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Belgrade and Novi Sad are undoubtedly the main draws of Serbia. The two biggest cities deserve more than they get, but even city-loving travellers will agree that it takes a lot more than metropolises to make a country. Pockets of Serbia are still delightfully traditional, and those who wisely venture beyond the cities are rewarded with centuries of history and truly remarkable aesthetics, not to mention some curious spots to boot. Peppers, too, lots and lots of peppers.
Here are 12 of the finest towns and villages from the nation of Tesla, Pupin and Milanković.
It is important to avoid favourtism, but Sremski Karlovci’s position at the top of this list is no coincidence. The town, located just five miles (eight kilometres) from Novi Sad, was once the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Habsburg Monarchy, but its historical importance is just one of many reasons to visit.
The town is full of elegant and varied architecture, and seems packed with more points of interest than can fit within its borders. The very first Serbian gymnasium still stands here, and the Peace Chapel is unlike anything else seen in the region. The pace of life is borderline perfect as well – a sleepy town with just enough bustle to excite. The word “jewel” is vastly overused, but sometimes it just fits.
If Sirogojno looks like something out of a dream to you, do not be alarmed. There is no need to rub your eyes frantically or resort to pinching bits of skin. Part of this village in Zlatibor is made up of an open-air museum, showcasing traditional ways of life from the region, dating all the way back to the 19th century. The wooden buildings that dot the landscape further enhance the time-travelling experience.
It was rightly declared a Cultural Monument of Exceptional Importance in 1983, and the conservative pace of life here is a hundred miles away (119, to be exact) from the chaotic tempo of modern-day Belgrade.
Eastern Serbia isn’t overflowing with gorgeous cities (although the biggest man-made hole in Europe can be found here), but the little town of Knjaževac bucks the trend and then some. Situated between three different mountains, Knjaževac’s centre is tailor-made for delightful Sunday strolls, lazily taking in the day along the twinkling headwater of the Timok River.
Knjaževac almost gives the impression of a sleepy Central European town, as small colourful houses idly crowd together as if vying for architectural pride of place. This could be Austria, this could be Slovenia, but this is Serbia. The wine in the region isn’t half bad either.
It might not seem particularly fair to include a village that was purpose-built for cinema, but it is difficult to ignore the charm of Drvengrad. Also known as Küstendorf, Drvengrad was constructed specifically for Emir Kusturica’s classic Life Is A Miracle (2004) and is another delight in Zlatibor, one every bit as dreamlike as Sirogojno.
There is curiosity here, too, with streets named after such luminaries as Joe Strummer, Diego Maradona, and Nikola Tesla. The buildings are dedicated to modern icons like Ivo Andrić and Stanley Kubrick. Drvengrad is unique, a true playground of a creative genius.
A dreamy ethno-village in central Serbia, Rajski Konaci is the perfect place to visit if you’re interested in making your own rakija, the traditional alcoholic drink popular in Serbia. Who doesn’t want to do that? Rajski Konaci is what would come to pass if a child was given colouring pens and told to draw a village – all vibrant buildings, homey comfort, and lush greenery. It might not be the easiest to reach, but getting to Rajski Konaci is worth every moment of strife.
The name translates as “Wet Mountain”, but don’t let that fool you. Mokra Gora is another wonderful spot in Zlatibor that is tied to Kusturica and Life is a Miracle (2004), albeit one that is slightly overshadowed by the relative modernity and ethno-splendour of Drvengrad. Mokra Gora is best known for its unique narrow gauge railway, the route of which looks like a figure eight when viewed from the sky. It is unlikely that visitors will get a chance to see the tracks from above, so you’ll just have to trust us on that one.
Serbia is a nation full of historical spots, and Topola makes a great case for being somewhere near the top of that list. It was here that Karađorđe (Black George) was chosen as the leader of the (unsuccessful) First Serbian Uprising in 1804, which was essentially the starting point of modern Serbia as an independent state. Karađorđe and his family are buried in the magnificent St George’s Church, known colloquially as Oplenac.
The church has an incredible interior mosaic made of some 40 million coloured pieces. Topola is every bit the belly of this wonderful nation.
Located just 11 miles (18 kilometres) from the border of Serbia and Hungary, Palić is a fixture on the summer trip list of anyone in the area with an ounce of sense. The town actually has a Hungarian ethnic majority population, and those looking for a stunning example of Vojvodina’s Hungarian influence need not look any further.
Nearby is Lake Palić, a body of water that has been around for thousands of years or ever since the shepherd Paul lost the lamb with the golden fleece and cried so much that a lake was formed from his tears. True story.
For most of the year, Donja Lokošnica is just another village in the south of Serbia, home to just over a thousand people and not much else. The end of summer sees the village transform, however, from a sleepy regional town into the red pepper capital of the world as it becomes swathed in a coruscating red. Autumn is known as the season of colour, and nowhere else is this truer than in Donja Lokošnica.
Four traditional houses made of straw, mud and beams. That might not sound like the most tantalising brew, but then Latkovac isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Not too far from the city of Aleksandrovac, Latkovac is another fascinating ethno-village that is as pretty as it is intriguing. The village came into being some 500 years ago, when it was so small that only one fence was needed to separate it, and little has changed. You can even enter into an old courtroom here, although justice has long since left that particular building.
The closest Serbian town to the sea, Prijepolje lies on the confluence of the delightful Lim and Mileševka rivers. The town has played an important role throughout the region’s history, initially serving as a transport stop during Roman and Ottoman times before becoming industrialised in the 20th century.
The town is surrounded by forests and the city itself is home to a couple of exquisite little riverside beaches. The Mileševa monastery is nearby, which is the former resting place of Serbia’s most important religious figure: St. Sava.
Situated on the right bank of the iconic Drina River, Perućac has an entire laundry list of attractions to be ticked off, one by one. Its riverside location is splendid, and Tara National Park is right around the corner. This fisherman’s paradise is still relatively unexplored by those from outside Serbia (and most in it), and Lake Perućac in particular is just waiting to be discovered. The lake was in the news in the 90s for all the wrong reasons, but the time for that to change is now.
This article was originally published by Lani Seelinger in December 2015 and has since been updated.