The gorge of the river Gradac! I would shout out excitedly whenever someone asked about a nearby place to head out (door), to spend some nice, quality time in nature. I really don’t know a better place, close at hand, that can provide this. It is a beautiful location accessible to all sorts of nature lovers. In particular, I recommend it to parents who want to teach their children to love nature, and “remove” them from their tablets, TVs and concrete, but I believe that others will also find their adequate reasons. Almost all hiking associations organize tours into this gorge, but going there on your own can also have many advantages.
The gorge of the river Gradac is located just a few kilometers from Valjevo and there are three ways to get there: from village Degurić, from the monastery Lelić or from the monastery Ćelije. I have always used the third, because of the visit to the monastery, but also because I could use its large parking lot. I have to say that last time I had an unpleasant surprise – parking ban for those who do not go to the monastery. So, when visiting the monastery – take the upper ramp, when visiting the gorge – take the bottom ramp. Despite this interpretation of Christian principles, I recommend a visit to the monasteries.
The male monastery Lelić is located 11 kilometers away from Valjevo and is one of the most recently built in Serbia. It was a legacy of Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović, whose relics rest here. The nunnery Ćelije, founded by King Dragutin in the 13th century, was repeatedly burnt, destroyed and rebuilt. As a metaphor for the suffering of Serbian people, it rose from the ashes, each time becoming an even more important place of worship, a school and gathering place. The grave of Ilija Birčanin, murdered in the infamous harvest of princes, reminds us of another event in our turbulent history.
If someone, like me, thought that the trip could be nicely combined with a visit to Petnica cave, I have some bad news. Despite the beauty of its halls, the archaeological sites, the rare openings in the cave ceiling and unusual fluctuations of the underground river in the Dragon’s Hall *, this speleological pearl of Valjevo region is neglected, covered by grass and closed. It can be accessed at your own risk, over loose boards above the mystical spring river Banja. It is devastating to see the neglect of such potential and disregard for the natural and historic treasures of Serbia.
Panorama- Petnica cave (photo Bojan Aleksić)
*There is a legend about a dragon in a lake, after which the hall got its name. When it moves its tail, bubbles appear on the surface of the lake, and when it drinks water, the level of the lake declines.
You should not let these things ruin your trip. Leave the car on the improvised parking and go to the monastery Ćelije. Just before the monastery, the trail will lead you slightly to the right, downhill. Soon you will reach the river. Before you lies the special nature reserve.
It is the gorge of one of the cleanest rivers in Europe, internationally confirmed at the Congress of Ecologists in Perugia. Untainted, this is the most diverse habitat of flora and fauna, decorated with numerous caves. Even in much larger and better-known canyons and gorges, there are not as many recorded caves. There are 69, and the most famous is Degurićka cave, dating back to the Ice Age. The river Gradac was building its way to this cave for centuries, until it embraced the water from the cave spring.
The river Gradac is formed from Povlen streams and springs, of which the most important ones are Bukovska river and Zabava. Swooping down the slopes and hillsides, this persistent and stubborn river paves the way ahead, sinks and rises again creating breathtaking scenes.
As if nothing can stop it in making crystal clear and cold water; as if nothing can prevent it from giving the gift of life to the lush green shores.
This is the source of its impressive flora and fauna. The water is filled with turtles, frogs, trout and chub; the grass is creeping with vipers, garter and water snakes; and watching all this from the heights are owls, hawks and eagles. A little deeper into the dense forest, you can found the deer, rabbits, foxes, wild boars, but also extremely rare orchids and a large number of mushrooms. The main inhabitant is the river otter, which is the main symbol of Gradac.
It is likely that only the most persistent or the luckiest of us will see its wildlife, but everyone feels a welcomed change from their everyday lives. This is not an abrupt or intense change, but still, very soon your body will accept that it is now at the epicenter of natural balance. This is the moment when everything seems perfect, but you don’t really know why it is so.
It has been well-known since ancient times that Gradac is a bringer of life. This is witnessed by numerous sites and excavations, as well as the remains of a fortress built in the fourth century. This is Jerina city, affectionately called Bežane (“the escape”). It is quite clear what its purpose was. Especially picturesque are the old mills, which kept the stories of old times. Unfortunately, only a few of them resisted the ravages of time, to remind man that the wheel pushing the water represents time that inevitably flows.
Truly, there is a lot of content, and you can start your tour any direction you want. I usually take to the right, upstream. After a few minutes’ walk, you will reach the ethno household Skok po skok (jump after jump). A simple wooden bridge stands between you and enjoyment.
Ethno house – Skok po skok
Here you can get your energy back in the beautiful ambience of the river, with some quality food and drink. The repertoire includes trout, dish of the day from the pot, barbecue, goat cheese, beer, spirits and coffee. Also, you can buy local products: integral and buckwheat flour which is ground in the household, goat cheese, brandy and handfuls of spicy herbs.
The trail continues along the river and you will reach small vortices ideal for a cooling bath, as well as some top spots for camping. Often in this area you can hear the crackling fire and smell the aroma of cauldron or meet people involved in archery.
The gorge of the river Gradac is accessible by foot all the way through, but it is occasionally necessary to step into the river. Summer months are ideal to visit the river Gradac, because the water is cold. The river in several places makes smaller or larger ponds, ideal for swimming and fly-fishing.
. A leisure walk along the river, and we fully absorb the landscape with all our senses. Enchanted by the clean air, the scent of flowers and the grass field, and carried by the roar of rapids and waterfalls of the mighty river, after an hour or two you get to the restaurant.
Eko bivak deserves all the credits, as a real example of how to behave and how to do business. In a hospitable and friendly atmosphere, you can relax with a drink, and eat something from the daily menu. Every time I was greeted and welcomed the way travelers should be welcomed. Not because I am a special guest, but because they are great hosts. Their black coffee and brandy, with a good story and a joke, have true “healing properties”.
If you want to go further to the spring, walk across a tree trunk next to Eko bivak and take the trodden marked trail so you don’t need to step into the river later, to cross it. After twenty minutes, slightly uphill – slightly downhill, you arrive to the reason of existence of this beautiful nature reserve – to the springs.
In the springtime, Gradac violently breaks through Povlen rocks, as if to use all the power accumulated during the winter, to form again its crooked river bed. In the late summer or fall, it is more like a pulsating heart, bringing a steady rhythm to the river and life to thousands of plants and animals.
On your way back along the same route, enjoy the panorama, which has changed slightly now, due to the different position of the sun. As you walk back to the car, you realize that you never say goodbye to Gradac, but only a “so long – until next time”.