Tara National Park in Serbia was undoubtedly the highlight of my 1-week trip. The nature lover that I am, mountains, lakes, forests & countryside are my calling, and nothing brings me more peace than being surrounded by sprawling greens, the gushing sounds of the river flowing or the calm waves of a mountain lake. A day in Tara National Park is not enough but if that is all the time you have, you need to buckle up and start early, because it is going to be an action-packed day.
If spectacular viewpoints, riverside restaurants & deep gorges are your thing, you are going to love Tara National Park. I decided to base myself in Zlatibor to give me better access to the surrounding areas; not only is this part of Serbia popular for some of the most eye-pleasing landscapes but also culture & tradition. While the country is well-connected through public transportation, renting a car & doing a road trip in Serbia is what I highly recommend. Not only does it give you the flexibility & comfort of exploring the region at your own pace and safely, but it also allows you to cover more ground in a short period of time. Considering how awfully pretty this area is, you are going to want to stop frequently to take pictures, enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant with a view of the Drina River, or rewarding hike to places that offer commanding views of the vast meadows, forest-blanketed hills & placid turquoise waters.
Drvengrad Traditional Village in Mokra Gora
If you only have a day in Tara National Park, and if you're staying overnight in Zlatibor, Dvengrad Traditional Village is a good place to start. Drvengrad translates to Timber Town and was built as a movie set (which ended up winning an award) representing a 19th-century Serbian countryside settlement. Located only 40 minutes from Zlatibor, overlooking the picturesque Mokra Gora Valley, there really is not much to do here but walk around. The mountainous slopes that connect the wooden houses, and the restaurants with terraces overlooking the sprawling greens below, the atmosphere is quite mystical, almost like a fairytale town. The rusty cars parked outside the houses, the lanes named after celebrities, small shops selling souvenirs, and artistic sculptures make this place quite intriguing. I visited here on a rainy day and somehow, it only enhanced my experience!
There is a ticket to enter the Drvengrad Traditional Village that costs only 250 Dinars (€2).
Train Ride on Sargan Eight
Optional: This train ride on Sargan Eight is a popular touristy thing to do, and it takes you back in time. Once part of a narrow-gauge railway that linked Belgrade to Sarajevo & Dubrovnik, it now runs only between Mokra Gora and Šargan Vitasi, which is 15 kms but the 2.5-hour journey goes through numerous tunnels, bridges, and some beautiful mountain landscapes and loses almost 300 meters in altitude! The old coaches, authentic station buildings, and a steam engine, make for a unique experience that costs only 600 Dinars (€5).
If you are more keen on hiking and you only have a day in Tara National Park, I would advise you to skip this experience and utilize the time better.
House on Drina River
A 45-min drive from Dvengrad Village will bring you to yet another fascinating spot in Tara National Park. While no one really lives in this little wooden cabin perched on a rock in the middle of a wild river, the story behind it is quite interesting. One cannot help imagining living there though – amidst dense forests and an untamed river, peace in the middle of chaos!
Drina river marks the boundary between Serbia and Bosnia, so the thick forest that you see on the opposite side is Bosnia! The house itself is known to have been rebuilt and destroyed several times, due to the fierceness of the river, and was first built more than 40 years ago as a refuge for swimmers to get a break on their journey during a tumultuous storm.
There is a viewing platform near the cabin which provides excellent views of the river and the house itself. Also, a restaurant perched a little high, with a terrace overlooking this excellent scene, is a great place to enjoy a drink and some authentic local Serbian cuisine.
Although the GPS will show you another 1-hour drive from House on Drina to Banjska Strena, you cannot rely on the GPS here because the road to this stunning & popular viewpoint really does not allow for fast enough speeds to get there in such a short period of time. In fact, the last 6 kms of the road is not even paved, it is a dirt road, so be prepared to have a bumpy, uncomfortable ride up there.
The drive to Lake Perucac and eventually the ascent towards the platform offers several beautiful views, especially as you start to climb in altitude and get a view of the stunning emerald lake below. Having said that, the drive is not everyone’s cup of tea. I would suggest attempting it only if you are confident that your car, and you as a driver, can handle a narrow, ascending, winding, dirt road, full of potholes. You will come to a parking point which is about 500 meters before the platform, and you will walk the last 5 minutes to get to the viewpoint.
Alternatively, you can choose to hike to the viewpoint instead of drive there. The 6-km hike (takes about 2 hours) begins from Crveni potok Nature Reserve in Mitrovac, which is about 45 min drive from House on Drina. However, if you plan to park your car here and hike up to the Banjska Stena viewpoint, you will also have to return to this point which means, you will need to account for a round trip or look for public transportation to bring you back. The hike is quite easy; so, if you do not mind spending 3-4 hours in a return trip, you should go for it!
I agree getting to this viewpoint is not easy, whether you choose to drive to it or hike, but it is a rewarding experience. Once you get to the platform, and have a panoramic, unparalleled, birds-eye view from a vantage point, you will forget the hardship you had to face to get up here. If you have only a day in Tara National Park, I'd suggest you to make it to Banjska Stena for sure.
If you decided to hike up from Crveni potok Nature Reserve in Mitrovac, once you return, you are not too far from yet another magnificent blue lake in Tara National Park – Zaovine. If you still have some time left in the day and are blessed with long day light hours (which is likely in the summer), in about 20 min, you could reach this artificial reservoir with staggeringly breathtaking views of picturesque mountains and pine and fir trees on all sides. Head to the Zaovine Village and have a quick drink or meal at Restaurant Tarsko Jezero, on the shores of the lake.
You are only 1.5 hours away from Zlatibor if that is where you chose to stay for the night. Alternatively, you could find accommodation in Tara National Park itself.
Suggested stay in Zlatibor: Apartments Nika