I’m sat beside Štirinsko jezero on an old wooden bench. The sun is just beginning to settle into evening colours, the sky blues fading softly to periwinkle. A gentle breeze stirs the surface of the lake water and bobs the heads of the flowers, swaying like tiny, puffy pink bottle brushes. Green hills sleep placidly at the lakes edge like Labradors, the foothills of their paws and lumps of their soft heads dipping up and down before disappearing into the water. Speckled with little limestone noses. It’s such a peaceful campsite. The best way I can describe today is as a day of luxury – luxurious food, luxurious mountain, luxurious campsite.
We climbed into this part of the mountains, known as Lelija, from Jelašca this morning and have been wandering through all day. An early breakfast of tea, coffee, bread, eggs, tomatoes and fresh, mild yoghurt was had at Lalović. Man, the food here is so good. We bumbled our way through organising a packed lunch (surprisingly difficult with the language barrier, and definitely our fault… but we got there!) and set off around half past nine. A brief stint along the forestry road led us to the turn-off, and we pitched right, up and into Lelija mountain.
The climb up was about 800 m, but slow and leisurely. We hiked along through the forests, gradually gaining altitude until we reached a spring, from where it got a bit steeper. On the way, we met two hikers heading the opposite direction, also on the Via Dinarica! We were so excited to see new people that we forgot to find out their names or where they came from. They’d walked from Albania, the man said, rubbing his hands, and since we’ve come from Slovenia, we may as well call it a day, because together we’ve walked the whole thing! We shared advice about the amazing homestays and B&Bs awaiting them. They’d had a bad run with weather and looked a little exhausted, so I hopefully they managed to dry out bit at Lalović or Simovića kuće. We wished them luck, and kept heading up the hill.
A last steep pitch, and we reached the base of Velika Lelija, the highest peak in Lelija, at 2032 m, and our main side trip for the day. Puffball mushrooms, soft and startling as duck eggs, lined the short walk up to the summit. Not only did it have a fantastic view across the mountain range, the clouds having slightly lifted, it also had a supreme stamp and a fresh ink pad. I’ve probably already said it, but I love the stamp system here. Velika Lelija is my favourite so far.
Having returned to the base, we stopped for lunch – the best hiking lunch I’ve had in a very long time. Fresh uštipć with cheese from the household this morning (a traditional Bosnian food of fried bread and my new favourite thing), cucumbers, tomatoes, boiled eggs and a beer to wash it down with. We ate slowly and contentedly, like a pair of diplodocuses. It was so delicious and came with the added luxury of not having to slice up a loaf of thick bread with a non-serrated pocket knife. Ahh…
Past Velika Lelija, the next section of the mountain is renowned for its difficult terrain (we have a copy of the guidebook now, kindly donated by Lalović, and are enjoying looking back through and seeing all the things we should have known about Vran and Prenj and everywhere else we’ve bumbled our way through… anyway, it told us the terrain in this section would be difficult) – but it really wasn’t that bad at all. Just a wander through the mountain meadows, on well-marked tracks, the only difficulty being some slightly lumpy grass and awkwardly narrow sections of track. We turned off towards another mountain, Visoka glavica, where the track was supposed to become more difficult again; and it did, but it still wasn’t bad. The grass was lumpier and tuftier and there were lots of rocks, making it a bit slower and uncomfortable underfoot. I really loved it though. Lelija is just gorgeous.
From this slightly awkward traverse we descended to Štirinsko jezero, the beautiful lake before me now. We were planning on reaching Orlovačko jezero, where there is apparently a nice sklonište, but it was just too nice to walk on. As nice as sklonište can be, who can say no to a glorious campsite in such glorious weather? Because I just have to say, again, that this is truly top notch camping. It’s warm and grassy and has a beautiful view and I’m comfortable. Considering we’ve been hiking for 48 days now, being comfortable is an extremely precious commodity.
To round off the perfect day, we make a dinner of pasta with passata, fresh tomato and fresh cheese… which sounds great, but is actually extremely average. Gluggy and tasteless. Possibly the second worst camping meal I’ve ever had. Honestly. It’s just gross. It reminds me of the time I tried to make gnocchi once at home. Callum won’t even finish my leftovers, which is never a good sign.
Ah well. I guess you can’t have it all!
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Stage 35
Start and end points: Lalović family B&B in Jelašca to Štirinsko jezero
Approximate distance: 18.5 km
Features: Lalović family B&B – Planina Lelija (Lelija mountain) – Velika Lelija (2032 m) – Štirinsko jezero (Štirinsko lake)