Recently, I went on an amazing hike with my friend Eva, a fellow Via Dinarica enthusiast and a travel blogger from Amsterdam. We walked, climbed, and ambled our way out of Sarajevo and eventually made it to Vukov Konak, a charming guesthouse in the mountains near Vucja Luka village. Here are our different sides of the same story, and information about how you can complete the same hike – and have your own unique adventure.
Eva: Hiking from Sarajevo to Vukov Konak
A few weeks ago while I was still in Amsterdam, I saw a post on the Terra Dinarica Facebook page about a guesthouse named Vukov Konak. They were looking for volunteers to help them during the summer season. Of course my plan was (and still is) to hike the White Trail, but I couldn’t help clicking and scrolling down Vukov Konak’s page. When I came across a video that showed a little concert in their cosy wooden living room, I knew I had to go and find that place. If a video post on Facebook can touch me, who knows what can happen in real life.
So I start searching “how to get to Vukov Konak” and found out that it was only a one-day-hike from Sarajevo. Terra Dinarica made it even easier with the tour “Hiking from Sarajevo to Vucja Luka” they created in Outdooractive. This tour is part of the Via Dinarica Green Trail which will be finished soon. I could download the GPS track and print the map with descriptions. Een kind kan de was doen, is wat we would say in The Netherlands. It means that the job can be done even by a child…
When I told Maggie, a girl from the US who works for Terra Dinarica, about my plan to hike to Vukov Konak, she immediately decided to join me. Thrilled and excited we met at Vijećnica, the starting point in the middle of Sarajevo. Maggie printed out the description of the route and I brought my new GPS device. Besides spending the day in the mountains, for me it was also about getting used to use a GPS while hiking. I’m easily distracted by thoughts, conversations and of course by nature. Which is all right and I enjoy that, but I have to prepare myself for this summer. On the Via Dinarica it will be necessary to have some navigation skills and be focused. Although a GPS makes it a whole lot easier, it is quite some work to figure out how that thing works. With this hike I could check and test everything I’ve learned so far.
Cheerfully chatting we started to climbed our way out of the city centre towards the yellow fortress. There we found the first trail markers that led us through the labyrinth of small streets and steep stairs. Although there were quite a lot of stray dogs, we safely reached the first viewing point where we could fill our water bottles. My GPS told us that we were still on the right track, our green line perfectly matched the purple line on the screen. Maggie called Vukov Konak to check if they were still open by the time that we would arrive. If we would keep on going like we did, it was doable to be there at 5PM. Confident and optimistic we continued.
The description said that during the next part of the trail we had to make sure that we would stay on the paths, because of the sport shooting area we were about to cross. While walking on that path we heard several shots, but weren’t aware of the fact that bullets don’t care about hiking trails or hikers. When the shots became louder and a man started to wave at us, we realised that sport shooters also don’t care about trails or hikers. The man told us that this area is forbidden for hikers during the weekend and we had to make a detour along the road if we didn’t want to risk our lives…
A bit bummed out we turned around and headed back to the road. Suddenly a car stopped right in front of us, for a second I thought of asking for a ride to our next exit into the forest. But we didn’t. A girl with dyed red hair got out of the car and started to ask us some questions. I still don’t speak or understand Bosnian, so I let Maggie do the talking. The red haired girl explained that she was drunk… and wanted us to take a picture of her and her boyfriend with the amazing city view. That was the good thing about the detour, the spectacular views and crazy passer-by’s.
In Čavljak we stopped for a coffee at the mountain lodge where some men were playing cards, smoking and drinking beer. When they noticed the FiveFinger shoes I was wearing, their card play suddenly didn’t seem that important anymore. They invited us to stay for a drink, but we explained that we were on our way to Vukov Konak, which was still quite a long way to go. Like all the other people we would meet along the way they started to warn us that it was really really far. Most people even said it was irresponsible to go all the way up there with just the two of us.
At that time we were still optimistic that we could make it, we did most of the climbing and had already done one third of the tour. How hard could it be? We had all day and it was only 20 kilometers after all.
The road took us to a forest, finally we could leave the asphalt and feel the earth under our feet. This was absolutely the most lovely scenery I’d seen so far. Indescribable green grass, wide views and cute wooden huts. Although there were several refreshment stops, it wasn’t crowded or spoiled by people. In fact, because of these little bars there was a special vibe, all kinds of people who were enjoying the atmosphere just as much as we did. Before we knew it, we sat down for another break. This time we did accept an invitation of two beer-drinking men and got ourselves a rakija before we went on.
Unfortunately we then discovered that we were not quite as far as we thought we were, which meant that we still had halfway to go. My legs didn’t agree with the rakija pauza and started to complain. At the same time, the sun disappeared behind dark grey clouds and all of the sudden there were no trail markers anymore. On the GPS we could see that we were off the purple line, but we couldn’t find a path that led us back. Add the worries of all the people we met during the day and the dense, eerie forest that lied in front of us… I seriously started to doubt if it was wise to go on. Maybe we had been a bit naive and a bit too slow after all. I didn’t want to get lost in that dark forest full of animals I was still afraid of.
Going back to the last trail marker we had seen didn’t make sense, because the description told us that we had to leave that dirt road and walk on the northern side of the Crepoljsko Mountain towards the forest, which we did. The only option, beside going back to Sarajevo, was to walk a few meters in each direction to see where we would meet the purple line on the GPS screen. Luckily there turned out to be a very small path through the grass after all. But at this spot, a signpost would have been kind of welcome.
Once we finally got back on track we stepped up our pace a little, but still not in such a hurry. Maggie was the most positive. Maybe because she likes forests, but they give me the creeps. I prefer mountain landscapes with wide views. But I have to admit that it was a kind of special feeling to be all alone, or just the two of us, in that huge wild piece of nature. Our conversation turned to more serious subjects, maybe heavy but not creepy at all. It was a completely different atmosphere, which led to completely different emotions and feelings than the lovely green landscape only a few hours ago had. I love to be on my own, but during this hike, the fact that we made it together added something that couldn’t be experienced by being all alone.
All of the sudden the high trees made room for a great view over the hills and mountains before we took the last turn towards our destination. The threatening clouds slowly disappeared and the moment we arrived at the guesthouse, the sun started to shine. At 5PM exactly we walked onto the terrace of this beautiful place surrounded by nature, right into the arms of the warm and friendly Vukov Konak crew.
Maggie had to go back to Sarajevo, but I decided to stay for the BBQ and ended up spending the night. It was a special evening with an eclectic group of people. Guests, volunteers, owners. Finns, Germans, Hungarians, an American girl, the Bosnian host and a guy from Slovenia who was there to pick up his new Finnish girlfriend. Rakija and a Finnish sausages. Bosnian coffee with Lakka (I believe it was). Stories and a campfire, music and more beer. And of course the very amusing goat with a name I forgot.
Maggie: Sarajevo to Vukov Konak on Foot
At 9 AM, I set out from my house in downtown Sarajevo toward Vijećnica (Town Hall) to meet Eva, who will hike the entire Via Dinarica White Trail this summer.
Our mission was to hike to Vukov Konak, a mountain guesthouse near the village of Vucja Luka, about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) away from Sarajevo. We were testing ourselves by relying on nothing but the guidance of the information we got on Outdoor Active, “Europe’s largest outdoor platform for trails, tracks, tours and outdoor route planning.” Via Dinarica has its own Outdoor Active platform under the “Maps and Trail” tab above, where you can find each stage of the trail and all offshoots and points of interest along the way.
We had printed the materials for the Vucja Luka tour, which is part of the Via Dinarica Green Trail. These included a detailed map, turn-by-turn directions, and statistics such as the total ascent (1,096 meters) and descent (429 meters) and the estimated time to get there, which was 7 hours. Eva also had a GPS device, to practice using it in preparation for her Via Dinarica journey.
It was a hot and sunny day, and we were both sweating after the climb to Zuta Tabija (Yellow Fort) 20 minutes in, but were excited and energetic and had no desire to take a break. The climb out of Sarajevo, up many narrow, rocky staircases occasionally flanked by growling stray dogs, was probably the most grueling and steep part of the journey, but somehow we barely noticed at the time. We were psyched up for a long day.
This was good, because along the way, all the weekend hikers and picnickers we passed told us that Vucja Luka was too far away, and seemed to think we were crazy to try to walk there. Our explanations – especially the part about the Via Dinarica and Eva’s plan to hike from Albania to Slovenia alone this summer – were met with looks of astonishment. Honestly, I think a few people simply didn’t believe us.
Our steadfast resolve helped us push past more than just stray dogs and naysayers. A couple of kilometers before Barice, we started hearing gunshots coming from the hills we were headed for. The Outdoor Active information told us that this was a sportshooting area, but that if we stuck to the trail we would be fine. But in Bosnia, rules can change without everyone being notified. We semi-confidently continued along the path, gunshots getting louder, when we saw a man up ahead waving at us. We stopped and I shouted “can we go?” and he yelled back “its up to you!” We walked a few more paces and saw shooting targets behind a hill on the left – we were literally about to walk into the line of fire! The man ducked and ran to us, laughing, and explained that this was now a forbidden zone on weekends, and that we’d have to stick to the asphalt road to go around the area. This added a couple kilometers to our trip, but on the plus side we got additional amazing views of Sarajevo.
An hour or two later, we took a break at Mountain House Cavljak, a waypoint along this hike and a great place to have a drink, sit in the sun and enjoy a nice breeze and a view.
Shortly after that, the track left the main road, veering right onto a gravel path through alpine farmland. This part was more charming and beautiful than I could have possibly imagined; I felt as though I had strayed into a fairytale or one of the fantasy novels I used to read when I was a child… perhaps Narnia, or the Wind in the Willows. The vision was enforced when, walking along a wooded part of the trail, we passed two men attaching logs to a pair of two big, chestnut-colored horses. Their equipment and dress in the remote setting made it seem like we had wandered centuries back in time.
We continued on in this reverie, enchanted by our surroundings and feeling at ease as the path had leveled off somewhat, most of the ascent having been completed in the morning. Dreamy, we ended up overestimating how far we had gotten, and when we passed by a particularly pleasant-looking mountain hut, we wandered in and ended up having a lengthy rakija break with two old Bosnian men, who, like many others, couldn’t believe we were planning to go to Vucja Luka on foot that afternoon.
Back on the trail, our tired legs feeling a bit wobbly from the rakija, we realized we were by no means as far as we had thought. Still, we didn’t want to give up. As we hastened across empty fields scattered with wandering cows here and there, the wind picked up and the clouds became heavy and dark, threatening rain. We were panicked as we struggled to find the trail markers that would lead us through the thick pine forest that was the next segment of the trail. Finally we did and entered the forest, but our immediate relief didn’t last long as the trees created an eerie, mystical atmosphere. The woods were spooky, their density creating silence and deepening the darkness of the gathering clouds.
The Sun emerged from behind the clouds just as we emerged from the woods, as if the weather had been purposefully playing with our minds. From there it was only one kilometer to Vukov Konak. We reached it with a mixture of relief and pride.
Vukov Konak is a guesthouse that exudes such good vibes that some guests end up staying quite a while, and the resulting sense of community and chillness that pervades the area is a perfect welcome after a long day of hiking. It is a wooden cottage, built traditionally with a low-hanging roof, rustic stone floor and homey touches that couldn’t be more authentic. The ground floor has a charmingly cluttered bar and a dining room with hand-hewn wooden tables and benches; bedrooms are on the upper floor. Outside is a large barbeque with a picnic table, where a group of people was having beers when we arrived. Some nettle soup, uštipci and a šljivovica (plum rakija) later, the soreness in my legs was the last thing on my mind and the tribulations of the day seemed like a walk in the park.
There’s something so satisfying about leaving your house in downtown Sarajevo on foot, climbing out of the city through the hills that shape Sarajevo valley, and hiking for hours through mountain pastures and pine forests all the way to a remote house where a warm meal and good company is waiting for you as the sun begins to set.
Surreal might be a better word to describe it.