Serbian South by South-West: Exploring Uvac and Prijepolje

I often passed through Nova Varoš and Prijepolje on my way to the Montenegrin coast as a kid. While it is from Užice (or some would say Ovčar Kablar gorge) that the landscapes in Serbia turns truly majestic, I never stayed much, rushing towards the coast around Budva or towards Nikšić, where my family hails from.

This year, of course, there was no trip to Montenegro, even through I planned to spend a month there and explore the beauty of Northern Montenegro and Herzegovina, which are too far away from Belgrade to be done proper justice.

Nevertheless, this meant that I finally decided to explore Polimlje region, albeit for a brief weekend.

The aim was to visit one of the most famous monasteries in Serbia – Mileševa and finally check out the famous meanders of Uvac.

I got in touch with two of my friends whose families are from Prijepolje and they came up with a long list of things to see (UNESCO protected medieval tombstones of Grčko Groblje, the holy 500-year-old pine on Kamena Gora, Babine, Davidovica monastery) which sadly could not be fitted into a weekend-visit which required a 4 hour drive from Belgrade (and 6 hours back due to a series of traffic jams).

But the little that we managed to see definitely meant that we need to go back to Prijepolje for longer.

Mileševa, built in 13th Century by one of the less famous Nemanjić rulers, Stefan Vladislav, was not only the resting place of St Sava, Serbia’s patron saint, but also features some of the best medieval frescoes in Europe. Considerably livelier than what Giotto painted a century later, they include the famous “White Angel” in the scene of the Angel appearing on Christ’s grave (over the site where Stefan Vladislav was buried). Mileševa’s historical importance – it was also where Bosnian King Tvrtko Kotromanić was crowned and where Stefan Vukić Kosača proclaimed himself a Herzog creating the term Herzegovina – is only matched by its dramatic setting. It stands below a majestic peak, and is close to the old Mileševac/Hisardžik fortress, whose towers rise magically in the distance.

After Mileševa, we went to see the lovely town of Prijepolje, and then off to the famous Sopotnica waterfalls, some 20km further. The waterfalls were packed with visitors, but that did not diminish their beauty, especially as I climbed all the way up to their largest drop.

Before heading towards Uvac, we checked out local cultural socialist-era park which has a wonderful monument to St Sava, sculpted by the inimitable Miodrag Živković of the Sutjeska memorial fame as well as the old-school Atina/Mahova Pekara ćevapi joint by the Ottoman clock-tower.

After seeing some of the most beautiful starry nights on the slopes of Zlatar and having a few beers and rakijas at the traditional “kafana” Njegoš, we spent the next day around Uvac. The artificial lake, constructed in 1980s as part of an ambitious project to use Serbia’s mountains and rivers to make it green, covers a 100m deep canyon which used to the the old border between Central Serbia and Ottoman-held Sandžak until 1912. The flooding however did cover up an old bridge, which was used by merchants on the Silk Road moving from Istanbul towards the Adriatic Coast…

The flooding, however created a spectacular landscape and given the barren rocks and forests around the lake, made me feel as if I was back on the Adriatic. Wild-life buffs can also enjoy the fact that it is one of Europe’s largest habitats of the majestic Griffon Vultures and is also popular with other other birds of prey.

We took a boat ride with the lovely Vicko Nikolić (it is necessary to book a week ahead in the summer!) and also managed to climb up to the famous viewpoint from which one can see Uvac’s emerald waters cutting through barren white rock. The arduous climb was rewarded by a beer on top, a swim and then finally a hefty portion of local specialty “heljdopita” – a pie made of buckwheat and local cheese and kajmak.

This was sadly it for this first time… but I am sure to come back, maye even this autumn, as Uvac and Prijepolje are very much up there in terms of the most impressive and pleasant places to enjoy in Serbia!

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