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The Serbs love to party, and nothing gets the energy flowing like a long festival over the summer months. It isn’t all live music and booze of course, as the highly cultural Serbs enjoy a film or literary event with the best of them. These are Serbia’s best festivals.
Where else to start? The most famous festival in Serbia is one of the biggest in all of Europe, and is quite honestly far removed from the ‘local’ tag that it started out with. Petrovaradin Fortress becomes the central party zone in the entire country during this weekend in July, as many of the biggest music acts on the planet head to Novi Sad to entertain over 200,000 revellers. The festival actually began as a protest against the Slobodan Milošević regime, but these political beginnings have been lost under the weight of pop music and partying.
The Serbs aren’t known for their subtlety, so it’s no surprise that the largest beer festival in the country doesn’t bother with fancy names and modern branding. It’s in Belgrade, it’s a festival, there’s beer. That isn’t to say it hasn’t evolved, however – what was once a mass of industrial lager is now a varied and invigorating pivo extravaganza, with entire sections dedicated to top quality craft beer. At the heart of it all is the music, featuring some of the finest bands in the history of the region.
Also known as the Dragačevski Sabor, almost everyone will refer to this mass of brass by the name of the town in which it takes place. Guča is as riotous as festivals get, a wild orgy of trumpets that takes place in a sleepy village not far from Čačak. The cacophonous sound of brass orchestras is accentuated with copious amounts of alcohol and no shortage of grilled meat, in a frenzy of Balkan adventure that must be seen to be believed. There is nothing else like this on the planet.
Entering its 23rd year in 2018, Nišville is Serbia’s premier annual celebration of all things jazz. Many of the great genre’s finest performers have taken to the stage at the fortress in Niš. The trademark easy atmosphere abounds over this August weekend, as the improvisations of some of the world’s finest musicians reverberate around this famous fortification.
Vrnjačka Banja is the most romantic town in Serbia (or at least is was if you were a young couple during World War I), so it’s no surprise that the big festival there has a romantic theme. It isn’t entirely clear what the link is, but Lovefest features a plethora of big names performing over a few days in August. The 2018 lineup is typically stacked, and the tickets are refreshingly affordable.
Belgrade isn’t the only city in Serbia with a trademark beer festival. Zrenjanin is one of the most congenial towns in Vojvodina, and that friendliness achieves new levels with the annual Beer Days festival in August. This is exactly what a beer festival should be – namely a mass of beer available with good food in an endearing town. What more needs to be said?
Fantastic grilled meat is available all over the country, but one city stands tall above every other when it comes to ćevapčiči and pljeskavica. Leskovac is a veritable mecca for lovers of Balkan cuisine, and hundreds of thousands make the pilgrimage here every September. Many come for the unveiling of the world’s biggest burger, but most are happy just to gorge on the incredible food. There is also live music, but it’s difficult to focus while stuffing your face.
No, that is not a typo. At the end of August, a small farm in Lipovica plays host to the World Testicle Cooking Championships, where chefs from across the region face off to decide just who is the best when it comes to cooking balls. We should probably note that these aren’t human testicles. An award is also given to the so-called ‘Ballsiest Man in the World’, with Edward Snowden, The Pope, Kim Jong Un and the entire population of the UK among previous winners.
The Balkans is full of competitions that see daredevils plunge from bridges into the water, and the old railway bridge in Užice may well be Serbia’s best example. While the bridge in question doesn’t have the grace or beauty of Mostar’s Stari Most, the brutalist backdrop of concrete structures creates a unique visual for this unusual festival. Thousands of people descend on the western city for the event every July.
Tešnjar is the undoubted jewel in Valjevo’s crown, so it is unsurprising that the city’s main festival is centred around the graceful old quarter. Theatre and film take centre stage, accentuated by a wide variety of other visual arts, offering the best and brightest of this famous city. Valjevo comes alive for this 10-day festival every August.