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16th Feb 2017 12:00am | By Clare Vooght
Bosnia has had more than its fair share of conflict, especially in the past 20 years.
Bullet holes and bomb damage in cities and villages across the country serve as a reminder of the war that killed 100,000 people and displaced 2.2 million.
But despite the deep-seated scars of battle and genocide, Bosnia has managed to retain plenty of natural beauty and charm.
The historic capital, with its unique mix of Eastern and Western culture, contains stories that will make your jaw drop.
And, as for the countryside, its lush green mountains and clear rivers make it the perfect destination for sporty adventures on a seven-day road trip.
While many tourists head straight for the Plitvice waterfalls, those in the know say that the best cascading whitewater experience in Bosnia is at the Kravica Waterfalls.
This southern spot in the Herzevgovinian part of the country (it’s officially Bosnia-Herzegovina), has rapids, a natural plunge pool and a waterside bar where you can sit in the shade with a beer and a barbecue lunch.
It’s a baking hot day when I visit, but after dipping an exploratory toe in the water, I’m decidedly chilly. Even so, the braver members of our group dive straight in (before shrieking), but I make no secret of being a wuss when it comes to freezing water – and what might be lurking in it.
And anyway, lying on the banks under the sun and the cooling spray is far from a bad deal.
When I ask our guide, Mustafa, why he’s not swimming either, he pokes fun at me: “I survived the war, why would I want to swim in there with all the fish?” I’ve just discovered Bosnian humour, and it’s drier than the Sahara.
“Want to go to a bar that used to be a Communist cinema?”
That’s not an invitation I receive very often, so I have no intention of turning it down. As soon as our group arrives in the capital, we head to Kino Bosna (Alipasina 19, 71000).
Every Monday, a traditional Bosnian folk band plays on the stage where the screen used to be, while students and locals sit back on old cinema chairs or chat around tables in the middle.
The super-hip venue is part warehouse rave, part museum. Pictures of old movie stars line the walls, mostly from black-and-white flicks, and there’s also a rogue shot of Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat – but it’s still in black and white, of course.
The beers are some of the cheapest in the city, and we’re drinking our new favourite, Sarajevska, which costs only about £1.50 a pop. In every box of the brown-bottled, light beer, there’s one green bottle that’s supposed to be lucky, so we’re keeping our eyes peeled.
Before long, the band members are jumping off the stage to serenade the crowd, who are singing along at full blast – it’s a wonderfully chaotic night out that proves Sarajevo’s taste for a rollicking good time.
Sore heads are soothed by a hearty hostel breakfast the next morning, and then it’s time to find out about Sarajevo’s vast and complicated history.
The city’s name means “castle in the field”, but now, “mountains around a city” would be a more apt appellation – Sarajevo sprawls right up to the feet, and sometimes halfway up, of its surrounding mountains.
A walk around the city shows very different cultural influences – you can hear the Muslim call to prayer and
the bells from Christian churches at the same time. The Old Town’s cobbled streets, Persian rug stores and a covered bazaar lie on one side of the city, while on the other are more Westernised buildings and malls.
Of course, Bosnia has struggled under the control of many different powers – the Ottomans, Austria-Hungary, Nazi Germany and Yugoslavia, to name a few. In 1914, when it was under Austro-Hungarian rule, Sarajevo saw the First World War begin with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on the banks of the river Miljacka in the centre of town.
More recently, it was under siege in the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995.
Mustafa was a teenager in Sarajevo during the war.
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