We crossed Serbia as part of a longer journey: a walk through Europe via 16 countries. Between 2018 and 2020, we walked 10000 km from Portugal to Turkey for two years. This is the Two Steps to the Other project. Discover the whole project here.
If you look at the itinerary of our crossing of Europe on a map, you will understand that coming to Serbia was quite a detour.
We didn't really take the most direct route from Portugal to Istanbul. But how to cross all the Balkans, all the ex-Yugoslavia, without going through Serbia?
Arriving in Serbia on November 22 meant discovering the country during the wet season when the days are almost the shortest of the year.
Honestly, we didn't give Serbia the best chance to seduce us. Grey skies, unfolded trees, night at 4:30 pm and slush from the beginning to the end...
Serbia is a country of rivers.
Its border with Croatia is marked by the Danube, that with Bosnia by the Drina. A fine network of smaller rivers fertilizes these lands which are suitable for agriculture.
It is the third largest producer of raspberries and plums in the world. Two-thirds of the country is arable and almost 20 % of the population works in connection with agriculture.
The mountains in the west of the country have a great potential for nature tourism and hiking.
But here, the observation is the same as in the rest of Europe: abandoned houses, dying villages and overflowing big cities.
In November, the picture is even less cheerful since these houses which are sometimes still used as vacation or weekend places are deserted out of season.
Not easy in these conditions to meet people, to discover the soul of this country...
The countryside being deserted, we could camp everywhere without any problem in Serbia. Faced with the mistrust of the few people we met, we decided to choose places not too visible for fear that they would take us for migrants and call the police.
Between two drops of rain and a small detour later, we discover a unique place. The canyon is an important part of the geological heritage of the region. Jurassic sediments and fossil remains were created in the deepest parts of the sea. The layers form a beautiful series of waterfalls in the riverbed.
After a few rather gloomy days walking on forest tracks and small asphalt roads, we reached the Zavojsko Jezero, a large artificial lake in the Stara Planina Natural Park. The area around the lake must be teeming with life during the summer, beautiful second homes are scattered around, but by the end of November it was deserted! At the water's edge and on the lake, small floating huts bring a lot of charm to the whole.
On the way, we passed by the village of Topli Do. A small traditional village, almost like the others. Everything was quiet when we passed there but the banners and signs on the bridge over the river were there. For a few weeks, the inhabitants of the village and the surrounding area have been protesting against the construction of a mini hydroelectric power station. The proliferation of these power plants is fashionable in the Balkans and announces the programmed destruction of the last wild rivers of Europe.
The Babin Zub (in French "dent de grand-mère") is one of the summits of the Stara Planina mountain range, the one we will follow later in Bulgaria, almost to the Black Sea. After a day of climbing, the sight that awaited us at the top left us speechless. A sea of mist was galloping down the mountain slopes. Autumn is good after all!
One evening, we set up camp in a meadow along a road. We are still awake when we hear something approaching the tent. A little, then a lot of noise. That agitates in the bushes... Nil goes out and falls nose to nose with half a dozen of wild boars! We are not sure to know if we have to make low profile or to try to make them flee. It will be the first option and after some tens of minutes, they leave. We made ourselves a small fright, but we feel especially lucky to have seen wild animals of so near.
Meetings were rare and often began with the same question: are we migrants? Do we come from Syria, Pakistan, Albania? We heard these questions absolutely every day during our crossing of Serbia. You would think that the cameras hanging around our necks and the mountain gear hanging from our bags would point people in a different direction, but overall, no. The first day we even had the pleasure to be sent by the police to control our passports! It was only in Croatia that this happened to us until now...
Vladimir: We had made up our minds. We were going to leave Serbia without having made any significant real encounters, without remembering the name of a single person. We were going to leave Serbia saying to ourselves that "Syria?" was the word we had heard the most here. You can imagine that it was a huge disappointment for us. And then on a gray morning, we used up our last supply of water for breakfast, we follow this monotonous trail and pass a house. What is it doing there all alone? A group of 6 geese announces our arrival, soon the dog starts too. At least we know that it is inhabited! "Ima voda?" (Is there any water?). "Of course! But maybe you are hungry too?". How many of us would offer strangers who pass by our house to come and break bread? Anyway, it was 10am, but the five of us sat down for lunch and stayed for at least two hours!
As you can see, our Serbian experience was not very successful. The meetings were rare, our itinerary was not fantastic but the season clearly did not help to make our passage more charming. The climate plays so much on the presence of people in some places, the charm of landscapes and our mood too.
We are heading towards Bulgaria and are about to cross the penultimate border of this incredible adventure!
More death notices than inhabitants in the villages
Arrive at a Serbian house a few days after they have killed the pig and prepared the sausage for the coming year.
Not in autumn!
No seriously, the coolest months are most certainly July and August.
We were not invited to sleep at the inhabitant's house or at the hotel (rare in this season in the countryside). We spent all our nights in a tent.
For this crossing of Serbia in hiking, we left with clothes for the mid-season, rain gear, hiking and bivouac gear and without mountain gear.
Find here the detailed list of our material, item by item.
There is no law on the subject of camping in Serbia. So you can theoretically camp freely, outside the natural parks.
The itinerary of our hiking tour through Serbia passes through the Stara Planina National Park.
This tour of Serbia can be done with a dog without any problem.