Serbia is home to countless splendours and wonders. Even a triangle. Not the Bermuda one, the devil’s dwelling place, but one that is no less secretive. If we imagine Belgrade, Novi Sad and Zrenjanin as its three angles, in the heart of this triangle we will see the tract of land between two rivers, the Tisa and the Stari Begej. The vast bodies of water, freely reflecting the thick vegetation that hides the wonderful world of animals. A little imagination and the queen of all sciences, on our journey to the place where nature earns a perfect ten for its command of mathematics.
Why should you visit Carska Bara?
1. Because the Pannonian Sea has created the Serbian Amazonia
Nothing was left of the vast sea except a mere pond. But it is “the emperor’s pond”. Without the expected glamour and luxury, though. Quite the opposite. Untouched, lush, carefree. The empire of plants and birds. The chirping and wing-clapping echoes through the thick growth of reeds, willow trees and waterlilies. The nature dances a harmonious three-step with the water, grass and woods.
It was named after the Austro-Hungarian aristocrats who used it as their favourite hunting ground. Later on, other nobles also carried their rifles there. Among those who fired their shots were the Habsburg crown princes Rudolf and Franz Ferdinand and King Aleksandar Karađorđević. All three died tragically. And they were not the only ones. Coincidence or not, history should be learnt from, and the only recommended “weapons” are camcorder, camera and binoculars.
Special nature reserve Stari Begej-Carska Bara covers an area of 4,726 hectares and is home to 500 species of plants, around 240 species of birds, 24 species of fish, and a number of endangered and rare mammal species. The area is divided into three zones of protection. Visitors are allowed only in the third. Access to the first zone is strictly prohibited, both for the safety of protected species, and for your own, as it is the home of wild cats and jackals.
Although it is a swampy area, not many mosquitoes buzz by. As in all places where humans never set foot, the nature keeps everything under control. And here, it has truly set its mind to be the mesmerizing “savage”.
2. Because a ride in the emperor’s boat can be unpredictable
On the road with us to Carska bara
The old boat grew tired and earned its retirement, and the new one is already starting its engine. The ride through the watery jungle is incredibly picturesque, and in the company of a chatty, genial ranger, it is also unexpectedly amusing. We listen with great interest the story of the most successful hunter on the planet, but also the biggest bully, the dragonfly. Looks sure can be deceiving. When the female rejects him, he doesn’t give up, and in his crusade he is often known to snap her head off with his claws. But, the females can certainly hold their own. They have tricks up their sleeves. Being of a different colour, the female can quickly change her colour, like a chameleon, to the one characteristic for males, and if that doesn’t fool him, she rolls on her back and plays dead.
Our wonderful host then tells us about the gluttonous cormorants and the ways in which they punish bad people, about the kingfisher, the beautiful and the smallest fish-hunting bird, and the gentle pond turtles. Our even-tempered, good-natured skipper keeps smiling and keeps the anecdotes coming. He tells us that the pond walnut tastes the same as the one we use in cakes and cookies, and that it has to be “picked” before it drops anchor and hooks itself to the bottom. What a duo!
The stories are adjusted to the visitors’ age. The boat “Carica” sets sail on weekends, and it can be rented out for up to 10 people, plus the captain.
Which animals you might meet along the way, you never know. Because nature is not a zoo; it is an adventure, full of surprises and always different.
3. Because you can live like an emperor all day long
With your family, with friends, or with someone you love. The site is modest in size, but is offers various opportunities – bird watching, cycling, hiking along the path of health, children’s playground, a small grassy field where you can play mini football or volleyball, if you tighten the net a little bit. Refreshments await you in the summer bar, but you have to take care of the food yourself. A picnic basket and a blanket on the grass, or wooden benches and tables under the pergola. Enjoy yourself, watch and listen. Just don’t have any barbecues.
4. Because Kaštel Ečka was the resort of aristocrats
It was opened with great ceremony in 1820. The celebration lasted for three days. On the last evening, a grand ball was held, and a nine-year-old sat at the piano. The Wunderkind. Franz Liszt. Later a prolific composer. Also in attendance was the widely renowned Count Esterházy. Ever since then, it has long been the favourite haunt of avid hunters and nobles. The estate was purchased 50 years later by Count Felix Harnoncourt, who built an addition and changed the castle. Today’s appearance of the main house dates from the late XIX and early XX centuries, when the family was at its height.
We are welcomed by the armoured knight, in true size. Hunting trophies hang on the walls of the side hallway. We go out into the garden. It is spacious, landscaped, full of flowers and greenery. With a fountain and a kids’ playground.
Today, it is a cultural monument and a hotel. The former ballroom has been converted into a restaurant, which also spreads onto the magnificent terrace. The ambiance evokes the art of living of aristocracy, in the times long gone.
5. Because in Kaštel you eat like an emperor
We were trying to choose between fish specialties in the Sibila restaurant, right across the way from the entrance to Carska bara, and the Latin flavours in Etno selo Tiganjica, but the atmosphere of the castle enchanted us. So, why don’t we be nobles for a while. We choose the kaštel goulash with mushrooms, flavoured chicken with a gnocchi bake, and slow-roasted pork ribs, glazed with BBQ sauce. Every morsel is fit for an aristocrat’s palate. Chicken in Marsala wine and the famous turkey mlinci will have to wait for our next visit. We will be back, for sure. Before we say goodbye to one of the most beautiful castles in Serbia, we take a walk through the lavish garden. Nobles of the past would certainly do the same.
6. Because BS Zrenjanin provides royal service
After a day of royal time spent in nature, going back to the asphalt road can be difficult, and the last thing you need is to spend too much time at a gas station. That is why the NIS Petrol station near Zrenjanin is the best. You can fill your tank and pay for the gas without even getting out of your car. All you need is a very convenient app, Drive.Go, and after just two or three clicks, your stay at the gas station will be the briefest ever. Royal!
Useful tips for the road
- Bring your binoculars – when, if not now?
- Sports shoes are a must for walking down the path of health and safe stepping on and off the boat.
- If your plan is to spend a whole day there, you could use some sandwiches and sports equipment.
- Recommendation from our hosts: “Bring” a good mood for the sounds of silence and songs of the nature.