in July, I traveled for the first time to the gorge of the river Gradac near Valjevo, a quaint small town in western Serbia and about 90Km from Belgrade.
About the River Gradac
The Gradac river is short, fast flowing and mostly very shallow. Over the course of millennia the river has cut its way through a 22Km long canyon. The source of the river Gradac is situated at the foot of the Povlen mountain. It has been confirmed, at the Congress of Ecologists in the town of Perugia in Italy, that this beautiful river is among the cleanest and clearest of all rivers in Europe.
In fact it is so clean that some say its’ safe to drink the water straight and unfiltered from the river. Personally I do not recommend this practice, simply because one never knows who is doing what upstream (if you get my meaning). However, the waters of the river Gradac is clean enough to support much aquatic life, fauna and flora, which includes a rich source for wild, natural and organic water cress.
The river and its untainted natural gorge is however one of the less well known natural ecological wonders of Serbia and of the Balkan in general. The river gorge is the habitat of a number of rare plants and marine animals which include Brook Trout, Chub, Barbel and river crabs.
Although personally I have never seen any, the biggest attraction of the river seem to be some very elusive otters. I guess you either have to be very fortunate to catch a glimpse or the otters are extremely shy. In case you ever make it to the river and see otters then let me know.
The forest which surrounds the river is very much alive too with many species of trees, plants, herbs, mushrooms and animals. There are deer (which I have seen), wild boar, foxes and many types of birds such as owls, finches, kestrels and even the odd kingfisher. If you’re lucky you may spot turtles basking in the sun or an eagle circling high above.
Swimming, Chilling & Hiking
The river banks offer many spots, that some call beaches, where you can stretch your legs and sunbathe in peace and quiet. Should you consider yourself to be among the brave and think of yourself as a good swimmer then I dare you to take a dip in the water. Nevertheless beware; the river is deceivingly shallow and fast flowing as well as bitterly cold.
Naturally, to prove I am not of the feeble kind, I had to have a go and much to my surprise (and to my wife’s astonishment) very much loved it. Once you’re in, especially on a hot July or August day, you can’t get enough.
The shock that hits you the moment you touch the cold water soon wears off and the chilling sensation instead
becomes soothing and refreshing.
Experiencing the Gradac waters may not be to everyone’s taste and may not constitute a valid reason (though I disagree) to go there. Thankfully there is plenty more to be had from a day out at this river Gorge.
For those that enjoy hiking there is a trail that runs alongside the river’s banks and an other one that finds its way through the forest. Both trails are easy to navigate on foot since there are few inclines along the way. Most of the trail which runs along the river is flat apart from one or two places where you would have to climb. But even the ways up are not too hard and are relatively short in distance.
The total length of the river trail is about 3 Km in one direction. Remember that you will have to walk the same distance back. The trail that runs through the forest is in itself short and eventually joins up with the river trail. I usually start my walk by hiking along the river side and then for variation, on my way back, I take the forest track.
How to find your way to the River’s gorge
There are three access points from where you can enter the River Gradac gorge but only one is worth the time and trouble.
The best place to find your way to the river gorge is from the beautiful Convent (a monastery for nuns) at Ćelije (pronounced; Tse-li-je).
When you drive down the windy road towards the convent you will notice a car park at the top of the hill, just before the convent’s entrance. While you’re there it is possible to also visit the convent’s grounds and churches.
The convent at Ćelije was founded by King Dragutin in the 13th century. Over the course of centuries the convent had suffered a few fires by which it was destroyed. Then every time the convent was rebuilt it became an ever increasingly more important place for both prayer and for learning the teachings of Christianity.
Just before the entrance gate of the convent there is wide path that winds its way down to the river Gradac. See map at bottom of the page
When you follow this path the first place you encounter is the eco-lodge/tavern which is aptly named; “Skok po Skok”, meaning ‘Jump by Jump’ because you either have to hop across the river 🙂 (not really) or tread carefully over a narrow wooden beam to get there, just like the goats in the video below.
Skok po Skok
Skok po Skok is an sublime, friendly and relaxing place to enjoy a coffee, a homemade lemonade or an ice cold beer Then when you set of on your hike you’re refreshed and well energised for the walk.
There is also an option to enjoy lunch.
The menu is simple and the food delicious. On sunny summer days, especially the weekends days of Saturday and Sunday, the landlord will prepare meat dishes such as; barbecued chicken, beef and pork specialities. Also, if you happen to walk in at the right time of the day, you’ll be able to order freshly cooked veal and potatoes cooked a la ‘Sač’ (pronounced; ‘satch’) which is basically a large ceramic clay pot over which ashes and live coals are placed and in which the meat is cooked slowly for a long period resulting in the most succulent roasts you’ll ever come across.
As tasty as this sounds and as excellent a reason it is to visit Skok po Skok the best food on offer is actually the trout.
Rainbow Trout farmed on site and caught to order, fresh from the river, is prepared without any fuss on a charcoal fired barbecue.
Sitting at the bank of the river, listening to the water flow and enjoying some serious good trout, served with a homemade potato salad, a cabbage salad on the side together with a glass of chilled beer is definitely one of the best ways to close a perfect day.
Three reasons to visit the river Gradac
If you love nature then you’ll most definitely love the Gradac Gorge, the river itself as well as the untouched natural surroundings.
If you love great food which to enjoy from an amazing setting then you’ll love Skok po Skok.
And if you are into culture, religion and/or architecture then you’ll love the convent of Ćelije
Ps. A little know secret is that it is possible to rent a room at Skok po Skok. The rooms are simple and inexpensive to rent, I believe around 1500 Dinars P/P , P/night
To reach the convent and gain access to the river and Skok po Skok you’ll need to have the use of a vehicle.