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Whether you come for the mosques, heritage-listed monasteries, the wild, untamed mountains, or the hearty food and drink, this tiny Balkan country is big on unforgettable experiences and incredible hospitality…

The Mosques

Islamic monuments in Kosovo are commonly related with the Ottoman arrival in 1389, and respectively with their effective establishment in Kosovo in 1459. However, many historical evidences show that the first encounters of Islam with the Balkans happened well before the arrival of the Ottomans and their establishment in the Balkans. Because of its proximity to the centers of Islam, i.e., Middle East, the Byzantine Empire and parts of the Balkans, including the Albanian territories and Kosovo as well, were exposed to Islam as early as in the 8th century.

The oldest mosque on the Balkan Peninsula is located in Kosovo, more precisely in the village of Mlike in Gora.
A stone plaque was found on the minaret of this mosque stating that this mosque was restored by Ahmed-aga in 1822, while the mosque was built in 1289.

Further analysis of the stone plaque, entering the content of the text, raises the question of whether the mosque in Mlike was built a hundred years ago, before the arrival of the Ottomans, by Arab immigrants from Aleppo. Although this assumption is almost generally accepted in Gora today, the plaque does not offer any detailed information.

The churches and monasteries

Sitting at the crossroads of history and religion, Kosovo is home to some of the most important monasteries and churches in Central Europe. Gračanica Monastery, just southeast of the capital, Pristina, is one of the best preserved examples of late Byzantine architecture in the world. The monastery of Visoki Dečani, set in a forest in the Dečan canyon, has survived a long history of conflict and is an extraordinary example of Orthodox monastic architecture.

Most breathtaking of all is the Patriarchate of Peć, a 13th century church and nunnery complex that sits at the foot of the Accursed Mountains and the Rugova Valley. A mainstay of Serbian orthodoxy, it has a church divided into four separate chapels, each containing superb frescoes. Walled and protected by Kosovo police, life continues here to its own rhythms, cut off from the outside world.

The cities

The Kosovo capital, Pristina, is a lively city of cafes, museums and galleries. It is a beguiling mix of old and new, with a with the buzz that comes from Europe’s youngest population. The nightlife and cafe culture is exceptional – there’s always a gallery opening, theatre performance or live concert to attend. Ask a local for recommendations regarding the hippest clubs or cafes. Places go in and out of favour on a weekly basis. Leave time for a visit to the excellent Ethnographic Museum too.

A couple of hours south of the capital you’ll find Prizren, the real gem of Kosovo. With its fortress perched on a hill over the town, beautiful mosques and churches and the lazy Bistrica River curving between the red-roofed houses, Prizren is a photogenic old-time town. It was the capital of the Serbian Empire in the XIV century, and its well-preserved Ottoman quarter is a reminder of those turbulent times. Turkish is still spoken in many of the cafes.

The culture

Hospitality is the cornerstone of life in Kosovo. Outside of the cities – and particularly in remote mountain regions –  you will be welcomed into people’s homes and treated like royalty. It’s part of the traditional Albanian kanun, a code of conduct designed to ensure survival in an often ungiving and harsh environment.

Traditional stone houses called kullas are considered the epitome of this code. These mini stone fortresses provided sanctuary in a tough and uncertain world for families and their guests. The best examples can be found in the villages of Junik and Dranoc. Some have been restored and turned into homestays – the perfect way to experience authentic Kosova hospitality, food and culture.

The food

The food in Kosovo is as hearty and welcoming as its people. Expect plenty of grilled meat and vegetables, filling pastries and lashings of honey and cheese. A traditional Albanian favourite is tavë, a hearty oven dish of meat, tomatoes and aubergine. It is guaranteed to fuel even the most strenuous mountain hike. 

Flia, however, is the country’s culinary superstar and you should not leave before trying it. It’s a dish of pancake-like pastry, layered with cream and yogurt, and pite, a filo pastry with cheese, meat, or vegetable filling. Traditionally, flia is cooked in outside oven for a couple of hours and served on a huge tray in front of the whole family. March 18 is ‘Flia Day’, when it is customary for people to invite family around and eat flia all day.

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