Our Correspondent Anna Rostokina is a Moscow girl who moved to Montenegro in 2008 following her passion for the Balkans. In the next year she travelled the region before settling down in Belgrade, Serbia, where she now works as a translator and language teacher. Join her on a tour of Kustendorf, a hotel dreamt up by a Serbian movie director:
While driving from the town of Zlatibor, when you catch the first glimpse of the village’s wooden roofs glittering in the sun on the top of Mećavnik hill, the first thought that crosses your mind is that they must have been there for ever. The reality, however, is that Küstendorf was built only a few years ago and owes its existence to one man.
Film director Emir Kusturica noticed the hill when he was shooting his anti-war movie Life Is a Miracle on an old railway that once connected Bosnia and Serbia. He says Mećavnik was the only place in the valley where it was always sunny, yet there was not a single house to be seen on the slope. So Emir came back later, this time to buy the place. But instead of constructing a private villa, he did something altogether different: he built a village which anyone can experience and enjoy for a price of a hotel room.
It was an ambitious project: the team bought a dozen old wooden houses, traditional for the region, and transported them in parts to reassemble them in Küstendorf. Drvengrad, the Serbian name of the village, literally means ‘Timber Town’ (while its international, German-derived equivalent nicely matches the owner’s surname).
The smell of timber tickles your nostrils as you walk the streets of Küstendorf, paved with old rail sleepers. And yes, there are streets and a couple of squares, all of them named after the owner’s idols such as Bruce Lee and Federico Fellini. The town has its own gallery, a book store and a cinema where Kusturica’s movies are screened in the evening hours. In January this small cinema is home to the director’s very own film festival, which has so far brought such celebrities as Johnny Depp and Nikita Mikhalkov to this small Balkan village.
The local landmark is the wooden Orthodox church – Muslim-born, Kusturica converted to Christianity after he settled in Serbia. A controversial site here is the village jail in which the director shows painted figures of George Bush Jr and Javier Solana serving a life-long sentence for the crimes they made against his nation.
Küstendorf has this out-of-a-movie look, with picture perfect wooden houses, retro cars parked forever on its squares, flowers growing in old cooking pots and hand-painted decor paying homage to Balkan naivism. The picture is complete with a bunch of friendly dogs and cats walking around, enjoying the attention. All in all it feels like visiting the Serbian grandmother you never had. Well, except that it comes with four stars. This means, among other things, that hotel guests can enjoy the swimming pool and the sauna, the gym and the sports center, all of them included in the tariff.
Just around the corner, there two restaurants, a bar and a sweetshop, reflecting the great affection that Serbs have for food as a nation. The buffet includes typical Balkan meals with a Western touch, while the à la carte restaurant features Serbian specialties: hearty portions of grilled meat served with simple side-dishes and even simpler salads. The vegetarian must-tries are baked beans, spinach and cheese pie and ajvar, a bright-orange pepper and eggplant souce.
Emir Kusturica (born in 1854 in Sarajevo, now in Bosnia and Herzegovina) is a Serbian filmmaker, actor and musician. He has been recognisedfor several internationally acclaimed feature films such as Time of the Gypsies, Underground, Arizona Dream and Black Cat, White Cat. He also plays bass guitar in the band Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra.
Excerpted from our Jan-Feb 2014 issue.