In 2008, Ken Loach won the prestigious European Film Festival award. If you are a fan, it might also have registered with you that the festival takes place, each year, in Palić, a little village about 8km outside Subotica in Serbia. If you’re not a fan, and you’re not Serbian, then you’re excused from never having heard of the place. And if you ever find yourself in Subotica and want to venture forth, then take the No. 6 bus … but remember that in this part of the world, you enter at the back of the bus and pay the man sitting in the booth. The driver… drives. Quite the division of labour. If you do as we did, be prepared to be assaulted by a passenger chorus which is both unintelligble and a little intimidating.
The village sits on the edge of Palić lake and is home to about 8000 people, most of them ethnic Hungarians. It has about 450 guesthouses/villas, so it’s a fair guess what most of them do for a living. The Hungarian style of Art Nouveau is well represented and is probably why the village is said to have a Disney feel to it. It would take very little imagination to see Rapunzel dropping her hair down the side of Owl Castle, or to envisage a 1920s Gatsby-style cocktail party in the grounds of the Grand Terrace. It really is rather pretty and with 17km of bike paths, it’s a nice place to spend an afternoon. If you’re that way inclined, that is. I’m not. So I settled for wandering the paths, testing the surprisingly good, neon green, apple ice-cream, and reading the notices. Mind you, if I had kids, I’d consider it for a holiday – pedal boats and beaches, bikes and bikebuggies, and the zoo just around the corner. And did I mention the ice-cream?
I learned a lot by reading the notices. For instance, I didn’t know that in 1956, the village was home to a refugee camp for Hungarians fleeing from Hungary. Makes sense, really; the area was once inside the Hungarian borders. Even more interesting though is what I found when I went to find out more! I never knew that 541 Hungarians took refuge in Ireland in 1956, in a camp at Knocknalisheen in Limerick. And while I never cease to marvel how much I don’t know, at times I really wonder where I’ve been most of my life.
All roads into the ‘resort’ fan out from the Water Tower and standing with your back to the lake, if you take the road on the far right, you’ll pass the Hungarian Embassy – or at least that’s what I think it is. But then I could have sworn I saw one in Subotica, too. Perhaps this is the summer residence.
All along that row stand what must have been Communist Party villas in the early 1900s. A large number are now small hotels – each one beautifully maintained. All rather splendid and sedate. Even the local post office is something to write home about – and following my own particular word association there, Palić, like Subotica, is devoid of postcards. Neither town appears to attract foreigners, as we were told when we went to see the excellent ‘Love it or Leave it‘ exhibition of contemporary art from the region, and when we had a guided tour of the American Corner.
It was Friday – and it was quiet. I can only image what it’s like at the weekends. There were a couple of villas for sale and the thought did cross my mind that I still have that retreat B&B on my bucket list. I have no difficulty at all imagining myself coming down this stairs to breakfast every morning. And it’s when inside starts to affect the outside that things go well with the world. At least, that’s what the skinny me told the huszi me, as I held up a size XL and wondered what sort of stick insect would fit into a Serbian XS. I guess I’m just not prepared to give up the apple ice-cream.