I have noticed that in the past ten years, ethnic tourism and recreation in traditional villages have become incredibly popular in the Balkans, Europe. Most likely, it started in Serbia, in the mountainous area of Zlatibor (“zlati bor” is a “golden pine” in Serbian) where Emir Kusturica built his Drvengrad or, as the Germans call it, Küstendorf. This ethno village project was as original as its creator, the most famous film director of the Balkans.
They say that this idea came to Kusturica during the filming of “Life Is a Miracle.” Later, he transported his parents’ house to Zlatibor and began to look for and to buy old houses in Serbia to dismantle and reassemble them in a new place: in his ethno-village. Today it has about 50 traditional houses. This is a prototype of a typical early 20th century Serbian village which usually had several houses and was surrounded by magnificent nature. There are no more such villages in Serbia. I know this because I have a house in that area.
I think I understand why the project turned out to be so successful, and today you can find ethno villages in any part of the former Yugoslavia. This is an embodiment of people’s love for the lost country of their ancestors, and this is nostalgia for peaceful times before the Balkan conflict. Emir Kusturica was able to recreate the ideal village of his childhood with its cozy wooden houses where roosters crow every morning, white lilies bloom under windows, and where life is perceived as a miracle as it was many years ago.
However, there is a problem: the road trip from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, to Drvengrad takes about five hours by car, too long for just a day-trip. Of course, you can get there without a rented or private car, perhaps by bus, but such a long trip without spending a night in Drvengrad will not be easy. So I will tell you of another incredibly charming place. This is the ethno village of Stanisici in the Serb Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, three kilometers from the border with Serbia.
To get over there is much easier, the distance from Belgrade being only 119 km. I guarantee you not only pleasure from visiting this village, but also a wonderful cuisine. The first time we visited Stanisici on our way to Belgrade from Croatia, we stopped there out of pure curiosity. Later, we returned twice to Stanisici to “recharge our batteries.” Autumn with its foggy mornings is especially good there, plus—very few tourists.
What do you expect to see in any ethno village? Old rural houses, folk handicrafts, cows, sheep pens, carts? In general, it is not what I usually admire. In Stanisici, you will also find all that, but nevertheless this place presents a special atmosphere. You find yourself not only in the past, but you fall into something unreal. I think it’s all about the water.
Numerous natural springs distinguish this area of Bosnia. One year in the springtime, there was so much water that the ethno village and the whole area went under the water by almost two meters. Now everything is fine. The village is surrounded by artificial streams, lakes, large and small bridges. Probably that makes sense, because water is the source of life, and life itself. Isn’t that why we like to watch it flow? A large boat at the entrance to the village symbolizes Noah’s Ark.
You can enter the territory of Stanisici from the parking lot right after the exit from the motorway or from the guest parking near Hotel Pirg (entrance is free). In the first case, passing a small wooden gate, you will see a winding paved stone path among the trees and find yourself in an island of calm and silence. Just a minute ago, cars were racing around you, you were passing by endless cornfields and ordinary rural houses, and now you are in the realm of water: emerald ponds, stone bridges, wooden and stone chapels, numerous paths.
Ducks and swans quietly walk on paths and lawns. I remember the day when we were here in rainy October. After heavy rain, the ducks went out straight to the path and followed us to the entrance of the hotel. Stanisici is a place where your urban child can see a small deer at arm’s length or pet a little, sleek, playful kitten.
The ethno village of Stanisici is a traditional village, yes, but in addition to well-preserved peasant houses of the late 19th century among the trees here and there, you will see multi-storey buildings, unusual and strange in their architectural styles, as if they were moved here from Disneyland.
Be sure to look at how an old water mill of 1937 works. Also find a smaller mill built in 1917, as well as a smithy, a granary, and a creamery. All equipment works, and the flour is used for baking bread and pancakes which are served in a cafe (konoba). There you will also get cheese, cream, and fresh eggs. It is interesting to visit traditional wooden ethno houses to see antique furniture, household items, and folk costumes.
Oh, you are hungry, arent you? Well, we are in the right place and the right country (unfortunately, not for vegetarians). I suggest Konoba Stanisic. If the weather is warm, take your seats outdoors by the water and admire the large stone bridge (which is the replica of the Goat Bridge in Sarajevo, Serbia), a chapel (modeled after a small Orthodox church in Alaska), and black and white swans passing by.
The ethno village has other cafes and restaurants, but Konoba Stanisic is the most authentic, the most Serbian. Its prices are not the lowest, but they are lower than in Belgrade, and the food is worth it. Try a veal soup (telecha chorba), lamb roasted on a spit (jagnjetina na raznju), or stewed chicken or lamb (piletina or jagnjetina ispod saca). The meat is soft, juicy, falling off the bones. Believe me, you will remember this dinner for a long time, if not forever. All the ingredients are local, organic, and of high quality.
To consolidate the impressions and sensations, it would be nice to stay here for a couple of nights. If the Hotel Pirg (about €70 for two for a night) seems too expensive, you can stay in one of the wooden houses (€47 for two). Stanisici is already represented on Booking.com, so you can look at the prices.
I was missing the mountains with golden pines that surround Drvengrad, but Stanisici has a lot of water instead, and I love water. By European standards, this traditional village is located in a field near the usual highway connecting Bosnia and Herzegovina with Serbia, but you will be surprised by the number of visitors, if you come here on a weekend or in holiday season.
The web-site of Stanisici says, “Na svetu, јеdnostavno, postoje mesta na kojima postajete potpuno sigurni da је: za brige, i sutra dosta vremena” which can be translated as, “Without a doubt, there are places in this world where you can say: we can leave our worries for tomorrow.”
You come here for one day, but stay for a week, or return every year for a green lake, cozy paths, white and black swans, blue sky, the monastery of St. Nicholas, and the ark of Noah. A toy railway around the village transports you into a fairy tale just as it does in Küstendorf of Emir Kusturica. Yes, life is like a miracle.
The Traditional Village of Stanisici
Address: Pavlovica put 32, Dvorovi 76300, Bosnia and Herzegovina
GPS: 44.7845832 19.2784629