We spent our first day in Serbia in the surrounding areas of Niš. Together with our guide Bane Simović of the organisation ShowMe we discovered Serbia away from mainstream tourism.
He promised to take us to several interesting spots by car and we truly enjoyed the excursion. We embarked on an almost 6-hour long trip, including the lunch break. We were picked up at our hotel (where we were later also dropped off again). The price came to 20€ per person, plus the cost of our lunch and a contribution towards fuel. Bear in mind that 10€ get you an almost royal banquet in Serbia.
Our first stop was only a twenty-minute drive from Niš city centre. Niška Banja is a district of Niš, about 8 kilometres from the city centre. This spot beneath the Suva Planina Mountains is the most popular spa town in Serbia.
We were lucky and found a very central parking spot. We left the car and started walking up the mountain.
We came to a little stream that was coming down from the mountains. Bane explained that this water comes from a lukewarm spring and is used for spa and curative treatments. To my surprise, no one took offence that people put hands, feet or whatever other body part into the water for free. The water contains radon and is used to treat rheumatism or arthrosis. Of course, I had to try this and so I dunked my hands into the water. Other than the water being a pleasant temperature, almost like in a bathtub, I didn’t feel anything. But how should I have felt any results after only five minutes?
A little further up the path was a well with mineralised water. Here, too, people can drink the water for free. We were told not to indulge in the water too much since a lot of it is bad for the stomach. This spa town has been frequented by the Serbians for years. A stay in this town gets prescribed by doctors especially after cardiovascular diseases or problems with the musculoskeletal system.
We walked through the beautiful spa park where more people sat at the the public water sources and used them for a free treatment.
We discovered a pretty “waterfall” at the spa centre.
It would be foolish to compare Niška Banja to the polished German spa towns. Most structures in town suffered from the ravages of time. More important to the Serbians is the interior of the facilities which are all state-of-the-art. And let’s be real; where in the world can you submerge your aching extremities in healing water completely for free?
Koritnjak – an abandoned village
Just past Niška Banja, our tour took us uphill. We enjoyed lovely views over Niš in Serbia from the car.
The destination of this trip was an area that was supposed to give us an impression of how a typical Serbian village has looked like in the past. We arrived at a place that deeply surprised us. Koritnjak is an abandoned village in the Niška Banja municipality. The number of locals decreased over time until there were no inhabitants left in 2002. When we stopped by in 2018 there was one single man with his dog living in the village.
There are only a few documents about the origins of this village or about possible reasons why it is deserted today. Matter of fact is that everything is decaying.
It is a little eerie to walk past the empty houses and fantasise about the families that used to live here and what might have become of them. Maybe we could have even looked inside some of the buildings. But to be honest, I didn’t dare to go inside.
Next, we stopped at a picknick spot about 15 kilometres outside of Niš. It was down in the Jelasnica Ravine which is only 2 kilometres long but is a protected natural reserve because of its special flora.
Across the picnic area is a marked bouldering treck. Free climbing can be done here, too. The rockface offers a variety of activities and even Stasa Gejo, a famous Serbian climber, supposedly comes here for training regularly.
Those who don’t fancy climbing can enjoy a closer look at the dolomite formations with their bizarre shapes. A wonderful spot for recreation in the wider area of Niš.
Bojanine Vode, a ski area near Niš in Serbia
The roads became increasingly narrow. For a little while, there was a bus driving in front of us. But at some point, the road became so steep and narrow that no buses operated there anymore. Bane forced his car up the road in first gear. The road ended at a house. We get out of the car and walk the rest of the way, through a forest.
All of a sudden we found ourselves on a big lawn with a sign for a ski slope! Further down we made out a ski lift.
We were told that this ski area (altitude: 811 – 1180 meters) has 1.8 kilometres of slopes and 3 ski lifts. It’s high season during winter, but in summer not many come up here.
Our second to last stop on the tour was described by our guide Bane with two words: “Wow – viewpoint”. After we drove through a little village we stopped at a football field. We walked across the field and it was indeed WOW!!!!
Right at the edge of the football field is a steep drop of several meters and the view of the Sićevo Gorge Ravine from there is phenomenal. Way down in the valley we saw the road to Bulgaria and the river Nišava.
I climb a little further up a rock. On the rock is a little bench (not fixed to anything, obviously) that gently wobbles. People that sit down here have two things: a lot of courage and a great view. I do not dare to sit down and feel relieved to be back on the football field.
Food and wine tasting
The finale of our tour is lunch and wine tasting with a Serbian vintner. Bane accompanies us to a little restaurant on the road back to Niš. We wouldn’t have achieved much with English here. It was a restaurant that is typically only ever visited by locals. We were presented with local food here at Kafana Malca. Traditionally, a meal starts with a Rakija Šljivovica, often distilled in-house. For the first course, we were served two salads that are characteristic for the area: Moravska Salata und Vitaminska Salata.
The amount of food was more than enough for us but on top of that, we were served cow’s milk- and sheep cheese from the region. Well seasoned and with the Serbian bread (Pogača) that would have been sufficient as a meal.
But there is more to a good, Serbian meal. What followed was Mućkalica, spicy pork in a well-seasoned sauce. It is a bit similar to Gulasch and is a dish that is typical for southern Serbia. I was beyond full after the meal. All that was missing was a good glass of wine. We crossed the street to the Malaca vineyard.
Tours are offered regularly. It starts with a little clip about the vineyard. Afterwards, visitors are guided into the wine vault where different wines are stored. Visitors can stop and taste wines at that point, but only very briefly. A more relaxing alternative is to sit down in the restaurant after the tour and have a couple of glasses there.
We went on this tour through the surrounding areas of Niš with a local tour operator named Show Me. We paid for the tour ourselves. Thank you very much, Show Me, for a wonderful day!