GO BOSNIA:Croatia won the attention of tourists after the 1990s Balkan wars but Bosnia and Herzegovina also demands a visit, writes CATHERINE CLEARY
HAVE AT LEAST one thing in common with Bono and the British politician Paddy Ashdown. We all love Sarajevo. Ashdown, a former high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina described it recently as “one of the greatest cities in the world”. Bono has said that Miss Sarajevo is his favourite U2 song.
Tell your hairdresser you’re going on holiday to Bosnia and they’re likely to raise an eyebrow, if they’re old enough to have heard of its turbulent history. In the complicated fallout from the 1990s Balkan war, Croatia won the battle for tourists, becoming as routine a holiday destination as Portugal. But Bosnia is a different story.
I first flew to Sarajevo in the belly of a military plane just after Christmas 1995. The Dayton Peace Agreement had been signed. For the first time in almost four years Sarajevans had light, heat and food. On New Year’s Eve Bono sang in a damp cellar club. The terror was over and the long slow climb to normality was beginning.
In 2006 I came back as a (pregnant) tourist, saw a place that was ragged and crumbling, but finding its feet with bookshop cafes and busy bars. It was a city full of educated young multilingual beautiful people, with layers of difference, as elegant as Vienna in places, solidly Turkish in others and brutally eastern bloc in its bullet-spattered high rises. Its national library was still a burnt out shell.
Sarajevo tugged my heart strings then and now. I’m back in a press pack on a whistle-stop tour led by Mary McKeon, who is working with Irish company GCSI leading the EU mission to develop the country’s tourism. The hope is that Bosnia might be about to become Europe’s new Balkan destination.
And up in the mountains around Sarajevo the Termag Hotel looks like the start of a new chapter. The beautiful building, a 31-bedroom ski hotel, is an interiors magazine standard ski lodge that could be in Aspen or Chamonix. It’s in Jahorina, the area that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. We’re sitting around an enormous stone fire pit full of blazing timber in the hotel bar. Outside there is no snow, just cold thick fog. But it’s easy to see how wonderful it would be to sit with a warm drink and watch the ski lifts outside take their suited-and-booted passengers up to the slopes. And while the standard is high-chic, your ski pass will cost you about €70 for the week and double room with breakfast costs €78 a night.
A new wing with a further 60 rooms is being built. The Serbian government (because Jahorina is in Republika Srpska the Bosnian Serb area of Bosnia) has a €400 million 10-year plan for the region. They’ve spent €40 million on ski lifts and snow cannons, which make artificial snow.