Vlasina lake and the southern highlands
Our route took us further to Vlasina lake, a beautiful place at the altitude of 1200 m surrounded by several high mountain ranges, in an environment very much resembling the central plateau of the South Carpathians (around the Vidra and Oasa lakes). Although a very pleasent place to camp with the dominant pine and birch forests on it’s banks, Vlasina lake isn’t really the perfect place for those who enjoy swimming. The water is quite cold even in mid summer, and if you camp there prepare for some very cold nights and mornings, with occasional fog that can stay down until 10 am.
Our night at the Vlasina lake was definitely the coldest one on the entire tour, athough it wasn’t our highest campsite – the temperature around 3 am dropped to only 4 degrees, which can hardly be associated with summer conditions. The dominantly good weather that we’ve had so far was slowly deteriorating, so it was crucial to traverse the Vardenik and Besna Kobila ridges before the rain sets in – in wet conditions the steep, grassy ridge trails with occasional side angle can turn very dangerous…
Rain still hasn’t arrived, but the clouds gathered around the high peaks. We were out of luck for the view of Vlasina lake from the Veliki Strešer peak, which is one of the best in the area. But the break in the clouds was just big enough to make traversing the Vardenik ridge safe. The conditions improved as we reached the magestic Besna Kobila ridge, so we’ve had a memorable climb to the highest peak of southeast Serbia. Clouds gave way so we could see far from there, and even the wind wasn’t too strong, so we could enjoy a longer break on the peak.
Then came the long ridge of the Dukat mountain, which is so huge that you can explore it for at least several days. Vast spaces for free 4×4 travel, numerous intersecting ridges, hidden river valleys, rich mixed forests, it’s all a magical land waiting to be discovered. The occasional mountain villages in this area are often completely deserted, because old people are dying, and the young ones have moved to towns. So even the look of certain places being populated is deceptive – it’s really a grand area of desolate wilderness, where we’re still lucky to have a lot of usable forest trails thanks to the lumber exploitation. In fact, there’s no place in Serbia with such an extensive network of forest trails like we have in the far southeast of the country – a true offroaders heaven!
Rounding up with Kukavica
As we’ve reached the southernmost point in the vicinity of the small town of Bosilegrad (again a chance to refuel and resupply after two days), we’ve had some true fun with the harder trails of Milevska planina, which should not be underestimated. But as the available days were running out (and the predicted rain has finally started), it was time to move westwards again. Before moving over the South Morava river valley to the jungles of Kukavica mountain, we wanted to visit a very attractive natural monument – the Devil’s rock. So we headed across the Dukat mountain again in it’s direction.
It’s really an extraordinary place, where dark, volcanic rocks have formed a very distinctive black stony formation, very much resembling some devil’s horns. And at one end of those rocks, a small church from the 13th century – probably to guard the locals from the infuence of the devil. But some really scary legends are associated with that church… So we better move back up into the mountains, taking on more rain and fog and, for the first time on this tour, some good, hardcore muddy conditions! Too bad that nobody was in the mood to get out into the rain and make some pictures and videos of it.
After a short pass through the Vranjska Banja spa resort and a traditional spicy south Serbian dinner in the town of Vranje, it was time to find our way towards the Kukavica mountain, accepting a true jungle challenge to round up the tour. Our trail took us by the Jovac lakes, and on the slopes of Oblik, an extinguished volcano. Not every mud is the same quality, but between Oblik and Kukavica we’ve entered an area of that extremely sticky mud that quickly makes a 10 cm thick mud film on any tyre you might have (including the mud type ones), turning your vehicle quickly into a sled, where you only control the general direction of movement, but have no precise control at all. So thanks to the deep ruts, we somehow moved along as if we’ve had tracks, like a train 🙂
Kukavica, with it’s rich mixed forests greeted us in a mystical, foggy environment, with a sad feeling that the time for the tour is up, knowing that, the moment we exit the jungle to the north, we’ll be on paved roads on the way home, back to “reality”. We ended the tour with a visit to the Vučjanka canyon and one of the oldest hydro-electric mini plants in Serbia, working without interruption for more than 100 years now.
It’s only a beginning
We’ve covered around 800 km in 8 days, with an average altitude well above 1000 m. Seen many beautiful, wild places, but gotten 1000 ideas where we could venture to explore further. Visiting a place only once is never enough to really get to know it. So every return is a way to uncover the next level of mystery, discover some new secret trails. And Serbia has them more than you can imaging. The best thing is that they’re all freely accessible, so only your imagination is the limit 😎
So if you like what we’ve encountered and you’d like to try it yourself, join our next South Serbian Nomad’s Adventure (or some other of our tours) – you can find the schedule at http://rustikatravel.com/4×4/scheduled/ . Every season will be different, and we’ll always make new, exciting variations, bringing the tour always closer to the ideal of pure overlander’s bliss – the perfect ride 😎