The long road to the monastery

The Studenica Monastery is a World Heritage Site and one of the most important religious sites in Serbia. So why do they make it so hard to get to?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Studenica Monastery, Serbia

I have a blister on my foot. On my outer left heel to be exact. It’s the colour of a plum and nearly the same size.

How did I get this blister, you ask? Oh, what, you didn’t ask? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway.

You see, I’ve been walking all day. Not necessarily by choice either.

I had decided to visit the Studenica Monastery, one of Serbia’s few World Heritage Sites and an impressive religious compound from the 12th century.

Like most monasteries in this region, it had been built in the mountains far away from any main cities or towns.

Studenica Monastery, Serbia

That doesn’t mean it has to be hard to get to – but this country doesn’t make it easy to get to some of its most important sites.

With a car – sure, you’d be fine. But not so much for an independent traveller relying on public transport.

I catch the bus from Novi Pazar to the closest point on the route to the monastery – a town called Usce. There I discover there are no buses that day to Studenica.

I start to walk, not minding the scenery and thinking maybe a bus will come by anyway. There are a few cars that pass and I consider hitch hiking but I’m actually quite enjoying the view across the valley and the mountains so I push on.

It’s hot, though, and I do wish there was somewhere I could buy some water.

Studenica Monastery, Serbia
Studenica Monastery, Serbia
Studenica Monastery, Serbia

It takes me two hours to get to the monastery and I decide immediately that the walk was worth it. It is a beautiful compound, with a well-tended garden and old marble buildings.

Inside the church and chapels are detailed frescoes painted in the 13th and 14th centuries. There’s a tranquility that comes from being so isolated in the mountains and a sense of calm falls over me immediately.

Studenica Monastery, Serbia
Studenica Monastery, Serbia

800 years ago this place was the political, cultural and spiritual centre of Medieval Serbia. It is the largest and richest of all the Serbian Orthodox monasteries and contains the remains of the first Serbian kings.

On the interior walls of some of the buildings are some of the best examples of Byzantine art. It truly is an important and fascinating place.

Studenica Monastery, Serbia
Studenica Monastery, Serbia

And so I return to my initial complaint. Why is it so hard to get to?

If Serbia wants to encourage tourism, it needs to make an effort to make places like the Studenica Monastery more accessible.

It is not in the middle of nowhere – it is just 12 kilometres from a main road, but there seems to be no desire to create a connection along that distance.

Perhaps the bureaucrats believe there isn’t enough interest from tourists to justify a regular bus service. But it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation because if a site is not easy to get to, tourists are going to be less likely to want to go.

If they don’t go, they’re not going to tell their friends and family about it and there will be no word of mouth marketing for the site.

Studenica Monastery, Serbia
Studenica Monastery, Serbia

It’s a constant issue I’ve come across in Serbia and I’ll write a little bit more about it tomorrow. For now, though, let me just say that I made the effort to get to Studenica – but there were many other places in the country I wanted to visit but didn’t get to because the transport infrastructure was just too difficult.

Studenica Monastery, Serbia

In the end, I set off on my walk back to the bus stop but, after about half an hour, was picked up by a nice Serbian couple. They had recognised me from the monastery and stopped to offer me a lift.

The local people might be looking out for travellers – it’s just a pity the officials aren’t doing the same.

UNESCO logo

This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

8 thoughts on “The long road to the monastery”

  1. I wonder whether the issue goes beyond Serbia… the monastery reminded me of Voskopoje in Albania, a string of magnificent old churches that are also not too far from a main road but with little public transport and hardly any publicity (in fact I seem to have one of the very few travel pieces about this place!)

    Some money had been put into the churches by an NGO and even the EU but for some reason no one can explain, itslowed to a trickle and the Albanian government took over – lightly. Yet those frescoes were among the best sights in the country. The same goes for the Roman ruins at Appollonia, and I could go on.

    Guess a car has become an indispensable travel item now…

    Reply
  2. There is so much even in Italy that is really only accessible by car because public transportation doesn’t exist. It’s a shame that Europe has so many beautiful sights many tourists just will never see because there aren’t great options to get there. Hopefully bloggers drum up enough interest to visit such sights that more infrastructure to reach them is eventually put into place.

    Reply
  3. Looks like a really great place, but like many people I’m not sure I’d be willing to walk 2 hours to get there. Hopefully tourism and transportation will catch up soon. And I hope your blister has healed ­čÖé

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  4. Indeed; I had commented on that in another one of your posts on Serbia, r.e. the lack of “care” they seem to give for promoting tourist attractions. I think a lot of it has to do with the sheer tiredness of the people as opposed to anything else, a carry-over from the many years of tragedy and loss. Also, money is certainly an issue, but one that you would think and hope gets better over the years because tourism could certainly help the country’s economy, and in my opinion there is a LOT for Serbia to promote, as you are showing in your photos.

    Reply
    • That’s the interesting thing with countries that are having economic issues. One of the best things they can do is promote tourism and improve the infrastructure – but that costs money. I guess it takes a bit of courage to decide that is is worth the investment… I’m sure Serbia will realise that.

      Reply

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