Serbia's winter playground

It's long been a haunt for Belgrade's elite. Now Kopaonik is welcoming more British skiers, as Natalie Holmes discovers

'Don't forget your flak jacket." That was the standard reaction of friends on learning I was taking my children skiing in Serbia. Oh, how I'd sneered at such ignorance. Yet here I was, at the top of a mountain, listening to my ski instructor explain how the national park we were standing in had been bombed by Nato in 1999, but not to worry as the whole area had been thoroughly checked for any unexploded ordnance. When? A year ago.

"And just to make sure, we left some sheep here over the summer. Ha, ha - lots of meat on the menu." Miki, our ski instructor for the week, was enjoying himself. He told us that the border with Kosovo lay 100m ahead. To our left we were looking down on Macedonia, and to our right was Montenegro, with a far-off glimpse of his native Bosnia. The mountains spread out below like a crumpled white blanket; war and its horrors seemed to belong to another world.

We were standing 1,975m up, in Kopaonik, south-west Serbia, a ski resort that is enjoying a revival with British visitors, helped by the fact that both Thomson and Crystal now fly into Nis airport, halving the previous five-hour transfer from Belgrade.

Kopaonik is Serbia's winter playground and as well as the British skiers enjoying the sun, good food and cheap prices, the resort bristles with Serbian celebrities. During our week's visit we spotted the footballer Mateja Kezman, the pop star Ceca and other local bigwigs. ("He is a political man," Miki sneered, pointing to one skier. "They are always fat and expensively dressed.")

Our holiday home was the Hotel Grand, a strange amalgam of modern facilities, such as pool, gym and spa, and old-style Eastern European officiousness: the restaurant closed at 7pm; paying the mini-bar bill was not allowed before the designated time. It's a similar story in Kopaonik itself; you can buy designer ski equipment in its fancy shops, but the post office will not sell you a stamp unless you hand over the postcard.

Kopaonik's town centre is the site of the other accommodation offered by our tour operator, Thomson; apartments built 20 years ago around a square of shops, bars and restaurants. In fact, the complex is the town centre, supplemented by a few market stalls selling local produce such as honey and pickled vegetables, and one that specialises in bullets, knuckle dusters, knives and what looked like real guns.

Those sinister wares flashed through my mind later that evening when loud bangs erupted around us, but it turned out to be fireworks, ignited at random. The Serbian take on health and safety is less developed than ours; no one suggested helmets for the children when skiing, and not smoking, like being vegetarian, is considered mildly eccentric.

The bangs contributed to the town's party feel. But while the younger holidaymakers could indulge in après-ski, the atmosphere wasn't quite so enjoyable for the middle-aged couple whose flat was above a noisy club where the DJ wound everyone up to a foot-stomping finale at 2am.

Being too young and too old for late nights, we spent the evenings at the ice rink, where my non-skating kids were whisked away from the sides by eager Serbian hands. Or, best of all, sliding down a gentle slope on soft plastic trays, which the kids seemed to enjoy as much as skiing with all its complicated paraphernalia.

Our hotel's great advantage, apart from the quiet, was that you could ski from the back door. We visited during the great no-snow of this past Christmas, so only two long blue runs were open, but the resort at full throttle has 44km of downhill skiing plus 18km of cross-country trails with 22 lifts. And my learner kids were thrilled to be able to sail down easy runs of 1,400m and 1,200m.

Miki regretted he couldn't show us Kopaonik at its best. "I could show you wolves. I could show you foxes. We could go all day and see no one," he told us.

He did manage to show us two wolf skins at a hut called Wolves' Way at the top of the chair lift. The coats, along with those of various other beasts, were nailed to the wall. We looked at them while sipping hot wine round an open fire that was being used to smoke hams, and grill hamburgers. ("Everything is organic," Miki assured us.) The braver among us tried rakija, the local brandy, and Miki got out his mobile phone to show off a picture of a wolf he had shot recently.

It was our last evening. We said our goodbyes and went off to pack, leaving Miki to prepare for his next pupil, the President of Macedonia.

THE COMPACT GUIDE: HOW TO GET THERE

Natalie Holmes travelled with Thomson Ski (0870-606 1470; thomson-ski.co.uk), which offers a week at the four-star Hotel Grand in Kopaonik from £399 per adult, £99 per child aged 2-11, £39 for under-2s, based on two sharing. The price includes return flights, transfers and half board. A six-day lift pass for a family of four is £174, and six-day ski and boot hire is £73 per person. Ski tuition was provided by the Elite ski school.

FURTHER INFORMATION

National Tourism Organisation of Serbia (serbia-tourism.org).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions