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He remembers hearing foreign news reporters had dubbed one of its streets “Sniper Alley” when Serb soldiers were positioned in the mountains surrounding the city, and thinking: “‘Which one?’ There wasn’t one sniper alley, they were all sniper alleys.”

He takes us past the main market, which was devastated during the war when a shell landed in the middle of it. Sixty-six people were killed and 200 wounded.

Today, life goes on, and unlike other parts of the city that bear bullet holes and bomb damage, there aren’t many signs left of the tragedy here – the market is crammed with people buying their fruit and vegetables.

Shopkeepers in the Old Town have even turned copper bombshells into beautiful ornaments – people have made the best of what life has delivered.

Cool cafes and coffee houses are the big new trend. Seek out Mash (Branilaca Sarajeva, Bascarsija), which often remains open until past midnight.

Or there’s Morica Han (Saraci 49 Sarajevo, Bascarsija) in the Old Town, which serves some of the best Bosnian coffee (it’s as strong and dark as the Turkish stuff) around.

Just opposite is Ulica Bravadziluk, which Mustafa tells me makes the tastiest burek around.

He eats one of these local fried pastry pies at least every other day from various counters across the city, so I’m confident he’s more than qualified to judge.

War Tunnels, Sarajevo

A short drive out of the bustle are the war tunnels, built to provide an alternative route out of sniper-surrounded Sarajevo, when the airport was controlled by the UN.

credit: fotokon

The onsite museum tells the survival stories of those who braved a journey through the narrow passages to pick up food and supplies.

Visitors can venture through one section; after hearing how many people badly bashed their foreheads on the wood and steel beams while walking through the dark, we’re super-careful.

White Water Rafting, Konjic

Out of the city and into unspoilt countryside, we’re back on the road to Konjic for some whitewater rafting in the mountains. It snowed a couple of days ago, so the water is extra cold.

I knock back a few shots of rakija – the local spirit smells a little bit like paint stripper, but I’ve developed a taste for it.

Then I’m wetsuited up, on the raft and not feeling the cold quite so much.

After a relaxed drift, the river starts to narrow and our guide shouts from the helm: “Everybody paddle!” We cut our oars into the white river as the waves splash up into our faces.

It’s freezing, but the adrenaline makes up for it, and every time we pass another section of rapids the buzz grows and the waves get bigger.

When we reach the local house that’s our destination, an enormous lunchtime feast of hearty Bosnian soups, beef-stuffed peppers and roast potatoes is waiting for us.

Getting spiritual, Blagaj

On the drive back down south, we explore Blagaj City, the site of a pretty, powerful spring, where fresh water shoots from a cave at 330 litres per second.

It’s the home of Tekija, a Muslim monastery, also known as Blagaj Tekke, or Dervish House. The three floors of the 15th-century house are stacked on top of each other and jut from the rocks right next to the gushing water source.

We cover up with headscarves to go inside, where the floors are covered with Persian rugs and the ceilings are ornately decorated.

credit: Anna Kurzaeva

In the bathroom, stars are cut into the dome-shaped roof – you can see the cliffs from below and rain can stream in from above. 

Blagaj is also famous for its freshwater trout, fished from waters just downstream. So we settle in on a restaurant terrace opposite as the blue water gushes past for a meal of trout stuffed with Mediterranean vegetables.

True to Bosnia’s generous culinary form not one, but two of the tastiest trout I’ve ever had come out on my plate ten minutes later. It’s at this point we realise we’re all going to leave a stone heavier.


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Balkan Road Trip: Bosnia
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