The gigantic flow of the Danube is tumultuously capricious. Serbia seems to have tamed it. The sprawling waterway quenched its thirsty plains and carved up the most wonderful gorge in Europe, and as soon as it entered Serbia, it wove through forests and meadows an endless network of backwaters and canals in one of the last refuges of the living world of floodplains. In that region, it forced the population to adapt to it, and so this watercourse cultivated resourceful and fruitful hosts, and gifted its fishermen with fish in abundance, and made the cooks skilled. We are rushing towards a natural rarity in the northwest of the homeland, via Sombor.
Why visit Upper Danube
1. The Upper Danube is Europe’s Amazon
More specifically, the area of the large Bačko Podunavlje Biosphere Reserve, the Serbian part of the area called the European Amazon, which includes wetlands along the banks of the Mura, Drava and Danube rivers, which UNESCO declared the first five-state biosphere reserve in the world. The special nature reserve of the Upper Danube River is located in the extreme northwest of Serbia, on the triple border with Hungary and Croatia, along the left bank of the Danube, along almost 70 kilometres of the river course. It consists of two large heaths, Monoštorski and Apatinski, which together cover almost 20,000 hectares. It is characterized by heath forests interspersed with backwaters and canals, with river islands, meanders, ponds, swamps, wet meadows, reeds, and marshes. This unique river landscape has managed to preserve incredible biological diversity. It houses about 50 species of mammals, 250 species of birds, including the white-tailed eagle and the black stork, 50 species of fish, nine species of reptiles, numerous species of butterflies, and more than 1,000 plant species. It is the habitat of the largest European deer population in Serbia.
The centre of the reserve is the Eco-centre of Karapandža, next to the weekend resort of Kenđije. The yard is beautifully landscaped with a wooden gazebo and a covered outdoor classroom where various workshops dedicated to nature conservation are held. There is also a mini trail with information boards suitable for people with reduced mobility, where they can briefly get to know the richness of the reserve. For now, there are no catering establishments, so visitors have to bring their own water and other refreshments. There are fire pits for a kettle and a grill, so you can prepare your own food in nature. It will certainly be a day to remember.
We have not visited Amazonia, the one in South America, so any comparison would be inappropriate. But this one of ours completely enchanted us. The nature is wild and pristine, and the people are benevolent and forthcoming.
2. Roundelay envelops navigators in the Baja Canal
The catamaran sets sail at the pier in front of the Karapandža Eco-Center. It drives along the Baja Canal, which is one of the cleanest canal waters in Serbia. We enjoy nature from the boat. A completely different experience. The shores are overgrown with forest, reeds and heath vegetation. The coast is decorated with water lilies, among which fish hide. There are different kinds of them. Swans, ducks, herons keep us company. We reach the widest part of the canal, affectionately called Shira. It spanned over 120 meters, but it looks quite narrow, because the reed went deep into the water. An hour expired in blink of an eye. We disembark and greet the water jewel of the Sombor municipality. We didn’t take a dip into it, unfortunately. The current weather does not allow. But we’ll be back when it warms up, for sure.
6 reasons to visit Upper Danube - part one
3. Walking in the primeval forests along the Danube is unparalleled experience
The best way to get to know the area is by walking. If you are truly adventurous, there is a marked trail for independent wandering, about four kilometres long, with information boards, a rest area and an observation deck. You can also choose tours with a professional guide during which you will learn more about the reserve and its features, as well as about the process of restoring the ecosystem and the cultural and historical heritage of the region. You will definitely see a bat house in a tree, and maybe hear a deer roar or come across small turtles. Whichever walking tour you choose, listen to the trees, recognize animal tracks, observe carefully, breathe deeply, and simply enjoy.
The trails are suitable for all age groups and levels of physical fitness. Footwear should be comfortable and adapted to forest conditions, in other words, without any fashion. Of course, do not forget to take a break and drink some water – much needed during long walks. Our choice was the same as before – naturally good spring water Jazak.
4. The Periškić family honey is superb
Bački Monoštor, which you pass through on the way to the Karapandža Eco-Center, has a long tradition of beekeeping. We wanted to be a little smart, and since you have to eat honeydew to generate more brain cells, we stopped by the beekeeper Periškić. A wooden bear welcomes us in front of the gate. The hosts open wide the doors of the classroom where children gain knowledge about the most important creatures on earth and their healthy and medicinal products. We learn that there are more than 20,000 species of bees, and only seven honey bees. He tells us that in these regions the conditions are extremely favourable for bee breeding due to the abundance of watercourses, humidity and lush vegetation. The work is not easy at all, but the honey is delicious, so he does not complain. The host also takes us to an old type of beehive, affectionately called Monoštorka, as well as inhalation chambers, whose beehives have been painted by children, and which, he hopes, will be operational next year. Well, we learned something about wonderful values and tasted honey, which according to analyses is almost flawless, the host boasts. You need to make an appointment to visit the household, but you can certainly stop by and buy a jar or two of honey, if the hosts are at home.
By the way, Bački Monoštor is a very interesting village where various delicacies are made and many old crafts are nurtured. You have to ask around a bit and make friends with the locals, and maybe they will show you their skills and take you to homes where they keep handicrafts and unusual personal collections from being forgotten.
5. The museum of the Battle of Batina is a memorial to intrepid fighters
The memorial museum of the Battle of Batina is located on the left bank of the Danube, near the town of Bezdan, at the initial positions of the great battle in the Second World War. Built in 1981, it preserves the memory of the fighters of the People’s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia and the Red Army who gave their lives in one of the largest joint military operations for the liberation of the country. It used to form a whole with the memorial room on Batina and the “Victory” monument that dominates the landscape, on the right bank of the Danube, today in Croatia.
At the very entrance to the building of an unusual shape, a digital board in several languages adapted for blind and partially sighted people has been installed. A cordial curator guides us through a battle that many did not learn about in school, possibly because of the quarrel between Tito and Stalin. It took place between November 11 and 29, 1944, and was quite bloody. About 1,300 Red Army soldiers and about 900 partisans died, while about a thousand people went missing. About 1,500 women participated, as nurses but also real warriors, and among the fighters was the famous Sombor painter Sava Stojkov, says the curator. In the waters near the nearby bridge over the Danube, when the mighty river dries up, you can see the outlines of sunken Russian tanks, the curator reveals to us an interesting fact. In the central part, under the sculpture of a bird, there is a model of the battle, and on the walls there are panels with the names of the fallen and artistic representations of the battle. The showcases display uniforms, letters from fighters, patriotic songs written during the battle, decorations, black and white photographs, and several pieces of weapons used in the war. The museum owns many more weapons, but they are currently on loan for the purposes of filming, the curator justifies. We made up for the materials missed in the students’ desks in the Museum on our bank of the Danube.
Not far away is the ship lock, at the confluence of today’s Vrbas – Bezdan canal with the Danube. Built in 1856, it is the first building in Europe where underwater concreting was applied.
6. Indulge in fish cracklings at the Pikec czarda
Everyone gallivanting along the Danube, even in Bačka, invariably have lunch in a czarda. According to the recommendation, we go to Pikec, not far from the Museum. A garden on the very bank of the Danube with wooden tables and benches, crowded. Nevertheless, vibrant staff managed to find a seat for us. For the lack of time there was no menu, a waiter expertly recommends fried perch fillets and fish stew, salted as tasty. He brings a steaming meal in a big cauldron, accompanied by a platter of local pasta. They should be poured over while the juice from the stew is hot so that they soften. Tastes real, czarda-like. While we are enjoying ourselves and barely admiring it, a waiter rushes past us carrying something unusual and tempting on a wooden plate. On the way, he shouts that they are cracklings. We are curious, we say. It was not until the pile arrived with onion rings and tartar sauce that we realized they were fish. Truly, it would be a shame if they were pigs next to this much water. Moreover, potato salad hidden under the cracklings in lieu of bread. Those who know about this delicious dish, order it as an appetizer. Maybe we got the order wrong, but we enjoyed ourselves, and by God, we had a whale of a time eating all the delicacies served. Instead of cakes, cracklings and fish. Who still cares about the rules of dining in a czarda on the Danube!