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20 Oct 08

Serbia's Wild Side ' Mount Tara

Enjoy the stunning views, pine-scented air and chuckling rivers in this pristine national park - just don’t get eaten by one of the bears.

By Aleksandar Vasovic

Standing an average of 1,500 metres above sea level, the Tara National Park is one of only a few wild places in Serbia that remain untouched by mass tourism.

Legends say Tara received its name from the Slavic tribes who named it after the friendly god Tar who, enchanted with its beauty, chose to spend his divine life there.

The park is bordered by the Drina river to the north, the Derventa and Beli Rzav to the west, the ravines of Mokra Gora and Kemna to the south and the rivers Pilica and Solotuska Reka to the east. It covers an area of 19,175 hectares, including the mountains of Tara, Crni Vrh, Zvezda, Stolac and the Drina canyon, the world’s third-deepest.

The mountain range is not especially high – the highest peak at Kozji Rid is 1,591 metres above sea level. As a result, although it has plenty of snowfall, it is covered in forest and has never gained a reputation as a skiing centre, unlike Kopaonik.

Tara is a getaway of choice between May and the end of the Indian Summer in October. “Kopaonik or Zkatibor may be more famous but Tara is for connoisseurs,” says Zoran Dimitrijevic, a regular visitor from Belgrade.

The centre is the Kaludjerske Bare plateau, which is home to there of the park’s largest hotels and the bulk of the park’s services and facilities. The Tara Hotel, still owned by the military, the Omorika, the Beli Bor and the Javor offer decent food and accommodation and are open all year round. Other nearby hotels include the Mitrovac and a children’s camp of the same name.

Tara covers a large area, and most of it is not accessible by road. Entire areas are not visited by anybody, except an occasional ranger, from one year to the next. “When I want to escape, I come here, take a tent, inform the rangers where I will be and vanish for a few days,” says Strahinja, a backpacker from Belgrade

The hills are clad in dense forest where visitors may spot Panciceva Omorika, a type of spruce unique to the Balkans. The forest is also abundant in wildlife and is among the few places in Serbia with large populations of bears, roe deer, wild boar, wolf and wild cat.

Facing bear overpopulation, after bears fled to the area from Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war, environmental organizations have relocated some to Mt Juzni Kucaj, in eastern Serbia.

“Bears mainly live in the canyons of the Raca and Derventa, but sometimes they wander around campsites looking for food, so campers should never leave food in the open,” Strahinja says.   

For birdwatchers, Tara is a paradise. “Take a stroll for a few kilometres with a pair of binoculars and just enjoy,” says Wayne a US ornithologist now living in Ukraine. He regularly sees golden eagles, harriers, peregrine falcons, grouse and woodcock.

“I came here in 2001 to visit a friend and now come back every spring – the bird watching here is so good that I don’t mind the 1,700 kilometre trip for a one-week stay,” he adds.

Tara offers some of the best hiking and trekking routes in Serbia. A few hours of relatively easy walking will bring visitors to impressive viewing points from the Banjska stena at Mitrovac, Biljeska Stena, some six kilometres from Predov Krst, Crnjeskovo Kaludjerske Bare, and Omar and Zboriste.

The waterfalls on the river Rzav in Peruca and some of the others on the Derventa are also worth seeing. All hiking paths are clearly marked, but “make sure you bring plenty of water and a sandwich or two,” says Nebojsa, a local ranger. “Make sure you tell someone which direction you are going and stay on the path. Tara is big and people may get lost,” he adds.  

Hunting is banned in most parts of the Tara but can be arranged in nearby areas operated by hunting clubs in nearby Bajina Basta and Uzice.
Fishermen can try fishing trout or grayling in the Rzav, Raca and Derventa and pike and catfish in the Perucac artificial lake.

Those keener on adrenaline-loaded sports can go rafting down the Drina canyon. Perhaps it is little slower than the now-famous rafting down the other river Tara in Montenegro, but the canyon itself offers stunning views.  

Trips on log rafts last from between two hours to a full day departing from the starting point in Perucac down to Bajina Basta, Rogacica or as far as Ljubovija.  Every July the tourist board stages the Drina River Grand Regatta along the 25 kilometre route from Perucac to Rogacica.

Tara is conveniently close to the resorts at Zlatibor, the ethno-villages of Sirogojno and Mećavnik, owned by the film director Emir Kusturica, and many picturesque villages and medieval monasteries.



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