Holidaying in lands that don't exist: Kosovo

Sascha Duerkop May 19, 2020
Holidaying in lands that don't exist: Kosovo

Despite being recognised by most European member states and by the UK, the tiny Balkan republic of Kosovo is still considered part of Serbia by a simple majority of states.

However, for regular travellers to off-the-map destinations, the existence of direct flights from London to the capital of the Kosovo, Pristina, is a luxury.

Look past Pristina

Most of the few tourists, and even Kosovars, seem to agree that your best choice in Pristina would be leaving it. While it is the youngest capital in Europe and has an active street art scene and a certain vibe of resurrection after the wars in the 90s, it is also rather unpleasing to the eye. The city’s main sights are a Soviet brutalist style library and an installation of the word “NEWBORN”, both of which regularly get vandalised by spray paint or people kicking them down. That probably sums up Pristina.

The Ottoman old town of Prizren, Kosovo by Sascha Duerkop

But once you head out of Pristina, you will find yourself amidst some of Europe’s most unspoiled nature. Green rolling hills and the occasional mountain make driving around Kosovo a joy in itself. As most streets had to be newly laid after the war, the drive is much less nerve-wrecking than it is in neighbouring parts of the Balkans, too. And even the landmines are gone these days (more or less)!

Peja: A well-guarded secret

The place to be for tourists is usually Prizren. A bustling small Ottoman town in the west of the country, close to the Albanian border. While no visit to Kosovo is complete without paying the unspellable city a visit, the much less known Peja fascinated me even more.

The city, which the Serbian call Pec, is still host to the Patriarchate of Pec, a UNESCO World Heritage site and traditionally the seat of the head of the Serbian Orthodox church. Given the fierce war in the region, you will have to hand in your passport to enter the heavily guarded monastery and usually the only other ‘tourists’ will be German, Austrian or Italian soldiers from barracks nearby.

The Rugova national park, as seen from the Patriarchat in Peja, by Sascha Duerkop.

Once you have enough of the military protected monastery, you can just walk around the ancient Ottoman city centre or hike in the breathtaking mountains of nearby Rugova, before having a well-earned rest in the only five-star-hotel in Kosovo – Hotel Dukagjini.

When to visit Kosovo

The best time to visit Kosovo is throughout the summer, but basically any time from April to September. But if you are looking to ski at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games reserve slopes of Brezovica, it’s best to come in March, when snow is almost guaranteed.

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Sascha Düerkop is a German mathematician, economist, football maniac, geography nerd and traveller. He has travelled to most unrecognised countries and way beyond, organised football tournaments for not-quite-states and has over 500 football national team shirts in his wardrobe.