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Every country in the world will have a region that is considered the ‘heart of the country’, and in a geographical sense Šumadija fulfils that function for Serbia. The heavily forested central region is incredibly varied, with darling towns sitting alongside lush greenery and industrial powerhouses. These are its finest town and cities.
The fourth largest town in the country, Kragujevac is Serbia’s industrial powerhouse (a relative term) and a city with history at every turn. Miloš Obrenović made it the first capital of post-Ottoman Serbia, meaning there are plenty of firsts to be found in the city. The centre is a delight of traditional architecture and youthful energy, while the 21 October Memorial Park is a sombre reminder of just how grim World War II was in Yugoslavia.
The City of Kings! If you were a Serbian king-to-be back in the day, the chances are your coronation was going to take place in the glorious city of Kraljevo. The early rumblings of rebellion that would grow into the First Serbian Uprising were also heard here. Kraljevo is surrounded by a number of magnificent monasteries, none better than marvellous Žiča.
Just a short drive from Kragujevac, Topola is a fine little town but one better known for the church and complex that lie above it. Oplenac is one of the finest attractions in the entire country, the final resting place of the entire Karađorđević family and home to one of the most incredible mosaics we have ever seen. That mosaic makes up the interior of the church, millions of tiny, coloured pieces painstakingly put together to create something legitimately special.
Aranđelovac lies between the twin mountains of Bukulja and Venčac, but is best known for the tranquility and restoration that lie within the city itself. The town is home to Bukovička Banja, one of the finest spas in the country and a real centre of wellness. Dositej Obradović (famous Serbian linguist) was an avid fan of the town, frequently noting the restorative qualities of the water in Aranđelovac helped him to relax and sleep well. It is rare that a good night’s sleep is one of the major offers of a Serbian town, so don’t pass this chance up.
If you’re going to name a town after one of the most important individuals in the history of the nation, you’re going to pay extra attention to make sure you choose a fine spot. Lazarevac has the honour of its name being derived from Prince Lazar, and the 14th century leader would surely have been happy to give his name to such a place. The town is home to the Church of St. Demetrius, a mausoleum where thousands of World War I soldiers are buried. A mass of giant sequoia trees is also nearby, a strange scientific experiment that is ongoing today.
The City of Strawberries is often the butt of jokes in Serbia, but don’t be fooled by a connection to one of the most regrettable politicians in the country. The central Serbian town is home to one of the best parks in the country, not to mention a fine traditional restaurant on the hills above. Jagodina’s Wax Museum is also an absolute must-visit, although maybe not for reasons of quality.
Technically a part of the wider Belgrade city, Mladenovac is well worth a visit in its own right. The youthful town is close to a couple of delightful lakes, and the famous Kosmaj monument is also within half an hour’s drive of the centre. The usual mix of spas, cafes and outrageously noisy nightclubs can also be found here, an excellent stopping point between Belgrade and Kragujevac.
Smederevo is known as the City of Iron and Grapes, which is a fairly unorthodox combination. There is little unorthodox about the city that lies at the eastern edge of Šumadija, with its fortress standing tall both literally and in tourist attraction terms. Smederevo was a temporary Serbian capital in the Middle Ages, and that importance becomes palpable once you cross the threshold of the fortress.