It has been plagued by divisive ethno-nationalist politics, poverty and corruption since the end of the Bosnian War in 1995. But the little Balkan country of Bosnia and Herzegovina is wildly beautiful, rich in culture, and friendly too, says Jane Dunford in The Guardian – and in the past year or so, a new project to promote “sustainable tourism” has been in the works, encouraging visitors to stay longer and explore more widely. Led by USAID in collaboration with the UK tour operator Intrepid and others, the £20m USAID Turizam project includes support for local winemakers, food producers, artisans and other businesses to open their premises to visitors, with accommodation ranging from upmarket hotels to small, locally owned guesthouses set amid scenery.
The country’s capital, Sarajevo, “crams in so much history, beauty and heartbreak, it can make your head spin”. Here, you can stand on the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914, bringing on the First World War, and visit the Tunnel of Hope, the only connection between the city and the outside world during the nearly four-year siege of the 1990s.
But elsewhere in the city, “the darkness of the past feels a world away”. Its cobbled streets are “by turns reminiscent of Istanbul and Vienna”, with historic mosques, churches and synagogues all jumbled together amid the shops and cocktail bars. And equally beautiful is the smaller city of Mostar, graced with “fairy-tale” Ottoman architecture, including the famous 16th century bridge (since rebuilt) that spans the gorge of the Neretva River at its heart.
Among the country’s other spectacular towns are Jajce, capital of the medieval kingdom of Bosnia, and ancient Stolac, with a fortress that commands “amazing views”. But nothing is more breathtaking than the landscape itself, with its deep gorges, wild rivers, vast forests and towering mountains. The town of Konjic, on the Neretva, is a good base for outdoor activities including rafting, kayaking and rock-climbing, and there’s a Cold War bunker built by Marshal Tito nearby that is “mind-boggling” in its scale.
Intrepid has an eight-day trip from £1,107pp (intrepidtravel.com).
Sign up for the Travel newsletter for destination inspiration and the latest news and trends