Europe’s underrated gem

HERE’S A GUIDE TO SIGHT-SEE­ING, EAT­ING, SHOP­PING AND STAY­ING IN BOS­NIA AND HERZE­GOV­INA’S CAP­I­TAL SARAJEVO

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - by Kristin Amico

This once war-torn city suf­fered the long­est siege in mod­ern his­tory in the early 90s, last­ing nearly four years. Today, though, there’s much more to Sarajevo than bat­tle scars. The cap­i­tal of Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina is un­der­go­ing a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion: mod­ern glass shop­ping cen­tres, bou­tique ho­tels and a mag­i­cal old town that feels like you’ve trav­elled through time.

An af­ter­noon spent strolling Turk­ish-style al­leys and boule­vards dot­ted with Aus­tro-hun­gar­ian pas­tel fa­cades is rea­son enough to spend a week­end in Sarajevo. There’s also a café cul­ture ri­valling Italy or France and a sur­pris­ingly vi­brant nightlife. And the best part? It all comes at an in­cred­i­bly rea­son­able price.

What to do

Stroll the old town

Known as Baščaršija, the cob­ble­stone al­leys of the old town date back to Ot­toman rule in the 15th cen­tury. Lis­ten to the clang of smiths craft­ing cop­per cof­fee sets and house­hold items in small work­shops. The area is also full of restau­rants, gift shops and cafés; sit and peo­ple watch while en­joy­ing a cup of tra­di­tional Bos­nian cof­fee and a piece of sweet baklava or grab a photo with the flock of pi­geons in front of the old foun­tain (Se­bilj).

Take the ca­ble car up Mount Tre­be­vić

Un­veiled in 1959 then de­stroyed dur­ing the war, the ca­ble cars con­nect­ing the old town to the Olympic moun­tains be­gan op­er­at­ing again last month. At the top, ex­plore the graf­fi­tied bob­sled track or go for a scenic hike among the leafy green trees. Don’t for­get to look down for sweep­ing views of the city. A re­turn jour­ney costs 20 Bos­nia-herze­gov­ina marks (Dhs46).

Visit the Tun­nel Mu­seum

The War Tun­nel Mu­seum pro­vides an in­ti­mate glimpse into the nearly four years of con­flict where cit­i­zens used the crudely built tun­nel un­der the Ser­bian-con­trolled ar­eas of the city to avoid sniper fire while ac­cess­ing food and med­i­cal sup­plies. Vis­i­tors to the solemn land­mark have the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore a short por­tion of the re­main­ing tun­nel.

Open daily, 9am to 5pm un­til Oct.31; 9am4pm Nov.1 to March 31; en­try 10 BAM (Dhs23).

Stand where Franz Fer­di­nand was as­sas­si­nated

The edge of the Latin bridge over the Mil­jacka River is the site of the Arch­duke’s as­sas­si­na­tion, an event that was a cat­a­lyst for the start of the First World War. There’s a small plaque on the Ot­toman-style bridge in­di­cat­ing the bold role it played in his­tory.

Party like it’s 1979

Kino Bosna is an aban­doned the­atre turned Mon­day night hotspot where pen­sion­ers, mil­len­ni­als and in-the-know

tourists go to sip Bos­nian bev­er­ages while ser­e­naded by folk mu­si­cians. The bar swirls with ci­garette smoke and a par­tic­u­lar home­brew flows from recycled soda bot­tles. It feels like be­ing at the best wed­ding ever.

Where to stay

Ho­tel Europe is for those who want old­world nostal­gia and mod­ern ameni­ties. The newly up­dated ho­tel, just min­utes from the old and new town, houses an in­door pool and spa.

City Bou­tique Ho­tel is a mod­ern, non-smok­ing, al­co­hol-free re­treat, and also the first ho­tel in the city to serve ha­lal meat. Rooms over­look the old town, and there’s an abun­dance of fresh fruits and veg­gies as part of the com­pli­men­tary break­fast.

Ho­tel Bos­nia near the city cen­tre has an unas­sum­ing ex­te­rior, but sur­prises with sleek and mod­ern rooms for the bud­get-con­scious trav­eller.

Where to eat

Break­fast

Talks and Gig­gles is the place for sweet muffins, Amer­i­can-style pan­cakes and cafe sta­ples. This is the clos­est you’ll get to a clas­sic brunch ex­pe­ri­ence in Sarajevo. The highly styled food and brightly painted in­te­rior trans­form a quick meal into an In­sta­gram-wor­thy af­fair. Closed Sun­days.

Lunch

In Sarajevo, burek (savoury pas­try stuffed with meat, cheese or spinach) is as im­por­tant as the crois­sant is in Paris. Bite into one for break­fast, lunch or din­ner at Sač in the Baščaršija. The ca­sual joint takes its name from the tra­di­tional me­tal cook­ing dome used in coal ovens, and the re­sult­ing burek is slightly charred, smoky and ut­terly de­li­cious.

Karuzo is a haven for ve­g­ans and veg­e­tar­i­ans in meat-lov­ing Bos­nia. The res­tau­rant is one of the only in the city with veg­e­tar­ian en­trees, and also of­fers Croa­t­ian-in­spired seafood, veg­etable-stuffed pan­cakes and gluten free pasta dishes.

Din­ner

Serv­ing up re­fined Balkan cui­sine in a cosy house re­stored to its orig­i­nal turn of the 20th-cen­tury grandeur is 4 Sobe Gospođe Safije (The Four Rooms of Mrs Safija). It was built in 1910 by an Aus­trian count for his Bos­nian lover — a re­la­tion­ship that was for­bid­den at the time. The charm­ing hide­away boasts an up­scale menu and panoramic views of Sarajevo. Choose from ex­pertly pre­pared dishes in­clud­ing lamb, veal or sea bass.

From the out­side, Avlija looks like it could be a grand­mother’s cot­tage sit­ting on the hills just out­side the city. The in­side is green­house chic with walls cov­ered in hang­ing plants. Tourists can eat shoul­der-to-shoul­der with lo­cals of all ages here; try the tra­di­tional po­lenta, or dig into one of the many pasta dishes.

Where to drink

In Sarajevo, cof­fee is the most im­por­tant rit­ual of the day and is meant to be slowly savoured with friends. Learn how to prop­erly drink the strong Bos­nian brew at the Min­istry of Ćejf!. The cheery shop on the edge of the Baščaršija also of­fers espresso, cap­puc­cino and Aus­tralian flat whites. If cof­fee isn’t your cup of tea, try salep. Orig­i­nally from Tur­key, it’s made of hot milk flavoured with ground or­chids and cin­na­mon.

Al­ter­na­tively, Espresso Lab is an in­dus­trial-style cof­fee shop of­fer­ing hot and iced drinks. It’s one of the few non-smok­ing cafes in the city.

Zlatna Ribica is a throw­back to an­other cen­tury, dec­o­rated with kitsch an­tiques and menus hand­writ­ten on old play­ing cards.

Where to shop

In the old town, find sparkling gold and fil­i­gree jew­ellery along the cen­turies’ old Hus­rev Bey’s Street. Just around the cor­ner, Ćurčiluk Street is full of shops over­flow­ing with hand­made car­pets and tra­di­tional Bos­nian wares.

For in­ter­na­tional brands, the gleam­ing Sarajevo city cen­tre and Alta Mall in the Mar­i­jin Dvor neigh­bour­hood are the best bets.

Ar­chi­tec­tural high­light

City Hall (Vi­jećnica) is a candy-colour gem that looks like the back­drop in a Wes An­der­son film. Orig­i­nally con­structed by the Aus­tro-hun­gar­ian Em­pire, it was de­stroyed by Ser­bian forces in

1992. The re­stored pseudo-moor­ish marvel func­tions as a govern­ment build­ing, mu­seum and event space. Open daily; en­try 10 BAM (Dhs23)

Best view

Climb to the top of the Yel­low Bas­tion ruins for fiery sun­set views over­look­ing the old town.

In­sider tip

Visit in Au­gust to catch the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed Sarajevo Film Fes­ti­val.

The old town is called Bas­car­sija.

City hall is one of Sarajevo’s most im­pres­sive build­ings.

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