Andy's EPIC Hikes in Europe Mount Maglic Sutjeska National Park Bosnia & Herzegovina
Mount Maglic Sutjeska National Park Bosnia & Herzegovina
10 km (2 ½ hours ascent, 2 hours descent)
Altitude gain: 832 m
But first we had to get there. From Mostar, the route planner calculated a 2 hour drive of 120 km to Tjentište, a small hamlet at the foot of the mountain. Several blogs warned about a bumpy 15 km dirt track to reach the start of the trail. The hike itself consists of a nearly vertical climb supported by steel cables, and a gentle descent criss-crossing the border with Montenegro past mountain lakes, forests, and meadows. Or should we be pressed for time, it would be back along the cable route to make it to the car before sunset, hoping that our rather dormant abseiling skills were sufficient. This was going to be a tightly packed day.
A number of road signs in Bosnia & Herzegovina are bi-lingual: a Latin spelling for Bosniaks and Croats, and a Cyrillic version for Bosnian Serbs. In Herzegovina where we had started our trip from, Cyrillic names had often been crossed out. Now it was the reverse; a clear sign that we had entered the Republika Srpska. The first settlement of note was Gacko, lying on a high karst plateau with the most enormous coal power station whose exhaust fumes mixed dramatically with the still persistent fog. Very spooky. The nearby mine apparently has one of the largest coal reserves in Europe and a whopping 800,000 tonnes of the black stuff is taken out of the ground annually. And we thought we were heading for a mountain idyll.
How to get there: You need your own transport. Simple as that. From Dubrovnik Airport it is about 150 km (2½ hours). From Mostar, the approach is slightly quicker (2 hours, 120 km), and from the country’s capital Sarajevo it is also 2 hours (100 km). BiH is a long time away from EU membership, but Brussels funds are starting to make a small difference. As such, roads have improved greatly over the years, although any form of motorway network has yet to materialise. Rental agencies (we went with Gold star) will slap on a surcharge when taking their car from for instance Croatia into BiH. In our case it amounted to 12.50€ per day.
Paths up the mountain: There is no avoiding the dirt track leading to the foot of the trail. You can hike the 15 km from Tjentište (which should take you about 4 hours), or cross your fingers, drive (VERY) slowly and wipe the sweat off your brows for about an hour or so. There are two tracks leading to the mountain top. After 14 km on the dirt track, you will reach a clearly signposted junction. Continuing left up the road will lead you to the foot of the trail that provides the shortest route. The path climbs gently for about 4 km followed by a very steep climb of 1 km, which in places is aided by cables drilled into the rock. It took us just a little under 2½ hours up and 2 hours down. Or you turn right at the junction and towards the campground at Prijevor, with a trail that is longer, but also much gentler: 8 km up to the top at around 4 hours.
When to go: Sutjeska is not on many tourism radars yet, and even in the height of summer, crowds are sparse. The time of year and weather conditions will greatly determine which route is most suitable. Do not attempt the steep path when it is wet, as the rock can get dangerously slippery. Likewise, holding on to metal cables in freezing temperatures (and you’re quite high up, so it can get nippy) might also not be advisable. And if you’re scaling the heights in Spring or Autumn make sure you will be back at the trail head at least one hour before sunset. Doing that dirt-track drive in darkness could easily turn into Mission Impossible.
Where to stay: In case you would like to avoid our rather tight schedule coming in from Mostar, Airbnb lists several cabins in Tjentište. Booking.com also has some entries, but if you are self-catering, make sure to bring supplies. You will search in vain for supermarkets or restaurants. A further option is the small town of Foca, 30 km up the valley. Don’t expect a metropolis, but at least the place is geared up for tourists. Again, Booking.com and Airbnb give you decent options. Alternatively, you can go camping. There’s a ground right next to the road leading through Tjentište, or you can make your way up the oil-spill track and head for the secluded site at Prijevor halfway up the mountain.
Ignoring his well-intended advice, we drove into the village - if that’s the right term: an assortment of abandoned lodgings, some run-down looking cabins, a shop, a campground, all topped by the gigantic stone monument to the battle of Sutjeska, where in 1943, Tito’s partisans defeated the Wehrmacht. So monstrously ugly, it looked almost cool. In the centre of this odd collection of dwellings, a side road led across a bridge over the river Sutjeska. Asphalt very soon gave way to gravel and then dirt, punctuated by rocks and boulders. We must be on the infamous approach track. And yes, there was that line of oil right in the middle of the track, which a blogger had commented on, and presumably where a driver must have underestimated the car’s clearance. We checked the insurance policy of our rental, breathed a sigh of relief and pressed on – at a modest speed of 15 km/h. The toll hut of the park ranger station soon came into view: 5 Euro per person and we signed the visitor book into which only one other party had registered for that day.