Looking at a geographical map of Europe, you wouldn’t expect to find any substantial amounts of sand on the continent, other than at beaches and children’s playgrounds.
While sunny Spain does have vast deserts, the biggest sandy terrain in Europe is actually found in an unlikely place – Serbia.
Just an hour’s drive from the capital Belgrade resides the unique nature reservation of Deliblato Sands, blending fine-sand dunes with blissful greenery.
A most uncommon terrain for hiking in Serbia, it’s regarded as the European Sahara, but the more appropriate moniker might be the “Green Sahara”.
And the best thing for hikers is that it’s no where near as popular as it should be, not even with locals.
Deliblato Sands – The Old Continent’s oldest desert
The area known as Deliblatska peščara in Serbian is a large sandy area covering around 300 km2 (120 square miles) in the Vojvodina province of Serbia.
Spain’s Tabernas Desert is a bit smaller than Deliblato Sands and is a rugged, barren place. The “European Sahara” on the other hand, is a 300 kilometer large oasis.
The spot was once part of a vast prehistoric desert, having originated from the withdrawal of the Pannonian Sea, once located in what is today Hungary and Vojvodina.
The dunes were created during the Holocene epoch, as strong wind sculpted unusual hilly piles in what was previously flat land north of the Danube.
Much later the area became sprinkled with greenery that now gives it a special charm.
How did that become the case? Well in the late 18th century Austro-Hungarian authorities, ruling over the land at the time, needed to find a way to tame the sands as grains of the stuff were traveling in the wind all the way to Vienna and Pest.
So an effort was made to plant Deliblato Sands with trees, with around 300 km2 of the area being covered with by greenery.
Three major fires then diminished much of the area planted with trees, and created a one of a kind landscape at Deliblato Sands in which the cream-colored sands mix with lush greens.
It also made it a perfect spot for hiking in Serbia, and in Europe. As while walking in the desert under the scorching sun doesn’t sound like too much fun, hiking on sand in the shade of trees certainly does!
The fuse of soft sand, dotted with green grass and both deciduous and evergreen trees give the area an unusual vibe regardless of the time period. The sands were even used as a hideout by the Yugoslav Partisans during World War II as the many dunes and vegetation created a natural covering landscape.
Deliblato Sands – the hidden destination for hiking in Serbia
Even though it’s located around 60 kilometers (38 miles) from the bustling capital of Belgrade, and near Serbia’s fifth-most populous town of Pančevo, this destination isn’t nearly as popular as it should be.
Belgrade is on the edge of Vojvodina province, so finding a route to the best hiking spot in Serbia is pretty straight forward.
As the province is mostly a plain, even the roads leading to it are all mostly straight and easy to drive on. And you’ll get to pass through some pretty scenic villages that have kept their old charm.
Nowadays Serbia is mostly known by tourists for its nightlife, with Exit music festival in Novi Sad being at the forefront of that reputation.
However after all those nights of partying, a proper rehabilitation in nature would be advised and as Deliblato Sands is just 120 kilometers from Novi Sad, across flat plains, it is a natural choice. With another of nature’s gems on the way as a perfect pit-stop – the biggest bog in Serbia, called Carska Bara – it’s a great way to see the natural beauty of this incredible country.
Novi Sad-adjacent Fruska Gora hiking trails are much closer but don’t offer the sight specificity of Deliblato.
As for other countries, Deliblato Sands is located near the Romanian border and could be visited with just a short drive from Timisoara, a city that boasts many low-cost flights.
Hiking in Serbia – Why Deliblato Sands?
The name of Serbia’s natural asset, in a literal sense means, “split the mud” – and that’s exactly what Deliblato Sands does. The agricultural area of Vojvodina is separated with a sandy terrain that has plenty of benefits for outdoor walking.
While others spots for hiking in Serbia, like the popular Tara National Park, are commercialized to a degree, Deliblato Sands remains quite untouched.
But they are still monitored and do offer the bare necessities for safe wandering like marked trails and some rangers.
The hub of the area is the “Omladinsko Naselje Čardak” – a Youth Settlement, boasting several charming buildings for accommodation, sports courts, a basic store, and a restaurant. Although, as the area isn’t popular, reliance on it regarding food and water isn’t advised and most supplies should be bought at nearby Deliblato village, 7 kilometers away.
Hiking in Deliblato Sands
There are several trails available to the adventurous hiker, but also some for mountain biking.
Whilst mountain biking in Serbia isn’t so popular, and riding in sands can be a little difficult, due to the biodiversity of the region, there are two trails suitable for adrenaline-seeking mountain bikers.
The trails are:
Trail 1 – Čardak – Vrela: circular walking path, total length – 12 km. Also suitable for mountain biking.
Trail 2 – Borovi breg: walking path in the shape of an 8, total length – 15 km. It is also suitable for mountain biking and jogging.
Trail 3 – Koprivić: circular walking pathway, total length – 7 km.
Trail 4 – The path of Joy: circular walking pathway, total length – 5 km.
Trail 5 – The Eco path: circular walking pathway, total length – 3,5 km.
Trail 6 – The Health path: circular walking pathway, total length – 3,5 km
You can see a map of the trails below.
As the sand doesn’t allow forestation and greenery to get too thick, wandering freely away from the trails can be done easily. Just make sure you know where you are going, and prepare beforehand, just to be safe.
The youth settlement hosts school excursions, and sports teams use the facilities for pre-season, but the destination isn’t as popular as Serbia’s mountains.
Due to the softness of the soil, Deliblato Sands is also more forgiving and accessible for older hikers or ones with injuries.
Hiking in Deliblato Sands can be done at any time of the year that it isn’t snowing, as the sandy terrain is forgiving to walk on even when the weather is rainy. An added plus – no muddy shoes to trouble you after trekking.
During February and November, the area has a bit of an other-worldly sci-fi feel, while the spring and summer offer an entrance into a fairytale.
Deliblato Sands activities
When the main treks slicing through the greenery start to tire you out, the area offers other extra-curriculum activities to try out.
There are seven hunting houses on the Deliblato territory, while a separate special nature reservation called Kraljevac is perfect for sports fishing, and is located adjacent to Deliblato village.
Naturally, the sandy area is ideal for wine-making and on the other side of the Deliblato Sands, surrounding the town of Vršac, is the renowned wine-region.
The southern edge of the reservation is a marshy area named Labudovo Okno (Swan’s Window) and is under an international conservation treaty. The marshes, ponds, and river islands at this site are considered one of the most important bird migratory habitats in the country and great option for bird-watching in Serbia.
Deliblato Sands brings the best of both worlds as woodland and steppe vegetation meld together with soft sandy dunes making for a unique experience for wanderers that few other places can provide. And none in Europe.