Via Dinarica is a trail for the adventurous hiker. Recently established, it connects the most popular hiking routes in the Balkans into one super trail that streches from Slovenia into Albania.
I hiked over 700 kilometres of the trail last summer, and while I intend to post my itineraries for the sections I did, take this as a little teaser for what’s to come.
Croatia – adventurous and pleasant
The trail in Croatia is rarely used, often overgrown, winding its way through forests and meadows on hills that overlook the glistening Adriatic Sea. The mostly empty trails provide some relief from cities congested with tourists. It is possible to plan your route so that you’ll get to stay in a mountain hut each night, many of which are free.
Morning mist in the village of Lič where I started my 16-day hike in Croatia.
LOVER OF ALL THINGS WILD&FREE. Sunrise from Bijele Stijene, the White Rocks, that turned out to be one of the most challenging parts of the trail. Climbing the peak requires some mountaineering experience, and it’s hard to do with a backpack on.
Ratkovo shelter is legendary among the Via Dinarica community. Built in a rock, it is one of the coolest huts along the route.
Spying on karst monuments.
Breakfast at Duliba hut. Wild camping is illegal in Croatia but luckily it is possible to plan your route so that you can stay at mountain huts every night.
By day 5, I caught the first glimpse of the Adriatic Sea.
Note to self: TRAIN BEFORE LONG DISTANCE HIKING. I skipped the last peak before a zero day in Senj and opted for the longer but easier coastal route.
Gazing at the coloured sea in gentle drizzle. Croatian sunsets are somethign else. The village of Oltari, day 7.
The Velebit hiking trail is one of the few sections that are well maintained and popular among Croatian hikers. But you can never predict what weather gods might have in store for you, so I spent the day in thick mist. Day 8.
The section where the trail follows the Adriatic coastline for a few days.
Tihomir, the owner of the Skorpovac hut, is a legend among the Via Dinarica community – and his dog will stare right into your soul.
Every climb is rewarded with a view. Embrace the journey (and don’t forget the knee supports if you have old woman ligaments).
When you hike alone so you gotta use your backpack as camera support so that you can have Totally Cool photos of yourself staring vaguely into distance.
On top of Zdrilski Kuk peak at sunset. The peak is just a 15-minute hike from the fantastic Zdrilo hut which has water from tap and electricity.
As most nights, I was the only guest at the Zdrilo hut. After sunset, I climbed back down and cooked my trail meal – a ready-made pasta mix from the supermarket – in frint of the hut, watching the night get darker and thousands of bright stars come out.
Honestly, still one of my favourite shots from the hike. Sunset whose soft hues make it look like layered cake.
Some might say being alone on the trail is terrifying. For me it is liberating.
The first night I put up my tent; a local guide told me that Struga hut had bed bug problems, so I camped by the hut instead. And woke up like this.
Bosnia and Herzegovina – quiet and gorgeous
The thirteen days I spent hiking the trail in Bosnia and Herzegovina were some of my favourites on the trail. In Bosnia, you won’t find many mountain huts; instead I arranged my accommodation with a mixture of camping in a tent and staying in guest houses whenever I was at a village overnight.
Day 1 – An easy entry point to the trail is in the town of Jablanica, 45 minutes north of Mostar. The first part of the trail climbs steeply through thin forest and rewards the hiker with gorgeous views like this.
Prenj national park. One of the most beuatiful sections of the trail, albeit one of the most challenging ones, too. Bosnia and Herzegovina has the highest density of unexploded landmines in the world so you have to take care to stay on the trail – the marked path has been cleared, but the areas around it might still be dangerous. This day I had been struggling to follow teh faded markers (since the GPS trail in Prenj wasn’t always accurate), and as the sun started to set over the karst landscape I started to panic – I was still a good hour’s walk from the next hut and there was no place to camp, and I had no more water…
…and then, as if by miracle, I stumbled upon this little cottage! It wasn’t marked on any of the maps so I had no clue it would be there. Inside I found some canisters with drinking water. I took this picture the next morning as the rising sun was colouring the world golden.
The danger of selfies: in a series of pictures I took in this spot, I could later spot the exact moment I dropped the blue sleeping mat that was strapped to the side of my backpack. RIP sleeping mat.
Wild horses in Prenj national park. Day 4.
*points at horses* horses
At my camping site at Vranske Stijene, the “Crow’s Rocks”. I put up my tent by the side of the road near some farm houses.
On the hike to Lukomir, the most remote village in Bosnia. It’s only possible to reach the village by hiking, and at 1,495 m it is also the highest altitude settlement in the country.
Dark wings, dark words. I could hear thunder down the valley; I was terrified that I might get caught in a strom on an exposed ridge.
The view from the Vito peak – this ridgewalk was one of the most breathtaking sections of the trail (although the steep descend afterwards was very hard on the knees).
The road must go on. Day 8.
Meet Jess! Jess is a registered stray, meaning he’s been castrated and vaccinated, and now he – as many of his doggo friends – like to tag along with hikers on Via Dinarica and walk with them. I never once fed him or encouraged him to join me – he just did. He found me in the town of Kalinovik and followed me for three days, and was the loveliest, most well-behaved dog I know.
Near Stirinsko Jezero. After a couple of hours of looming thunder and incessant rain, the landscape changed into lovely colours.
The many layers of Bosnia. Day 12.
The sunset on my way to the Donje Bare mountain hut and the moment I realised I was screwed: I would not make it there before dark.
This is where I saw a bear!!!
Montenegro – wild beauty
8 days in Montenegro, including one 0 day (a day without walking). While some of the routes I walked were rather uneventful, the beautiful bits more than made up for the occasional lull.
After a tough, almost vertical climb up the Piva Canyon, I arrived on a gorgeous plateau. Rolling farmlands provided pleasant, easy walking.
First night in Montenegro, I put up my little tent on the edge of a forest. At dusk, while I was laying inside writing in my journal, a fox outside of the tent kept me company.
First morning in Montenegro.
The road to Nedajno, a village on the foothills of the Durmitor National Park where I stayed in a cozy guest house (and showered!!).
The view from Bobotov Kuk, the second highest peak in Montenegro (2,523 m). The climb is hard and challenging but extremely rewarding. Facing this way, I could see Skrcko lake where I had spent the previous night in a mountain hut; if I turned a bit to my right, I could see Zabljak where I was heading for.
On the path to Bobotov Kuk and one of my favourite photos from Montenegro.
Leaving Durmitor behind. Durmitor National Park is THE place to visit for hiking in Montenegro, and for that it was the busiest trail I took all summer. A good starting point for hikes is the town of Zabljak.
Leaving Zabljak, the first part of the trail runs through flat farmland.
Day 19 and hands down my favourite campsite. In the middle fo the wilderness with no one around, the moon shone bright enough to cast shadows.
The town of Ruzica. I had my lunch on the other side of the village in the first spot of sunlight I’d seen all day while a sheepdog kept a watchful eye on me.
The last vision of Montenegro. Day 21 leads through meadows and farmland, eventually ending in the town of Mojkovac.
Albania – magnificent mountains
Although my hike on the Albanian stretch of the trail was teh shortest, it was possibly my favourite section, at least landscape-wise. Albanian Alps in the Northeast part of the country rise sharp and defined, the trail leading the adventurous hiker through ruggedly beautiful mountain scenery.
The hike from Theth to Valbona is a very popular dayhike with less serious hikers,too, so you won’t be alone on the trail for a long time.
‘Hrvatska?’ I got continuouslu asked. ‘No, finska’, I replied. What can I say? The Croatian football shirt was very comfy for hiking.
Arriving in Valbona.
The view from Gueshouse Leonard in the tiny village of Doberdol. Doberdol is located only a few kilometres from the borders of Montenegro and Kosovo, and is so the last point in Albania before teh trail continues onto Kosovo.
The last moments in Albania: to get to Kosovo, you first have to cross a huge hill. Your calves will be on fire.
That’s all I’ve got for ya now! Looking through these pictures has got me very nostalgic, and now I’m craving to get back to the mountains. Even though I hate climbing mountains. And going down them. Go figure. Would you hike Via Dinarica?