Kosovo, the newest country in Europe, is somewhere everyone has heard of, yet hardly anyone could find it on a map. Elizabeth Gowing shares her inside knowledge
Is it the capital of Croatia? Is it part of Bosnia? No, it’s a newly independent country (since 2008) once part of Yugoslavia, and sharing borders with Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania.
Despite the fact that in the UK, Kosovo is best know for its war, Kosovo is very safe. The over-riding impression of visitors is of hospitality and a generous welcome (and huge carbohydrate-rich dishes). The Albanian saying is that ‘your home belongs to God and the guest’ so it’s an ideal place to be a visitor. But it’s not a country that’s set up for tourism so you’ll need a bit of help to find the best bits. It’s been my home for five years, and these are my five top tips.
Every visitor to Kosovo will go to Prizren, the Ottoman capital with its cobbled streets, citadel with panoramic views, and historic mosques. Prizren is also particularly known for silver filigree work; make sure you visit the workshop of the city’s last co-operative, and watch the filigree being made in a process which magics thick rods of silver into lacy scribbles of wire which become exquisite jewellery. You can even have a go yourself.
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Although there are gems to be seen in Pristina, Peja/ Pec, Gjakova and Prizren, the life of the Kosovan countryside is a glimpse into another world. There are haystacks like honey monsters, delicious fresh produce, and a style of architecture unique to Kosovo and northern Albania – the fortified stone houses known as ‘kulla’s which were built for Albanian families in blood feud. You can now stay at a restored kulla hotel (in Junik) or another available for self-catering (in Decan) – photographs on my website www.elizabethgowing.com on the ‘Kulla’ tab.
Whether in the Serbian village of Velika Hoca, in the midst of the wine-growing and raki brandy producing region, with 12 ancient monasteries to visit in between sips, or in the Accursed Mountains’ stunning Rugova gorge stained with blueberries in summer, or by the Novo Brdo castle ruins, there are homes ready to welcome visitors.
Did you know that Kosovo’s ski resort of Brezovica was Yugoslavia’s back-up location for the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. In summer there is great walking with beautiful views, and spring’s wild flower display make it a resort for all year round.
My own NGO is one of many which need volunteers for programmes running from anything from a week to six months. Projects can include English teaching for children or to help adults into employment, environmental education programmes, mentoring, photography projects, setting up income-generation projects… It’s a more meaningful way to meet local people and begin to understand a country.
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Elizabeth Gowing is the author of Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, which came out this summer with Signal Books. She is also the co-founder of The Ideas Partnership charitable NGO which works in Kosovo on educational, environmental and cultural heritage projects www.theideaspartnership.org and www.GettingGjelaneToSchool.wordpress.com.