The Drina, nested between the most rugged regions of Bosnia and Serbia, is one of the Balkans’ most legendary border rivers. In the Upper Drina Valley (Podrinje), steep forested slopes meet winding karst canyons, Serbian Orthodox churches coexist with Bosniak mosques and whitewater rapids interchange with calm turquoise river stretches.
The Drina’s main headwater, the Tara, is lauded as one of the world’s top rafting destinations, and the Ottoman-era bridge at Višegrad has been central to the opus of a Nobel Prize-winner. To introduce you to this stunning region of the Balkans, kashkaval tourist presents 6 things you must do around the Drina Valley in Bosnia and Serbia.
1. Take on the rapids in Europe’s deepest canyon: Rafting on the Tara
The Tara, which merges with the Piva to form the Drina, is without a doubt one of the best places to try rafting worldwide. Its sections of whitewater range from absolutely wild to suitable for beginners. And all this under the dramatic ridges of Europe’s deepest river gorge, with Montenegro to the left, Bosnia to the right and you battling the rapids in the middle.
For a top-notch rafting experience, book a rafting holiday with Rafting Tara at the Rafting Centar Drina-Tara near Foča. The instructors are well-trained to take you through the treacherous rapids of the Tara while cracking jokes in between the stretches of whitewater. And there’s nothing like a well-deserved evening by the fire at the cozy rafting camp after a satisfying afternoon of hardcore rafting!
2. Step into the Balkans’ last primeval temperate rainforests: Sutjeska National Park
Because of their downwind location along the coast of the Adriatic Sea, the vast Dinaric Alps are one of Europe’s most humid and rainiest regions. As a result, old-growth temperate rainforests can still be found in isolated pockets of the Dinarides. The Perućica forest in Bosnia’s Sutjeska National Park is a perfect example of this rare biome, where lichens grow on centenarian black pine trees within sight of a majestic waterfall. Hopping on a jeep safari tour from Foča is probably the easiest way to reach these otherwise secluded woods.
If it’s a clear day and you’re longing for a more Alpine vista, head up the trail to the Prijevor lookout (1,668 m) at the very foot of Maglić (2,386 m), Bosnia and Herzegovina’s highest summit. The panorama towards the neighbouring peaks is truly breathtaking, and in summer the shepherds’ huts in the area serve homemade cheese to tourists. Be aware that the patches of snow on the trail and the frequent rainfall can make the trek unpleasant and unrewarding in other seasons though.
3. Get inspired by a Nobel Prize-winning classic of literature: Višegrad
Around a hundred kilometres downstream from the origin of the Drina lies the picturesque Bosnian town of Višegrad, the setting of both the World Heritage-listed Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge and of Ivo Andrić’s legendary novel The Bridge on the Drina. After having read the book, even a brief walk on the bridge felt like an eventful experience charged with history. The marvellous natural setting among the lush hills of Bosnia only adds to the bridge’s grandeur.
To complement your visit to the Bridge on the Drina, be sure to take a look at Višegrad’s newest attraction, the “stone town” of Andrićgrad. Recently built by famous director Emir Kusturica to serve as the set for his long-awaited cinematic adaptation of the novel, Andrićgrad features its own functioning cinema, grill restaurant, souvenir shop and even goldsmith’s!
4. Taste the Western Balkans: try the local delicacies of Podrinje
In terms of cuisine, the Western Balkans and Serbia in particular might be best-known for the incredible grilled meat dishes like the spiced pljeskavica patty, the vešalica pork loin and of course, the national dish ćevapčići. And while these are by no means missing in the Upper Drina region, there’s so much more to discover too!
At the Rafting Centar Drina-Tara camp, we were treated to a generous breakfast of homemade ham and smoked cream cheese. Lunch and dinner highlights included freshly-caught Drina trout and perfectly-roasted Easter lamb, all of this accompanied by homemade rakia, needless to say. Not ideal for vegetarians, mind you, and in fact unbearable for vegans, but an absolute feast for meat lovers!
5. Travel into the past in Kusturica’s Timber Town: Drvengrad
Just east of the Drina Valley, in the rolling Serbian massif of Zlatibor, lies Kusturica’s original ethno village, the all-wooden town variously known as Drvengrad, Mećavnik or Küstendorf. Complete with a church, a pub, a sports centre, a cinema and even a prison (take a guess as to who’s locked up inside!), Drvengrad is perfect for a lazy stroll or a glass of draught boza.
Drvengrad’s streets bear the names of Kusturica’s heroes, including Bruce Lee, Che Guevara, Novak Djokovic and of course, Ivo Andrić. Next to the authentic timber houses you’ll find plenty of stalls selling original souvenirs and local produce, including honey, jam and all kinds of rakia. And if you’d like to spend the night in Kusturica’s surreal Balkan dream, yes, of course Drvengrad has a hotel too!
6. Get lost in the city of a thousand hills: Užice
With its unbelievable location surrounded on all sides by the Dinaric Alps, Užice has to be the most panoramic city in Serbia. Hundreds of houses and even a few tower blocks dot the countless Dinaric hills above Užice’s city centre, which lies way below on the banks of the Đetinja River.
As the capital of the Zlatibor District, the town has been guarding the access to the Drina Valley from the east since the Middle Ages. The fortress of Stari Grad, perched atop a vertical cliff high above the river, is a testament to Užice’s medieval glory. You can catch a glimpse of the Stari Grad fortress from the road going out of town towards Višegrad, from where it appears impenetrable.