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?
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

    £26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Day In a Page

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests