Down By The Danube
Just a three hour flight from the UK lies the unspoilt and almost tourist-free land of Serbia. Significantly less visited than its increasingly popular neighbour Croatia, Serbia benefits from a wealth of history as well as superb undisturbed landscapes. Many have coveted Serbia in the past, including the Ottomans, and the country only gained full independence in 2006 following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.
Touching down in Belgrade, the heat bounces up off the runway and the excitement of discovering a new country sets in. We are met by our local guide Misa and driver Zoran, who immediately whisk us away from the busy capital to Apatin, 80 miles to the west and soon we are enjoying a delicious meal of fresh fish. As the week progressed we were able to taste all manner of meats, accompanied by hearty potatoes and crisp salads, keeping us full of energy for our rides each day.
The route followed the mighty Danube River, winding its way through the Serbian landscape. Each morning we awoke to the sun shimmering in its blue waters – an inviting start to each day.
Yearning to hop on our bikes and start the day’s adventure, none of us were quite prepared for the intensity of the Serbian sun. Our guide ensured we rode at a leisurely pace and took on plenty of water, easing us into the cycling gently.
The joy of following the river for the first few days (aside from the great views) was the easy, flat roads – not a hill in sight! We rode through farmland and cornfields at a relaxed pace, able to enjoy the sights along the way, stopping regularly to refuel on local apples. The people we met en route were bubbly and couldn’t have been more welcoming.
Moving away from the river slightly, although always keeping it within sight, we pedal through the dramatic scenery of the Djerdop Gorge. Sometimes you just have to go uphill for a fantastic view!
One of the highlights of the week was a visit to the Honey & Wine Museum. Wine tasting at 10am was an … interesting experience! Thankfully we didn’t have to ride that day so we were able to fully enjoy wining and dining to our hearts’ content. Lunch was served at an organic farm where we sampled the homemade pasta, fresh juices and a healthy dose of raki (an unsweetened, anise-flavoured alcoholic drink). We relaxed during the heat of the day wallowing upon hay bales in the shade of a magnificent walnut tree, watching the clouds drift overhead.
Another highlight was the visit to Lepenski Vir, an archaeological site which seemed to appear from nowhere. The building itself came as a surprise; costing over four million Euros, it was as if it had been designed to juxtapose the modern world with its ancient contents. Nestled inside are original stones from the oldest archaeological site in Europe (5000BC), carefully reconstructed exactly as it was when it was first discovered in the 1960s.
We finished our Serbia cycling holiday in a luxurious four-star hotel, with two swimming pools and a Jacuzzi to help soothe any aching muscles. Some indulged in the wellness centre, complete with a sauna, for some much deserved relaxation. Despite the fact that we were active nearly every day, we all came away feeling completely refreshed, a fitting end to a wonderful holiday.
Now I just have to figure where to go next!
By Exodus’ Anna Faulder who travelled on our Cycling the Danube trip in September 2011