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Feature 07 Aug 17

An Alternative Tour of Belgrade’s Natural Charms

Inspired by ecology and ‘Monty Python’, Dejan Jevtic offers something completely different to the usual tours – an environmentally-conscious view of the city.

Milan Radonjic

Dejan Jevtic wants to spread the idea of the permaculture lifestyle, not through words, but by example; to make more people see that there is another way to live their lives. Photo: Different Belgrade

Four years ago, in the sleepy hamlet of Prnjavor in the foothills of mount Avala, some 16 kilometres south of downtown Belgrade, Dejan Jevtic started building his dream wooden house.

He built it on the principles of permaculture, which uses or simulates elements of natural eco-systems. Based on the idea of using natural resources rationally, permaculture building is designed to reduce as many of the possible effects of construction on the environment, with the overall goal of creating energy-efficient, long-lasting houses.

At the time, it was a way to change his own life, but more recently, Jevtic has started offering his view of an alternative lifestyle to visitors to the Serbian capital, providing them with the opportunity to experience a different Belgrade.

His tours are not of the city’s streets and buildings, but of its natural world.

Lasting from six to eight hours, they can include guided walks through the forest and visits to the most important monuments and locations on Mount Avala.

This includes entry tickets to the Avala television tower, which stands more than 200 metres high on the mountain, and an afternoon rest or an overnight stayat Jevtic’s Permacultural Eco House in Prnjavor.

Over welcome drinks before lunch, guests are given a short introduction to permaculture, followed by a home-cooked vegetarian meal, sports activities, and all the adventure they can take.

Alternative Narrative

Jevtic´s house in Prnjavor is designed to reduce as many of the possible negative effects of construction on the environment. Photo: Different Belgrade

The idea to start taking guests to his country home came to Jevtic as a way to make the whole permaculture project sustainable in the long run.

His advertising slogan is: “And now for something completely different…”

“Many of our visitors, especially the younger ones, do not know this famous line from the ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ comedy show, so I have to do some explaining about that sometimes, but I don’t mind that. It is a good way to introduce the whole experience that they are about to have,” says Jevtic as we drive past the oak forests of Avala in his red Zastava 101, once the flagship vehicle of Socialist Yugoslavia’s auto industry.

The car has also become part of Jevtic’s alternative narrative.

“I do not know yet if this is some kind of lasting trend, but most of our guests seem to be coming from America, and when I explain that this car was once selected as ‘World’s Worst Automobile’ by their compatriots a few decades ago, when Zastava was exporting its cars to US, they appreciate the opportunity to ride in it even more,” he says.

Those who join his tours are not really expecting luxury anyway, he explains.

“And this is something that makes me really love this work. I get to meet real people, not tourists. Not in the real sense of this word,” he says.

Although the idea to do the alternative Belgrade tours came to him as a way to support and further develop his permaculture home project, it was also the kind of experience he sometimes missed on his own travels across Europe.

‘Guided Improvisation’

Those who join his tours are not expecting luxury, Jevtic explains. Photo: Different Belgrade 

As well as sustaining and expanding his own project, Jevtic wants to spread the idea of the permaculture lifestyle, not through words, but by example; to make more people see that there is another way to live their lives.

“People do not like to be told what to do and how to think. This is not the way to change things, as this always ignites some kind of resistance and competition,” he explains. He says that he sometimes adjusts his plans to suit the wishes of his guests; one day, he changed the tour route as it was very hot outside and took his guests to the nearby Tresnja Lake for a swim: “For me it was great day,” he says with a grin on his face.

One of the most important principles of permaculture is that everything is done by working with nature, rather then against it, and Jevtic takes this idea to his heart.

It also implies building some kind of community – although he has found that it is sometimes easier to do things yourself.

“In the beginning I tried to include lot more people in the work on construction, but this was not such a positive experience,” he recalls.

“People sometimes tend to be too relaxed about the work that needs to be done. So I like better doing everything I can by myself, although I like the company. When it comes to work it seems to be better this way,” he adds.

He plans to expand his business and build two or three more houses on his estate in Prnjavor. In the future, he wants to create events in which more people could participate, such as painters’ retreats, concerts or small festivals.

As we walk down through his wooded estate, he explains how last year he organised a wedding here for two of his friends, a couple from France and Serbia, and built a stage in a small glade for the event.

“It was a kind of guided improvisation, with some 100 people taking part. We had a concert by a French orchestra, a Serbian brass band and a big tent for everybody,” he says.

“I was a bit afraid of how the groom’s parents would react, as they are not quite used to these kinds of rustic surroundings. It rained that day, there was mud everywhere, but in the end it was a lovely, amazing experience for all of us.”

Different Belgrade tours can be booked online at differentbelgrade.com

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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