coffee runs and checked out few of the local monuments around the city.
Nothing special to write home about.. just your typical European city center.
Though just a short flight away from Dubai, Serbia is often overlooked for the more touristy Montenegro, Greece and Croatia. All the more reason to head there, if you ask me.
There is a lot more to discover in the Balkan region than your colorful cobbled street corners and ski resorts. We were blown away by the untapped natural wonders, each more unique than the last.. serving up views that are to die for.
If you decide to head to Serbia, I urge you to go beyond the norm. Go deeper, you will not regret it one bit!
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