Hikers ascend Plat Peak on Shar Planina Mountain at dawn along the Via Dinarica in Macedonia. (VIDEO BY EMIR SEHANOVIC, NOVAGENUS)

The Western Balkans, adventure travelers’ under-the-radar playground, just got more accessible. In 2017, for the first time after years of expansion, the 1,200-mile Via Dinarica trail will be completely mapped with stage information compiled from a growing community of hikers. The trek—which stitches together ancient trading and military routes—traverses the Dinaric Alps, linking the peninsula from Postojna, Slovenia, south through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Trekkers sleep in remote mountain shelters along the Adriatic Sea, atop the region’s highest peaks, and above the continent’s deepest gorge. But the path is also a cultural corridor, where thru-hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, paddlers, and day-trippers find themselves lost in old-world traditions uncovered after five decades of communism. During homestay layovers in nomadic shepherd settlements and isolated villages—along the popular three-day stretch from Albania’s Thethi National Park to the Kosovo border, for instance—you might find yourself drinking coffee cooked in a copper pot on an iron stove, with a hospitable farmer with work-worn fingers and a sun-creased face. What was once a contentious region has become the planet’s most exciting cross-border destination. “The Via Dinarica has replaced politics with nature,” says Thierry Joubert, the owner of Green Visions, a Bosnia and Herzegovina-based tour operator. “What could be more beautiful?”

Read more in National Geographic

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