A town of just 60,000 inhabitants, Užice often gets overlooked in favour of the magnificent nature in its vicinity. Those who decide to skip the Serbian town are missing out on a terrific mix of history, modernity and some of the nation’s best sense of humour.
The label ‘Serbia’s San Francisco’ might be a little over the top, but the rebellious city of Užice more than holds it own when it comes to keeping visitors entertained. 24 hours is never enough, but the city is tailor-made for those looking to spend a day here; so let’s start way back in the 13th century.
Explore the Old Town
The term ‘old town’ is beginning to lose some of its authenticity in Europe, as locations take advantage of its popularity and fill cobblestoned streets with modern cafes, bars and restaurants. Not so in Užice, where the Stari Grad is arguably the dictionary definition of legitimate. Sat patiently on the hills above town, Užice’s Old Town almost resembles a benevolent patriarch. Nothing can happen here without the ruins of this 13th century fortress taking notice.
The fortress is a collection of ruined buildings today, but it represents an important chapter in Serbian history. It is accessible via foot (or by taxi, if you’re feeling particularly lazy). Even those ambivalent to the intangible majesty of history will be impressed by the beautiful views.
Terrify your doctor and investigate rebellion
With the past firmly behind you, head back towards the modern centre to delve into more contemporary happenings in Užice. The city centre might be frustratingly low on top quality restaurants, but those who aren’t worried about cholesterol damage should seek out a dish called ‘komplet lepinja’. A greasier-than-grease combination of meat, bread and eggs, any restaurant in Užice worth its salt will offer it front and centre.
Almost every major town in Serbia is home to a National Museum, and Užice’s ranks among the best. One wing looks at the fascinating and eventful life of local painter Mihailo Milovanović, but it is the story of the Užice Republic that garners the most interest. A tiny military mini-state in the heart of Yugoslavia, it was the first liberated European territory in World War II. That freedom lasted just 67 days, but it was a vital moment in the wider context of the war.
Head to the beach
Serbia is a landlocked country, but the stubborn Serbs aren’t going to let something as feeble as geography stop them! A number of ‘beaches’ have sprung up throughout the country (although the use of the coastal term must be taken with a fairly extravagant pinch of salt). Built in the 1950s, the course of the Đetinja river was altered in order to create this little summertime oasis and provide much-needed respite from the harsh summer sun. It is wildly popular with the people of Užice no matter what generation we’re talking about, from fresh-faced youths all the way to curmudgeonly elderly folk.
If you are unlucky enough to be in Užice on a drizzly day, the beach might not be your best bet. If that is the case, the Jokanović House and architecture of the centre are more than fascinating enough to keep you entertained. The Balkans is famous for monolithic concrete structures, and nowhere is this more apparent than charming little Užice.
Relax in Yugoslavia’s most beautiful square
If there is still room in your stomach following the cholesterol-friendly Komplet Lepinja at lunch, Naša Kuća is a fantastic restaurant to seek out for your evening meal. Traditional food is allied with famous Užice humour, with plenty of rakija on hand if the conversation isn’t flowing as much as you’d like. We’re not going to say it is the best restaurant in town, but we’re yet to eat anywhere better.
In keeping with the mutinous nature of Užice, life here revolves around a square that is still named after the Partisans of World War II. Partisan Square was widely considered the most beautiful in Yugoslavia, a wide space full of life and that western Serbian charm. Its best days are likely behind it from an aesthetic point of view, but Partisan Square still bubbles with excitement and energy once the sun has gone down. Simply choose any of the bars and cafes in the vicinity, put your feet up (don’t actually put your feet up, that’s a little disrespectful) and soak in the fulfilment of a fine day in Užice.