A central base for touring Northern Bosnia is the administrative capital of Republika Srpska, Banja Luka. The highlight is the well preserved Tvrdava Castle on the banks of the Vrbas River.
To the north west is the Bosnian Krajina, the historical frontier between the Ottoman and Austrian empires. The Ottomans settled these lands with Janissaries, Vlachs and Serbs. This is a country of rolling hills, forest and most importantly rivers including the border on the Sava and the Una that flows through the regional centre of Bihac. The Kapetanova Tower dominates the town square of this pleasant town. To the south (west of the river) is the the more substantial 14th Century Austrian castle of Sokolac.
The highlight, and possibly the finest castle in Bosnia, is Ostrozac near the town of Cazim. It formed the Austrian border before being captured by the Ottomans and is situated on a high bluff above the Una River. It is well preserved despite bombardment from Serbian 120mm mortars in the recent conflict.
North of Cazim is the ruined castle of Pecigrad. The town also has what appears to be a memorial park covering events in WW2 (the display boards have been badly defaced). The area has similar ruins at Stijena, Trzac and Buzim if you have time although as you can see there is not a great deal to view.
Heading east from Banja Luka there are a triangle of towns with well preserved hilltop castles well worth a visit. The first is Doboj close to the site of the Battle of Doboj 1415. The Romans built a fort here in the centre of town enhanced by the Bosnians and then the Ottomans. Visit their new web site at www.dobojskatvrdjava.rs.ba
South of Doboj is Maglaj. The fortress is currently being renovated.
And finally Tesanj. This was the seat of the Bosnian noble Krstic family who held it until 1476. Then the Ottomans, most famously Gazi Ferhad Bey.
and that ends the tour. As always if you need further pictures interior or exterior of castles etc contact the editor.
There is only one English language guide to BiH and that is the Bradt Travel Guide written by Tim Clancy. There are regional guides published by local publisher Buybook written by the same author but these are largely a rehash of the Bradt guide. The guide is generally very good and his recommendations were sound. Modest criticisms would be the poor street maps with the street names of places he recommends being omitted. Plus vague descriptions like Sokolac being 'close to town' is less than helpful.
There is public transport but realistically car hire is the only practical way to tour this country. Road condition is better than I expected but remember it is only single carriageway in mostly mountainous terrain, so journey time is painfully slow. You will trail behind many concrete mixing trucks!
The hotels were good. We used the Hotel Bristol in Mostar, Hotel Saraj in Sarajevo and Hotel Palace in Banja Luka. The food and drink is also excellent and cheap. Even the best restaurants are less than half UK prices. I would particularly recommend the Babylon and Hindin Han in Mostar, the castle in Banja Luka and pride of place the Dveri in Sarajevo (Prote Bakovic 12, Old Town). Their home made bread is the best I have eaten.
Enjoy your visit.
The essential read is Noel Malcolm's Bosnia - a short history. For the medieval period in more detail John Fine's volumes Early and Late Medieval Balkans. For a better understanding of the Muslim population read Mark Pinson The Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina. For the recent conflict Branka Magas War in Croatia & Bosnia 1991-95 and Tim Ripley Operation Deliberate Force.
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