Being caught up in of the most brutal and controversial of the wars that raged in the Balkans in the 1990’s, many UN member states are split on the question on whether Kosovo is a sovereign nation of not. After all, five districts in the countries’ north are still administered by local Serb groups, the fact that these areas are not under the central government’s control, plus the regional alliances with Serbia have led to the nebulous status of this former Yugoslav republic.
However, most of this country is administered by authorities that consider themselves autonomous from Belgrade, so one who visits this portion of the Balkans should treat as such. An example of this is the border controls that man the border in places away from Serbia, as getting a Kosovo stamp in your passport will bar you from entering Serbia. Therefore, either get the official to stamp a piece of paper outside your passport, or visit Serbia prior to entering Kosovo.
With these legal provisos out of way, the intrepid traveler will find an incredibly warm local populace that eagerly welcome those that choose to come here. With many aged monasteries, rugged nature to trek amongst, and the youngest population in Europe, those willing to cast aside media-enhanced stereotypes of a war zone that hasn’t active for more than a decade due to UN and NATO intervention will being amply rewarded for their forwardness.
Languages: Albanian, Serbian
What To Do
Considering the place you are in, getting the history of this tiny territory is an advisable step. To accomplish this, spending a couple of hours perusing the National Museum of Kosovo will aid you in this endeavour. Though the Serbs stole many of the valuable artifacts during the war in the late 1990’s, the exhibits that remain still grant an enlightening look into the history of human habitation in Kosovo. Features go all the way back to the times of the Romans and the recent conflict is also documented with artillery pieces that were commandeered by Kosovar forces.
Those who are fans of UNESCO World Heritage Sites will find two structures to check off their list in Kosovo will find the Decani and Gračanica Monasteries to be very satisfying additions to their collection. Decani is cited as having some significant frescoes that open a window to life in the 14th century, and Gracanica was built up on the ruins of a former church by a king who wanted to renew the site to honour God. As in the case of Decani Monastery, many complex frescoes coat the interior, and with threats from local extremist groups to destroy both complexes, UN forces guard these cultural treasures to prevent saboteurs from making a move against either of these sites.
While the country as a whole is relatively peaceful, tensions do remain high in some regions. A place to observe this geopolitical drama is at the Mitrovica Bridge, where French UN troops control access to this contentious span. The north side of this city is populated by Serbs predominately, while the opposite is true on the southern side, with ethnic Albanians forming the overwhelming majority. While your safety is generally assured, UN forces will sometime block traffic across the modern bridge when social unrest is at a high.
Those looking to get out of the cities and see what nature that Kosovo has to offer will enjoy a drive through the Rugova Canyon area. This jaw-dropping route will test your cornering ability, as the multiple hairpins will get twice as hard as you fight to keep your eyes on the road, away from the awe-inspiring mountain scenery that proliferates around you. When you manage to pry your DLSR camera from your fingers, one can also go caving in this region as well, after which you will marvel at how nobody outside of this region has ever heard of this slice of mountainous paradise!
Finally, those looking to take in the spectacle of water falling from great heights should make a trip to the Mirusha Waterfalls. Being a tiered system of cataracts, those looking for a meditative getaway in the Kosovar wilderness will find it here, though those more socially inclined might want to join locals in taking a dip in one of the pools in this area.
What To Eat
Those looking for a savoury snack or appetizer should try Flia, one of the national dishes of Kosovo. A layered flatbread that features cheese and yoghurt between its tiers, you’ll be grabbing at this finger food with reckless abandon until the sad moment when every last wedge of it is gone.
A side dish that finds its way onto the plates of most Kosovars is Suxhuk, a sausage that has tonnes of spices and ground beef (with pork sometimes being used in non-Muslim areas). It is often in this fashion, though sometimes it also finds its way into sandwiches as an ingredient as well.
Finally, a casserole that is very popular in this nation is Tavë Prizreni, a meal that mixes shredded beef with fresh vegetables like okra, onions and tomatoes. This hearty dish will warm your insides on a chilly day in Kosovo, which may happen if you’re traveling outside of the high season.