If you thought bad trains, crumbling roads, tacky hotels and dodgy kafans are the worst you can expect when visiting Serbia, prepare to be frightened.
Serbia offers many super-natural ways to die, be abducted by paranormal forces or just suffer at the hand of the locals.
It isn’t all that bad: these scary, orientalising stories inspired Marina Abamović’s interesting Balkan Erotic Epic and a group of enthusiasts from around Europe allegedly travelled to pyramid-shaped peak of Rtanj to be saved by the aliens in 2012.
Go vampire hunting in Zarožje and Kišiljevo
Given that one of the few Serbian words that made it internationally is ‘vampire’, it is only fitting to start this list with the mill where the most famous Serbian vampire used to feast on unfortunate locals.
The mill is located three hours from Belgrade, between Valjevo and Bajina Bašta, in the tiny village of Zarožje. Spookily decrepit, it became famous after the publication of a short story by the 19th century writer Milovan Glisic about Sava Savanovic, a merchant-turned-vampire who chose it for his home. In 1973, the story was adapted into the cringe-worthy Serbian horror film Leptirica (She-Butterfly or perhaps more apporpriatly the Night Moth) and the village gained even wider fame.
When the roof of the mill collapsed in 2012, the local authorities issued a joke warning that Sava the Vampire was on the prowl, so guard your neck if you come to visit. There have been attempts to redevelop it in the past few years.
Kišiljevo, on the other hand, is an unassuming village close to Veliko Gradište, which was the home of another famous vampire, Petar Blagojević. Petar allegedly returned from the dead and killed 9 people in 1720s. The story was popularised by the Viennese press and made rounds thoughout Europe, shaping the modern perception of vampires. Sadly there are no markings of his grave, but there is a spooky cemetery and a popular lake resort of Srebrno Jezero.
Over-fraternise with the locals in the Homolje mountains
The mountains around the towns of Bor and Zaječar in eastern Serbia have long been considered to be the centre of magical activity in the country. This is because of the large population of Serbian Vlachs, a people closely related to Romanians, who maintained many traditional customs, some of which date back to pre-Christian times.
The Vlachs are famous for elaborate funerals and celebrations of the dead, which inspired outlandish stories about posthumous marriages, dancing on graves, and even exhumation of corpses.
These rituals gave rise to the myth of ‘Vlach magic’, a mainstay of Serbian tabloids, said to be practiced by crones in the Homolje mountains. One of the most feared and written about hexes in the Homolje is ‘tying up’ (vezivanje), which makes a man or a woman incapable of love-making There is also a popular myth that entire villages in Homolje engage in masked orgiastic rites called “strndžanje”, which take during Flower moon in May. On the down, side the old Serbian tradition of dispatching the elderly Midsommar-style called “lapot”,has also been practiced here until recently so make sure you’re in your prime.
Get stoned in Devil’s town
This strange rock formation in southern Serbia may be on many tourist brochures but its spooky history is less well known.
The legend has it that these weird rocks are actually petrified remains of a cursed wedding party. These poor souls drank from a nearby spring, which attracted the attention of the Devil himself who decided to cloud their minds and make them try to force a brother and sister into a marriage. Once the word got to a local fairy, she decided to interfere and turned them all into stone. The locals still insist that the area is haunted by the Devil and refuse to spend a night there, so don’t overstay your welcome.
Get frisky in Trojan’s town
About an hour’s drive from Belgrade, in the middle of a forest on Cer mountain, there are remains of an ancient fortress, which is said to be the home of a much-feared mythological creature: Tsar Trojan, a sun-fearing three-headed demon with goat’s ears.
This unusual appearance did not stop Trajan from being a bit of ladies’ man. In his heyday, every night he rode out of the forest to seduce maidens from nearby villages. One night, the villagers, annoyed by his trysts, decided to cut out tongues from all the roosters so that Trojan could not return home before sunrise, which eventually led to his demise.
Although Trojan seems to have been out of the game for centuries, do try to avoid the advances of any three-headed gentlemen you might pass on your way.
Get ghosted in Petrovaradin Fortress
Best known as the venue of the Exit music festival, Petrovaradin Fortress in 2010 caught the eye of a team of paranormal explorers, Ghost Hunters International. They devoted a whole episode of their TV show trying to hunt down its many spectres.
Built between 1692 and 1780, the fortress was one of the most advanced in the Habsburg lands and served to protect it from Ottoman attacks. To increase safety, it was fitted with all sorts of secret passages including a 16-kilometre network of subterranean tunnels.
According to paranormal experts, souls of soldiers who died during battles at Petrovaradin walk around this labyrinth below the fortress, most which is currently closed to public. If this is not spooky enough, one of the corridors, marked with a Maltese cross, is allegedly the place where local Satanists perform sacrifices, so be careful where you wander while exploring Petrovaradin.
If you want to have a more normal tour (in English or Serbian) you can also arrange it in advance via the City Museum of Novi Sad.