Western Kosovo: Peja and Decan

In the west of Kosovo sits Peja (in Serbian: Pec), a comfortable city of over 80,000, framed by enormous peaks. Peja isn’t really ready for significant numbers of tourists, with just a handful of what the eager fellow at the tourist information office called “tourist standard” hotels.

Even given the paucity of beds for tourists–and despite the fact that a film festival was ongoing during our visit–we only had to spend ten minutes hitting the pavement before finding rooms at Hotel Gold, a perfectly acceptable, very Mitteleuropa sort of place.

In point of fact, Peja is a very appealing city, considerably more pleasant to wander than Prishtina, Kosovo’s hurly-burly capital city. Peja’s immediate appeals include its central downtown area, the green and mountainous Rugova Valley, and the Pec Patriarchate, a monastic complex viewed as the spiritual core of Serbia.

That this final site is located within the boundaries of Kosovo, recognized by most European countries as independent from Serbia since 2008, underscores the complexity of the tussle over territory and sovereignty in this corner of the Balkans.

Peja is also home to a lovely restaurant called Art Design (Rr Enver Hadri), where the local dishes are very good. Order the filling local meze platter and ignore the more international offerings.

It is, however, the remarkable monastery of Visoki Decani, several miles away in the town of Decan, that is the region’s most impressive site. Guarded by Italian KFOR (NATO-led Kosovo force) peacekeepers, the church itself is a large medieval structure that dates back to the 14th Century.

While the interior frescoes, intricate and overwhelming, are particularly striking, the entire complex is of interest to pilgrims and tourists alike. The monastery’s shop has a fascinating inventory, selling religious items, cheese, honey, and other products from Visoki Decani as well as from other monasteries in the region.

Tourist agencies in Prishtina often suggest to visitors that Visoki Decani be visited on a day trip from the capital. It may be simpler for rushed visitors to proceed in this manner, though such an approach also means missing out on the opportunity to overnight in delightful and relaxed Peja.

You should be able to bargain a taxi between Peja and Visoki Decani monastery down to €5, or around €10 if you ask your driver to wait to return you to Peja following your visit.