It would be fair to refer to the entire nation of Serbia as a ‘hidden gem’ in touristic terms, as the country remains one of the least visited in all of Europe. The names of Belgrade, Novi Sad and others are well known, but what of Donja Lokošnica, Tršić and Kikinda? These are Serbia’s finest hidden gems.
Starting with this little village of just one thousand people in the south of Serbia, Donja Lokošnica is as peaceful as it gets for the majority of the year. The village comes alive at the end of summer though, when pepper season well and truly kicks in. Lokošnica becomes a sea of red as the vital component of Balkan gastronomy takes over every available bit of space in town. If you’re a fan of paprika, Donja Lokošnica is pepper paradise.
Most of Serbia’s monasteries are well known throughout the continent, and the influence of Studenica, Žiča and others is well-documented. Sretenje is practically unknown outside of the country, however, and its location means it is a hidden gem in the most literal sense of the term. Delicately placed on a plateau at the peak of Mount Ovčar, monastery settings don’t get any more tranquil or breathtaking than this.
The name of Tršić does not ring far in Serbia and beyond, but its most famous son is as celebrated as they come. It was here that Serbian linguistic reformer Vuk Karadžić was born way back in 1787, and while the village was destroyed by Ottoman forces during the First Serbian Uprising, it has since been rebuilt as a museum to honour the moustachioed man. There are plenty of ethno-parks in Serbia, and Vuk’s home may well be the best.
Far from a hidden gem in domestic terms, the name of Stari Ras does not ring out far across the rest of the planet. Little remains of the once imposing fortress, but the sense of history is palpable to say the least. Just 11 kilometres outside of Nov Pazar, Stari Ras was one of the first capitals of the medieval Serbian state and arguably its most important. It definitely sits in the ‘ruins’ category in the 21st century, but there are few more influential spots in the entire country.
Another in the ‘ruins’ category is the church at Arača, but more than enough remains to give an idea of what once stood in this spot just a short drive north of Novi Bečej. The Romanesque church was built way back in 1230 under the watch of the Kingdom of Hungary, but Serbia took it over in 1471. Less than a century passed before the rampaging Ottomans burned it down, leaving it in a state from which it never recovered. It was designated a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1990.
Tara, Fruška Gora, Zlatibor and others might get most of the press, but Golija is a lesser known mountain in Serbia that deserves far more attention. The mountain is covered in forest, and hidden within the trees is one of the most important ornithology reserves in Europe. Almost a hundred different species of bird are found here, flying among the biodiversity below them. Just watch out for bears and wolves.
It has seen its fair share of destruction over the centuries, but Bač remains one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in the country. Some of the finest sunsets in Serbia can be viewed from this vantage point, as the ghosts of history swoop among whoever visits. Bač was demolished in 1711, but it lives on in its own unique way.
One of the last authentically preserved wetlands in the nation, Zasavica hit the headlines at the turn of the century when it became the centre of a drive to reintroduce beavers into the country, and its success has been no secret since. This bog in the floodplain of the Sava is a nature lover’s dream, and there are plenty of mammals, fish, birds and more to spy. It also happens to be the only farm of the Balkan donkey in the former Yugoslavia, which is reason enough to cheer on its own.
Sticking with the animal theme, the little town of Kikinda is home to one of the largest collections of owls on the planet. The twisty-headed flyers aren’t readily associated with Serbia, but you’ll soon realise the folly of this assumption once you visit this oft-overlooked town in Vojvodina. Thousands of the birds head here in winter, creating the largest winter resting place of its kind. Think of it as the mother of all owl pit-stops.