Where the Iron Gates meet the Timok Valley: 7 sensational sites in eastern Serbia

Where the Iron Gates meet the Timok Valley: 7 sensational sites in eastern Serbia

Locked in between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains, the Iron Gates and Timok Valley regions ought to rank among Serbia’s cultural and natural highlights.

The branching tributaries of the Timok River irrigate the hillsides as they flow north towards the Danube, merging into one and briefly forming Serbia’s border with Bulgaria. And to the west, the mighty cliffs of the Danube’s scenic Iron Gates gorge overlook the Romanian bank of Central Europe’s iconic river.

This fertile borderland has been inhabited for millennia, and prehistoric sculptors have left their mark on the country jut as much as Roman emperors, medieval overlords or even 18th-century wine merchants. From what might be the oldest urban settlement in Europe to peculiar but merry wine cellars, kashkaval tourist presents 7 sensational sites in eastern Serbia!

1. Sentinel of the Iron Gates: Golubac Fortress

Sentinel of the Iron Gates: Golubac Fortress

Sentinel of the Iron Gates: Golubac Fortress

Whether you’re arriving from the west from Belgrade or the east on the winding road along the Danube, the sight of the Golubac Fortress’s ten towers is sure to stop you in your tracks. Built in the 14th century at the strategic western entrance to the Iron Gates, the castle controlled river traffic at this key location in the Middle Ages. As such, it’s no surprise Golubac was the site of epic sieges and bloody battles from the Middle Ages on.

Today, Golubac’s gorgeous location and imposing architecture make it possibly Serbia’s most attractive castle. As of early 2018, entering the fortress’s inner yard was impossible because of ongoing renovation, but you can admire this Danubian bulwark from the surrounding gardens of the modern visitors’ centre.

2. Stone villages of wine: Rajac & Rogljevo wine cellars

Stone villages of wine: Rajac & Rogljevo wine cellars

Stone villages of wine: Rajac & Rogljevo wine cellars

Hidden in this faraway corner of Eastern Serbia are Rajac and Rogljevo, two of the country’s most peculiar and charming villages… namely, villages inhabited not by people, but by casks and bottles of wine and rakia! Okay, admittedly, there’s also people around, but the main inhabitants are most definitely the beverages.

These compounds of hundreds of wine cellars with a characteristic stone architecture were established in the 18th century. Then, vine-growing and wine production in the Timok Valley were booming and even French merchants appreciated the quality of the local wines. Today, only a handful of the cellars in Rajac and Rogljevo are open for tastings, but the captivating architecture and the atmosphere of old are still there to be experienced.

For a pleasant stay in Rajac, including delightful homemade wine and superb Serbian hospitality, Zoran and Emina Milenović’s bed and breakfast comes highly recommended!

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9 extraordinary bridges in the Balkans

9 extraordinary bridges in the Balkans

For centuries, bridges have connected the cities and nations of the Balkans over rivers, gulfs and valleys… and in rare cases, over no obstacle whatsoever. Some Balkan bridges have become symbols of unity, while others have been a cause for division – after all, World War I practically started on a small bridge in Sarajevo!

Whatever their story or peculiarity, it is without doubt that these bridges have left a mark on the region. From the place where the love padlock tradition started to the world’s tallest railway viaduct, kashkaval tourist presents 9 extraordinary bridges in the Balkans.

1. Nobel Prize winner: Bridge on the Drina in Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nobel Prize winner: Bridge on the Drina in Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nobel Prize winner: Bridge on the Drina in Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina

If the Bridge on the Drina sounds somehow familiar to you, it must be because of Yugoslav novelist Ivo Andrić’s eponymous masterpiece. In the novel, Andrić manages to capture a microcosm of the Balkans by telling the story of the bridge from early Ottoman times till World War I.

Actually named the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, this 16th-century stone structure is a work of art on its own. Designed by famous Ottoman architect Sinan, the bridge has 11 gentle arches and spans a total of 180 metres over the waters of the Drina in Višegrad, eastern Bosnia.

2. Bridge with shops inside: Covered Bridge in Lovech, Bulgaria

Bridge with shops inside: Covered Bridge in Lovech, Bulgaria

Bridge with shops inside: Covered Bridge in Lovech, Bulgaria. Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis, Flickr.

Hanging over the Osam River in north central Bulgaria, Lovech’s Covered Bridge is a remarkable engineering oddity. Today’s pedestrian bridge was constructed in 1982 as an accurate replica of legendary architect Kolyu Ficheto’s creation from 1876. And while the original featured 64 tiny workshops used by the craftsmen of Lovech, the modern version boasts the variety of three workshops, nine souvenir shops and two cafés serving traditional confectioneries.

The Covered Bridge in Lovech is one of the few commercial covered bridges in the world. It has become an emblem for the quaint Bulgarian town much like its Swiss counterpart, the Kapellbrücke in Lucerne.

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High in the mountains, the Rila Monastery is a Bulgarian culture treasure trove

9 fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria

UNESCO World Heritage Sites are among the most attractive hotspots for tourists in Bulgaria. While some of them are well-known and appreciated by thousands of people each year, a few of the sites are surprisingly somewhat off-the-beaten-track and away from traditional tourism regions. A rare chance to see another side of Bulgaria and amaze yourself!

For its relatively compact territory, Bulgaria has a large number of World Heritage Sites protected by UNESCO. Seven of these are cultural, showcasing Bulgaria’s history from the time of the Thracians through the Middle Ages to the Ottoman period, and two of them are nature reserves conserving two very different natural habitats.

Check out Bulgaria’s 9 breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Sites below!

1. Nesebar: an ancient city-state with mesmerizingly elaborate architecture

Ancient Nesebar's unique architecture and seaside location make it a tourist favourite

Ancient Nesebar’s unique architecture and seaside location make it a tourist favourite

Nesebar’s old town is a near-island in the Black Sea, connected to the Bulgarian mainland only via a narrow isthmus. Founded by the Thracians in time immemorial, Nesebar (Messembria) was an influential colony of the Ancient Greeks and a wealthy port that changed hands between Bulgarians and Byzantines in the Middle Ages.

Nesebar’s valuable ancient heritage is very much alive. The old town is a stunning collection of antique towers and fortifications, intricately designed medieval churches in a unique style and even a curious wooden windmill.

Unfortunately, Nesebar’s proximity to the huge summer resort Sunny Beach means the ancient city is crowded in summer. Avoid the lines and pay a visit out of season for a serene and mysterious cultural experience.

  • How to get there: Nesebar is not far north of Burgas, the terminus of the Trakia motorway from Sofia. There are regular direct buses from Sofia both in and out of season.

2. Rila Monastery: the beacon of Bulgarian spirit

High in the mountains, the Rila Monastery is a Bulgarian culture treasure trove

High in the mountains, the Rila Monastery is a Bulgarian culture treasure trove

High in the foothills of the Rila Mountains lies the legendary Rila Monastery. Surrounded by thick stone walls, the monastery has survived for more than a millennium since its foundation by the hermit John of Rila, Bulgaria’s national saint, in the early 10th century. Ever since, the monastery has been one of the most influential centres of Bulgarian culture and art.

The Rila Monastery’s elegant main church and living quarters mostly date from the 19th century. With their unmistakable striped decoration and gentle arches they are lauded as a masterpiece of the Bulgarian National Revival style. The oldest building in the complex is the monumental stone Tower of Hrelyo (Hrelja), built by a local lord of Serbian origin in the 14th century.

The monastery’s surrounding forest is a protected area worth a hike and many trails lead from it into the higher parts of Rila, including the sharp pyramids of Malyovitsa.

  • How to get there: There’s a direct bus line from Sofia to the Rila Monastery leaving every day at 10:20 from Ovcha Kupel bus station (take the 5 tram from behind the Sofia Court House near Serdika metro station to get there). Alternatively, you can catch the more regular buses to the town of Dupnitsa and hop on another one to the monastery from there.

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