There are hundreds of supermarkets, markets, mini markets, cafes, cafe-bars and restaurants along the Via Dinarica, making food easy along almost the whole walk. With the exception of the stretch between Senj and Stragrad-Paklenica during which there are no markets for about 150 km (we hiked it in six days), there is rarely more than four-five days between some form of resupply option.
One of the hardest things we found about planning and walking the Via Dinarica was working out when we could resupply. Thankfully, there are a lot of supermarkets, markets and mini markets along the route – you just have to know where to find them, and when they’re open. Most supermarkets didn’t have a great range of hiking food compared to what we’re used to in Australia, so it pays to be slightly creative. My main piece of advice would be to AVOID RE-SUPPLING ON SATURDAYS AND SUNDAYS as many of the shops have reduced hours or are closed. In our detailed track notes, we’ve marked down every market we walked past and tried to give an idea of what’s available. Some basic advice about common hiking foods along the route:
- Bread can be bought everywhere, in big loaves or single-serve lumps.
- Cheese was also available pretty much everywhere and kept very well for three-four days hiking. We went for small blocks of hard cheese or the ‘Laughing Cow’ style cheeses.
- Cereals and muesli were available at almost every supermarket we went to, with the notable exception of every shop in Kalinovik, Montenegro. Go figure.
- Fresh food including fruits and vegetables were available everywhere, however the quality and range did vary. In supermarkets, the produce section was huge and you could really get anything you liked. In smaller places, there would often be a few baskets of pale green paprikas, yellow beans, cucumbers and plums. It was rare to find a place which didn’t sell some sort of fresh produce.
- Instant packet meals like powdered pasta, rice, cous-cous and risotto meals were really only in the larger supermarkets. We stocked up on these as emergency meals when we could.
- Nuts to eat as snacks while walking weren’t super easy to come by. You could usually find some near the potato chips but only in the salted, sugared, small portion variety.
- Polenta was a fantastic discovery for us (who knew?). Quick, easy, fuel-efficient, warm, and filling. Cooks in two minutes and can be had with so many things. We often chucked in a vegetable stock cube, cooked zucchini, a tin of tomatoes, et cetera. Or just plain. We’re not fussy. Available everywhere!
- Pasta was available everywhere, in a range of colours, shapes, sizes, et cetera.
- Powdered milk was very hard to come by, but we managed to find it at the Spar in Postonja (Slovenia), followed by the Super Konzum in Senj (Croatia), followed by the tiny store next to Cafe and Salon Lovre in Bukovica (Bosnia and Herzegovina). To the best of our knowledge, that’s it.
- Powdered sauces were quite common in the shops, mainly cheese or tomato flavoured. Very easy to have with rice or pasta. It was unfortunately sometimes hard to tell which ones were vegetarian. A favourite of ours was the Fant ‘Grah i Variva’ bean seasoning mix. I say this with absolutely no sponsoring. A sprinkle of that bean powder is fantastic with rice, a tin of kidney beans and a tin of corn. We lived on that stuff.
- Rice was available pretty much everywhere, mainly white but sometimes brown, too.
- Snacks like chocolate, muesli bars, bags of lollies, et cetera, were found in some form at every shop.
- Stock cubes were found in the major supermarkets. We usually either added them to polenta or dissolved them in water to make a noodle-soup-style broth thing.
- Tinned food is something I’ve never taken hiking before due to the weight. However, on the Via Dinarica, we found carrying tinned kidney beans, tomatoes and corn was worth it because they were available everywhere and made cooking very easy. There are also a lot of bins along the way to dispose of the empty cans.
- Wraps for lunches were available in a lot of places; far more than we expected. They were often hidden in the cold section near instant pasta packs or in a Mexican food section.
Eating out: cafes, cafe-bars, restaurants, mountain huts/lodges, home-stays and B&Bs
There are literally hundreds of cafes, cafe-bars and restaurants along the route. You can also find food at most of the guesthouses you may choose to stay at. As a general rule, cafe-bars are the only ones which don’t serve food. In the detailed track notes, we make specific mention of important cafes and restaurants along the way – for example, the Restoran Baške Oštarije, a great source of food for hikers heading from Senj to Starigrad-Paklenica, who don’t want to stop off at Karlobag.
Mountain huts and lodges (kućas and doms respectively), when open, will also serve food. Unfortunately, opening times are highly dependent on the time of year, and the day of the week. Many huts will be open on weekends during July. Check carefully for opening times before relying on them, however, either for food or water.
Home-stays and B&Bs are also found along the route, in Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular. These places have the option of going full-board – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, whatever you need. Many were opened specifically with Via Dinarica hikers in mind.
Callum and I are both vegetarian. We had no real problems finding vegetarian food in supermarkets, cafes and restaurants along the way, except on two occasions where the restaurant owners suggested we find somewhere else. Veganism could be a bit harder – oftentimes we were served fried cheese as a replacement for meats at lunch, and breakfasts were almost exclusively involving eggs, yoghurt and cheese – but it wouldn’t be impossible. From our experience, the main things to know about sourcing vegetarian food on the Via Dinarica would be:
- Know how to communicate that you’re vegetarian. The word ‘vegetarian’ usually translates to some form of ‘vegetarijansko’, however we found ‘vega’ was also used in Croatia. Many times we went into restaurants with no vegetarian options on the menu (or no menu at all); once we asked them for vegetarian food, they were happy to grill us a mixture of vegetables, cheese, potatoes, bread, gnocci, or whatever they had.
- Sometimes restaurants would have vegetarian food, but think it wasn’t worth offering. Sometimes we’d go to a place and they would tell us that they had no vegetarian food. Once we let them know we’d be fine with literally whatever they had, e.g. some hot chips/salad/grilled vegetables, or whatever they were serving their meat with, they were happy to help.
- Bean soups and stews sometimes have pork in them. This was a problem for us at one mountain hut only, but it’s just something to look out for – bean stew is not an automatic safe option.
A brief note on hiking stove fuel, as it can be a bit of a problem for this hike. Hiking stores are extremely rare along the route (there’s a couple in Starigrad-Paklenica which focus mainly on climbing gear, and one in Ljubljana, but that’s all I can think of).
The easiest type of fuel to get in the Balkans is the puncture-style LPG gas canisters. These don’t work with normal screw-top hiking stoves, but rather require specific and rather bulky systems which you insert the canister into, to ensure they don’t go whizzing off and release all their gas. They’re available in the extremely rare hiking stores and sometimes also in supermarkets. It’s an option, but probably not ideal.
We opted for a Trangia stove, requiring liquid fuel. Liquid fuel is also not easy to get along the Via Dinarica, as methylated spirits, our usual fuel, is banned in EU countries. The only way we could get it was by buying 90-96% ethanol at pharmacies, which was sold in either 500 mL or 1 L plastic or glass bottles. We did this with success along most of the route at a range of prices. We found diluting the fuel to 85% provided the best efficiency.
Unfortunately, we don’t have information about whether ethanol is available at most of the pharmacies along the route. What we can say is that we found fuel in the pharmacy at Ljubljana in Slovenia (500 mL glass bottles (we transferred it into an empty Listerine bottle), 24 Euro each), Senj (1 L plastic bottles, 40 Kuna each) in Croatia, Jablanica in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1 L plastic bottles, 7 Bosnian marks) and in Sarajevo (1 L plastic bottles; I cannot recall the exact price, but it was expensive). It’s behind the counter, so you’ll need to speak with the pharmacist and explain why you need it. I can also specifically say it’s not available in Delnice!
There are many options for sourcing water along the route. We had capacity to carry 6 L between two people, which was more than enough. The tap water is safe. We also found that the people are incredibly friendly, and were always happy to help if we needed extra water.
The main sources of water along the route are mountain springs, wells and from guesthouses/restaurants. It is usually safe to drink the water from covered wells and running mountain springs – we drank freely from almost all of them with no gastrointestinal problems, however, obviously, this is at your discretion. It is important to have your own vessel and a piece of string (2-4 m) to scoop out the water from wells, as many don’t have a bucket and string attached. You can also freely fill up at guesthouses and restaurants.
Mountain shelters (often referred to as sklonište or duliba) will generally have a source of water nearby, but it’s important to double check. The source may need treatment. Mountain huts and lodges (kućas or doms) may lock up their water sources when closed, so cannot be relied upon.
We filtered any water from uncovered/disused wells and streams near towns or livestock. We used a Sawyer Mini filter with which we had no problems, however any system would be fine. The main reason for treatment wasn’t turbidity but suspicion of contamination – generally the water was clear and we had no issues with the filter clogging up. If the water looked particularly suspicious and we had no other options, for example there were dead animals or livestock nearby, we added chlorine-based water purifying tablets to kill any viruses.
Most of the time, it was easy to find somewhere to stay for free or for a cheap price.
Camping rules vary across the countries, however, you’ll probably be fine if you follow a few rules. Be discrete and leave no trace; arrive late and leave early; don’t camp on private property; never camp in mine-sensitive areas.
Generally, we understand that wild camping is permitted in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania, and not encouraged in Slovenia and Croatia. In Croatia and Slovenia, there are many free mountain shelters and guesthouses, so it usually wasn’t a problem. That being said, we wild camped a lot in both countries, with no problems. We often met other locals or foreigners camping in the same location. We tried to be as discrete as possible at all times and to avoid wild camping in National Parks.
Sklonište and winter rooms
For information on all shelters and huts in Croatia, the Croatian Mountaineering Association website is very good. Most of the huts along the route are in Croatia, so this works out well.
Sklonište are free, unmanned mountain shelters which are always open. By far the majority of these on the Via Dinarica fall in Croatia. They range from incredibly modern huts with running water and power points (like Zdrilo sklonište near Baske Ostarije in Croatia), to old, ramshackle affairs without so much as a closing door (like Plasa shelter on Čvrsnica mountain in Bosnia and Herzegovina). They sometimes have free food left by other hikers, however, usually don’t have much on offer.
Winter rooms are small rooms attached to kućas and doms which remain permanently open, even when the main hut is closed. Only a few huts have these, including Snežnik kuća in Slovenia and Schlosserov dom in Croatia. They function basically like sklonište.
Kućas and doms
Kućas and doms, which translate to mountain huts and lodges respectively, are manned huts which sell shelter and food during the peak season. Always make sure to check they’re open (best bet again is the Croatian Mountaineering Association) before relying on them.
Guesthouses and B&Bs
There are plenty of guesthouses and B&Bs to visit along the way for showers and delicious local food. The general rule is that you don’t generally need to book ahead, but you definitely need to pay in cash.