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Navigating ghost towns and ‘dry’ hotels on a Balkan road trip

Navigating ghost towns and ‘dry’ hotels on a Balkan road trip

It seems like ages instead of days we were jumping off bridges and white water rafting through Bosnia and Herzegovina.

While in Sarajevo I got a history lesson about the region’s significance to World War I, and met with the local LGBTI rights group to get a better sense of the state of gay rights.

The next day and we leave the city as our road trip continues. We head into the countryside to visit the Tunnel Museum. This is no ordinary tunnel, while the museum is rather unique.

Dug during the war, the tunnel was built to act as a vital lifeline, linking the besieged city to the free zone beyond the airport. Originally 700 metres long it ferried the aged and the injured, food and fuel, soldiers and, most importantly, the currency of cigarettes.

Just some 20 metres remain from one of the two houses which provided the entry/exit points but it still gives you a flavor of how travellers had to crouch and feel their way through the dim, dank passage the full distance. The house also has a collection of wartime memorabilia and visitors can see a short film of the siege and the tunnel’s construction and operation.

Emerging back into the daylight we travel on and stop for lunch before heading on into the mountains again to our next stop. Naturally, en route, as is becoming standard to this itinerary, there’s another bombshell.

The Hotel Hann we are headed for is a Muslim hotel and is therefore ‘dry’ – not selling any alcohol.

We’re flabberghasted. Catering for a crew of up-for-it travellers it seems nonsensical. So we pop into a local supermarket and stock up on some bargain booze.

As we pull into the town where our hotel is sited, things seem very quiet. Eerily so.

Welcome to Mount Bjelasnica and Babin Do – which appears to be a big Babin Don’t. It turns out that it’s a ski resort, but it’s October, the season hasn’t begun and and so it resembles a ghost town.

Cue tumbleweed.

So any plans of hitting the bars are ditched and we resign ourselves to a quiet night, confined to drinking in our bedroom.

We wake up and are greeted by a wet and grey day in the ghost town. But there’s good news, we’re going for a drive.

After what seems like an endless 90 minutes navigating a mountain track and dodging some cattle on we pull up into the highest (1500 metres) and most remote village in Bosnia. Perched beside the 800-metre deep Rakitnica Canyon, Lukomir is home to just four or five families of shepherds, and with children opting for an easier life in the city, it’s a village in decline.

Life continues here as it has for hundreds of year with the populace living in simple stone built houses with wood-burning stoves. Except since the end of the war, the sheep (and shepherds) are now careful not to step on stray landmines.

We’re invited into one home and are offered Turkish coffee and local pastries by an elderly couple. Neither of us speak each other’s language, but we get by with our guide acting as translator. It turns out the woman is a bit of a local celebrity and famously knits socks as a means to supplement their meagre household income. So after being fed and watered we invest in some bargain wooly souvenirs and head back to the hotel.

Friday marks our final day on the road. We continue the last leg of our road trip through the mountains arriving at Vjetrenica (meaning ‘wind cave’), the largest and most important cave in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Apparently it’s one of the most important caves in the region, and is famous worldwide to cave fans for its ‘karstic’ and ‘speleological’ riches. It’s moody and mystical with its shimmering reflective pools and glossy stalactites and stalactites.

It’s also the richest cave in the world in terms of subterranean biodiversity with among more than two hundred different species registered. We’re pointed out some bugs by the guide as if to prove this. However, the white salamanders we’re all keen to see stay in hiding.

Our final stop is at the Kravice waterfall on the Trebižat River – almost one week later after we had been told it was closed.

The water drops 25 metres and the radius of the lake in the base of the waterfall is 120 metres (394 feet). Kravice is a popular swimming and picnic area during the summer when temperatures can reach a scorching 45°C (113°F), but as it’s October, it’s a bit chilly for that. So we have a paddle instead.

Our Balkan Road Trip comes to an end back in Dubrovnik where we part and say our goodbyes.

It’s certainly been an adventure. Four randoms thrown together, on the road and sharing rooms. So sure, some things didn’t go as planned, but that ball adds to it.

And hey, it’s Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Balkan Road Trip departs from Dubrovnik every Sat from 10 May – 04 Oct 2014. It costs £399 for seven days, £299 for five days. Flights are not included. Dubrovnik is served from London Gatwick by British Airways, easyJet and Norwegian.com; Manchester by Monarch and Jet2; and Birmingham by Monarch.