The Via Dinarica 'mega' hiking trail runs nearly 2,000 kilometers and traverses the Western Balkans: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, and Macedonia.
Starting in the north, the route hugs the peaks above the Adriatic Sea and then heads east and south, covering more than 120 stages along the Dinaric Alps and the adjacent Sharr Mountain Range.
The path connects ancient trading routes and shepherds' mountain trails and can be tackled as a through-hike or for a few days at a time.
According to travel journalist Alex Crevar, who has walked the trail from Slovenia to Macedonia, the Via Dinarica is the Balkan Peninsula's answer to the Via Alpina in Western Europe or the Appalachian Trail in the United States.
"But it's more than just a trekking trail," said Crevar, "the Via Dinarica also acts as a cultural corridor, linking some of Europe's last remaining old-world cultures."
"In this way, the route provides a lens through which travellers can discover the region's unique gastronomy, preserved landscapes, heritage, and adventure. "
The path crosses over mountain summits - the tallest being Mount Korab between Albania and Macedonia at 2,764 meters - connecting valleys, towns, and villages. Along the way, hikers sleep in boutique B&Bs, manned mountain huts, unmanned shelters, tents, and even under temporary lean-tos in nomadic shepherd communities.
Where the trail began...
The genesis of the Via Dinarica dates to 2009, and the year after a portion of the trail connected Sutjeska National Park in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Durmitor National Park in Montenegro.
In 2013, the route was mapped from Slovenia to the border of Kosovo, Albania, and Montenegro, before being extended to the Sharr Mountains, which straddle Macedonia, Kosovo, and Albania.
In 2014, American adventure magazine Outside named the Via Dinarica the world's best new hiking trail and The Guardian shortlisted the trail as a must-do adventure stop for 2016.
During the trail's growth, the Western Balkans was also evolving. In 2014, four of the region's best adventure tourism companies decided to collaborate to promote the trail as both a cross-border vehicle for discovery and one of change in an area often mischaracterized as contentious.
The result is the Via Dinarica Alliance (via-dinarica.org), made up of adventure outfitters from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro. These experts share their local knowledge with one another and are presently co-leading tours (see the website for a list of cross-border itineraries) to give hikers the best possible experience along the whole length of the trail.
Albania: Outdoor Albania
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Green Visions
Croatia: VMD Adventure Travel
Montenegro: Black Mountain