BarBalkans is back on the road with the third season of this newsletter and the chronicles of a summer trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. With some holiday, culinary and alcoholic tips
We start our trip to Bosnia and Montenegro in Banja Luka, the political center of Republika Srpska, the Serb-majority entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is a city full of young people, with many concerts in the courtyards. Fort Kastel dominates the small restaurants on the boats on the Vrbas River. Here we can dine with ćevapčići and ajvar and drink Nektar Pivo.
After this pleasant discovery – and surrounded by huge Republika Srpska flags along the road – we head south. A stop in Jajce, the last capital of the Kingdom of Bosnia and the birthplace of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, is a must.
The monumental Pliva waterfalls and the water mills a few kilometers away are remarkable. The town is full of history, from the Christian catacombs to the medieval fortress and the mosques rebuilt after the 1992-1995 war.
The road to Sarajevo still shows the signs of the ethnic conflict on the buildings, amidst scars from the bullets and howitzer holes.
In the Bosnian capital, we cannot miss the Sarajevo Free Walking Tour in the places of the siege of the city, following a local guide who tells us the point of view of human experiences.
After a break at Café Tito, we have lunch with burek and baklava in the old town (Baščaršija), in the streets full of craft shops and small restaurants. It is particularly relevant the National Library (Vijećnica) destroyed in 1992 by Bosnian-Serb besiegers. Now rebuilt, it is the seat of the Sarajevo Municipality.
Listen to the podcast: August ’92. “Cabaret and genocide”
If we want to learn more about the history of the siege of Sarajevo, we must visit the Tunnel of Hope, dug and used by the besieged citizens as the only access to the outside world during the daily bombardment in the Nineties.
Taking the cable car up Trebević Mountain, we can not only admire the city from over a thousand meters high, but also walk along the 1984 Winter Olympics bobsleigh track, in ruins but decorated with colourful graffiti.
On the way back, we have to stop for a pre-dinner beer at Sarajevska Pivara, the historic brewery dating back to the Austro-Hungarian times. And then, for some dancing at Kino Bosna, a former cinema converted into a live music venue (open on Mondays).
Later, we hit the road to Mostar. The road runs through the lush valley carved by the emerald Neretva River, and we must stop at Zdrava Voda restaurant, to taste some of the typical lamb and a sip of Mostarsko Pivo.
In the political center of Herzegovina, the Old Bridge (Stari Most), destroyed by Bosnian-Croat forces in 1993, is now rebuilt and stands out. The city – which is straight out of The Lord of the Rings – is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the notes of the Open City Mostar music festival can be heard everywhere.
In the surroundings of Mostar, there are several places to visit. The first is the Blagaj Dervish House, perched on a rock at the source of the Buna River. Then there are the Kravice waterfalls, which form a natural pool. To escape the crowd of tourists coming from neighbouring Croatia, all we have to do is walk along the Trebižat River and reach the small Mala Kravica waterfall.
While Međugorje is completely unremarkable, Tito’s Bunker near Konjic is the opposite. Built in the Seventies to host the President of the Federation, his family and the political and military establishment in the event of a nuclear attack, it is now used as a museum and home to contemporary art installations.
Continuing our trip towards Montenegro, we choose to cross into Southern Bosnia to the border crossing near Foča. On the road, we find one of the most majestic spomenik (monuments in memory of the Yugoslav partisans during the liberation war from Nazi-fascism) in the Balkans: the Sutjeska spomenik.
We have to admit that the crossing border between Bosnia and Montenegro is for strong hearts, because of the semi-gravel road and the one-way wooden suspension bridge over the Drina River. The experience and the panoramic views are worth the price of this choice.
The Durmitor National Park is a paradise for hikers, starting from the village of Žabljak on its slopes. Our eyes are full of wonder of the Black Lake: the high peaks are reflected on the crystal-clear water and are covered by green fir forests.
It is also worth exploring the barren highland, dotted with 18 glacial lakes (also known as ‘the eyes of Durmitor’). Here we find two ancient medieval necropolises, the stećci: these are formerly decorated tombs, representing a cultural and historical heritage common to Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia.
The culinary specialities made of corn, cheese, milk and potatoes – kačamak and cicvara – are remarkable. They can be accompanied by Nikšićko Pivo or by the strong local rakija.
From the Dinaric Alps to the Adriatic Sea takes only a couple of hours. This is how we can reach the Bay of Kotor, surrounded by mountains overhanging the sea. We cannot miss the villages of Perast and Kotor, which used to be Republic of Venice possessions until 1797. They still show the ancient Venetian architectural layout, as well the historical palaces and walls.
An exploration of the bay by boat is recommended. And by night, also the tasting of the thousands of varieties of fish, to be accompanied by Krstač white wine: octopus carpaccio, cuttlefish ink risotto, squid stuffed with scampi and pašteta (a traditional Venetian fish pâté). A worthy note end to this trip to Bosnia and Montenegro is a concert of KotorArt, the international music festival founded in 2002 and one of the most important in Montenegro.
And finally, we cannot miss Šipčanik Bunker of Plantaže Winery near Podgorica, an impressive wine cellar in an old Yugoslav bunker.