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Trek in Bosnia in winter, the most underrated country in Europe

IN THE HEART OF THE DINARIC ALPS

We crossed Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of a longer journey: a walk across Europe via 16 countries. Between 2018 and 2020, we walked 10,000 km from Portugal to Turkey for two years. This is the Two Steps to the Other project. Discover the whole project here.

What do you know about Bosnia-Herzegovina? 

We knew nothing about it. Sarajevo reminded us of an assassination that triggered the First World War, then, more recently, of a city under siege, bombings and the explosion of Yugoslavia. Yes, it is thin... 

What images do you have in mind when you think about this country or its capital Sarajevo?

What do you call its inhabitants?

Bosnians ? Bosnians?

What does the country look like?

Did the war leave many traces still visible?

Can we hike without too much risk of stepping on a mine?


Key information of our crossing of Bosnia-Herzegovina

  • Country: Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Type of route : Straight line
  • Difficulty : Difficult
  • Language : Serbo-Croatian
  • Period: Winter - February/March
  • Duration: 1 month
  • Distance : 400 km
  • Starting point: Livno, Croatian border
  • Arrival point: Šćepan Polje, Montenegrin border
  • Elevation gain : 11 460 m
  • Negative altitude difference : 1 1900 m

Hiking and adventure in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Long distance path: Via Dinarica

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, too, the paths of the Via Dinarica have been regularly followed. This route connects five countries. Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania. In total, more than 1,260 kilometers and 52,000 meters of positive elevation gain.

These long distance European trails are the backbone of our itinerary. If we never follow them scrupulously because we like to keep our freedom, they generally wind among the most beautiful sites of the countries they cross.

By promoting them, we also like to think that we are doing our part to promote hiking and to help people discover new territories.

State of the trails and walking culture in Bosnia and Herzegovina

It is in Bosnia-Herzegovina that we really crossed the heart of winter. Its mountains and its continental climate did not leave us any chance to escape it. No worry, we were equipped!

In anticipation of the Bosnian and Montenegrin highlands, Nil had made us ultralight sleds.

From "snow carpets", plastic mats normally used as sleds, he added rubber bands, small holes, eyelets, a few carabiners and ropes and we had our new companions.

We had to tame them, understand how they behaved on which terrains, but now we know where they are useful and they are so compact and light that they are not a burden when not in use.

Our experience of bivouac in Bosnia-Herzegovina

During this crossing of Bosnia-Herzegovina in winter, we had no problem to camp anywhere. Anyway, outside the villages, we usually didn't meet anybody, so our tent didn't bother us much.

The main difficulty came from the season itself. Camping on several meters of snow, it requires a little bit of adaptation. For this first winter in the snow, we had a 4 seasons tent with us, to resist to the most extreme conditions. Sleeping in the tent in very cold temperatures was actually easier than we had imagined. Once we settled in and slipped into the comforter, it didn't really get cold anymore. The hardest part is still in the morning when we have to get out of it!


Territories and nature in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Livno

Our first contact with the country was in the small town of Livno. What was the first thing that jumped out at us? The life! There was a real village life, animation, young people, cafes. A radical change from the austere Croatia. When we arrived, we were put in contact with Jelena. In her thirties, she is a biology teacher and passionate about hiking. She, her sister Marija and their father were perfect guides for our first steps in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to make us discover their beautiful region. 

On the Krug plateau, about ten kilometers from Livno, about 500 wild horses have been living for over half a century. Surprisingly, they resist everything and their population is slowly increasing year after year. 

It is impossible to pass through Livno without visiting Duman, the source of the Bistrica river that crosses the city. Thanks to the explanations of Marija and Jelena's father, we understood how life was organized in the past around this spring and the surrounding mountains.

Leaving Livno, we welcomed our 17th guest! Aldin is from Jablanica, don't tell him he is Bosnian, he will tell you he is Herzegovinian... Imagine the trouble for us, we thought we were just beginning to understand who was to be called what, what were the administrative divisions of the country, and we learn that there are still other subtleties and...sensitivities!

Anyway, spending this week with Aldin, including a part of it with his friend Jusuf, was a first for us: having a guest native of the country where he joins us. It is us who became the guests in a way, they are the ones who took us to their lands and made us discover the mountains they have always walked. 

Blidinje Nature Reserve

In the heart of Herzegovina, Blidinje Nature Reserve is located on a large area that includes three mountain ranges - Vran, Čabulja and Čvrsnica. Blidinje is known for its unspoiled and wild mountainous areas. A single, tiny ski resort vaguely disturbs the calm of these massifs.

Prenj

Arrived at the foot of the Prenj massif, "the Bosnian Himalaya", we are taken by a small hesitation. We know that it is a very isolated massif and extremely difficult to access for mountain rescue. The weather seems to be on our side, add to that a good dose of curiosity and we are on our way to the slopes of Prenj. We are alone, pulling our pulkas. The mountain belongs to us, or rather... we belong to it. Four whole days without seeing any other tracks than ours in the snow.

Lukomir

The highest village in Bosnia, perched on the side of a cliff, is also one of the highest in the entire Balkan Peninsula. Before arriving there, no one on our road could tell us for sure if the village was inhabited in winter. In the end, there was no one there. We visited the village like a museum, feeling a little voyeuristic to be there all alone.

Sarajevo

Yes, we made the detour to Sarajevo to discover this city full of history. Like the rest of the country, the city is cut in two. In most of the cities of Bosnia, a river flows which separates two communities. Where the war raged, the bridges were all destroyed, then rebuilt. In Sarajevo, the Serb and Bosniak majorities are not separated by the river, but the border between the two entities of the country literally runs through the city. For example, cabs from the northern part of the city are not allowed to work in the other part of the city, in the Bosnian Serb Republic. 

It is impossible in Sarajevo to ignore that there was a war. Many buildings remain riddled with bullet holes, even with heavier ammunition.

We essentially explored the Bosnian part of the city and we loved it! We never felt so close to Istanbul! Turkish coffee (Bosnian sorry) in terrace, loukoums and Ottoman architecture. 


Meeting with the inhabitants of Bosnia-Herzegovina

We spent about a month hiking in Bosnia-Herzegovina and, overall, we met a lot of people. In fact, the second we crossed the border, we felt the difference and understood that the crossing of the desert in terms of meetings was finished. We even resumed the good habits by going to sleep in the inhabitant's house, that had not happened to us for a long time. 

We can't mention them all, but each of these encounters contributed to make our experience in Bosnia unforgettable.

Our most memorable meetings

Emir who was kind enough to welcome us at his place in Sarajevo for a few days. Each time we have the opportunity to spend time with people of our age group, we save a lot of time on our understanding of the country. We have similar preoccupations and especially, we can exchange them in English.

We met members of the Avantur association. The mission of the association is to promote access to nature for young people through hiking, cycling, winter sports and other activities. Mustafa and Sumeja were our guides for our first evening in Sarajevo. 


Culture in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Today the country is divided into three autonomous entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Bosnian Serb Republic and, more anecdotally, the Brčko District. 

The citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are called Bosnians. They come from three main ethnic groups: Bosnians (Muslims), Serbs (Orthodox) and Croats (Catholics). From our point of view, this mix, which led to many horrors in the 1990s, is now the source of a certain tolerance and open-mindedness among its inhabitants. This is the general impression we got. By digging a little, by discussing with locals, we understood that the reality was not always so pink. The children of the three peoples generally go to separate schools and study different programs for example.

Overall, the country's development is slow, in part because of the system of governance: each people elects its own President and the three elected ones hold a rotating presidency every 8 months.

As far as the cuisine is concerned, we found in Bosnia most of the specialties we had discovered in Croatia, even if we saw an oriental, Ottoman influence.

The inevitable burek and pite, these filo pastry puffs filled with either meat, cheese or spinach. Nowhere will you find a different variation of these three basics. 

The specialty, and this was already the case in Croatia and was also found in Slovenia, is cevapci. Sticks of minced meat mixed with onions and spices, grilled and stuffed in a round loaf of bread itself grilled in oil. Nothing but raw onions can be served with cevapci except ayvar, a bell pepper puree, and a little fresh cream.

It is usually plum, pear or apple, here they call it rakija, shnaps in Slovenia, pagaso in Portugal, aguardiente in Spain, eau de vie or gnole in France... This is maybe the main constant of our trip, haha! Everyone thinks that it is a speciality of his region or his country but we find it everywhere! Small difference, here they also drink it as an aperitif before the meal.

Would we walk another 500 km here?

Oh yes! Even 1000 !


Anecdotes from our hike in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Wild fact

The snow is ideal for observing animal tracks, a little bit worrying too when you see everything around the tent at night.

Food fact

In all the Balkans, it is better to like the meat...


Preparation and organization for hiking in Bosnia and Herzegovina

When to go? 

Bosnia-Herzegovina must be great in summer, but we loved it in winter, you just have to be well equipped.

Where to sleep?

We mainly slept in tents or invited to the house of the inhabitant. At the time we were there, no problem to camp anywhere.

What equipment? 

For this crossing of Bosnia-Herzegovina in winter hiking, we left with winter clothes, hiking and bivouac equipment and the minimum of safety equipment in mountain.

Find here the detailed list of our material, item by item.

Is bivouacking allowed in Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Officially, wild camping is prohibited in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unofficially, outside of settlements and tourist areas, it is tolerated by most authorities and residents.

Are there any protected areas

The route of our hike in Bosnia and Herzegovina passes through several protected areas:

  • Blidinje Nature Reserve
  • Sutjeska National Park

Are dogs allowed?

This crossing of Bosnia-Herzegovina by hiking can be done with a dog. In winter, it may be very complicated, unless you find him small snowshoes.

Marie aka "Blue"
September 7, 2022
The author in a few words:
Elle c’est Marie. Sous ses airs sages se cache une force et une résilience hallucinante. Elle adore découvrir et se faire surprendre par la vie quitte à être complètement à l'arrache, mais en vrai, c’est aussi une malade de l’organisation. Sur le sentier, elle en laisse plus d’un derrière et ses talents de grimpeuse lui permettent d'être à l’aise sur les chemins les plus techniques. Marie bossait dans les ressources humaines. Son sens de l’autre et son écoute nous rassurent dans les pires situations ! Marie est la cofondatrice de Further Stories.

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