If you are not afraid that some Vlach sorcerer from Homolje will cast a spell on you with her special powers, you will enjoy a region marked by tradition, hospitality, rich history, centuries of Serbian spirituality, culinary specialties and hedonism of the RUC – Zdrelo spa.
A trip to Homolje, in the East of Serbia, means that you pack in your suitcase, duffle bag or a simple backpack, some mystery, secrecy, special philosophy and belief, to help you interpret life. The trip is additionally challenging because, due to its specific geographic position, Homolje is somewhat outside of the main roads; but because of it, it has preserved the landmarks of the old Balkans culture, folk lore, old crafts and traditional architecture. In this region of Serbia, there is an inseparable marriage of belief in black magic on one, and Christian spells on the other side, which is a mix that clearly attracts many domestic, but also foreign tourists.
So, if you are unafraid that some Vlach sorcerer from Homolje will cast a spell on you with her special powers, as you are eating cornmeal porridge in some old river mill transformed into a restaurant on the unique spring of Krupaj, you will enjoy a region marked by tradition, hospitality, rich history, centuries of landmarks of Serbian spirituality, culinary specialties and hedonism of the RUC Zdrelo spa. There are other things that no tourist can resist when visiting this area of healthy earth and healthy food – honey, a bottle of good wine or rakija, made from, as the locals call it, the “true Ranka plum” and cheese, made according to recipes from forgotten times; all of this was depicted in the Serbian film “Charleston for Ognjenka”.
The destinations of our sweet escape are the Monastery of Gornjak; once gold-bearing swift Mlava, today a clear, fast and clean river full of trout, and the hedonistic spa centre of Zdrelo. Exiting the motorway near Pozarevac onto the meandering asphalt, taking us through pastoral, fertile plains gives us the first taste of adventure, bringing us closer to the slopes of Homolje.
Ahead of us is Petrovac on Mlava, a town with a forgotten spirit and buildings characteristic of the old Serbian provinces, with strings of shops, craft workshops and pubs reminiscent of the “old times”. Having seen the TV series based on the books by Mir Jam, a thought springs to your head, uninvited: Ah, so this is how it was at the time of “The Sin of her Mother”… Moving on… The scents of meadows seem to announce your arrival to the kingdom of Homolje honey – the village of Kamenovo, which hosts the honey fair every year, attracting beekeepers from all over the country.
The view rolls uninterrupted all the way to Homolje, with the road to the Monastery Gornjak leading along Mlava and past the famous restaurant with a trout farm, “Kod Rajka”. Situated right on the riverbank, it provides a morsel of trout that was snatched from the river just moments before it landed on the grill. Those tourists that prefer to spend a day at Ladne Vode, one of a dozen embanked cold springs rushing from Homolje to Mlava, will have an equally good experience of food and drink. This location is where about 5000 bikers from Europe will gather once again this summer, for a bikers’ music festival. A view of the cliffs, to the Monastery of Annunciation carved into the mountain side, takes us back to Middle Ages when monks, hiding from Turks, recorded all the events in Serbia at the time. They took refuge in the stone-carved secret rooms from the Monastery of Gorjak, the legacy of Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic, which stands tall above the area, like some guardian of space and time. In the century old forests, the Monastery Gornjak fills the visitor with awe at its beauty, a sentry watching the ravine of the same name.
It was named after a wind, and from the time of its completion in 1380, it has uninterruptedly served as a home for its monks. The oldest preserved churches are the church consecrated to the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a small chapel consecrated to St. Nicolas, home to the most interesting frescoes. High along a cliff is a cave, the monastic cell of St. Gregory of Sinai, who founded the monastery and whose remains seem to be keeping a watch over this wondrous place. Gornjak is also famous for the tale of the medicinal waters of Djurdjevdan (St. George’s day), which only flow on this great holiday, causing long lines of vehicles, coming from all parts of the country, to wind up the roads to this place, which becomes as busy as a beehive. Built in the rock cliff of a ravine, at first the monastery was known as Zdrelo, which is also the name of the nearby village and famous spa RUC – Zdrelo.
photo: Ivan Strahinić
This is a true tourist hive. During a search for deposits of coal, so abundant in this area, medicinal hot water sprang from the bowels of the earth in 1986. For a long time, people would come to bathe in it and cover themselves in mud, as both were used with great success for therapeutic purposes. The water flowed freely into Mlava for years, before the family of Dragisa Milojevic, returning from Switzerland where they worked for many years and picked up on all the secrets and skills of high-end tourism, decided to turn things around. They merged the modern and the traditional into a tourist facility; they formed a market for the beekeepers of Kamenovo, but also the residents of nearby villages and their products, souvenirs…
Business and relaxation, melded into one, and the news of it travelled all the way to France, Italy, Germany, Bulgaria, from where it has attracted visitors… The central facility of this all-seasons aqua park with pools of thermal mineral water is the “Castle”, which takes the guests of the wellness and spa centre back into Roman and Byzantine times. The national restaurant holds true to the promise of its name, with a menu filled with healthy food from the farms of the Milojevic family, who surprise their guests with free salads. In RUC Zdrelo, whether they are staying there or not, the visitors will always be served with a glass of grape rakija – Loza – or cherry rakija, a glass of red or white wine from the family cellars, regardless of the time of day. The massive inflow of tourists to the aqua park had an impact on the entire area, with the development of small hotels and B&Bs, as well as numerous restaurants on the banks of streams rushing from Homolje, cutting across the plains on their swift journey to Mlava, which will take them all the way to Danube.
Autor: Dragan Milivojević