Stara Planina, Serbia

For our annual trip to Serbia in September, our friends Sasa Krapez and Zlata Zivanov Krapez planned a trip to Stara Planina.

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It is a mountainous area that lies on both sides of the border with Bulgaria.

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Our first stop was to Sisojevac Monastery, 24 km East of Cuprija, built during the second half of the 14th century,
although there are some remains from the 13th century. There were lots of swallows flying around the church.

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Traces of the old wall paintings in the inner part of the church, but there were also newer paintings.

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The newer wall and ceiling paintings resemble those seen in orthodox churches all over the world.

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We spent the first night at a Bed and Breakfast in Kalna. B&Bs are becoming more and more common in rural areas around Serbia.

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A common bedroom standard at B&Bs. We paid around RSD 4,000:-/night (around € 34:-) for the two of us with breakfast and dinner.

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We made an excursion to see the Falkensteiner Hotel and ski resort near the highest point of Stara Planina. The countryside was beautiful.

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Large open fields and lots of forest.

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The fields had many parasol mushrooms, like these very tasty Macrolepiota procera.

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We managed to fill a basket with black trumpet (Craterellus cornucopioides) and parasol mushrooms.

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We headed toward Lake Zavoj.

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Lake Zavoj

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The lake was created by a huge landslide into a river in 1983. Later a dam was built
to produce hydroelectric power. We stayed at a B&B just below the “silo” to the right.

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People hunted in the area. A wild boar fur hangs to the right, and the deer feet were meant as hangers. We paid RSD 4,000:- for full board for two.

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The water in the dam was low, as can be seen along the shores, despite heavy rainfall in this part of Serbia.

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Typical countryside near Lake Zavoj.

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Fall crocuses

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The next day we drove around the lake and into the mountains to the village Gostusa. The road was paved except for  a few kilometers of gravel.

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Entrance to the mountain village Gostusa. This is where the paved road ends. Gostusa is 30 km from Pirot, and was the first village in the Pirot district.

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There is a bus between the village and Pirot that runs twice a week, once on Friday and once on Sunday.

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We stayed at a B&B, in a very traditional Gostusa house. What makes many houses in Gostusa so special are the stone roofs. Gostusa is often called a “stone village”

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One of the bedrooms, very spacious.

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Traditional stone roofing. The old houses were built with mud and local stone, because
the villagers were too poor to “import” other building materials, like clay tiles for roofing.

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Stones are very heavy, and required frequent maintenance as they were sealed with mud. Our hosts told us that the skills to
maintain these roofs were disappearing. The village is very old, mentioned in records for the first time around the year 1260.
Above the village are the ruins from an old city fortress, from around the 4th century.

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Many of the houses in the village had been abandoned, and roofs had collapsed from lack of maintenance. People move out of
villages in Serbia. Gostusa used to have 1200 inhabitants, according to a 2002 census it had 136 inhabitants with an
average age of 58 years.  Now only 67 remain, although the number increases during the summer months. Our hosts said that
many people would like to come to the village, provided the roads were improved.

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Although many houses had stone roofing, quite a few houses now have clay tile roofing, which are less heavy and easier to maintain.

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Houses in the center of the village. The basement/foundation wall stones can be found all round the village.

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Houses at the beginning of the village. The slope behind the houses, on the right side, shows the
layers of the rock bed, that provides stone for foundations and basements, for walls and for the roofs.

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The village is long, perhaps one kilometer from beginning to the end, built along a small canyon. There used
to be 36 water mills in the village, but these have collapsed. Keeping sheep and cattle used to be common.
Some 30 years ago, there were 10,000 sheep and 400 cattle in the village. Now barely 400 sheep remain.

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An old couple came with the Sunday bus and struggled through the village. The man had a stick and an umbrella
for support, and the woman carried most of their belongings. Most inhabitants in the village were old people.

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The traditional wall construction can be seen, walls made of wood filled with clay/soil.

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Old car tires are cut into shapes and used to hold flowers. These on the left are painted red.

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A common sight, drying peppers on a string.

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The gravel road, here around the center of the village.

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The map shows a hiking trail that starts and ends at the village, marked with a yellow dot and black cross in lower right corner. The
primary trail, solid green line, is 20,5 km long, average slope 10 %, and it takes 9 hours to make the round. The dotted green lines are
secondary trails, total length 14,5 km. The small green squares along the trail, with a “cone” in black, mark resting places. Gostusa
is at the lowest part of the trail, 600 m above sea level. Studenicka cuka, upper right corner of the primary trail, is at 1,666 meters.

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The start and end of the trail, very well marked.

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We continued to Pirot, and visited the museum of Ponisavlje,, well worth a visit. Next to the museum
is a restaurant serving traditional food, said to be the best in town. We tried it, and can recommend it.
The Museum of Ponisavlje, and the restaurant, are located on Nikole Pasica 49, Pirot.

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The museum is in a house that belonged to a merchant.

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The room where women sat and met. The men sat in a similar room on the opposite side of a
large open area. To the right is the room where the merchant’s daughter spent most of her time.

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The kitchen and dining area on the ground floor.

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Our travel companions and friends Sasa and Zlata with Annette, walking on a gravel road by Lake Zavoj.

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Stara Planina

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