Miss Sara­jevo!

Cather­ine Mur­phy cel­e­brates the re­vival of a once-trou­bled city

Irish Daily Mail - - Travel Plus -

ASARAJEVO Rose lies be­fore me – a splotch of red paint mark­ing the spot where a grenade or mor­tar round hit dur­ing the war of the early 1990s.

Th­ese ‘roses’ are vis­i­ble on Sara­jevo’s city cen­tre build­ings and pave­ments – poignant and nec­es­sary re­minders of Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina’s trou­bled re­cent past.

For 1,425 days be­tween April 1992 and Fe­bru­ary 1996, Sara­jevo was un­der siege, bom­barded on a daily ba­sis as the war which fol­lowed the break-up of Yu­goslavia raged. It would be­come the long­est siege of a cap­i­tal city in mod­ern his­tory.

As I wan­der its streets, tak­ing in the old Turk­ish quar­ter and Aus­troHun­gar­ian ar­chi­tec­ture, it’s dif­fi­cult to grasp the com­plex­i­ties of the war and the fact that it hap­pened within a decade of Sara­jevo host­ing the 1984 Win­ter Olympics.

I think of the ob­vi­ous par­al­lels with North­ern Ire­land – a brain drain and the slow dif­fi­cult re­build­ing of tourism – but the back­ground to the Bos­nia war makes the North­ern Ir­ish Trou­bles look sim­ple.

If you can un­der­stand Bos­nia, you can un­der­stand the world, my guide tells me over cups of Brus­nica – de­li­cious cran­berry tea with or­ange and honey – in the won­der­fully ec­cen­tric Gold­fish or Zlatna Ribica café.

A 15th-cen­tury Ot­toman strong­hold, Sara­jevo was at dif­fer­ent times Mus­lim, Chris­tian and Jewish.

IT WAS a part of the Aus­troHun­gar­ian Em­pire un­til World War One ended Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian rule and led to the cre­ation of Yu­goslavia. To­day the city has re­gained its mul­ti­cul­tural tol­er­ance.

While the pop­u­la­tion is pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim, Sara­jevo is per­ceived as sec­u­lar and open with syn­a­gogues, mosques, and Catholic and Ortho- dox churches oc­cu­p­ing the same neigh­bour­hoods.

Tak­ing part in a Sara­jevo Un­der Siege walk­ing tour, my thoughts are clearly dom­i­nated by the 1990s war but there is much to ex­plore in a city steeped in cul­ture and his­tory.

With the Di­naric Alps as a back­drop, I stop at the north­ern end of the Latin Bridge which crosses the Mil­jacka River. In March 1914, Arch­duke Franz Fer­di­nand was as­sas­si­nated here, spark­ing the First World War.

I ad­mire the care­fully re­stored façade of City Hall be­fore seek­ing out bazaar bar­gains in the old quar­ter of Bas­car­sija, eat­ing cheese-filled bu­rek pas­tries from a tiny shop on its nar­row stone- flagged al­ley­ways.

I’m told that many first-time vis­i­tors to Sara­jevo won­der if it’s safe – even 22 years af­ter the war ended – then quickly fall in love with it.

Top of my to-visit list is a mu­seum ded­i­cated to the se­cret re­lief tun­nel dug dur­ing the war to move peo­ple, weapons and pro­vi­sions, and the Gazi Hus­revbeg mosque.

But the moun­tains beckon and my guide Mustafa Pan­jeta is ready to drive me to the ski re­sort of Ja­ho­rina, just 28km from Sara­jevo.

When the city hosted the Win­ter Olympics in 1984, the vi­sion was to unite it with the moun­tains. The war de­stroyed that vi­sion but now, al­most 35 years later, Sara­jevo is be­ing re­united with the moun­tains of Ja­ho­rina and Bje­las­nica or the Sara­jevo Olympic Moun­tains as they’re known.

The real beauty of a Win­ter or Spring visit to Bos­nia is that ad­ven­tur­ous fam­i­lies, cou­ples and groups can en­joy a cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal trip com­bined with al­most a week’s ski­ing and most im­por­tantly, prices to de­light.

Ski Sara­jevo, the com­pany spear- head­ing a tourism bounce-back, can tailor-make trips with mul­ti­cen­tre itin­er­ar­ies in­clud­ing stopovers in Is­tan­bul and vis­its to Dubrovnik, Split and Mostar if de­sired.

In the past year, Ja­ho­rina (1916m) has ben­e­fited from over seven mil­lion euro of in­vest­ment with a new six-seater chair lift of­fer­ing eas­ier ac­cess to its com- pact 35km of pistes.

The scars of war are also vis­i­ble on the slopes of Ja­ho­rina– the ruin of a com­mu­ni­ca­tion build­ing bombed by NATO in the mid1990s re­mains on the side of a ski run but for the most part you will en­joy views of tree-lined runs and pretty slope­side chalets.

While Bos­nia’s his­tory may be com­pli­cated, the slopes at Jaho- rina are not – they’re lined out across the moun­tain, mak­ing it easy for friends and fam­ily to meet up dur­ing the day.

Ja­ho­rina is pop­u­lar with Bel­gra­di­ans, Aus­tralian and Scan­di­na­vian skiers, and Eu­ro­pean ex-pats work­ing in Bos­nia but with just 500 tourist beds, the slopes are never go­ing to be busy – a ma­jor bonus for novices.

Apart from its pret­ti­ness, two things stand out about the re­sort. Firstly, the qual­ity and di­ver­sity of its ac­com­mo­da­tion – bud­get­con­scious skiers can find beds for as lit­tle as €10 per per­son a night here while there are also a num­ber of four-star well­ness ho­tels which wouldn’t look out of place in Eu­rope’s top re­sorts. The best part is that they cost a frac­tion of fourstar ho­tels in the Alps.

Next, the prices. The lo­cal cur­rency is Bos­nian Marks and you will want to kiss Bos­nian soil in thanks when you re­alise that a daily lift pass costs the equiv­a­lent of €12.

THERE are 11 ski schools with 80 in­struc­tors be­tween them and les­sons cost €10 an hour per per­son in a group or €25 per per­son for pri­vate in­struc­tion. Ski equip­ment, in­clud­ing skis, boots and poles, costs around €11 a day.

Pay­ing for lunch on the slopes will also bring a smile to your face – pizza costs 3.50 – and prices in gen­eral are so cheap that young fam­i­lies or school groups can eas­ily man­age their bud­get.

To sam­ple lo­cal dishes, try Pita pie filled with spinach and cream (or meat if pre­ferred) and Tu­fahija, poached ap­ple filled with cream and crushed wal­nuts. If you’re cold on the slopes get in­doors for a cup of that lovely Brus­nica tea and at din­ner time, en­joy a glass of lo­cal Vranac wine.

Fi­nally, what re­ally stands out about Bos­nia is its peo­ple. The coun­try’s re­cent past may be dark but don’t make the mis­take of think­ing its in­hab­i­tants are dour. They have a great sense of hu­mour and a ‘man­ana’ ap­proach to life that will res­onate with Ir­ish vis­i­tors.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.