Words and images: Alek Veljokovic (Rustika travel)

Ever since I was a kid I’ve always loved to roam the mountains of Eastern Serbia,. This vast space of mostly uninhabited wilderness is a sanctuary for all the freedom lovers who want to lose all connections with modern civilization and it’s set of rules. Actually, this is one of the few places in Europe where you still have large chunks of land that are completely out of mobile range, so you really don’t have the faintest idea what is happening in the outside world.

It’s not only desolate, but it’s also breathtakingly beautiful. That beauty actually comes from the diversity and from the richness of different vistas that you experience there. From the river Danube and it’s Iron Gate gorge, where the first European civilization sprouted, over the dense forests south of it, largest in Europe, that are hiding to amazing natural works of art in the form of natural stone arches in the river valleys, amazing canyons such as Lazar’s or that of Temštica river, to the endless highland ridges of Stara Planina, numerous mountain rivers and lakes, you can just get lost in all this beauty and forget everything about time and schedules.In my opinion the eastern part of Serbia is the most mysterious and engaging, where the southernmost tip of the Carpathian mountain range lies, and legends of the indigenous Vlach people who lived there since pagan times. Another reason is the fact that the population density in eastern Serbia is almost four times lower than in the rest of the country.

That brings us large portions of completely uninhabited land to roam and explore. Serbia is definitely not for the faint-hearted particularly for those overlanders who are determined to protect there their newly acquired 4×4’s from getting dirty. But if you enjoy exploring endlessly, trying to find out where some forgotten road might be taking you, not hesitant to use your winch, and also (more often) your chainsaw, driving for days without a chance to resupply or refuel and sleeping in some authentic, desolate wild camp spots, this is the place that will offer you an experience of a lifetime!Venturing deeper into the wild.The Kucaj mountains offer the biggest uninhabited territory in Serbia – 50×50 km, basically 2.500 square kilometres of completely uninhabited mountainous wilderness. No towns, no villages, nothing! Just an occasional hunting lodge and the odd shepherd’s hut here and there.

Beljanica is the highest and coldest part of Kucaj. Sub zero temperatures persist there day and night from December to late March, and the snowfall it receives simply doesn’t melt before spring. That means that Beljanica very quickly becomes impassable in winter. Right through the heart of KucajShould you decide to travel further south, towards Stara or Suva Planina, or even further, to the Traversing Kucaj mountains from the far northwest to the southeast, you will not be disappointed as this offers some incredible vistas and 4WD tracks.

With a number of touring options, you can keep a bit more to the west heading towards the Prskalo waterfall and over Valkaluci hunting area towards Velika Brezovica and experience the largest meadow on Kucaj. Alternatively you can choose the less known trail following the marvelous Klocanica river valley and then continue through the densest forests of Kucaj to end the journey descending down the 25 km long Radovanska river valley.

Lazar’s canyon

Boasting a 10 km long crack in the Earth’s crust on the easternmost side of Kucaj mountains, between the Malinik ridge and Dubašnica highland, Lazars canyon is one of my favourite places in the Kucaj mountains. There are many spectacular scenic viewpoints along the edges of the canyon, but for me one stands out from the pack, and that’s Kovej, where the Mustecic family from Zlot village are fortunate to own the most beautiful part of this enchanting land. So I simply love being their guest, enjoying their cuisine and hospitality, and taking memorable photographs from their many scenic viewpoints. A great viewing point is from Malinik ridge.

Holy Mountain Rtanj

Rtanj, a dominant mountain in the Serbian part of the Carpathian range, is a striking sight from whichever side you view it. Surrounded by deep, wide valleys from the north and south, it’s an awe inspiring sight featuring an almost perfect pyramid shape of its highest peak, Šiljak. The main star of many sunset photos, this mountain is probably the most controversial place in eastern Serbia, claimed to host supernatural events and even being connected to aliens, it’s also claimed by some that it’s actually the largest man maid pyramid on the planet built in ancient times.

You can’t drive all the way to the top of Rtanj, as it’s too risky but also because the central part of Rtanj ridge is a strictly protected area. Driving around in the Rtanj area, whichever side you approach it from, is a really uplifting experience. Great wild camp spots with great views exist, if you have time you can also discover some well hidden, deep forest camps.
Preparing for the symphony of Stara Planina

As I prepare to enter Stara Planina there are two more places worth visiting before I reach Knjazevac town, the key resupplying and refueling spot on the way to Stara Planina.

Tupiznica mountain is actually a slight detour towards the north but is well worth getting another spectacular sunset. The mountains are spectacular, with most of them completely overgrown with vegetation. So much overgrown that it actually can’t be successfully crossed by a vehicle, and even if you cross it on foot, prepare for a fierce fight with thorns and bushes.

Actually, the only rational way to reach it, is by taking the semi-tarmac road to the highest peak, where several telecom antennas have been built. Just before the antennas, a gravel road parts to the northwest, eventually reaching several meadows and passing right by the spectacular western stone wall. This is the place to park your vehicle and enjoy an unforgettable hike along the stony ridge, either southwards towards the peak or towards the wild north end. If you search around the meadow you’ll also discover quite a spectacular cave.

But beware – it’s dangerous to attempt climbing down if you don’t have climbing gear!If you don’t decide to spend a night on Tupiznica, you can just roll on a serene gravel road towards the village of Stogazovac, and just before that you will reach the village, its worth stopping off here to see a unique short rocky canyon by the name of Zdrelo, which hides a church and a really attractive scenic viewpoint on its cliffs. So what about Stara Planina? Well, that is a long story that just cannot be cut short. Therefore, I’m leaving it for part two of the last oasis of freedom!