Uta tells us why she left her office job to become a mountain guide, why the Via Dinarica trail is one of the Balkan’s best-kept hiking secrets, and about her work about with using nature as a form of therapy for children with autism.
Hi Uta. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company.
I started Butterfly after working for more than a decade in the marketing world. I realised that my love was not in an office but in the mountains. I then wasted no time creating an avenue for that, and my company, Butterfly, was born.
Our mission is to bring a love of the outdoors, and the Balkans, to as many folks who want to learn, enjoy, and discover new parts of the world.
Why should people visit the Balkans?
The Western Balkans, and especially the areas around Kosovo, Albania, and Macedonia, is one of the most dynamic regions of Europe. Multiple mountain ranges intersect with lakes, rivers, and unsullied landscapes. This quadrant of the Western Balkans is also one of the last places on the continent for travellers to see remote villages that still actively live and practice centuries-old traditions.
This all creates a unique experience for visitors who get to enjoy the food, music, and culture of a place stuck in time.
I would especially recommend Prizren, Kosovo’s cultural capital. A lot of our tours run out of Prizren, as it is right next to Sharr Mountains. It has previously been a Serbian, Albanian and Ottoman city, and as a result, has a dense mix of different cultures and languages. But there is not nearly as much friction as you might expect.
I have been working for Dokufest for the past 5 years. That’s an incredible experience if you ever get the chance to go. It is an annual international film festival. You wake up and head into the city to watch international movies in unique locations across the city. It might be a projector screen shone against the city wall or in a cathedral. It’s really incredible.
The Via Dinarica trail is a trail that a large portion of our hikes run through. It is a trail that runs through one of Europe’s least explored mountain ranges, the Dinaric Alps in the Western Balkans. The trail has provided a great way to promote tourism efforts throughout many local communities across the Western Balkan Peninsula. The trail is about 2000 km long and is so rich in history and culture.
You should check it out before it becomes popular!
What impact does your business have on the surrounding community?
We bring business to local stakeholders, naturally, but we also lead tours for women, the LGBT community, aspiring mountaineers and for children with special needs. The company is our soapbox to send a positive message to locals and visitors.
For example, we had the opportunity to share our landscape with a group of young people. We took a group of six kids from the National Association of Autism on the first of what will now be monthly hikes. It is hard to say who had more fun: the kids or us!
Can you tell me a little more about your work with the National Association of Autism?
Well, being immersed in nature can help people with autism to find a state of relaxation. It can act as a therapist, in a way.
So we now conduct our hikes with the children and their incredible therapists on the third Friday of every month, choosing a new area each time for them to explore.
“For our children, observing the movement of the trees, the symmetry of the leaves, and the warmth of the sun is an incredibly calming experience,” the association’s director, Jeta Deva, explained to us afterwards. After seeing just how much fun the kids had on their first trek, we plan to continue these hikes every month, picking a new area to explore every time.
“The sun that day surely melted away any initial doubts our children had about hiking,” Jeta concluded.
“So we will continue walking in the sun, the rain, and even the snow to keep those smiles on their faces.”
Uta runs the following hiking and yoga tours out of Kosovo.
*All photo credit: Uta Ibrahimi from Outdoor Butterfly