I’ve spent the last weekend in one of my favorite towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina – Blagaj. This little oasis of peace and tranquility is an easy escape from the winter months when Sarajevo turns into Mordor. Only two hours by train (my favorite mode of transportation) from Sarajevo you will be in a completely different climate (not to mention the quality of air). Of course the train will not reach all the way to Blagaj, but will leave you in Mostar from where you can take one of the frequent buses to Blagaj.
Blagaj in winter – a perfect getaway
Even though I am an eager and frequent guest of Blagaj in recent years I mainly came here in the summer months and coming here during the winter was a revelation. I am not a big fan of winter in general, particularly in the city (read: Sarajevo), and besides enjoying a few weeks in the mountains around snowboarding I would generally escape to some tropical destination. So just when I thought that it will be hard to survive this winter in Sarajevo I was invited by the Sports-climbing club ‘Blagaj’ to write about their new idea and project and I discovered a perfect getaway from the smog, fog and winter of Sarajevo. Here, I climbed my first via ferrata with the project coordinator, a beautiful young mountaineer Ružica who introduced me to the club’s ideas and project. Even though I only had a day here I left the place filled with impressions and totally in love with this group of young enthusiasts and climbers who enchanted me with their ideas, spirit and love towards climbing, nature and this country.
Via ferrata is actually Italian for ‘iron path’ and it is a secured climbing route through the more difficult rocky areas. It employs steel cables and ladders fixed to the rock which provide both footings and handholds for climbers. Your guide will provide you with the necessary gear which includes helmets, harness and a purpose designed energy-absorbing lanyard. This way of climbing became very popular among climbers in the last ten years and there are over 1.000 of them in the world and a few in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Via ferrata in Blagaj
I had the pleasure of climbing two via ferratas, Vulin potok in Blagaj and Fortica in Mostar. Via ferrata in Blagaj begins right behind the Eco Center Blagaj on the left bank of Buna River and some 150 meters from her mighty spring. Depending on the number of breaks and sidetracks you make, the trip will take some 30 min to an hour. You should definitely climb up not just for the experience but also for the exquisite little patch of sun and peace above the via ferrata called the ‘Rib’. Here you can rest and enjoy the view. Recently (actually the same day I was there) they were building a small wooden shed which will provide shelter and sleeping lodge for the mountaineers. You can post your tent here as well.
Unfortunately, this time I had to come back to Sarajevo on the same day but I plan to come here and spend the night in the lodge. They say the starry sky here is incredibly rich. The tour is not too challenging for the body, but do expect sore muscles the next day :). Also, dress warmly and in layers during the winter months and wear reasonable shoes.
Not far from Blagaj there is another via ferrata providing some stunning views of Mostar. Slightly more challenging than the one in Blagaj but still doable for pretty much everyone. The view is certainly worth it. A bit uphill from the climbing spot there is a newly built glass bridge, a small caffe and zip line for adrenaline junkies. I would recommend taking this short trip if you are around.
Project was actually born spontaneously when this group of climbing enthusiasts, while meeting regularly, decided they would like to show others how fun and rewarding this activity was. They came up with the idea to organize tours through which they would educate visitors about climbing, but also Herzegovina. Ružica explained how the main reasons why people don’t go climbing are fear of the unknown and the habit of always going for vacations outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Having in mind the current situation they wanted to change that, so through this project they decided to organize tours where they will not only take care of the security and technical aspect of climbing, but include in it the education on flora and fauna, cultural and historical heritage, ecological aspect and myths and legends of each area they cover. Their idea is to promote tourism in Blagaj and bring via ferrata close to anyone who is interested in trying it, from children to senior citizens, professional climbers to those who never encountered climbing.
Tours with SPK Blagaj
With the support of the Market Makers SPK Blagaj managed to renew via ferrata in Blagaj, organize school for the guides, buy more equipment and they are working on the manual which will serve as education for future guides. They just started organizing tours in four locations in Herzegovina: Blagaj, Drežnica, Fortica and Velež. Tours will be guided in the winter months as well because these are the locations with plenty of sun and warmer climate. You can find all the information on their website. I would certainly recommend this experience to anyone who likes a bit of adventure.