Ђердапска клисура/Iron Gates, River Danube, Serbia

by - March 25, 2011

The “Iron Gates” of the River Danube, Ɖerdap National Park, Serbia

Having had such an epic day of travelling yesterday in Fruska Gora, I knew that today would take some beating.  One of the places that I had really wanted to go to was the fortress at Golubac in the middle of nowhere, beside the River Danube, about an hour and a half out of Belgrade.  I had no idea how we would get there - Lonely Planet said that the best way was to get a bus to a stop further down the line and ask to be let out at the fortress.  This was all good and well, but didn’t offer a clear way back to Belgrade afterwards and I didn’t particularly envy the thought of being left in a National Park which still contains bears,  To solve my conundrum, I had visited the tourist office in Belgrade to see if they could suggest anything.  It was here that one of the tourist officials, Ɖani, came up with a pretty good idea.  As somebody who often ran day trips, and who loved the Ɖerdap National Park, he offered the three of us a tour of the River Danube in his Fiat Punto for the day.  We would of course have to pay, but to have a qualified local person with us for a whole 12 hour tour was worth the £40 each that he charged us.  

After exchanging details the night before, we met Ɖani in his car in Republic Square at 8.00am ready for our tour.  The plan was to drive to Golubac, which is where the fortress I wanted to see was and which was also the start of the National Park.  From there we would drive along the road beside the Danube through the river’s “Iron Gates”, which is the nickname given to the deep gorge through which it flows.  All of this area is a part of the Park and we planned to drive from one end to the other, finishing in the town of Kladovo.  The river marks the border between Serbia and Romania and also the border between two time zones.

Golubac Castle
Golubac castle is shrouded in mystery.  Nobody knows quite who built it originally, but it was occupied by the Serbian, Austrian and Ottoman empires.  Now it lies in a state of disrepair beside the Danube where people are free to come and visit it if they can manage to find transport there - there are no sign posts or guidebooks - it is as though the castle had sprouted out of the earth.  The only people there were some farmers who were burning some rubbish.  As a completely undeveloped tourist site, there were no handrails and the road that passed through the centre of the castle was a major freight route from Romania to Serbia.  We had been warned that somebody had fallen from the tower a few years back when some rocks fell and that the upper towers were a favourite spot for snakes.  We therefore stuck to the lower parts of the castle, but still got some amazing photos.  It is one of the most unique places I have ever been.

Iron Gates, Serbia
From here onwards we basically drove to Kladovo, stopping wherever we felt that there was a good place to admire the view.  It was a wonderfully clear day and the Iron Gates were really spectacular.  It was also fantastic to have a Serbian person with us who could not only tell us information about the National Park, but also about life in Serbia itself.  I was particularly interested to be able to speak to somebody who was open about the effects of the war and relations between the various ethnic groups in the Balkans.  Ɖani was pretty optimistic - saying that in general the ethnic groups can get along now and that there are only a few areas where discrimination still occurs.  Most discrimination has now been channelled into rivalry in things like sports.  It took us about another two and a half hours to travel the length of the the Park to Kladovo, but we got some wonderful pictures on the way.  The ones I have shown here only give a glimpse of what the area was like, but I have tried to do it justice.  Our only stop along the way was in the town of Donji Milanovac, where Ɖani generously bought us a round of coffees to keep us alert.

Diana Roman Ruins
Iron Gates Dam
Just before Kladovo were two major sites that would have been interesting in their own rights, let alone at the foot of a National Park.  The first of these was the Iron Gate dam, built in the 1970s as a joint project between Yugoslavia and Romania to control the Danube and provide power.  There were signs up from that era that prohibited the taking of photos, but we subtly avoided any police vehicles and got some great snaps.  The dam is one of the only two Danube crossings between Belgrade and the far east of Serbia, so there is a fair bit of security and custom buildings, as well as a border police presence.  Within sight of the dam is the remains of the Diana fortress, built by the Romans to defend the traditional northern boundary of the empire.  The remains were fairly impressive, but were technically out of bounds because valuable artefacts such as gold and silver pieces are still being dug up.  The guard was willing to let us in however as we were with a local and we were able to wonder around what were actually fairly complete ruins.  

Me and Dani
The town of Kladovo was the furthest east that we were travelling, and after stopping there for a quick lunch of fish soup, we turned back in the direction we had come from to get photos looking the opposite way.  The sun was getting lower as we travelled along the gorge and Ɖani was in a rush to get back to Golubac before the sun had gone down to allow us to get some photos of the sun setting over the castle.  This didn’t stop us having breaks on the way however and we were able to find a track down to the river level where we were able to really appreciate the sheer scale of the gorge.  Having powered along the Danube road, we managed to get to Golubac in the nick of time, just as the sun was disappearing beyond the horizon and were therefore able to get some really special photos, my favourite of which I have included below.

Sunset over Golubac Fortress
Arriving back in Belgrade at exactly 8.00pm, we thanked Ɖani  profusely and exchanged details - he had been interested in my blog and I thought it would be fantastic to have a contact in the Balkans for future travels.  It had been a fantastic travelling day, even better than yesterday and, with the knowledge that this was our last night in the city we wanted to cap it all off with an epic restaurant.  We had already been to the real famous places - “?” and “Little Bay”, so this evening we headed back to Skadarska, the Bohemian district where we had eaten on our first night.  By now it was about half 9 which seemed to be perfect timing as the live local bands had just started.  We settled for “Gruja’s” restaurant, where we had a variety of traditional Balkan stuffed meats with cabbage salad and chips.  Instead of dessert me and Alex (Hollie was too full), decided on a Serbian coffee (the intensely strong Turkish coffee that is essentially a shot), followed by an actual shot of Rakia.  We didn’t know which flavour to choose -we had already sampled the famous Slivovich, which is Plum Rakia, so we decided to go for the most expensive shot on the Rakia menu - named “Yellow Wasp”.  Amusingly, the waiter wasn’t really able to explain what went into this shot and it was incredibly strong (it is about 50% proof).  Hollie recorded the downing of the shot for hilarious posterity and it was a great day to end our last full day in Serbia.

You May Also Like