The Drina Valley, which meanders through stunning mountain scenery from Foča to the green rolling hills in Zvornik, is the heartbeat of eastern Bosnia. The river itself gives the entire region a special character, with most of its citizens living along its banks. The emerald green river feeds the Black Sea basin via the Sava River in Bosnia’s far northeast on the border with Serbia. Its main tributaries are the Tara, Piva, and Lim Rivers, all stemming from Montenegro’s wild and beautiful canyonlands.
Although some of the region’s most ancient towns find their foundations along the Drina River, the area remains somewhat underdeveloped and, in the post-war era, rather poor. The upside to this is that their predicament maintained its authenticity. The lack of development has preserved the awe-inspiring nature in many ways. The people’s modest lifestyles have kept their friendly and exceptionally hospitable traditions more than alive, despite the sometimes unfair reputation inherited from the war. After an initial stare or double take, however, visitors are often treated as honored guests. What they lack in flash they make up for in genuineness. At least most of the time.
The journey through the Drina Valley region is a blast through the past (forgive the cliché). It is old-school Yugoslavia, Austro-Hungary, Ottoman and Byzantine lands all rolled into one. Most will find the live culture more intriguing than its static one, though. There is a fascinating, and indeed admirable, connection between the people and the land. And the land, to say the least, is one of the best and most untouched nature areas in the western Balkans.
There are a handful of destinations worth noting. Sutjeska National Park is, hands down, the most amazing swath of Mother Nature in southeast Europe.It is home to one of the two last remaining primeval forests in Europe, holding the genetic key to Europe’s old growth forests. It also boasts Bosnia and Herzegovina’s highest peak, Mt. Maglić at 2,386m. The hiking in the park is superb and, according to many nature enthusiasts (including myself) second to none in BiH. For locals, Sutjeska is better known for the famous WWII battle of Sutjeska where the partizans ‘defeated’ (aka – escaped) the larger and better armed Nazi forces. The memorial center in Tjentište is still visited by thousands every year from every corner of ex-Yugoslavia and beyond.
The Tara River Canyon, Europe’s deepest, is a rafting experience one will soon not forget. Most agencies are based in Foča. Encijan is amongst the best providers of safe and quality rafting with accommodation capacity in the canyon itself. Heading north is Goražde, eastern Bosnia’s largest town. The neighboring town of Ustikolina offers a unique slow adventure on this part of the Drina – a slow float on authentic log rafts. Before reaching Višegrad is the turn off for Rudo, a small and run down that borders with Serbia. The Vodeni ćiro boat ride on the Lim River, first initiated by Bojan Bajić via an EU funded project, has recently been revitalized. It’s a fantastic and rare opportunity to navigate Bosnia’s rivers on a boat.
Venturing furthering downstream to Višegrad is the 16th century Mehmed paša Sokolović Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a testament to the ingenuity of Ottoman architecture. Emir Kusturica’s Kamengrad, built in honor of Nobel Laureate Ivo Andrić, is the newest addition to the towns steadily improving tourism attractions. It’s literally a town within a town…and an impressive one at that. The narrow gauge train from Serbia now travels the distance past Dobrun Monastery into Višegrad itself. The monastery is open for visitors and is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in eastern Bosnia. Boat rides along the Serbian border are available from Višegrad as well before a series of dams and deep canyons force one to travel inland. The mountain terrain on either side of the border is a drive worth taking.
The canyon lands of East Bosnia are rugged and beautiful. The tourism experience is often raw and unfiltered, giving visitors an authentic adventure unique to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Photos by TORS