One of my favourite family trips was going rafting on the Tara river in the summer of 2011. Back then, I had little knowledge of how beautiful the nature is in the Balkans, and was sad that I will not get the chance to explore it at leisure as I was set to move half-way around the world (that, thankfully, did not happen, but I did end up in London). Beside the wild waters of the Tara and watching starry skies deep inside the world’s second deepest canyon, I remember being stunned by our drive down the Drina’s dramatic canyon.
This famously snakey river, cuts its path through tall mountains and is followed by a beautiful road linking the Pannonian plains to the Dalmatian coast. It is crossed by the most famous bridge in the Balkans – the one commissioned by Mehmed Paša Sokolović (Sokollu Mehmed Pasha), the grand Ottoman vizier of Serbian origin, and built by Mimar Sinan in Višegrad in 1577, and made famous three and a half centuries later in Ivo Andrić’s “The Bridge over the Drina”, which won him the Nobel Prize.
Eight years later, I found myself travelling there with two of my friends: this time keen on a two day trip to visit two of the most impressive monuments of the Socialist-era Yugoslavia: Kadinjača – dedicated to the defenders of Užice Republic who were killed in the German offensive in November 1941- and Tjentište – dedicated to 7000 Partizans who died in a crucial victory against the Nazis in Sutjeska canyon.
The trip through the orange- and gold- tinted mountains and forests brought a lot of less expected “finds” (which I should really have known about much earlier): a sunset hike above Perućica – one of the last European primeval forests below the mighty Maglić peak, visit to the recently rebuilt wonderful Aladža mosque in Foča, and a surprisingly nice time in Andrićgrad – a somewhat controversial bid by by the director Emir Kusturica to revive Višegrad’s tourism. There was also plenty of ćevapi, lots of Nektar beer, as well as some awesome ale from Raft brewery at Foča’s Kelt pub (thank you John for the tip!).
There is of course much more to see: we barely spent time in Bajina Bašta and didn’t get the chance to see any of the UNESCO-protected stećci – ornate medieval tombstones characteristic of lands under Bosnian kings. Recently spruced up Sutjeska national park also offers so much more for hikers and I hope to get the chance to explore more it next summer, maybe even during its OK FEST music festival in July… All in all, if you ever get the chance to explore the Drina canyon, do it: it is one of the most majestic drives in the Balkans and there are so many wonderful things to see and do on the way.