Lonely Planet Writer

Why Serbian agricultural homesteads are breathing life into tourism in the country

Village homestays in Serbia are slowly but surely changing the face of tourism in this Balkan destination that’s still largely undiscovered by independent travellers. Those looking to escape to the greener pastures after partying on river barges in Belgrade – or at the Exit Festival in Novi Sad in early July – can experience traditional local hospitality at one of the thousands of village households scattered around the country.

The countryside around Zlatibor in western Serbia.
The countryside around Zlatibor in western Serbia. Image by Mladen Davidovic / 500px

These authentic homestays – best arranged through the Serbian Rural Tourism Association  – are usually found within one or two hours’ drive in just about any direction from the two largest cities. In addition to the country-wide online listings, a recently launched mobile app called Rural Tourism Serbia (free to download) is ‘based on unique experiences of clients and lists households of remote villages and picturesque hamlets of Serbia, counting sometimes only 50 to several hundred inhabitants’.

Traditional architecture of Sirogojno village.
Traditional architecture of Sirogojno village. Image by Dragan Bosnić

For those who want to play it safe, ‘the highest number of village households open to tourists is concentrated in the region of Gornji Milanovac in central Serbia, which is easily accessible from Belgrade’, says Pavle Djukic from the National Tourism Organisation of Serbia. Travelling further through rural countryside, one can also discover hidden monasteries, rustic wine cellars, untouched nature and traditional cuisine. As Serbian villages are progressively losing population, visitors – besides gaining memorable experiences – contribute to the revitalisation of rural areas.

The rural landscape of Vojvodina province.
The rural landscape of Vojvodina province. Image by Nevena Uzurov / Getty Images

The plains of Vojvodina province in the north are particularly well known for the large remote households called salaši, and there’s now a handy map database  to help travellers find the best among many available options. Once busy farmsteads with houses and barns, they are being transformed into oases of traditional Pannonian lifestyle – some offering horse riding and other activities – and authentic slow food with lots of Hungarian influences.

Quirky old-world Salaš 137 in Vojvodina.
Quirky old-world Salaš 137 in Vojvodina. Image by Damir Rajtenbah

Southeast of the capital Belgrade, below the slopes of pristine Stara Planina Nature Park, the unique stone architecture of Gostuša has turned an all-but-abandoned small village into a potential success story for sustainable tourism in the region. The study of preservation of this remarkable stone village has received the EU Heritage Gran Prix  in 2016. There are only five available guesthouses in Gostuša and no mobile phone network, so if you’re up for a journey to some quiet times of the past, this is your ticket.

Words:  Nevena Paunovic