At the mere mention of its name, smiles appear on people’s faces. The eyes of those who have visited it brighten, followed by a deep longing sigh of remembrance that speaks a thousand words. Those who have not had the opportunity to experience it, glance enquiringly, unsuccessfully trying to conceal the glimmer of jealousy that their moment for spending time with it hasn’t yet come. And, our time has finally come. From Bajina Bašta, we take a winding path through the lush green corridors and rush towards the treasure-trove of natural treasures that have long been known as unique in Serbia.
Why visit Tara
1. Because Tara is a mountain fairy
Once upon a time, there was a princess. And, as with every other princess, they tried to find her a suitable match, a husband to marry. She flirted, according to a song, with Zlatibor, but only briefly. The other suitors fell flat on their faces. The bride had no equal, no one was in her league. Not near, not far. Worry arose that the beauty could remain a spinster. But the heavens interfered, and they made her a fairy. Eternally young, with unsurpassed radiance. They gave birth to her anew from the dew of field flowers at the point when the sun dispels the rain and the rainbow appears in the blue sky. Instead of the clouds, she chose to build her splendid palace in the mountain. There she created a home for about 1,200 species of plants, about 60 species of mammals, and close to 150 species of birds. She replaced her white flowy dress with a dark green velvet one and embroidered it with fir trees, white and black pine trees, spruces, and beech trees. She let her hair down in golden pastures and greenish glades. She painted her eyes navy blue with a ravishing green tint of her clear waters. Into a wreath on her head, she placed her two biggest jewels – Pančić spruce and the brown bear. She began healing wounds with her herbs. And she gave beauty and health to everyone who would curl under her coat.
The mountain was named, according to one tradition, after the good god Tar(h) who, due to its unique natural beauty, chose to live his divine life there. According to the second tradition, it was named after the goddess Tara, Tar(h)’s sister and the daughter of Perun. She was the protectress of nature, especially forests and mountains, and healers. She was also known as Dara, “dar” meaning gift, since she gave warmth, love, and joy. Just like our Tara. There must be an official explanation as to the origin of the name, but this seems to us to be the most appropriate. Because for the sake of truth, only the combined divine and fairy forces could make it like this. Invaluable. Special. Unique in Serbia.
It found its home in the western part of our homeland, between the deep Drina canyon and the valley of the river Đetinja, where she leans on the slopes of Zlatibor. The average altitude is about 1200 meters, and the highest peak is Kozji Rid, which rises to 1591 meters. It was declared a national park in 1981. It covers almost 25,000 hectares, 80% of which are covered by dense coniferous and deciduous forests. It is the habitat is more than a third of Serbia’s flora.
Two tourist centres are the most well-known – Kaluđerske Bare and Mitrovac, where there is another Information Centre, and they receive the necessary notices, prospectuses and maps, and sell souvenirs. There are 290 kilometres of well-kept walking paths and more than 75 kilometres of cycling trails available for exploring Tara. Along the way, there are information boards and all kinds of things can be learned about plant and animal life. For additional leisure, you can rent quads or try recreational fishing and horseback riding. There are several spacious glades where it is possible to spend time with these four-legged graceful animals. Probably the most exciting adventure, which requires some courage, is watching the bears at their feeding grounds from the observation posts. They are the masters of Tara, protected and privileged. The number of recorded individual bears is about sixty. The exact number is difficult to determine, as these lords like to walk around when they feel like it, and so often swim over the river Drina. When they get around the world and start missing their home, they come back.
Observation of Europe’s greatest beast in its natural environment is, of course, with a guide. The likelihood of seeing them is high, but it’s not guaranteed. If you come face to face with a dark giant, don’t run, stay calm, and make no sudden movements and sounds. Don’t touch it and it’ll back off. As a rule, they’re shy. That’s what the good connoisseurs say.
Tara has its own vigilant “invisible” guards. From the information boards, we’re watched by a wolf and a bear and reminded of good behaviour. As these beasts should not be dared to come out into the open, listen to them. Do not leave trash behind, do not break branches, pick plants, and enter forbidden areas, but behave in accordance with nature and respect all its inhabitants. The host makes an unforgettable stay for its well-behaved guests.
There is no end to the story of Tara’s tame wilderness. Everyone would always have something to add. The people we met on the mountain revealed to us one of the secrets of the omnipresent beauty and its powers. Almost every person greeted us, gave us a smile, asked something, or shared their impressions. Smiling, relaxed, close. The sorceress fairy awakens that which is primordially meant for us, humanity.
2. Because Mrs Owl teaches in the Forest Classroom
The educational trail Owl’s Forest Classroom, about 400 meters long, is located on Mitrovac and is adapted for people with special needs. It is conceived as a place for having a rest, among spruce and fir trees, where the natural values of Tara are learned through tactile boards. The boards are deeply carved in wood, and the names and descriptions of the presented species are written on brass plates in Braille. The owl, a famous sage, asks questions at the end of the class. Become true connoisseurs and amaze the strict teacher.
3. Because Crveni Potok (Red Creek) is a miraculous forest
It is a nature reserve on the Mitrovac plateau. It is named after the stream that cuts through it and which in its upper course flows over the soil of red loam that paints it red in times of heavy rainfall. Trees of the rainforest type have been preserved here. It is the only location of Pančić spruce on the peatland, which began to form after the ice ages and continues to grow about one millimeter a year.
In the middle of the day, it’s semi-darkness. Chilly, even cold. The soil is moist. The gigantic trees with compacted treetops do not allow the sun to warm it. We walk on a soft surface of a walking trail. In some places, the ground moves under the feet. The ones that are lighter in weight, wobble more. The chubby ones regret not getting rid of the surplus in time. All around, some trees let their giant roots grow above the ground. We are now reaching the central part known as the Tepih Livada (Carpet Meadow). It is not yet fully covered in peatland forest. It is said that there you float like on top of a magic carpet. We’re not stomping. It is strictly forbidden. The meadow is visited only by scientists and researchers. It is extremely important because it keeps secrets about the history of the plant world, climate change, and the conditions of the habitats of Tara and all of Serbia.
4. Because Banjska Stena is one of the most beautiful viewpoints of Europe
Yes, it is one of the most recognizable landscapes and natural symbols of Serbia. One of the most beautiful and certainly the most famous viewpoint. The name comes from the Banjsko spring that originated at its base. Unfortunately, it was submerged by the construction of a dam and the creation of Lake Perućac. It is located about six kilometres from Mitrovac and can be reached on foot or by transport to the parking lot, and from there on foot along the path. It doesn’t require the agility of a mountain goat because it’s not very demanding. It is mostly in the thick shade and can be easily overcome even on the hottest summer day. And when you rise to 1,065 meters, you could stay there forever. The unique view of the Drina canyon, Lake Perućac, and Bosnia. A few steps away is another height on which there is a board in which the silhouette of a bear is cut. That’s a nice idea. Here’s a chance to bring your own bear from Tara painted in an unusual landscape.
There are many other viewpoints, most of them not easily accessible, but the road to four more is arranged and secured, and you can enjoy it if you wish. Whichever one you choose, there’s no mistake. Amazed, you will remain there looking for a long, long time into the distance.
5. Because Zaovine Lake is pure magic
It is named after the village of Zaovine, the most spacious one in this municipality. It gained fame in 1875 when a Serbian botanist Josif Pančić discovered a special endemic species of spruce in his honour called Pančić spruce. This relic species of spruce is narrow, about 50 meters high, with an unusual pyramidal crown. It is considered a living fossil because it managed to survive the last ice age in the gorges of the middle course of the Drina. That is why Pančić affectionately called it the ice beauty. Due to its exhibited weaknesses when surrounded by other plant species, each individual tree is protected, and natural habitats are strict nature reserves. In the area of Zaovine Lake, there are 15 other plant species that are protected as natural rarities, such as edelweiss and Euphorbia subhastata.
The lake itself was formed in the late seventies, by damming the Beli Razav canyon. At almost 900 meters above sea level, there are some serious depths in it, up to 110 meters. But we didn’t dive in. We couldn’t reach the water. Its level has dropped. The level at the Lazići Dam has dramatically lowered. There are sandbars protruding. But even so dried up, it kept its colours, so unreal and exotic. Among its steep, waste, and dry shores, it continues to enchant with iridescent light and turquoise blue to opal green. It lent its water to mankind to make electricity. We’re hoping they’ll bring it back as soon as possible and make it one of the jewels among lakes again. Behind the dam, there are more mountain waters – Lake Spajići. It seems intact. Surrounded by dense forest. At the moment, it’s more beautiful than its far more famous relative. Navy blue as the sea depths far out in the open sea.
6. Because Serbian Nostradamus lived in Kremna
This is where the most famous Serbian prophecy, the Kremna Prophecy, comes from. Many attribute it to the Tarabić brothers, Mitar and Miloš, while others say that more villagers were clairvoyant, so the collection of the alleged prophecies was named after the hamlet. According to the tradition, Tarabić’s clairvoyance was recorded by their godfather, the literate archpriest Zaharije Zaharić. Later research has shown that there are 12 different editions, and the original one, if ever made, has not been found to date. A lie, a deception, or perhaps a real thing, but the prophecies became gained momentum.
Kremna is considered the most mystical village in Serbia. Tucked away among the pine trees, at an altitude of 800 meters, it has always, as the locals proudly say, nourished bright and talented people. It lies on a mysterious stone, a flint, that skillfully hides it from even the most modern satellites. It cannot be recorded, the young, warm host of the Memorial House of the Kremna Prophets states at the beginning of the story of the wonders of this area. It is decorated in ethnic style, as expected. The main building, the log cabin, has its walls covered with newspaper articles and photographs, filled with souvenirs and homemade products. In the courtyard, there is much more including King Peter in the barrel. It’s an interesting story. The most amazing thing is the “Cosmic Ball”. According to the villagers, the army found it in the 1980s at a depth of 3.5 meters. The smooth stone ball about one metre in diameter was significantly damaged by a fire in 2007. The circumstances of the fire were never clarified, nor how was the flame able to cause damage to the miraculous ball. Today, its piece is on display, and it is believed to have beneficial radiation as well as to grant wishes. Place your hand on the remains of the ball, make a wish, and write it on a piece of paper that is left near it. Of course, any offering is welcome.
The Memorial House is not fully completed. New amenities are planned, and existing ones could be a little more imaginative. But some distraction never hurts, both for believers and non-believers. All kinds of clairvoyance are attributed to the prophets here, including the one that the river Drina will flow up the mountain Tara. And it did so.
7. Because the meal at Šukilo restaurant is a thing to remember
It is a known fact that meals in roadside restaurants have always been good and abundant. And, meals in the restaurants near Serbian mountains are even better and more abundant. Just ten kilometers from Kremna, we stop by the restaurant Šukilo. Beautifully decorated, clean, with a flower garden, and the murmur of water from a fountain that cancels the hum of cars. Those familiar with the meal selection order veal under the bell, a certain delicacy, especially in this area. For the member of the team with a lower appetite, there is beef goulash with macaroni, which lives up to expectations even though the pasta is not homemade. It rarely is anywhere, though. The hungriest one does not miss the opportunity to explore the ingredients of the Opanak (peasant shoe). A large “peasant shoe” arrives – chicken filled with prosciutto and cheese with a “foot cloth” made of hamburger. Who else would have thought to combine all those calories except the Serbian highlanders. But if you want to spend time around the mountain, you must have strength. In that spirit, we managed to overpower our full plates. When the hosts have made such a good effort, they should be awarded with a suitable gratuity.
8. Because we need naturally good refreshment – Jazak water when we are in nature
After a good meal, we are full of impressions, and we need refreshment.
In regular refueling on our way back, we take water from nature – Jazak, to complete the path of all the senses through the mountains and landscapes.
We go back home, to a somewhat different nature, determined to preserve what is ours and to always highlight what is naturally good.