Sunday, 20 August 2017

The (Non) Provincial Charms of Novi Sad, Serbia

Text by By Laura Wolfs for Balkan Insight   
Novi Sad offers some provincial charm, a relaxed atmosphere, lively bars and restaurants and some cultural highlights.

In the early years of this century, Novi Sad, which translates as ‘new garden’ was not a particularly accurate tag for Serbia’s second city, but thanks to some investment in infrastructure, a little civic pride and perhaps thanks also in part to the huge international success of the EXIT festival, the city has undergone a revival but has also managed to keep its provincial charm.

By bus car or by train the 70-kilometres trip from Belgrade to Novi Sad is not a long one, but our advice would be to take a train. It’s significantly cheaper than the bus (less than €5) and allows your otherwise teetotal driver to join you for a glass of wine over lunch. The train is neither fast nor modern, but it’s much more relaxing watching the scenery go by from the train window than watching out for oncoming speeding drivers on the wrong side of the road!

However, if you decide to go by car, you should not miss the opportunity to visit Sremski Karlovci, 20 kilometres south of Novi Sad.

A small town with a population of just 9,000, Sremski Karlovci played host to one of the most significant events of European history – the signing of a peace accord between the Ottoman Empire and the Christian Alliance, in 1699. As a monument of this event, one of the most famous chapels in Serbia was built - the Chapel of Peace. The chapel was restored in 1817 in a Byzantine style. The centre of the town is cobbled and picturesque and at the weekends there is a steady queue of couples waiting to get married in the town’s churches. There are some good cafes in town for a little sustenance before you move on. Wine lovers might like to pick up a bottle of the local dessert wine, Bermet which has quite a reputation in the town.

If you choose to arrive in Novi Sad by public transport, you will have to make your way from the not particularly attractive bus and train station to the city centre which takes around 15 minutes by bus.

The Vojvodina capital’s Austrian-Hungarian past is still proudly on show in the old town square, Trg Slobode, dominated by the catholic Ime Marijino Church, referred to locally as just ‘the cathedral’. In the summer months the streets of the city are busy and lined with tables spilling out from the cafes and restaurants. Laze Teleckog is easy to miss but make sure that you don’t! The street consists exclusively of bars and restaurants and is by far the most lively place in town at lunchtimes and through into the early hours. For lunch we recommend ‘Kuca Mala’ which serves great pizzas. The interior is minimalist and modern in style, and not obvious at first sight, it also has a small roof terrace which is a quiet and peaceful haven.

People from Novi Sad and the province Vojvodina are disparagingly known as ‘lalas’ by Belgraders, who claim that everything works in slow motion in the northern part of the country. Maybe this is the reason why people here seeming to have more time to appreciate the arts. The city has two notable museums, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Dunavska 37, Opening Hours 9am-5pm, Tuesday-Sunday, free entry) and the Museum of Vojvodina (Dunavska 35, Opening Hours 9am-5pm, Tuesday – Sunday, entry, 100 dinars) located right next to each other. The city’s website – – is a good source for cultural information.

Another cultural highlight coming up next month (June 5th – 12th), will be the Cinema City festival. The festival will be opened by the Juliette Lewis band, ‘Juliette and the Licks’ and show films in over twenty locations across the city.

One you have finished your stroll through the compact city centre, you should make your way over the river and up to the Petrovaradin Fortress. The imposing structure dominates the city from a high bluff 40 meters above the banks of the river. The first constructions on the site date from the 13th century and the site was continuously added to and developed through to the 19th century The old clock tower which dates back to the late 18th century has a big hand showing hours whilst its small hand shows minutes. So the story goes, this was done because the clock is visible from far away and the locals considered it more important to know the hours than the minutes. The numerous cafes and restaurants in the fortress offer you anything from traditional Serbian cuisine to sushi or pizza. The fortress is home, each July to the EXIT festival one of Europe’s biggest which hosts as many as 20,000 young people from all over the continent.

Below the fortress on the banks of the Danube is the Strand (the German word for beach) which stretches for 700 metres and which in the summer months is packed with sunbathers. The water here is fairly calm but the water quality is not so good, so take in a few rays, but resist the urge to swim.

After a long day of walking around this refreshingly peaceful and relaxed city (one of its main qualities in the hot summer months is the lack of smog), you should return to Laze Teleckog street to mingle amongst the young people of the city and have a last drink before returning to Belgrade’s hectic city life.

This article is courtesy of Balkan Insight, the online publication of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, which contains analytical reports, in-depth analyses and investigations and news items from throughout the region covering major challenges of the political, social and economic transition in the Balkans.

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