With attractions ranging from a tower of skulls and a devilish rock formation to a mountainside resort with a major Kubrick fetish, both the natural and man-made sites in Serbia’s south pay tribute to the country’s trademark dry wit and whimsy. The landlocked country may not immediately jump to mind as a tourist hot spot, but if you’ve been reading this section in recent months, you’ll know that’s one of the reasons we love it so.
Undeniably hospitable, Serbia not only has a rich history to share with its guests, but a contemporary vibe that is truly unique. You know what we mean if you’ve ever had the chance to party on a barge on the Danube or dance until the wee hours inside a 17th-century fortress at the annual EXIT Festival. While enchanting Belgrade is a must for any first-time visitor to the country, after a few days of exploring the capital city, we implore you to head south on this unforgettable four-day road trip.
Knocking Around Nis
With an easy drive along Serbia’s central highway, you can get from Belgrade to the third largest city of Nis in just over two hours. The birthplace of Constantine the Great, Nis (pictured above) has Roman roots and a difficult history that is well preserved among the city’s major sites.
Start your visit chronologically at the Tower of Skulls. Originally built as a warning by the Ottoman occupiers following a Serbian uprising in 1809, the shocking monument has since been reclaimed by the local population and preserved in an Orthodox Church. If you’re up for it, the Crveni Krst Concentration Camp and Bubanj Memorial to those executed during World War II are further reminders of the mark war has left on the region.
Tower of Skulls
Photo: Bridget Nurre Jennions
After a day touring the city’s history, rejoin the present inside the 18th-century fortress where the residents of contemporary Niš gather to play games in the grassy park or catch a musical in the classic amphitheater. After an evening of sipping Jelen (the local brew) and watching the city go by, make your way across the network of pedestrian walkways to Kopitareva, where you will find the city’s best restaurant and bar scene.
From Devil’s Town to Serbia’s “Napa Valley”
Get ready for a bit of off-roading as you navigate to the village of Djake and the geological wonder nearby known as Devil’s Town. Legend has it that the more than 200 rock pillars (ranging from two to fifteen meters high) represent the demons carried on the backs of the area’s ancestors. Locals still come here to pray before St. Petka Church, dedicated to the Orthodox patron saint of the sick, and take a dip in the town’s devilish mineral waters with their famed healing properties. Make sure to try the local delicacies cooked over a wood fire in the town’s restaurant before getting back on the road.
With the spa town of Vrnjacka Banja in your sights for the evening’s rest, enjoy the leisurely drive through the rolling green hills of the Aleksandrovac wine region, known as Zupa. Though the climate is compared to France’s Bordeaux and the Napa Valley, the wine still has some room for development. Nevertheless, there is no better place to experience true Serbian hospitality. If arranged in advance, you will be treated to an unforgettable afternoon of food, wine, and banter at the family winery of Dragomir Rajkovic.