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).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone