Last summer opened up a new chapter in terms of our travels. We felt the time finally came to replace backpacks with bike paneers and start exploring around from a new perspective. This decision wasn’t taken overnight. It was made after thousands of kilometers covered by hitchhiking, buses, trains or eventually planes, as well as dozens of conversations with bike travellers met on the way. The more we started to appreciate the pros of moving by bicycles, the more it seemed to us the ultimate way to travel.
For quite some time, we’ve spent most of our free time in the mountains, which unchangeably remain our favourite destination. By choosing a touring bike, we could not only get very close to the mountainous areas, but what’s even more important, reach them completely by ourselves. Exploring nature independently, faster than by foot but still quite profoundly was something we felt like trying last summer.
With this idea on our mind, we planned a long bike trip from south of Poland to Romania through the Carpathian Mountains as a perfect introduction to the world of cycling. We would have found ourselves cycling to Romania, if it wasn’t for Anel’s traffic accident in the city that made us revise the plans. Once the holiday time came and Anel kind of got back to shape, we still needed to have his injury in mind. We opted for reducing the distance and getting to ride in visually attractive terrain, so the final decision was to reach Montenegro by car and make a few unhurried bike loops in the area, allowing for breaks and flexibility in unexpected situations. Having completed a loop around the Durmitor National Park, we set off to discover the mountain of Bjelašnica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, south of Sarajevo.
Here’s a video from our two loops in Bosnia and Herzegovina, then the ride in the region of Bjelašnica in details.
Boračko lake – Džepi (31 km)
We set up our camp at Boračko jezero, a lake in between Prenj and Bjelašnica mountain ranges, where we could stretch the muscles after the Durmitor’s loop, get ready in our own pace and safely leave the car. Having checked out the route and refreshed in the lake on that hazy morning, we were ready to go.
We chose to start the loop heading towards Konjic. Taking the opposite direction would mean a whole-day uphill. We preferred to start this 4-day ride on a more diverse terrain and also Konjic was the place to fill up food supplies, including fresh bread and pita. Not that we managed to avoid any ascent. At first we rode uphill on a twisting narrow asphalted road, stopping a lot to rest, but mainly to give way to buses (taking a lot of time to make a turn), mini buses (driving too fast) and pick up trucks with inflatable rafts (the most common and with lots of load sticking out). The next part of this stretch continued up and downhill through mostly abandoned villages with a few small farms. Finally the descent, again steep and twisting, was much nicer. These 20 km brought us to Konjic, a place with water, food and shade. The afternoon was too hot to move and we could not resist dipping into the freezing cold Neretva.
In the centre of Konjic we turned right on the main road E73 towards Sarajevo. We continued in this direction just for 4 km and turned right again in the village of Živašnica (there’s a gas station called Petrol just opposite the turn).
We found ourselves on a narrow road and in a way left the civilization. Small villages that we passed this afternoon while pedaling up an increasing incline were almost completely abandoned. Only after the sunset we arrived to the first bigger village of Džepi. It was high time to find a place to pitch the tent.
At the far end of the village we came across a shepherd coming back home with his sheep. We asked him about a place to camp, as it was hard to notice a flat piece of land. Boro didn’t hesitate for a single moment, picked us up and brought to his modest yard. There we met Dana, his wife and the head of the family. With smile and peace in her eyes, she didn’t want to hear about us sleeping in the tent. Soon both of them made us feel not like bike travellers looking for help but as if we were long awaited guests. During dinner, a friendship was born and when Dana took us to our bedroom, we already felt like part of the family.
Džepi – Lukomir (19 km)
We were delighted with the new companion, but also sad to be parting ways. Dana and Boro wouldn’t have let us leave without a big piece of home made cheese and a loaf of bread in the paneers. Riding up a steep hill was still quite easy on the asphalted road to Vrdolje, but not anymore once it turned into gravel. We had no choice but to push the loaded bikes that persistently resisted against the stones. We tried to move our focus from the road hardships to the landscape that became more and more spectacular with every passing meter.
Finally we found ourselves on a beautiful plateau and soaked in the silence and tranquility of empty mountain pastures. The homogenous landscape was interwoven with little shepherd houses and stećci, medieval Bosnian tombstones. The route alternately entered into small forests and exited back on open areas. It was mostly slightly uphill, less downhill or flat, but what actually mattered were rather big stones scattered all over the road, preventing our tires from unhindered rolling. We started to understand that unpaved roads have many different faces and that, depending on quality, they can be completely decent or terribly impeding for bikers.
At the limit of exhaustion, pushing our bicycles most of the time, we reached the place we were heading to for the last two days – the village of Lukomir. In a way it was great to realize to have climbed over 1200 meters, but there were no doubts that the route we picked was more demanding than we wished it had been. We were falling asleep on a hill above the highest village in Bosnia and Herzegovina, thinking of how much harsh gravel we can still bear and hoping for more luck the next morning.
Lukomir – Tušila (22 km)
Thanks to a scrupulous rooster and a flock of sheep that rushed off to the pastures with bells on necks, our day started not long after the dawn. By the time tourists in jeeps began arriving, we were already at the exit of Lukomir, with the image of an authentic little mountain village etched in our memory.
We cycled out of the village by the same road we got there last evening and reached the crossroads after 2 km. There we turned to the right and here we were, on the road towards Umoljani, which turned out to be much more pleasant than the stretch we did yesterday. Or maybe we were already more trained at mastering the dirt road on our 37 mm tyres. We were peacefully grasping the charm of the raw landscape while rolling through the very heart of Bjelašnica mountain.
It must have been one of the hottest days of the year up there. We arrived at Umoljani tired with the heat, as there was no centimeter of shadow on the way. We found a good rest in ‘Koliba’, a relaxed restaurant overlooking the village. Shade, ice-cold tap water, beer and uštipci with kajmak (doughnut-like fried dough balls with sort of fat creamy cheese – one of Bosnian specialty among many others available there) helped us get back in shape.
Unlike Lukomir, Umoljani is accessible by asphalted road thus is a popular destination for day excursions from Sarajevo. It’s also more hilly, green and spread out and has mostly newly-built houses. During the war in the 90s, all the population (mostly of Bosniak ethnicity) had to flee as the entire village was burned, except for the mosque. The reason why the enemy left the mosque intact remains unanswered.
We breathed a sigh of relief once on the new asphalt road that took us to the village of Tušila, where we spent the night close the stream by the same name. This last 15 km also marked our farewell to the region of Bjelašnica and its specific aura that makes this mountain so special. We discovered that the landscape changed and we were now at the feet of two other beauties, Visočica and Treskavica mountain ranges.
Tušila – Boračko lake (45 km)
The last day gave us a lot of time for a reflection. It started with a bit of constant climbing (luckily in the shade) and then rewarded us with a great downhill on a paved road. We didn’t care about any difficulties and could really enjoy the experience. As we descended, first through a pastel tinted landscape of Visočica to Odžaci, and then by the main road, along the Neretva River, up to Boračko lake, a smile didn’t leave our faces. We ended the loop by taking a bath in the lake, washing off the four-day sweat, dust and fatigue.
Road quality. As described above, there’s a quite unpleasant gravel road between Vrdolje and Umoljani, plus two small stretches of dirt road between Tušila and Odžaci. Hopefully the latter ones will be fixed soon as other parts of this road got asphalted quite recently. The remaining part of the loop is asphalted.
Sleeping. Boračko lake is famous for its cheap campsite (like 5 KM=2.5 EUR for both of us/night), first one to the left just after the scouts campground. In Džepi it was hard to find a piece of flat land but it’s probably not impossible unless you find yourself a host. Lukomir has one or two guesthouses (that seemed rather pricy at the first sight). The hill above the village seems a natural place to pitch a tent as there’s not much space in between the houses and the farmlands at the entrance to the village are all fenced. In Tušila we slept in the yard of the restaurant-guesthouse just across the mountain hut (called Planinarski dom ‘Vrela’), just because our hosts from Džepi knew the owner and asked us to say hello. It was not a super welcoming place though, neither was the mountain hut, where we were refused with our tent (no camping allowed, just rooms). In any case, there’s a nice stream just along the main road and there should be no problem to find a place to camp.
Food and water. The town of Konjic is the main place to make food supplies and have a good and cheap meal before the climb. The only shop by Boračko lake offers basic staples, including bread and eggs, as well as seasonal fruit and veg. There’re small restaurants in Lukomir, Umoljani, Tušila and Odžaci. Drinking water is available in the villages, while water sources along the main road are quite frequent between Umoljani and Boračko lake.
Mines. There were no mined areas on our way and we had absolutely no concerns about this issue.