Sunday, July 13th, 2014 | Author:

 

Having just returned to Australia from a 4000-km family reunion/research trip through 5 of the 7 countries that once upon a time belonged to the former Yugoslavia, I thought I’d list a couple of each country’s highlights. So here they are, in the order that we visited them. A few of my photographs appear afterwards.

Balkan Highlights

Sarajevo, Bosnia

We stayed in Baščaršija, the old part of the city. Imagine lots of tiny, cobbled alleys filled with brass and silversmith stores and courtyard restaurants where tourists and locals sip Turkish coffee and puff away on hookahs. And poking up above the minarets and steeples, the gorgeous fir-clad peaks that enfold Sarajevo. Magical.

Knin, Croatia

Knin itself is a pretty uninspiring place these days, but I loved wandering around Kninska Tvrđava, the enormous fortress that looms above the town. Parts of the fortress date from the 9th century; in the 11thcentury, it housed the King of Croatia. During the wars of the 1990’s, the Serb paramilitary captain Dragan Vasiljković and his Kninjas took up residence here, and war crimes allegations against Vasiljković hold that he tortured prisoners within the fortress walls. It’s a massive complex, replete with ancient latrines, dungeons and awesome views.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Boasting city walls that are perhaps the most impressive I’ve ever seen, the old city of Dubrovnik is a spectacular conglomeration of orange-tiled roofs, steep alleys and cobbled courtyards. It’s also packed with tourists. I heard more Aussie accents here than I’m used to in Sydney. Dubrovnik boasts some great museums; I particularly enjoyed the Ethnographic Museum, which features articles used in the production of various local staples like homemade wine, bread, olive oil and so forth. To escape the crowds, we stayed in a private villa in the far quieter but equally spectacular coastal town of Mali Zaton, 10 minutes outside Dubrovnik.

Kotor, Montengro

Set in the deepest, longest fjord in southern Europe, Kotor is a small town sandwiched between the cerulean waters of the Bay of Kotor and the ‘foothills’ of Mt Lovćen, the black mountain from which Montenegro gains its name. The mountains aren’t really black. But they are incredibly craggy limestone behemoths coated with cypresses, magnolias and patchy grass, through which goats and goat herders wind their way. Kotor features a walled Old City just as picturesque as Dubrovnik’s, although far more intimate in scale. The hike up the ancient walls to the ruined fortress above the city offers sublime views of the bay and city walls.

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

So beautiful it doesn’t quite seem real, Sveti Stefan is a tiny island housing a former fishing village/former and present day resort, connected to the shore by a narrow walkway.

Montenegro’s roads

Definitely one of the highlights, given the endless twists and tunnels and the insanely reckless local drivers (many of whom, judging from the number of roadside crosses, pay the ultimate price for their recklessness). We drove from Cetinje, the 18th century capital of Montenegro, to Kotor via Lovćen National Park, along a road that has 28 hairpin bends in a row as it corkscrews down the mountainside. Each bend is numbered, so you can count how many more twists your bewildered stomach has to endure! Driving from Ostrog Monastery to Visegrad in Bosnia, we wound our way through more than 50 often dripping and unlit tunnels. That road snakes through the Tara Canyon, which is just 200 metres shallower than the Grand Canyon in the US!

Tara National Park, Serbia

Gorgeous alpine scenery and wonderful hiking country. One of the many benefits of having a husband for a local guide was that we enjoyed a private farm stay here, and partook of plenty of our host Obrad’s homemade rakija. The traditional steep-roofed wooden houses of this region are really picturesque.

Studenica Monastery, Serbia

Built in 1190 by Stefan Nemanja, father of the first Serbian king, Stefan Nemajić and of Sveti Sava, the saint who was the first archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox church, the two churches within the Monastery complex house some incredible frescoes. There’s a portrayal of a pregnant Virgin Mary reclining, smiling, while another lady holds her hand. There are also paintings of her bathing the infant Jesus and another of a man and a woman kissing. Scandalous! We stayed in the monastery’s guest accommodation — simple but adequate meals included in the price — and we were lucky enough to bump into a very enthusiastic local guide who shared with us his love of the monastery’s uniquely ‘human’ frescoes.

Belgrade’s Skadarlija district, Serbia

I spent my last night in Belgrade’s Skadarlija district being serenaded by Roma musicians in a restaurant called Tri Šešira which opened in 1864. Skadarlija is Belgrade’s cobbled, flower-bedecked Bohemian quarter, home to many writers and poets in the past. Today it’s filled with galleries, cafes and restaurants, many of which feature live Roma music as you dine. Perfect!

So those are the highlights of my trip. Please also see my post The Former Yugoslavia Part 2: …and the Tragic for my list of some of the most heart-wrenching places I visited in the former Yugoslavia.

 

 

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