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Hiking a brand new mega-trail within the Balkans | Travel

Close to the highest of Mount Maglić, on the Bosnia-Montenegro border, a deafening clap of thunder rips throughout rugged Piva nationwide park. The summit of the two,386-metre limestone peak shouldn’t be far-off, however with a look on the darkening sky, our information Lorenc decides it’s finest to show again.

We weave our means down in the direction of completely heart-shaped Lake Trnovačko, simply reaching a forest because the downpour hits. When the storm passes, the view throughout the valley is our reward – glittering, luminous and streaked with post-squall mist. The slopes are lined with tufted grass and a golden eagle floats overhead. The scene silences us, and we stroll in quiet contemplation till Lorenc stops us to level out an indication: “Welcome to Bosnia”.

Balkans map

There’s no checkpoint and no fuss – maybe shocking, given the historical past of those as soon as war-torn Balkan nations. We’re mountain climbing a part of a brand new mega-trail – the Via Dinarica – and up right here, the conflicts throughout the previous Yugoslavia really feel firmly up to now. The foremost artery is the White path, from Slovenia to Albania – by way of Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montengro, and shortly to be prolonged into Kosovo – following the Dinaric Alps for 1,260km, taking within the highest peaks. Opened absolutely in 2017, it has mapped and united outdated trails, shepherd paths, royal searching grounds and army routes, with lodging in mountain huts, riverside cabins and lodges alongside the best way.

When two additional trails have been accomplished (blue, alongside the shoreline, and inexperienced, connecting small villages – see the map above), the route may also absorb Serbia, uniting seven Balkans nations.

Looking out on the Durmitor massif in Montenegro. Photograph: Leo Plunkett

It takes about three months to hike the White path from finish to finish, however with simply seven days to spare I’ve joined a tour with Green Visions, a Bosnian operator concerned within the route’s growth, specializing in a stretch throughout three spectacular contiguous nationwide parks: Sutjeska in jap Bosnia, Piva on the border, and Durmitor in north-western Montenegro. We hike for a median of six hours a day, overlaying 64km in six days, with a time without work for rafting and a few street transfers to save lots of time.

Our group of 10 meet in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital, about three hours north-west of the path, and we head to Hotel Mladost, a lodge with dorms on the fringe of Sutjeska, our base for 2 nights. It’s late summer season, and the subsequent morning dawns brilliant and clear as we set off to discover the park, website of the eponymous second world warfare battle. On the best way we go Donje Bare – one among many glacial lakes that dot the mountains – and a concrete monument to Yugoslav troopers who died within the warfare.

On the trail in Piva national park

On the path in Piva nationwide park. Photograph: Leo Plunkett

As we start a two-hour ascent of the 1,858-metre Ugljesin, Lorenc factors out comfortable round indents within the hillside – craters from aerial raids. Today they’re carpeted with flowers: fading narcissi, purple crocuses, aromatic thyme, mint and oregano. It’s a panorama that’s straightforward to like: a collage of rolling hills, craggy peaks, squat evergreens and fields of flowers that flip gold within the late-afternoon solar.

“Even though all this is in our backyard, hiking is not yet second-nature to people in the Balkans,” says Lorenc, a former Yugoslav boy scout. The Via Dinarica, he says, is as a lot for locals as for vacationers and can, he hopes, encourage folks to discover their homeland.

Barbecue meal at  Camp Highlander

Meals at Camp Highlander ‘are a feast’

We descend at sundown for a meal of roast meats, ripe tomatoes and big wedges of fried cheese on the resort. Sleep comes simply, and the subsequent day extra mountain climbing awaits in Piva nationwide park and the Perućica reserve – one of many final remaining primeval forests in Europe, thick with 300-year-old Greek maples, firs, spruce and beech. Wherever we go we not often go one other soul.

On the third day, we swap land for water, paddling down the electric-blue Tara river by the deepest canyon in Europe. We raft for 3 hours between limestone partitions streaked with mauve manganese, disembarking on the steps of the riverside Camp Highlander, the place we sleep in tiny log cabins. Meals listed here are a feast, with spiral filo pastries stuffed with meat, cheese or spinach (burek or pita), pillowy breads with kajmak (clotted cream) and ajvar (a pink pepper paste), cured meat and cheese, recent figs, tomatoes and grapes, and whole-roasted lamb.

Leaving Bosnia behind, our route takes us deeper into Montenegro, the place we trek from the Mratinje dam throughout a grassy plateau for seven hours to the sting of Durmitor nationwide park, passing mysterious, cross-shaped medieval tombstones. Filmy with sweat, we arrive on the doorstep of Dragan, a Montenegran shepherd who runs Sokolina Guesthouse, a small white dwelling on the sting of the canyon, overlooking the 96,000-acre park. He refurbished the unused household home 10 years in the past after studying that it was on the route of a brand new cross-border path.

“My friends and family thought I was crazy – they said no one would come to such a remote place,” he tells us. But now he will get guests from as far afield because the Philippines and Australia.

Camp Highlander, on the Tara river in Bosnia, food

Camp Highlander, on the Tara river in Bosnia, provides rafting, and nice meals.

As the sundown turns the sky violet, we drink selfmade pear rakija (brandy), handed round in a single glass. The subsequent morning, Dragan fries up savoury doughnuts served with bitter cream, washed down with wild oregano tea and powerful Bosnian espresso brewed over an open flame. We proceed into the park, our backpacks carrying sleeping baggage and meals provides for the ultimate days once we’ll keep in rustic mountain huts.

Over two lengthy days we cowl 30km, mountain climbing by humid deciduous forest, the imposing Durmitor massif our backdrop. We swim in freezing, blue-green Škrka lake, surrounded by pristine spruce forest and karst cliffs. A herd of long-lashed brown cows be part of us at our lakeside hut that night, and a chamois, the area’s elegant endemic goat-antelope, trots right down to the water. There’s no electrical energy so we mild candles, prepare dinner pasta over a hearth and share a bottle of wine earlier than rolling out our sleeping baggage.

Six days on the path go too shortly, and earlier than I’m prepared to go away we’re again in Sarajevo. I can’t resist squeezing in a single final hike on a phase of the path close to town earlier than I’m going: a seven-hour, round trek to Lukomir, the very best and most distant inhabited village in Bosnia. At that windy, tin-roofed settlement, above a karst canyon, I cease for one final spinach pie.

I recall one thing Lorenc stated one evening on the path: “Hiking in the Balkans still sounds exotic to many people. It’s beautiful here, of course, but I hope one day it will be an unsurprising thing to do.”

Looking at this exceptional panorama, I feel he can be proved proper. But, within the meantime, I relish the quiet.

• The journey was supplied by Green Visions, whose one-week Via Dinarica tour by Bosnia and Montenegro prices €835, together with guides, most meals, transfers and lodging. It additionally runs day hikes to locations similar to Lukomir village (€45). Austrian Airlines flies from Heathrow to Sarajevo from £300 return. See viadinarica.com for path maps, mountain huts and different lodging. The foremost mountain climbing season runs from May to September. Snowshoeing and different actions are potential in winter


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