Three decades after a devastating war lasting three-and-a-half explosive years, the people of Bosnia are keen to share their culture and unexpected treasures.
I am on Intrepid’s first tour dedicated solely to Bosnia and Herzegovina, made possible by a three-pronged partnership forged two years ago with USAID’s Developing Sustainable Tourism in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Turizam) program and the Global Travel and Tourism Resilience Council.
The tour forms part of a five-year US$20 million project aimed at creating new job opportunities, boosting employment, encouraging women’s workforce participation and driving economic growth. On this eight-day journey, you will experience the best of Bosnia. And there is so much to love.
Sarajevo is the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, located in the southeastern part of Europe on the Balkan Peninsula. It is a diverse and historically significant city with a rich cultural heritage.
I am here on a sultry Sunday – all strudels, street food, sidewalk cafes and flirty flower boxes. Geraniums and graffiti wallpaper the city peppered with a mismatch of communist-style apartments and ancient buildings. I am ambling along the main strip of Ferhadija. Here, Serbian forces killed 100 civilians on two separate occasions in a defining moment of the war that was broadcast around the world. A Sarajevo “rose” – a spattered scar in the pavement that has been painted red – marks the spot where mortar fell. This one-kilometre stretch has courtyards, churches, mosques and marketplaces. I wander past the Jewish Quarter and across the cobbled streets where the Turkish influence begins in a small bazaar resembling that in Istanbul. I detour off Ferhadija to the open-air market. Sarajevo’s Central City Market is more of an elaborate theatre than a bustling food hall but its function has remained unchanged since it was built in 1895. Inside, it tastes of smoked meat and unpronounceable products that tango on the tongue: braveca (sheep); jareca (goat); zarebrica (cow); and slani kajamak, korzi sir and mlada kriska cheese.
In a tiny alleyway I feast on cevapi – borrowed from the Serbian word for kebab – and chase it down with a crisp Sarajevsko beer. My meanderings end at the towering City Hall, a blend of Islamic and European architecture built in 1896.
Out of Sarajevo, the tour snakes its way north-west past thick pine forest, gushing streams and shingle-roofed homes into central Bosnia. We pass roadside stalls of copper pots, sheep skin and honey before arriving in Jajce, considered the birthplace of Yugoslavia.
A highlight of this ancient town – which has a 22-metre waterfall as its centrepiece – is its catacombs, the only underground church in this part of Europe. During the Austro-Hungarian empire, the subterranean crypt was used to store beer; later, it became an air-raid shelter during World War II.
Safari in Livno
An autumnal tapestry of rust reds, yellow golds and burnt oranges blankets the hillside en route to Livno where we meet Mataj Barulica from Continental Adventures. I clamber aboard an open-air safari jeep. It climbs the base of the Cincar Mountain and veers off-road in search of wild horses. Perched 1,200 metres above sea level, about 1,000 wild horses have lived on the Kruzi plateau for the past 60 to 70 years. They have survived by feasting on herbs. The original herd were farm animals, released into the wild by their owners and the army after World War II. Today, the animals are completely wild, with no human interaction.
Limestone covers the plateau like snow, and the horses flick their long manes in supermodel style, revelling in the utter freedom of the wilderness in which they find themselves. Up here you can hear nothing but nature. It is a very unique place and the whole area is special because it is untouched. We pause for lunch at a remote mountain hut. Feasting on an eight-kilogram wheel of cheese, meat, burek pastries, fruit and a special-edition Wild Ale made with blueberry and citrus, only available on this tour.
It’s dusk by the time I arrive in Mostar . I stand beneath what was the world’s longest single-arch bridge linking the trade routes of Sarajevo and Dubrovnik in Croatia. At Café Alma, I stop at the only roasting shop in Mostar for a traditional Bosnian coffee. It is sipped through a sugar cube in your mouth and served with rosewater Turkish Delight. Perched under exposed timber beams, local guide Dino reminds me that there is more than war to Bosnia.
I press on to Konjic in the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina, surrounded by mountains, rivers and lakes. It’s here that a nuclear shelter and command centre was built in 1953. It was constructed to house the head of the Yugoslavian army and up to 350 military staff. Known as Tito’s Bunker, this secret bunker cost US$4.6 billion to build and had enough supplies to last six months in the event of a nuclear attack. Now a contemporary art museum, little has changed inside with more than 80 per cent of the original equipment intact in what is considered one of the most significant museums in the world
Whitewater rafting on the Neretva River
A highlight of this Intrepid tour is gliding down the Neretva River for 19 kilometres. This whitewater rafting adventure is run by Visit Konjic, exploring small and large canyons. Amela Bubalo from Visit Konjic says the city was bombed from three sides during the war and everything was destroyed. “We don’t want to fight, we just want to live,” she says. “Bosnia is a small country with good-hearted people living here, and we just want to show you that.
Intrepid’s new eight-day Bosnia and Herzegovina expedition launched in May 2023 with five departures scheduled. The tour starts from AU$1,995.
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