Feature 27 Mar 13

Wetland Wonderlands Offer Safaris with a Difference

What’s that rustling in the reeds - an otter or a heron? Banat’s wetland reserves - home to countless mammals, birds and fish - are luring growing numbers of visitors.

Nemanja Cabric

Carska bara is just one of Serbia’s wetland wildlife havens.

 | Photo by Nenad Vilimanovic

In an imaginary triangle drawn between the cities of Belgrade, Novi Sad and Zrenjanin, there are several wonderful waterside and wetland resorts.

This part of Serbia is home to many endangered species, owing to the biological diversity of the wetlands created by the rivers that flooded the plain for thousands of years.

Thanks to this, several reserves here form part of the so-called Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, which includes 2,098 sites, as well as the International Bird Area Project, IBA,

They are the Carska Bara Special Natural Reserve, the Koviljski Rit International Bird Area and the Jegrička Nature Park.

All three consist of large floodplains that many endangered species call home, each differing in size, number of tourist facilities and available activities.

People come here to relax, ride on a boat, fish and birdwatch. The proximity of Serbia’s two biggest cities means that plenty of people stop by on shorter trips, so most arrangements are adjusted to the needs of these casual visitors.

The most attractive reserve in the Banat region of Vojvodina is certainly Carska Bara, the “Imperial Pond”, a UNESCO-designated nature reserve covering some 17 square kilometres.

Because of the richness of the life in its waters and forests it has become a traditional gathering place for ornithologists, fishermen and nature lovers in general.

The reserve occupies the remainder of what was once an area flooded by the river Begej.

Some 250 species of birds, including all eight kinds of European heron, storks and spoonbills are to be found at Carska Bara, as are 24 species of fish and several mammal species.

Some natural highlights that can be spotted on an organised safari tour include otters, ground squirrels, polecats, wild cats, boar and many more.

Visitors can ride on small ships or rent boats and create their own tours. Those who feel that land is a safer way to explore the charm of Banat can walk along the “Health Route”, which stretches 4km deep into the forest, or take the shorter “Eco-Route”.

Other active ways of sightseeing are available on rented bicycle and motorised kite vehicles.

“The House of Nature”, meanwhile, hosts an exhibition about the reserve, with a room for movie screenings where tourists can watch documentaries to fill in those details that they missed on their sightseeing.

The villages and small towns around Carska Bara, such as Belo Blato, Ečka and Perlez, are also a draw, because of the fishponds, restaurants and multicultural environment. This border region, formerly part of Austria-Hungary, is home to Hungarians, Slovaks and others, besides Serbs.

Those interested in taking a peek into the everyday life of people in this part of Serbia should also visit nearby Kaštel hunting lodge. Built in the English style in the early 19th century, it belonged to the wealthy Lazar family and its opening was graced by a concert performed by Franz List himself.

Today it has been completely renovated as a hotel and restaurant, while still preserving its old aristocratic atmosphere.

The nearby nature park at Jegrička has several of the same qualities as Carska Bara, namely, wetlands and plant, bird and mammal diversity.

The main difference is that Jegrička  mostly comprises agricultural land including elements of rare ecosystems.

Besides otters, which feature on the European “red list” of endangered animals, patient visitors here can spot rare amphibians and reptiles, such as terrapins and water snakes. Visitors can also rent boats and bicycles to watch birds here.

Koviljski rit, “Kovilj Fen”, is another interesting natural reserve consisting of wetlands. Only some 20 kilometres from Novi Sad, this fenland area is home to 172 species of birds and 46 species of fish.

The reserve includes a kilometre-long educational route, as well as locations such as Šlajz and Tikvara, which provide visitors with sightseeing vehicles and information about the local nature.

A special attraction of Koviljsko-Petrovaradinski rit is the 13th-century Kovilj Monastery, as well as its hunting grounds, which cover 4,500 hectares.

Here visitors can join organised hunts and try to catch a few species themselves, such as wild boar, deer, wild duck, geese and pheasants.

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