It took the universe some time to arrange a meeting between me and this Balkan arch-beauty. So when I heard about a photographic weekend “1000 colors of Stara Planina” I did not hesitate for a second, and I wholeheartedly started to organize everything for the trip. I gathered a group of friends, enrolled us, and spent the remaining time like a teenager counting days before a big event. As the date drew near, so the euphoria and impatience grew – for a reason, because in the end we got more than we expected. And trust me; I really know how to raise the expectations bar.
Stara Planina is located in eastern Serbia and stretches across 500 km, from Vrška Čuka near Zaječar to the Black Sea. Its uniqueness is unmatched; it is rich and unexplored, wild and hospitable. This grandiose mountain range proudly carries the name of the Balkans, so I can only presume I know what our Peninsula was named after.
This is home for over 1500 species of plants, 200 species of birds, over 30 species of mammals and many reptiles and butterflies. To name just a few of them: lynx, wolves, deer, eagles and wild horses. Even the brown bear returned to this place, after 25 years. Nobody knows where he’s been all this time. So many species, but scarcely any people. This again shows that where there are no humans to pollute and destroy, nature shows its fascinating beauty and grandeur.
Stara Planina is a true paradise for adventurers and lovers of untouched nature. Numerous breathtaking waterfalls, whose pictures adorn the front pages of tourist brochures, fresh water springs, villages where time stopped several hundred years ago, a large number of medieval shrines represent only a part of what this mountain gem can be proud of. Still, it was only in 1997, that it was declared a nature park.
Lookout at Midžor
The mountain is old, but many new things are happening. Biologists discover specimens of flora and fauna, for which they had no idea it could inhabit these areas. On the other hand, due to the increased tourist demand for rural areas and organic food, some new hotels, ski lifts and mountain lodges opened up. We were in one of those lodgings.
Mountain lodge “Šum”
We traveled the shortest route through Niš, Svrljig and Kalna, but I do not recommend this route. It is twenty kilometers shorter than the other one: Niš-Svrljig–Knjaževac-Kalna, and there is no living soul in sight. It seems that the reason why drivers don’t use this road is because the road builders have put it “off their maps”. After Svrljig, the road started to climb significantly and we experienced fog, the pungent air and smell of a promising adventure. We passed by abandoned villages and spooky scenes, in which Mulder and Scully would have a lot to investigate. After four hours of driving and countless curves, we arrived at the mountain lodge Šum. Even if this was not our final destination, we would have been tempted to drop in, for sure. After many abandoned villages and pitch darkness, the lights of this beautiful home looked like Las Vegas.
Šum is a real new-age mountain lodge fully prepared to welcome the summer and winter tourists. 10 apartments, one studio, 50 beds, parking, ski room, bar, kitchen … But above all, we were welcomed by a hospitable and positive team that manages, works hard, fighting for a significant place on the tourist sky of Serbia.
The place is located on the bank of the river Crnovrška which is so loud you could easily call the place “Roar”. Prices are slightly higher than in other mountain lodges that I visited, but it is the price of additional content which cannot be compared with similar places. After all, you don’t see too many mountain lodges equipped with lazy bags, swinging nets, darts, a fireplace and a fully equipped bar with espresso and cocktails.
The apartments are spacious, functional and warm, and the food is excellent. We were welcomed with the hunting stew, homemade soups, various dishes with meat, potatoes, eggs, cottage cheese, hot buns … The only complaint is that there is no drinkable tap water, but they are working on that and I hope that this problem will soon be solved . Our package included two breakfasts, two lunches, two nights and two hiking trips that were meant to introduce us to the 1000 colors of Stara Planina. All of this amounted to 5000 dinars.
After a strong mountain breakfast we started the tour. We were transported to the mountain lodge Babin Zub, where the hiking trail starts, used by skiers in the winter to go back down to the lifts.
Very soon we came up to a plateau, with a strategically nested ski bar “Plaža”. The view from their garden was a sight for sore eyes and soul. On one side, Babin Zub, on the other Midžor, and all around opaque green hillsides and distant mountain peaks. The silence is disturbed only by the occasional cry of an eagle cruising above the thicket. From there you can see our final destination – waterfall called Kaluđerski skok (Monk jump). It does not seem far, but there is more than meets the eye.
Ski bar “Plaža”
Kaluđerski skok u daljini
The trail continues next to the ski bar, leading to our destination mainly through cliff cuts. The path is not well marked, but do not let that deter you.
The chances of getting lost are minimal because at all times you can see the main landmarks, Babin Zub and Kaluđerski skok. The landscapes we passed through are fantastic and it is very difficult to decide which one is the most impressive. At the beginning we saw meadows and ridges; went through several groves and came out into a landscape that “Lord of the Rings” fans would be tempted to call Rohan.
The whole path was accompanied by numerous crystal clear brooks, cold and shallow. On top of all this, we were visiting at a time when there was an eruption of the widest range of rainbow colors, making it possible to take photos which will evoke the most beautiful emotions for years. It’s wonderful to be in a place like this when the forest seems to release all the solar energy accumulated during the year.
It is the “last dance before the winter,” showing off its “screaming”, bright colors to announce the end of the growth season and the imminent arrival of the snow blanket. I expected to come across numerous berries, rose hips, mushrooms, but the fluorescent turquoise fungi caught me completely by surprise!!
Since our group of photographer-climbers was very diverse, so were the reactions to obstacles along the way. Among us were veteran mountain wolves, but also other guys, who see the crossing of an ordinary stream as mastering the swollen Amazon.
However, we all stayed together, carried by the same idea that we are here to enjoy this inspiring environment and to immortalize the 1000 colors of Stara Planina.
After a few hours of walking, we reached the waterfall that collapses under Midžor, the highest peak of this mountain range in Serbia. Kaluđerski skok classifies as a cascading waterfall. It consists of a series of small waterfalls, steep cascades that are connected into a single unit, with an altitude difference of 232 meters, making it the highest waterfall in Serbia.
The scene is really unusual, because there is no classic tumble of water from a great height. Instead, this powerful force of nature “splits” the mountain and makes its way further into the valley just by leaping from stone to stone. We make a break at an optimal place in the midst of the roar of one of the numerous cascades.
After absorbing the pristine nature, we return home the same way. We all had the enthusiasm to return, as if we could hardly wait for some refreshment, enjoying some good food and drinks, and sharing our experiences of the day.
The next day we woke up “immersed” in fog. Sensing the whim of the mountain, most people in the group gave up on our Sunday hike and stayed in the lodge. Since we lost the concept of majority, it all came down to individual preference. And ours was so strong that nothing could stop it. Our goal was Babin Zub, a lighter tour, achievable within the timeframe we had, and yet sufficient to feed the appetites for a new peak, a gazebo and sense of achievement. After finding our way through the fog, we had our moment when persistence and consistency were rewarded.
We went above the fog and the car erupted with a collective – WOW! We suddenly found ourselves on the edge, with the highest mountain peaks suddenly transforming into islands in a sea of clouds.
We reached Babin Zub without problems, it is well marked and there are two ways to get there. One path starts next to the mountain lodge, it is marked with a table, and the other is starting at the ski bar “Plaža”. In about an hour’s walk you will reach the top and a beautiful view which we could not experience because the clouds were seriously dark, announcing heavy rain.
And as if it was perfectly orchestrated and timed. We were here to win Babin Zub, enjoy the distant horizons, make some great photos, and still have enough time to come back to the safety of our little cafe and mulled wine.
Thanks to the photographic weekend “1000 colors Stara Planina” I was able to discover a small part of this fantastic area, but I am very satisfied that I was able to afford this much. I really needed this encouragement, to work on my plans for extended hiking weekends and exploration of the wilderness and hidden secrets of one of the most beautiful mountains in Serbia.