We visited the region of Zlatibor this weekend for the first time. This is a part of Serbia south east of Belgrade, along the border with Bosnia. It was a wild and beautiful part of Serbia and now my favorite place in the country. “Zlatibor” means “Gold Pine” in English and it is an area of mountains (3000 feet), pines, and rugged beauty. We stayed outside the village of Mokra Gora, and it was about a 4-hour drive from Belgrade. Nadia is shown in the parking lot of the hotel. You can see the terrain behind her. If I was to buy property here, it would certainly be in this part Serbia.

We are in the Nikola Tesla Plaza in Kusturicas Village
We are in the Nikola Tesla Plaza in Kusturica's Village

We stayed at the Hotel Mecanik which is part of the Serbian Ethnic Village that the famous movie director Emir Kusturica built. It is called Drvengrad and as an excerpt from the article in the Guardian describes it as follows:

I turn up in Belgrade as the thermometer sinks south of -20 degrees. “Come to my village,” he demands. “I have something to show you.” Three thousand feet up on Tara mountain the next morning, the full effect of his latest piece of “inspired lunacy” sits under 2ft of snow. Kusturica has sunk himself deep into debt, spending more than £1m to build a pastoral paradise, his own version of Plato’s republic, in one of Europe’s last great peasant redoubts.

“This is my Utopia,” he declares. “I lost my city [Sarajevo] during the war, now this is my home. I am finished with cities. I spent four years in New York, 10 in Paris, and I was in Belgrade for a while. To me now they are just airports. Cities are humiliating places to live, particularly in this part of the world. Everything I earn now goes into this.”

What started as a couple of salvaged traditional wooden houses 18 months ago, on a bluff above the spectacularly beautiful Mokra Gora valley in western Serbia, has mushroomed into a modern take on the great monastery-universities of the middle ages. The village is equipped with a library, Serbia’s most advanced cinema and, most incongruously of all, an underground basketball arena – a tribute to the three world championships won by the former Yugoslavia. For Kustendorf, as he calls the place, is also a hymn to Serbian cultural achievement and traditional living – a kind of cultural Alamo, as a country that has been cut off from the world by war and sanctions opens itself up to the gentle mercies of globalisation.

“I am making a stand here. I want to do something constructive. In Serbia a lot of people hate me because they want to westernise, not understanding that the western world is bipolar, with very good things and very bad things. Since they don’t have experience of the west, they even believe that western shit is pie.” Given that the prophets of the free market in Serbia often tend to be the same gangsters, war profiteers, smugglers and chancers that Kusturica lampoons in his films, you can see his logic.

I have never seen any of his movies and did not know much about him before writing this blog post. He is a very interesting character to say the least! Some people don’t like him and I can see how he would shake some people up. There are lots of articles on line that describe his conversion to the Serbian Orthodox Church from his Bosnian Islamic roots. The village we stayed at is temple to Serbia.

Emirs Unusual Touch
Emir's Unusual Touch

On one level, it was a great place to stay with my family. The kids loved the swimming pool, we all loved the clay tennis courts and indoor basketball court. The food was delicious, although the waiter and some of the help were a bit quiet to us. Not exactly rude, but a bit cold. The views are spectacular and the cool mountain air is refreshing. The cabin we rented was comfortable and it even had a fireplace. I would love to return in the winter for a skiing trip.

On another level, it was fascinating to see his take on life. He is very much anti-Western (aka Anti-USA) and against the cultural hegemony of the US. He put photos of Che Guevara, Maradona, Fidel Castro, Pancho Villa, etc. in the restaurants. I think my buddy in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez would get along great here! I don’t like Che, I think he was  an Argentian bum who got lucky to be in the right place at the right time and ended up killing a lot of people. I wish people would read up about his background before wearing a shirt of his because he looks cool. Serbs love him and his image is around Belgrade a lot. Nadia was laughing because she is from Santa Cruz, Bolivia where Che was killed by the Bolivian army. One of her relatives on her mother’s side of the family was probably in the unit that found him in the mountains of Valle Grande, near Santa Cruz. He also didn’t serve Coca Cola, and so we ordered Emir’s Revolution Raspberry Juice (delicious). There was a picture of George Bush behind bars. I think he is a bit carried away with the anti- imperialism stuff, but I do agree with a lot what he has to say. The war of the breakup of Yugoslavia was tough on him and before I can judge someone, I need to walk in his shoes.

The Small Chapel at Drvengrad
The Small Chapel at Drvengrad

I think Kusturica is an original and I enjoyed getting to know him a bit better. I will definitely look up his films and I do plan to return again. I will probably do some more blog posts on him and his work. You can see more photos on my flickr.com account.

I recommend the place for families and I also hope to explore Zlatibor and across the border in Bosnia. I saw on the map that the city of Visegrad, from “The Bridge Over the River Drina” is very close by.