Ruined blocks of flats, burnt out or pockmarked with shellfire line the roadside, remnants from a time when to drive here meant risking your life. Nearer the centre, though, one building stands out. Rebuilt since the war, the bright yellow Holiday Inn is a better reflection of the city today. There’s still a risk of landmines in the surrounding mountains but, at its heart, Sarajevo is a bustling, glittering, melting pot of a metropolis.
In the mix
The spine of the city, Ferhadija Street runs from the Turkish Quarter to Austro-Hungarian Sarajevo. Walking from the cosy walkways to the grand, marblised boulevards, you pass a Catholic cathedral, an Orthodox church, a mosque and a synagogue to finish, appropriately, at the Eternal Flame commemorating the unity of the Serbs, Croats and Muslims during World War II. Nearby, in stark contrast to this symbol of togetherness, you’ll see holes in the road filled with red cement. Nicknamed Sarajevo Roses, they mark sites where groups of civilians were murdered by Serbian criminals.
The warren of narrow streets leading off Bascarsija (dubbed Pigeon Square after the creatures that flutter round its Ottoman fountain) is filled with coffee shops, restaurants, and a bazaar spilling Turkish artefacts. Mosques and minarets spike the sky and the smell of grilled meat lingers in the air. You’ll soon learn that Sarajevans take their coffee very seriously. Order a coffee here and it will come in a copper pot, served with a Turkish delight and a hefty caffeine kick.
Food and board
Bosnian House in the Turkish Quarter is a great place for sampling traditional food like cevapcici (sausage in pitta), though beware of the owner, who will ply you with Slijivovica (a local, 45% proof spirit) at any time of the day. Grab a Sarajevsko pivo at City Pub, a boisterous bar with live music, or the three-tiered Sloga where you’ll find a more local crowd. Good accommodation includes Guest House Halvat and Bascarsija Pansion. Those on a tight budget should try Konak Pansion.
Worth a look
During the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo, a 700m tunnel was dug to transport food, ammunition and manpower from the outskirts to the city centre. In their house by the city airport, which disguised one end of the tunnel, the Kolars have set up a museum. Besides two rooms filled with memorabilia from the war, you can walk through the first 20m of the tunnel that helped the Bosnians survive the attack from Serbian nationalists.
The most famous of the Ottoman bridges crossing the Milijacka river is Latinska Cuprija. Here, on June 28, 1915 Archduke Franz Ferdinand (the Austro-Hungarian heir) and his wife Sophie were gunned down by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip, an assassination that sparked World War I.
Get some perspective on Sarajevo by exploring the hills that ring the city. Visit Jajce Castle and the ruins of a medieval village before getting the best view in town at the Park Princeva restaurant. The risk of unexploded mines means you should stick to the roads unless with a guide, but just 20 minutes from the town centre, the slopes used for the 1984 Winter Olympics are safe to ski.
Additional information supplied by Bradt (www.bradt-travelguides.com). The first edition of Bradt Bosnia is out now.
– AMY ADAMS