Bosnia short for Bosnia and Herzegovina. A country rich in forest. It even has some of the few European primeval forests. Numerous small roads run through endless woods. Sometimes, in this immense forest you run into a forge or a small farm with flowers in the windowsill.
1. Bogoš en stecci
Bosnian mountains sometimes have names of gods, like Bogoš, which means little god. Bogoš was, according to mythology, the great love of Zvijezda (Star) who happened to be married to the God of Thunder, Perun. Her infidelity led Perun to regularly strike the mountain of Little God with lightning.
We, however, suffered no thunderstorm while climbing the mountain, as we started from the village of Lipa Mir in the middle of Bosnia. What we saw were breathtaking views of the valley and surrounding mountains. We did the tour in winter when the country was covered under a blanket of snow.
Civil War Bosnia
Since the civil war Bosnia has barely known winter tourism. Wherever you go it is still unspoiled. Accompanied by a guide and with special snowshoes we climbed to the top, passed deserted huts hidden behind bushes. We stopped at a scenic spot amid the snow for a cup of good strong Bosnian coffee. And then we arrived at the Stecci.
Stecci are medieval tombstones whose origins are not clear but you find them everywhere in Bosnia. In the fields, but also on hills or along the side of the road. Initially it was thought that they were typical of the members of the Bosnian Church. A society that descended from the Bogomils from Bulgaria.
This church would be have been based on the dualistic doctrine that everything revolves around the struggle between good and evil. Anyway, some have beautiful markings in Bosnian Cyrillic alphabet. And special text. What to think of the following inscription? I ask you not to disturb my rest. I was once like you and you will soon be like me.”
2. Lunch with Bosnians in Mijakovici
Mijakovice is a lovely village. Particularly the rear part, with wooden houses still in Ottoman style. It lies in a valley where time stood still. Men still pull tree trunks over icy roads as if nothing has changed since a hundred years ago. Tractors in bright colors from the early 1900s are parked at random, as if it were a movie scene.
Have lunch at the very warm-hearted Ibrišimović family. They love to prepare a typical Bosnian lunch for you in their home. Meat in pastry rolls, soup, freshly baked bread. And after lunch strong Bosnian coffee with honey from their own bees to get you on your feet again.
Bobovac was once the glorious capital of Bosnia. Not far from the town Mijakovici it is now cultural heritage. The walled city was built in 1349 and endured a lot of looting.
In 1463 the city was occupied by the Ottomans and that marked the beginning of the Ottoman rule and the Islamization of Bosnia. A visit is particularly recommended because the journey through the mountains takes you past numerous small villages like Mijakovici.
Sarajevo is a must. The city oozes history and, we admit, historical violence. It was here near the gently flowing river Miljacka that Gavrilo Princip, killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife and unleashed the First World War. But the civil war, ended barely twenty years ago, also left its scars.
After being besieged from the hills, the population was mercilessly starved and shot by gunmen in the surrounding hills. The majority of buildings were destroyed or burnt. By now most have been rebuilt. The Sarajevo Memorial for children and the many bullet holes are still reminders of a recent past.
Sarajevo has a friendly atmosphere. It has a provincial feeling to it and the architecture is interesting. There is an Ottoman (Turkish) downtown part with lots of little restaurants and coffee shops with inner courtyards. Then there is a much more formal Habsburg part. Particularly noteworthy is the city hall and the many mosques and churches in the city. The Sarajevo Film Festival over the last past years has become a big draw.
Vares is a former industrial city. Steel and iron kept the work flow going. But the civil war brought the economy to a standstill. To get here, you enter by a natural tunnel after kilometers of pine forests. The city itself was not attacked during the civil war, but the war stopped all economic activity. What remained is a town on the river, where empty factories remind us of better economical times.
Like many cities in the area, it consists of an old part with wooden houses. It has a beautiful wooden St. Michael church from the 16th century. It is the oldest Catholic church in Bosnia. You must be able to connect tot people and animals to get a look because the vicar speaks only Bosnian and the same goes for the huge Bosnian dog that guards it.
Oldest Catholic church
But if you manage to wriggle past the giant but friendly sheepdog and manage to have the vicar hand you the 30-inch iron key, you will be rewarded. The ceiling is hand painted and shows a sky of flowers.
In summer the mountain lake that lies above the city is used as a pool. Vareš is a good start for visiting small villages or to hike in the surrounding mountains.
Text: Anneke de Bundel – Images: Nicole Franken