Serbia can be a tumultuous place to visit at the best of times, but serenity isn’t far away. Every corner of the country comes complete with a spa or three, centres of wellness waiting to take those stresses away through healing waters and absolute equanimity. Serbia might not be an obvious option for spa tourism, but thinking outside the box certainly has its rewards.
Where better to start than where it all began? The healing waters of Sokobanja have been known for centuries, but it wasn’t until the Ottoman yoke had been removed that people came here for touristic purposes. Miloš Obrenović demanded the development of spa tourism in eastern Serbia, and Sokobanja soon became the spa of choice for the cultural elite. This was a place where the nobles and artists crossed paths, so choose your side and put those feet up.
A small town that packs one mighty punch, Vranjačka Banja is one of the most popular towns in all of Serbia. People have been coming here to heal themselves since the days of the Romans, and they show no sign of stopping any time soon. There are seven thermal springs here, leaving plenty of choice for the picky visitor. Vrnjačka Banja is also the starting point for the love lock craze that has spread across the world, adding romantic history to the serene wellness.
Niš is famous throughout Serbia for its energetic atmosphere and absolutely unbeatable food, but nine kilometres east of the city lies one of the most popular spa centres in the country. The spa is located at the foot of the Suva Planina mountain, which adds an extra aesthetic element to this idyllic scene. Tourism here only really caught on in the 20th century, but it hasn’t looked back since.
Sokobanja might get the plaudits when it comes to celebrating the start of Serbian spa tourism, but you must travel west to Banja Koviljača in order to find the oldest spa. Also known as the Royal Spa, it is defined by the majesty of its natural surroundings, hemmed in as it is by the iconic Drina river and the Gučevo mountain. Vuk Karadžić wrote about this place in the 19th century, adding an extra layer of national pride to the whole thing.
It doesn’t get much more elegant than this. Bukovička is the golden belle of Serbian spas, a blissful centre for health that once hosted some of the most fashionable parties in Yugoslavia. The Obrenović dynasty spent plenty of time here, and if it’s good enough for one of the two royal families than it’s good enough for doe-eyed 21st-century visitors. Knjaz Miloš is also bottled nearby, so happy sipping!
Sticking with iconic Serbian mineral water, the unusually packaged VodaVoda is sourced from the area around Banja Vrujci in the northwest of the country. Here we find bathing pools built on the thermal water springs, adding a flowing nature to the whole thing. it makes for a unique experience at this spot just 30 miles from Valjevo. The undulating hills are reason enough to visit, and the health benefits are the (sugar-free) cherry on top.
Novi Pazar is the magnificent ‘other’ of Serbia, a throwback to the Ottoman years that is far and away the youngest city in the country. The town’s spa is equally unusual, sat just outside the town some 500+ metres uphill, making it one of the highest spas in the country. The treatments are fairly standard, but there is something unmistakably ‘Novi Pazar’ about it all that really attracts.
Fruška Gora is one of the most fantastically idyllic parts of Serbia, so it’s no surprise to find a typically tranquil spa within its forested land. Just 24km from Novi Sad, Vrdnik also offers an impressive array of swimming pools, including one outdoor Olympic-sized beast that is nigh on impossible to resist. The Ravanica monastery is also nearby, as if the spa wasn’t tranquil enough.