Fruska Gora National Park, Serbia
After so much city talk, it’s time to look to the Serbian countryside. Here in the north, the lands are flat. I noticed it first arriving on the train from Hungary, the squares of crops leading to the horizon. This is Serbia’s farming heartland with fields of maize, wheat and sunflowers. This time of year, farmers are particularly focusing on raspberries and plums – things Serbia is the second-largest producer of in the world.
But the north of Serbia has one national park annexed from the agriculture. Fruska Gora National Park.
It’s known as ‘the jewel of Serbia’, a glittering gem amongst the fields of labour around it. At the centre is a mountain – uncommon in this part of the country but not unique in that there are many further south. I tend to think that the further down you go in Serbia, the more picturesque the landscapes become, but everything is relative so, for those who live in this region, Fruska Gora is worshipped like a precious gem.
Certainly those of faith knew the beauty of this area. Fruska Gora is home to more than a dozen monasteries, some possibly founded as early as the twelfth century (although there is little physical evidence of that).
I come across one early in the day hike I have embarked on. Setting off from the city of Novi Sad, I catch the bus to the town of Beocin in the foothills of the national park. About twenty minutes after I leave the houses and oddly-large number of minimarts of the town, I come across the monastery. Surrounded by forest, it is tranquil and reflects an air of quiet reflection. A few people are working in the small farm adjacent to it and a man, appropriately protected in a netted suit, is tending to a large collection of beehives.
Another man walks out of the monastery towards me as I’m taking photos. When he gets close enough I try to engage and say how pretty I think the building is and that I’m Australian. He gives me a sympathetic smile and walks past. He is heading for his car out on the road and doesn’t care either way that I am here. In response, I take a few more pictures.
I walk on, though, for it is the forest which interests me today. For several hours I trek up towards the top of the mountain, following a dirt road. Birds make their presence known through their songs and just occasionally through an appearance. The insects also let me know they are here by their buzzing and the bites on my legs. Although I only get bitten when I stop for a rest and it’s incentive enough to keep trudging uphill.
Eventually it’s time to turn around so I can make it back to Beocin to get the return bus. But I feel like I’ve missed something. I haven’t made it to a peak – or even a decent viewpoint. This area has been a pleasant walk but nothing special. Certainly nothing that deserves to be called ‘a jewel’. But perhaps my problem was that I didn’t go to the right parts. Or perhaps the problem was that there was no information about where the right parts were.
I feel like this could be an issue I will encounter again – a lack of information and access to the treasures of Serbia. Maybe a local would have been able to hike for a day to some more scenic parts of the park. For me, though, it was a nice walk… and that’s about it.