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May, 2019

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The ski resort of Zlatibor in western Serbia was originally the haunt of wealthy Serbs. As well as snow, it’s known for its air, which has a reputation for healing a variety of respiratory complaints and thyroid disorders. A clinic is dedicated to the latter, snappily called the Special Institute for the Prevention and Treatment of Thyroid Gland Disorders and the Rehabilitation of Patients. Our guide also joked we could lose weight just breathing in the air as the town specialises in weight loss at the Čigota Special Hospital.

Even though we’d read that after 1927 when a bus line opened, new houses and hotels had been constructed and restaurants opened, our expectations were high. We were therefore totally unprepared for what we encountered.

New apartment blocks were evident but were still popping up in every available space and the town resembled a building site. Whilst there was still lots of the famous black pine trees, it was also clear how many must have been chopped down for the redevelopments. It was like an out of season Blackpool with dodgem cars and other small fairground rides which appeared to be little used, a huge row of large off-road quad bikes, three sea-front style ‘trains’, Christmas market style huts, many of them closed, and a general air of decay. The place appeared directed at kids with theme park areas, including Dino Park.

Our itinerary had suggested spending our day on the outskirts of Zlatibor at what sounded like an interesting Open-Air Museum, but there were no buses and although tour agents sold trips, they didn’t run on the day we were there. There were no maps available of the town and no tourist information office, which said a lot.

We wondered how to spend our day but then found a path which led up Sumatno Hill, with its stone monolith dedicated to Partisan patriots executed by the German occupying forces in 1941. The inscription on the tall white monument was in Cyrillic but is transcribed as: ‘I won’t give up this bit of sun in my eyes, I won’t give up this bit of bread in my palm’. It was a relatively steep climb, but the path was good and the views magnificent. There was a small café which looked, like the rest of the town, as though it was still being constructed, although it was serving refreshments. However, the clouds were threatening, and we headed back down.

In the town we found a large artificial lake which was easy to walk around and there were numerous types of boats for hire and children’s entertainment, like bouncy castles, on the lake side. Here we also found the King’s Fountain, built to commemorate the visit of the then King of Serbia, Aleksandar 1 Obrevnović in August 1893. The water still gushes, and many people were filling up their plastic water bottles.

The internet makes Zlatibor sound a fabulous place for ski-ing in winter and hiking in summer, but we were less than impressed and sadly, and despite constantly breathing, I didn’t lose weight! This might have been due to the rather good lakeside restaurant we stopped at to enjoy the food and listen to the frogs croaking.

Helen Jackson

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