Kosovo and Metohija - A completely unique travel experience
Author: Jelena Stefanović
If people knew how much cultural treasure is hiding in Kosovo and Metohija, they would immediately cancel all their trips to Rome, Paris or Vienna. And if they knew that the media has been creating a false picture and that they are completely safe in Kosovo as tourists - the attractions in Kosovo and Metohija would be crowded with visitors.
Although there are four UNESCO enlisted cultural monuments, there is not enough tourism consideration in this area. However, it deserves your attention if you are a lover of art or history or if you are religious and like to see places that are significantly sacred.
Let's visit Kosovo and Metohija and give this destination its deserved place in our travel photo albums.
The trip, with the travel agency Magelan, to Kosovo and Metohija began with the visit of two important Serbian monasteries from middle ages - monasteries Žiča and Studenica. Through the short film presentation we discovered the history of the monumental bright red Žiča and, then, our hosts showed us all the important details and told us interesting stories from the far past.
The property of Žiča is neat and full of beautiful plants, it is so peaceful that I heard several people from the bus commenting that they could stay there all day long.
Studenica, equally luxurious on the outside, and inside – is a real art gallery of frescoes which hide numerous stories and symbols. Here, for the first time, we saw the color named Byzantine blue. Liter of that color, 8 centuries ago, was worth a kilogram of gold. The guide and curator told us that it is difficult to obtain this color, it is even more difficult to copy it, and to our eyes it is obvious that it has real royal elegance.
After seeing a small museum of the monastery that preserves valuables, like the ring of the first Serbian king Stefan The First-Crowned Nemanjic from the 13th century, followed by a taste of the refreshing red apples of this monastery, we went on for lunch. In the traditional cottage, called Čakmara, our hosts waited for us with a local specialty - the veal and lamb made in sach (a type of baking appliance used in the Balkan Peninsula). The meat was so tender that it melted in our mouths.
The road to Kosovo from Belgrade included crossing the border. As we were crossing it, even those who were snoozing on the bus observed the areas with eyes wide open. We all tried to get an instant first impression of the lives of the people in this part of the Balkans. However, we created the complete and real picture in the two following days. Our next stop was the hotel in the north of the city Kosovska Mitrovica.
A real welcoming reception was prepared at the hotel. They served us homemade rakija (Serbian traditional brandy) as a welcoming drink, and I have to say that the staff was extremely kind.
My energetic group did not want to rest - we wanted to see Kosovo as much as possible, and as soon as we left our baggage in our rooms, we went for a walk through the city, right when the sun was setting. Therefore, we had a spectacular view of the entire city from the viewpoint next to the newly built church of St. Dimitrije. Although it was too late, we also got the opportunity to see it from the inside. My fellow travelers and I were interested to see the fresco paintings. They looked quite innovative and modern; many of us did not like it - especially compared to the ones we saw earlier in Studenica.
Then we had a walk on the bridge dividing the Serbian and Albanian parts of the city. We walked both parts. We felt like we were in two different cities, especially because of the languages spoken by passers-by. After the evening walk, we were greeted with an excellent dinner in the hotel restaurant, with ethno-ambience and wooden decorations. We tried chicken prepared in the local way.
The next day, we were up early, impatient to see what was in the program for that day. The road next to Prokletije Mountains led us to the Patriarchate of Peć, monastery from the 13th century. The monastery is located in very beautiful mountain surroundings.
This monastery has extremely unusual architecture. In fact, from the same narthex is the entrance to three completely different churches. A kind and smiling nun told us the story of the monastery and all about the artworks of the three churches, but she also showed us a fourth church that has a separate entrance. We had the opportunity to find out the nuns' way of life here and the kind of problems they face every time the Serbian Patriarch visits.
The next monastery was Visoki Dečani, a monastery that preserves the remains of Stefan Dečanski (a significant Serbian king) and the painting of the Nemanjic line (Serbian royal dynasty from the Middle Ages), that is painted on one of the larger walls. This monastery has the title of the highest monastery in Serbia. In addition, on the gates you can see the spirit of the Italian architecture. In fact, actual Italian sculptors were brought here to be part of the construction of the monastery 7 centuries ago. The exceptional artistic, historical and religious merits of this monastery impressed us as much as the warmth of the hosts who kindly conversed with us.
Velika Hoča is one of the largest Serbian enclaves in Kosovo and Metohija, but it is also a place famous for its top quality wine. It was the location for our lunch. In the Petrović winery, the hosts were so careful and kind! Their hospitality and sincere smiles are something extraordinary, something that we cannot forget from this trip.
We had the chance to try their wine. Also, our hosts took us for a walk through the enclave, where we saw a few of the many churches, but also the locals who warmly welcomed us as if we were their new neighbors.
From Velika Hoča, the Serbian town, we came to Prizren. According to the data of the local pastor, only 25 Serbs live in this town. The same man told us the sad story of the suffering of the Serbian sacred places in this city. It's good not to be ignorant and to learn more history, but some of the stories we heard on this travel have a bitter taste.
Before returning to the bus, we bought tres leches cake, a delicacy that should not be missed when you come to Kosovo. Certainly, it could not ease the story that we just heard, but it was excellent after the monastery dinner, which we had in Dušan's konak (a type of mansion) in the Archangel Monastery.
The last morning of the trip our hosts in the monastery showed us the remnants of the Archangel Monastery. This monastery was built by the Emperor Dušan seven centuries ago, it had been burnt more than a decade ago and now it awaits reconstruction.
We spent the rest of the sunny morning in the charming Prizren. The old town streets are in cobblestones, the stone bridges give it a romantic note and the trees are "dressed" in handmade works of wool. After coffee and the excellent traditional Balkan breakfast, we continued to Gračanica monastery.
Gračanica is a medieval monastery that should not be seen only by religious tourists. This monastery is a true art gallery, and I would add – it’s the most advanced gallery of the time when it was painted. Exceptional masters of the era have painted this monastery, scholars of the Bible, and as writers play with words, they played with the paintings of this monastery, which resulted in a multitude of symbols and depths on the walls of this sacred building.
Further on the way was Ulpiana, the city of the Roman Emperor Traian and the legacy of the ancient time. It was worth hearing from our guide something more about this period of history in this region.
Actually, this ancient city is located next to the city of Pristina (capital), so the road to our next destination wasn’t long. After the picturesque Prizren, this city disappointed us. However, we had a wish to see this city and feel the life in it. Pristina will not delight you with architecture and it's a bit dirty, but for a more complete picture of life in Kosovo you need to visit it.
The most important year in history for every Serb is 1389 when the most important battle occured – the Battle of Kosovo, against the Ottoman Turks. The monument dedicated to the famous Kosovo battle at Gazimestan was our next destination. Here, with the story about real heroes, we commemorated the battle. We climbed to the top of the tower-monument and looked at the fields where the battle happened, and tried hard to imagine how it looked back then.
Not far from the monument for the Serbian warriors is Murat's Turbe, the oldest Ottoman monument in the Balkans. It is actually the tomb of sultan Murat, who was killed in the same battle. The Turks financed a beautiful garden and a modern museum with an exceptional curator. We were clearly disappointed that Serbian warriors did not have this kind of museum.
Later, we had lunch in Banov Do, ethno complex next to Kosovska Mitrovica. That place is exceptionally decorated in the spirit of Serbian folk tradition with interesting details and it is perfect for enjoying lunch and wine.
As a conclusion, at the end of the tour we visited Petar's church in Novi Pazar, which we missed on the way to Kosovo. Nevertheless, it did not matter because we saw the church at night, when it had a special shine, as it was proudly standing and modernly illuminated at the top of the hill. The pastor introduced this church better to us and we learned that this is one of oldest Serbian churches (9th century), and that it is unique - it is the only church that has the form of a basilica. In addition, this church was a witness of numerous historical events during Nemanjić dynasty.
Full of impressions and stories waiting to be shared with those near and dear to us, as well as the spirit to convey the opinion that it is safe to visit Kosovo as a tourist, we returned home. This trip is something that anyone who loves authentic travel has to experience.
Program for this excursion: https://www.serbianadventures.com/en/adventure/view/267/valley-of-lilac-and-kosovo-tour-3-days-2-nights