Kosovo Mountains

Similar to the entire region, except the coastal parts, the climate in Kosovo is continental.

Much of Kosovo's terrain is rugged, and its mountainous area, including the highest peak Đeravica, at 2656 m above sea level, is located in the south-west, bordering Albania and Montenegro.The mountain range dividing Kosovo from Albania is known in English as the "Cursed Mountains" or as the Dinaric Alps.

The Kopaonik Mountain is located in the north, bordering Central Serbia, although all of its ski resorts and other tourist destinations are outside Kosovo.
The central region of Drenica, Crnoljevo and the eastern part of Kosovo, known as Goljak, are mainly hilly areas.

The Šar Mountains are located in the south and south-east, bordering Macedonia. This is one of the region's most popular tourist and skiing resorts, with Brezovica and Prevalac as the main tourist centers.

I have never been to Šar, but it is supposed to be very picturesque and beautiful; its untouched landscape is covered by glacial lakes, pine forests and very small villages, populated by sheep herders. A big part of the mountain (39.000 hectares) was declared a national park in 1986, with the purpose of protecting more than 147 butterfly species, and around 200 birds.

Although some locations are promoted as skiing resources, many of those are poorly managed and maintained. I believe that only Kopaonik has a developed center suitable for ski tourism, and that you should skip all others.

On the other hand, if you are interested in hiking, camping and love nature, these places, especially the Šar Mountain are a perfect destination for you.

Kosovo and Metohija (Kosovo)

The most southern tip of former Republic of Yugoslavia, and now Serbia, Kosovo has had a very turbulent past.
In the last 20 years, its citizens have seen civil unrest, uprisings, curfews, low intensity guerrilla war and finally, the NATO bombing campaign in the 1999.
After the war that lasted more than 3 months, foreign forces entered the province under a peace agreement between Yugoslavian government and the NATO alliance. Since then, the province is formally still a part of Serbia, but in reality functions as a independent state under the peacekeeping force KFOR and the UN mission in Kosovo, or UNMIK.
Since the 1999 war, representatives of Albanians, the mayor ethnic group in Kosovo, have been seeking formal independence from Serbia, a move that is opposed by the Belgrade government.

I don’t want to go into the question of independence or the recent history.
I do not live in the region or believe I have a deeper understanding of this prolonged conflict.
Instead, I will try to write about interesting locations inside Kosovo, and all the things that foreign visitors could find worthwhile.

In the next part, read more about the nature and geography of Kosovo, here on Experience Serbia blog.

Grape Dance

Sremski Karlovci is a well-known town in Serbia. They are culturally and historical very significant (more about them later), but are also host to the most famous vine festival in the country - the annual Grozdjenbal, or loosely translated - Grape Dance.

Sremski Karlovci is located in the Fruska Gora hills, a small mountain range in the northern province of Vojvodina. Traditionally, grape growing and vine making are very widespread in these parts, and the small hills and valleys are covered with grape plantations and orchards. The climate and, more importantly, soil composition are ideal for the cultivation of not only grape vines, but also many different kinds of central European and more resilient Mediterranean fruit tree breeds.

The Fruska Gora region had experienced its vine revolution in the late 18. Century, and it lasted almost to the beginnings of 1940'es. In that period small, family based farms (traditionally called ''salashi'') began to label and export their vines abroad, and the region started to build a reputation as a important, growing producer. But after the WW2, these farms were nationalized by the socialist government and merged into big collectives - this decision had effectively killed of all previous brands and the collective mentality gradually decreased the vine quality.

Now, more than 25 years since the abandonment of large-scale SSSR stile agricultural units, the small farms are rebuilding their vine production - in the traditional, 19. Century manner. Today, many farmers make and brand their own vine, interested more in its quality instead of shear quantities.

That's why the town of Sremski Karlovci organized the first Grape Dance in 1996. The festival doesn't have a long history, but it's proven to be very popular and almost certainly the most visited vine festival in the country.

It takes place every year in the end of September, intended, like all vine festival, to coincide with the end of grape harvest.

But unlike most festivals, Grape Dance is much more oriented towards live music.

A big concert stage is erected in the middle of the town, and for the next 3 days a great number of artist perform there - almost every music genre is covered: starting from traditional and folk bands and musicians, classic orchestras, pop stars right to heavy rock and experimental band.

Of course, you can try a lot of different vines in the small stalls and pavilions that line the neighboring streets. The producers of almost every brand are always present, so you can chat with them and find out more about their products.

I try to go every year, and Grape Dance is well worth it. The only big problem is the traffic jams that occur regularly, especially in the evening hours. Because of the terrain, there is only one main road (not counting the backwater roads that are of poor quality) that links Sremski Karlovci to the bigger surrounding cities.

Also, there aren't enough parking spaces, although the town will probably deal with that soon. If you plan to visit the festival, you should go by train.

Grozdjenbal is a developing event. It started with very humble, but it's obvious that Sremski Karlovci administration and the wine-making community are working hard to improve it. I'm certain it will only get bigger and better.

Zupa Harvest

‘’Traveler, when you come to Zupa, weather you come from north or south, or any other direction, know that you are a welcomed guest in this blessed land.’’

These is the welcome message for the event called ‘’Zupska berba’’ or in English – Zupa Harvest – a festival that celebrates the end of grape harvest. It takes place every year in Aleksandrovac, a small town located in the southern part of central Serbia. It’s one of Serbian vine counties, given its good landscape, climate and most importantly, a long tradition of family based vine making.

Zupa Harvest officially started in 1963, although the custom of celebrating the end of the grape harvest dates back several centuries.
It had humble roots, but the festival grew each year, and now, it’s became an event for all ages. It last 3 days and has incorporated poet nights, art exhibitions, music concerts, miniature agricultural fairs, children and folk shows and many more diverse happenings.
Of course, throughout the festival, around 30 best vine makers and grapes producers exhibit their products in the Vine Street, where everybody can try out any of their products. The main stage and the center of all activities is the square with its unique vine fountain.

I have never been to Zupa Harvest, but similar vine festivals in my region are all worthwhile and fun. Zupa Harvest took place this year in the period of 20-23 September, so I’ll have to wait for the next one. If you ever find yourself nearby Aleksandrovac in the early autumn, visit the festival – if you like vine, I bet you’ll like Zupa Harvest.

Regions in Serbia

Although Serbia isn’t a big country, it has a very diverse cultural, geographical and economical landscape.

That’s in part because of the massive historical shifts that have changed the Balkans in the last 150 years - most importantly the First and the Second World Wars, and the later civil wars of 1990’s. Many regions that are currently inside Serbian national borders were parts of different neighboring countries just a few generations ago.

The other reason for this diversity was, and still continues to be a relatively accessible and widespread migration; very similar regional languages and other favorable factors attributed to the periodical mass movements of, more or less, every group of people that lived here.

Today, we can name 4 distinctly different regions that make up the modern Serbian state. Those are:

North – called Vojvodina

Center – like Vojvodina, it consists of several smaller regions, but is generally known as “central Serbia”.

South – although the region lies more to the south-east, it’s called “southern Serbia” or just “south”

Kosovo and Metohija – located on the southern tip, it's also called Kosmet, but you probably know it only as “Kosovo”

Find out more about each one on “Experience Serbia” blog very soon.

Belgrade, Part Two - History

Belgrade was built somewhere around in 3rd century BC by the local Celts tribes.

It resides near the stone-age site of Vinca, inhabited by one of the first culturally developed societies in mainland Europe, some 6000 years ago. The consequent merger of Vinca tribes with the Celts makes Belgrade on of the oldest continuously populated cities on the continent.

The Celts where replaced for a short time by the Greeks, and then, in the first century AC, the frontier of Roman empire swallowed up the whole region, including Belgrade.

Romans built the first mayor infrastructural project such as pawed road, aqueducts and city walls. Although much of it was destroyed hundreds of years ago, the Roman period was fundamental for the establishment of Belgrade as a growing regional center.

After the division of the Roman Empire, Belgrade was conquered and run by a variety on nations. Among them are, most prominently: Avars, Huns, Franks, Arabs, Turks, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Germans, and finally the Serbs.

All those cultures left their mark on the city and its people. As a result of 2000 years of constant influences from every corner of central Europe, Mediterranean and the Middle East, Belgrade has developed a unique, vibrant and ever-changing cultural identity.

Belgrade, Part One - Z capital

Belgrade is the capital city of Serbia.

There is a lot to say about Belgrade. First of all, it's big. Not as big as, let say London or Moscow, but in Serbia, it is by far the biggest city, and it's estimated that some were around 2.5 million people live in its wider area. That's something like 7 times bigger then the second biggest city in the county, and one third of the complete Serbian population.

There isn't a single thing that defines Belgrade. I live in a city some 80 km away, and the first association I have is - overcrowded. A lot of people from the south and central regions come here to live and find prosperity, even more in the last 15 to 20 years of economic stagnation. That is still the case.

You probably wouldn't think of it as pretty place in a architectural sense, because you can see almost everywhere a mixture of buildings from the late 19th and early 20 century, communist era stile (lot of concrete and square shapes) and those built in modern trends, bundled up together with no grater plan in mind. Also, road infrastructure newer planed for this kind of population level, and daily gridlocks are common.

But simultaneously, having so many people in the same place gives Belgrade a metropolitan fell. It, unlike every other city in the country, has a really rich cultural and artistic life. Business there is booming, and by getting some international attention in the last 5 years, it's become the unrivaled money center in the country, and possibly in the region, not counting EU member states.

Nightlife is certainly diverse and vibrant, fueled primarily by a big student population.
In short, with all of its shortcomings, Belgrade is currently the place to be in Serbia.

More about it - soon on Experience Serbia blog.

So, like, where is Serbia, like, exactly?

If you never heard of Serbia, don't despair.

You're not stupid or ignorant, just a little uniformed about southeast Europe. Because, yes, that is where Serbia is roughly located. More precisely, it lies on the Balkan Peninsula, alongside Greece, Bulgaria and Albania to name a few. I won't bore you with the geographic info (find everything relevant in this wikipedia article), and instead, give you some traveling references.

The flight from London to Belgrade (Serbia capital) should last around 2 to 3 hour; Frankfurt-Belgrade should be a little shorter. You will have to travel at least 24 hours by bus from any northern European capital (Paris, Brussels, Berlin) to get to Serbia; train should get you here a little faster. Car is by far the best ground-based option, but journey time depends on your driving skill and the traffic. Let's just say that it's possible to get from Belgrade to Vienna in 7 hours, but you have to be rally driving material.

Welcome to Experience Serbia blog!

Ever heard about country named Serbia?

Ever thought about visiting it?

If the answer is yes, stick around and find out more information about it, directly from local sources, and without the usual tourist agency BS. I'll try to tell it as I see it - so ask questions, give comments and your personal experiences, because every opinion is welcomed.

The Good and the Bad about Serbia - only on ''Experience Serbia'' blog.