Bosnia

Sipping a syrupy black coffee in the cobbled streets of the capital's Turkish quarter, Bascarsija, beneath the sleek modern minarets of rapidly erected mosques, it's easy to imagine you are in Istanbul. Since the three-year siege of Sarajevo nearly a decade ago, locals - be they Muslim or Christian, Croat or Serb - dress with impeccable style, and are united in returning their capital to its former fame as a beacon of sophistication in the Balkan backwaters.

International funds have been pumped into the city, giving it a slick and contemporary look as it rebuilds itself. There is still enough in the way of turn-of-the-century Austro-Hungarian public buildings and more ancient Ottoman dwellings to remind the visitor that this is a true frontier city, whose geographic location has been both a curse and a credit to its history.

Take any road out of Sarajevo and you will find yourself in a landscape indistinguishable from Tolkien's Middle Earth. The route northeast snakes past rustic hamlets tucked into thickly wooded valleys. Just an hour from the capital is Travnik, historic seat of power for the ruling Orientals. The medieval castle and humble dwellings set a picturesque scene of provincial life under the Ottoman pashas of Constantinople.

The ski resorts of Mount Bjelasnica and Mont Jahorina - site of the 1984 winter Olympics, are gradually drawing business back onto the slopes, making an easy day trip from Sarajevo. Further south is Mostar, Hercegovina's main city, whose celebrated stone bridge was bombed in the nineties, along with a good portion of its world heritage architecture. The bridge has been rebuilt and is a symbol of the Bosnian spirit that has lifted this troubled country up from its knees time and time again.