A Balkan adventure


The Zivanovic family run farm
The Zivanovic family run farm

The Serbian town of Sremski Karlovci is a quaint, multi-dimensional hub, where one can learn about the art of bee-keeping

By Kalpana Sunder

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Published: Thu 24 Jan 2019, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 25 Jan 2019, 1:00 AM

I am in the small town of Sremski Karlovci in Serbia, on the right bank of the mighty Danube river. Driving from Belgrade we have whizzed past miles and miles of pancake-flat land lined with sunflowers, that stand out like soldiers in a march past - with their faces turned towards the brilliant sun. This is bucolic bliss at its best: fertile fields covered with wheat and corn, small farmhouses, spired churches, tractors and red-roofed houses.
We gradually arrive into a terrain of rolling hills and the region of Fruska Gora. Sremski Karlovci was a spiritual and cultural centre in the 18th century during the Austro-Hungarian rule and is still a centre of culture and education. "Because of its close proximity to Austria, and its connection with the Viennese court, Karlovci has been a city well ahead of its time," explains our local guide, Bojana Sestovic.
The town was an important centre for trade, with a multi-cultural population composed of Serbs, Croats, Hungarians, Slovaks and Germans. It is many firsts: the first modern Serbian drama was written and performed here in 1733; it's also home to Serbia's oldest grammar school dating back to 1791, painted ochre and mustard, where famous Serbs have studied; it has a huge library, with more than 18,000 books - including many first editions of Serbian classics.
Beautiful Baroque facades in warm shades of yellow and maroon line the small town. There is the ornate, Four Lions fountain made of marble; it is said that if you drink from here, you will return to the town to be married! The yellow Chapel of Peace is where the Turks and the Austrians signed a peace treaty in 1699.
Karlovci is famous for its special, aromatic dessert beverage called Bermet (infused with almost 27 different aromatic herbs and spices), which was supplied to the Austro-Hungarian court; it is even said to have been served on the Titanic's maiden voyage!
We wander through the main square, lined with terraces, trees and fountains, where gelato and popcorn stalls do brisk business; it is named after the famous poet Branko Radicevic. "He was very popular as he wrote in the simple language of the common folk, about the problems of love and the joys of nature," says Bojana.
The large Orthodox St Nicholas church was designed by Serbian and German architects in 1758; next to it stands the Catholic Church of Holy Trinity. "The Orthodox and Catholic churches lying cheek to jowl emphasise the unity that is found in the community here, where people of different denominations live together in harmony," continues Bojana.
We walk down to the farm and family home of the Zivanovic family; they dabble in apiculture - or bee-keeping. A green manicured lawn, with colourful wooden bee-boxes painted yellow, red and green lie on the grass, besides flower boxes, wooden timbered buildings, fruit trees and vegetable patches.
The Beekeeping Museum was started by Professor Jovan Zivanovic who had tuberculosis, and decided to live close to nature, growing fruits and tending to the farm. He managed to live a healthy life, up to the age of 75. We learn all about the life of bees: from how a queen bee lays 2,000 eggs in 24 weeks to how the worker bees make honey. Old instruments to extract honey from 1876, ancient manuals and bee hives down the ages are showcased at the museum. Our guide shows us pointy cone-shaped mud plastered hives that look like hats, and modern box-style hives. My favourite is a wooden beehive, in the shape of a domed Serbian church, dating back to 1880 and, after years in the garden, has been moved indoors for protection.
We spend the afternoon tasting different varieties of honey made by the family: from a tasty sesame seed variant to another which boosts your immunity called apicocktail, made with thick honey jelly.
A serendipitous discovery in town is the small but exquisite Match Museum, which has a collection of vintage matchboxes and labels - 25,000 exhibits from more than 50 countries - a collection that the owner Jovana Popovic's stepmother started many years ago. I am delighted to see some vintage matchboxes from India. We leave town after a coffee break, sampling its specialty, the Kuglof, a cake that originated in 17th-century Germany. It was definitely a sweet ending to our time in Sremski Karlovci.

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