Bosnia and Herzegovina must be one of the most difficult to describe countries I’ve visited so far.
The question that haunts you when you tell people you’re going to Bosnia is “Why?”. It’s definitely not a popular holiday destination (maybe besides for Sarajevo, which seems to be attracting more and more tourists). And that alone was an argument enough for us to go there.
October 2015. A week-long break from our daily routines. We started planning the route on the plane to Tuzla and haven’t booked any accommodation ahead, but eventually it went more or less like this:
Tuzla – Gradačac – Banja Luka – Krupa na Vrbasu – Bočac – Jajce – Travnik – Sarajevo – Mount Igman – Mostar – Dubrovnik – Tjentište – Sarajevo – Tuzla
The country is incredibly beautiful. And surprisingly deserted in areas outside of main towns. It will feed you deliciously and with abundance, will offer you wonderful wine and rakija in countless flavors. It will serve you honey with pomegranate seeds, smoked figs and amazing goat cheese. It will freak you out with empty houses, abandoned before the construction was finished, skeletons of massive hotels that were experiencing their glorious days not long ago, ruins of whole villages. It will tempt you with medieval castles, deep river canyons and steep mountains. It will make you take forest gravel roads, full of potholes, and check every now and then if all your tires are intact. But in return it will offer you magic.
5 experiences that you shouldn’t miss:
1. Trying local food and beverages. Here’s a list of our favorites:
- Sirnica, zeljanica, krompiruša – flaky pastry, traditionally rolled in a spiral and cut into sections for serving, filled with – respectively – cottage cheese, spinach or potatoes; often seved with natural yogurt (diary products in general are of great variety and quality in Bosnia)
- Filovane paprike – stuffed bell peppers
- Grah – bean stew with meat
- Local alcohols: Rakija (in all different flavors, with pomegranate happening to be our number one), Šljivovica (plum brandy), local wine in the south of the country, Pomegranate liquor (not sure about its proper name; home-made version sold on a market in Mostar)
- Turkish coffee (Bosnia used to be a part of Ottoman Empire)
- Smoked figs – often sold at a side of a roads
- Seafood in Mostar – thanks to its sea proximity you get fresh langustines and fish here.
2. Get as far away from Sarajevo as you can. Although the capital is a great place for night life, superb restaurants, museums and educational walking tours, it’s also highly europeanised and touristic. Rent a car if you have limited time.
Communication might be a challenge, as English isn’t widely spoken outside of big cities. You’re better off if you know at least a bit of any slavic language: basics should see you through most of situations. People tend to be very open and warm though, so even without a common language you’ll experience great hospitality.
3. Visit Sutjejska National Park. Apart from its stunning nature, it also houses a one of a kind war memorial, built in the 70s in Tjentište as of Tito’s orders to commemorate The Battle of Sutjejska (It was a joint attack of the Axis in 1943, aimed at destroying the main Yugoslav Partisan force. The offensive failed, but at a great cost: In total there were 7,543 partisan casualties, more than a third of the initial force. The battle marked a turning point toward Partisan control of Yugoslavia, and became an integral part of the Yugoslav post-war mythology). Next to the memorial there’s a Memory House – a one-storey building of intriguing shape, which used to host a museum.
The memorial is a part of Dolina Heroja (Valley of Heroes) which used to be one of the most popular complexes in Bosnia and an obligatory spot for school trips. Unfortunately between 1992 – 1995, when the area was controlled by Bosnian Serbs, it got gradually devastated and most of museum exponats got stolen or destroyed.
The Valley of Heroes also includes Hotel Sutjejska (sadly it’s a complete ruin nowadays and as far as we know there are no plans for reconstruction) and Hotel Mladost. The latter one has been renovated and takes guests again. It has a perfect location, helpful reception staff and large rooms. Turn a blind eye to the old-fashioned decor and enjoy as a part of your truely Bosnian holiday the dining room where smoking is allowed and there’s more staff than guests. Our waiter wore a leather jacket instead of an apron and put a cigarette down only to recite the breakfast menu (which consists of all sorts of egg-based dishes). We loved the effortless, surreal, old movie-like feel.
4. Follow the 1984 Olympics relicts. When Sarajevo was selected as a host city in 1978, almost all the venues had to be built from scratch. All but one venue was damaged during the Bosnian War and the Siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996). At the early part of the war the bobsleigh and luge track was transformed into a field artillery position for Bosnian Serb guerillas, the men’s alpine skiing venue was a Bosnian Serb military installation, and the Zetra Ice Hall completely demolished.
Today you can venture freely through a deserted olympic hotel. It’s a multi-storey building which gives you a clear idea it was meant for somethng great. We haven’t managed to find the bobleigh track and the ski jump area seems to be guarded. We couldn’t see much due to fog and soon we were urged to leave the premises. But maybe you’ll have more luck.
5. Enjoy the nature. From steep canyons, through marvellously green rivers, to wild forests. Whether you only drive or have enough time for some proper hikes, you’ll be stunned by Bosnian nature. We stopped the car countless times just to stare. And the best part of it is that we rarely had to share the viewpoint with other tourists. Solitude in its finest.