Zlatibor: Living like a local and sampling (and turning into) lard

The mountain town with plenty of charm…

With a name that sounds like it might’ve been penned by J.K. Rowling, or be borrowed from the Pokemon universe, Zlatibor is a bit of a misnomer. It certainly doesn’t evoke the rolling hills, lush green scenery, or lively mountain scene that it has in spades.

For all intents and purposes, Zlatibor is the Queenstown of New Zealand, the Bansko of Bulgaria, the Zakopane of Poland; and for those who have neither been to nor heard of any of these places – it’s Serbia’s quintessential mountain town.

Come summer, the tourists flock here for hiking, picnics in the woodlands, and sailing on the lake, and winter brings the skiers, snowboarders – and those who like accompanying skiers and snowboarders, but hate the actual sport, so they can sit inside a logwood cabin and drink wine by the fireside.

And if, failing all else, that you ignore all advice on exactly when to go on accounts of being a poorly backpacker unwilling to pay peak season rates, and turn up when there is neither sun nor snow, just freezing fricking cold weather: it’s still a relatively nice place (to look at from indoors beside an open fire). Unfortunately, it seems like the rest of the world is cottoning on and if the developments in every direction of the centre of town is anything to go by – it’s not going to stay this way for long.

DO:

Zlatibor
Posing beside hideously touristy things in a break from character

Wander the town: Sure, it’s as touristy as if you’d plonked an amusement park-cum town in the middle of ski country (actually, that’s exactly what it is…), but there are certain redeeming qualities about Zlatibor. For starters, it’s famous for the world’s most delicious dish guaranteed to clog your arteries and temporarily stop your heart – but more on that below. Secondly, when there aren’t hordes of screaming kids and zombie parents ambling about in the height of school holidays, it’s every inch the relaxing mountain getaway. The tiny town centre is a great place to graze your way through cutesie (often overpriced) food stalls, pose beside weird things carved out of wood, and meander around the lake. There is, however, the usual turisty junk you’ll learn to avoid.

EAT:

Zlatibor cuisine
Cheese, fat, and more cheese for good measure

KOMPLET LEPINJA: We are shouting at you because you NEED to do this, if your life depends on it. But actually, your life definitely will not depend on it – in fact, it may in reality depend on you not eating it, because it’s definitely going to take five years of your life span. But, we digress. This lard-filled, cheese smothered, carb-fest is the hangover food of our dreams. Basically, it’s a bread bowl that’s been drenched in lard, filled with Kajmak (see below) and egg, and loads of other things intended on helping you arrive at obesity in one sitting. Serbians say the too-many-calories-for-a-day-let-alone-one-meal aspect of the lepinja makes you strong, and ready to tackle the day.  Not selling it? Well, you’re dead inside.

Kajmak/ kaymak: A creamy dairy product similar to clotted cream, made from the milk of cows, sheep, goats or – water buffalos. Kajmak is a delicacy in southern Serbia and is almost always produced in a traditional way, at home. It’s served with everything. Yes, probably dessert too.

STAY:

A view from Uzice castle over Uzice

As far away from Zlatibor as possible. Well, not quite – but at least aim for somewhere like Kraljeve Vode where you won’t have to sell a kidney to afford a room. We couchsurfed in the area, but were incredibly lucky as the lone host hadn’t been active for over a year and seemed to reply on a whim. If you do get the chance to stay with a local though, absolutely take it. Outside the tourist zones, it’s very much a functioning mountain area with plenty of log cabins, delicious home cooked meals and community spirit. Otherwise, Uzice is close enough to find a bed where you won’t have to give up an organ, and it’s plenty close enough for a day trip. Uzice also has a great little town centre, fun ruins in the middle of a ravine of sorts, and above-par coffee.

 

EASE OF HITCHING:

Montenegro
17 seconds before our car got raided for muesli

Considering I started with my thumb out in a nondescript mountain town in Montenegro, I’d more or less set myself up for failure in getting to Zlatibor on time, or ever really. Luckily, I met a man just before the Serbian border, who was heading all the way to Belgrade, through Uzice. Unluckily, about 15 minutes in the trip where I’d finally settled on him being quite a nice man who didn’t speak much English, but liked to garble at me non-stop anyway, he set about blowing me kisses at frequent intervals. To where I was seated. Right beside him. In the front passenger seat.

If nothing else, my revenge came in the form of a full car ransacking when the border guards found a small plastic bag full of an unknown granular substance hidden in my bag.

Rooting through the back of the car, and finding my bag, the guard barked the orders for me to open it and show him contents. As we rifled through canisters of dry shampoo, dirty clothes, muddy hiking boots and underwear, he swiftly zeroed in on a plastic bag full of a white, crumbly substance. His eyes near doubled in size as he looked from the bag to me, a sneer playing on the sides of his lips. Nodding into the bag, and yelling instructions over his shoulder at another guard, he thrust his head in my direction, and back into the contents of the suspicious white bag. At this stage, I was all but rooted to the ground, watching on at disbelief at the scene that was playing out before me.

The guard thrust his head towards the bag again and said something incomprehensible. My response, a huge belly laugh, was obviously not what he’d been looking for.

“Mate, it’s muesli,” I responded, pointing at the bag and miming eating it with a spoon and bowl. Nothing. His expression did contort somewhat though, as if somewhere where I came from we shovelled mountains of cocaine into our mouths with vigour. Exasperated, I thrust a hand into the bag, grasped a few flakes of oats and a sultana, and threw them into my mouth.

“Muesli,” I repeated. Five minutes later, my new companion and I were off on our merry way – each of us without drug convictions. After he dropped me off in Zlatibor, I threw out the muesli in the nearest rubbish bin. Clearly, Serbians don’’t take kindly to nutritious breakfast foods.

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