There are music festivals, and then there’s EXIT. Founded in Novi Sad, Serbia in 2000 by three students of nearby Novi Sad University, EXIT’s playground pulses within the walls of Petrovaradin Fortress, looming over the Danube.
This blog details a great way to do the festival whilst taking full advantage of its Balkan surroundings.
15 nights, four countries; £1000. And a barrel of rakija.
Part 2: Sarajevo, Mostar and Dubrovnik
You’ve done EXIT - you’re finished, you’re spent. Your body won’t stand for it. Whilst it recovers, head for the Adriatic via Bosnia-Hercegovina and enjoy a week you couldn’t experience anywhere else on the continent.
Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina - 2 nights
Welcome to Sarajevo, capital of Europe’s most astonishing country. Split into Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian halves, it is a beacon of modern multi-culturalism filled with relics of a recent time when it was anything but. Focal point of the Balkan war in the 1990s and first-hand witness to the start of WWI, it is alive with poignant recent history. Emotional, beautiful – two nights here will stick with you.
- Trek to the outstanding Tunnel Museum, dedicated to the secret underground pathway out of the besieged city; pock-marked with bullet holes
- Head to the hills to find the Olympic bobsled track; elite sporting venue in the 80s, home to Serb mortars in the 90s and now an eerie ruin
- Seek out the History Museum for a brief but affecting snapshot of Sarajevo under fire
- Find the iconic Holiday Inn and other bullet-marked buildings on the road back into town, ending up on the infamous sniper alley (near Obala Kulina Bana)
- See where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot by Austrijski Trg, and snigger at the naff exhibition nearby
- Chill out completely at Termalna Rivijera water park
- Eat chvapi, non-stop, and drink at the fantastic Pivnica HS beer hall
HCC Sarajevo – slap bang in the middle of Sarajevo; turn left for Europe; turn right for Ottoman beauty. Modern decor, brilliant staff and lots of free extras like the rowdy wine and cheese night.
Regular buses to Mostar (c. €18) offer a more reliable alternative to the spectacular daily train (c. €6). Avoid evening services.
Mostar, Bosnia-Hercegovina – 2 nights
A stunning drive through evergreen, remote Hercegovina brings you to Mostar, one of the Ottomans’ westernmost strongholds. A historic jewel tucked into a Neretva river valley, Mostar was reduced to rubble in the 1990s war before being restored to one of Europe’s very finest UNESCO World Heritage sites. A unique wonder, held in uneasy peace.
- Marvel at Stari Most, a 27 metre high white stone bridge. An evocative sight, and the gateway between the European and Ottoman quarters. Dare you jump?
- Clamber the old town’s tightly winding streets – stop in at any of its tiny cafes or restaurants and watch the world pass by
- Chew your arm off to take Bata’s Tour, only available to guests of Hostel Majdas (see below). A true eccentric and self-proclaimed SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy), Bata drags you for twelve hours along a hectic itinerary: post-war tension; the unnerving Medugorje; Kravice waterfalls; Pocitelj medieval town; a customised party bus; ‘cement’ to drink
- Walk the former front line to Ljubljanska Banka tower, a nine-story bank building gutted and used as a sniper nest – it is as it was left; complete with bullet casings and discarded documents. Unbelievable
Hostel Majdas – a cosy backpacker cabin with free fresh-cooked breakfast laid on by Majda herself, all raised eyebrow and wry smile. Her brother Bata’s tour is essential. Book ahead for both.
Mostar’s local bus station runs 3 daily buses to Dubrovnik (c. €15), taking around four hours.
Dubrovnik, Croatia – 2 nights
A short bus ride thrusts you from Bosnia’s western scrubland to the cliffs, plunging from winding roads into the twinkling Adriatic. Croatia boasts Europe’s best value coastline, and Dubrovnik is its cultural capital. Relentless beauty, UNESCO endorsement and heavy tourism. Not a backpacker haven, but a haven all the same – a perfect way to wind down to the end of your trip.
- Take a stroll along the old town walls for a succession of great viewpoints and a chance to have a nose at the locals’ squashed-in townhouses
- Get lost in the winding old town streets; stumble upon beautiful churches like St Blaise’s, exhibitions, aquariums and restaurants
- Island hopping – romantic Mljet, densely forested; scenic Korcula, with a Sicilian feel; both achievable within a day
- Sit on the quayside at sunset, a beer in hand. Watch the cliffside slowly illuminated at dusk, or spectate on the water-polo
- Eat at Lokanda Peskarija – fabulous seafood restaurant overlooking the harbour. Tureen of baby octopuses? Allow it
Dubrovnik isn’t set out for backpackers – there are a few bog-standard hostels (here’s one I stayed in) – between which there’s little to choose. Book ahead to avoid a hotel price.
What next? My route ends here – but buses northwards will get you to Split in a few hours, from where you can island-hop to Hvar, or grab a ferry to Italy. Or perhaps head further north to Plitvice national park and onto Slovenia. Or perhaps head east towards Montenegro and the rest of southern Europe? Up to you.