Golden Pine on Cloud Nine

Zlatibor, the reputed millionaire’s playground, offers sun, fun and ski runs aplenty along with rejuvenating mountain air and cultural wealth.

Named after the indigenous pines bathed in golden moonlight, it took a single day for Zlatibor to become a resort. That day was Preobraženja (Transfiguration) on 19th August 1893, when King Aleksandar Obrenović enjoyed a picnic and bequeathed the name Kraljeve Vode to the spot.

Between November and March Zlatibor is a winter sports wonderland, boasting around 100 days of snow. There are four ski slopes rated easy, medium and difficult (the longest run is 2500m with a 373m vertical drop) and a kids’ fun centre at the summit which offers tubing as an alternative to skiing. Božić and New Year have a distinctly festive feel in town with activities like the Badnje Veče night-time ski sprint. In the summer, the ultramodern Tornik ski-lifts afford great panoramic views and mountain walks. 

Summers are warm but, at around a kilometre above sea-level, never overbearingly so. Unlike in Belgrade, visitors have no need of air conditioning to help them sleep through August nights. Indeed, people come to Zlatibor for its reviving air. It is one of Serbia’s more exclusive destinations, but with a beer costing typically less than £1, Zlatibor is still reasonable by European standards. Market stalls sell herb-infused rakija, locally knitted sweaters, hand-painted icons, wooden souvenirs, thick leather papuće and all kinds of fresh produce, with stalls bowing under heaps of watermelons. 

Zlatibor is paradise for children too. Who needs Butlins or Center Parcs? Zlatibor has funfairs with gravity-defying rides as well as Victorian-styled carousels, bungee jumping and bouncy castles, a boating lake with paddle boats, horse drawn carriages, bumper cars, quad biking and electric cars (although a curious absence of slot machines!). There are swimming pools and indoor and outdoor sports facilities. Yet in the midst of all this, the surrounding majesty of the mountains and forests ensures that nature never feels too far away. 

Operators offer excursions to some of the most famous destinations in the country. One tour picks out the best of the 98 local caves including Potpećkа Pećina whose gaping mouth is the largest in Europe and the underground “bath tubs” at the Stopić caves. The open-air museum at Sirogojno is a village of houses with steeply-pitched roofs typical of the region. They were dismantled beam by beam and taken from their original locations to their current site close to the 18th century Church of Saints Peter and Paul with its sublime, almost naïve-style icons. The famous Šargan Osmica museum train leaves Mokra Gora and weaves its way along perhaps the most spectacular narrow-gauge railway in the world. Emir Kusturica’s charmingly quirky ethno-village Drvengrad is also easily accessible.