Twenty years ago, the image of Bosnia & Herzegovina as a safe, desired travel destination was an implausable dream due to the fact that the country was ravaged by war throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium.
Out of the three countries affected by the Bosnian war (Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina), Croatia has managed best to regain its reputation as a tourist destination and the others still have a way to go.
In the last few years, Bosnia & Herzegovina has been gaining some international attention as a new and exciting European destination.
I visited the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2017 as part of a larger Balkan discovery and immediately became besotted. Mostar is located in the south west of the country and is only a three to four hour bus ride from Dubrovnik. The city is like something out of a fairytale with winding cobbled streets, picturesque skylines dotted with minarets of mosques, not to mention its renowned 16th century bridge.
The city of Mostar was given its name because of this bridge, ‘most’ means bridge in Bosnian, and the ‘star’ comes from the Bosnian word ‘stari’, meaning historic, or old. This bridge was heavily bombed during the Bosnian conflict and was rebuilt in 2004. In the summer, the young local boys can be seen plunging the 20 metres to the river Neretva. There is also the option to take the plunge yourself if you visit in the summer, but it comes with obvious health risks.
Mostar is a quintessential melting pot, with prevalent eastern and western influences in architecture, food and music. The primary religion is Islam, but it seems to be practised in a more relaxed way than much of the Middle East and North Africa, as certain mosques are open to non-practising tourists for a small entrance fee.
Visiting the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque was a highlight of my time in Mostar as it was fascinating to get a glimpse into the Islamic world. The architecture of the mosques, both externally and the colourful interiors display some of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture in the region.
For magpie-like travellers like myself who gravitate towards the shinier objects in life, there are plenty of market stalls lining the streets of old town Mostar that sell glimmering goods with an eastern touch.
It’s almost too easy to lose a few hours strolling through the markets picking out souvenirs such as earrings or ornate tea sets. My favourite market was the centrally located Bazar Kujundziluk, where it is perfectly acceptable to spend the best part of an afternoon wandering the streets.
There are a variety of day trips that you can take from Mostar, including one to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s historic capital city Sarajevo. You can also visit the mesmerising Kravice Waterfalls situated only forty kilometres south of Mostar. If you are looking to learn more about the country’s culture, I would recommend a day trip to the nearby traditional villages of Blagaj and Počitelj.
Another nearby town which attracts hordes of visitors is Medugorje, a Catholic pilgrimage spot since the Virgin Mary apparently appeared there in 1981. These trips can be organised by most accommodations with local operators on arrival.
To truly experience Bosnian food at its best, dinner at Šadrvan Restaurant is essential. Myself and my travel partner ordered the National Plate here, which was a two-person feast platter filled with local meats, accompanied by boiled potatos, rice and sour cream. The meats were tender and succulent, especially Balkan favourite Ćevapi. These are ground pork sausages which look deceptively small but are extremely filling. An equally tasty meat was Pljeskavica, also made of ground pork in a patty shape. Of course, we had to wash these delicious delicacies down with Balkan beer (or ‘pivo’ as it’s known locally), Karlovačko.
Šadrvan Restaurant hosts the perfect Bosnian experience with beautiful outdoor seating, great service, and the waiters even wear traditional Bosnian dress! As the food pyramid in the Balkans consists of mostly meat, beer and bread I can safely say that it was a satisfying, not to mention extremely filling meal. When getting the bill, my travel companion and I were presented with two local shots of rakija, a fruity brandy that is popular throughout the Balkans.
Nothing finishes off a meal like a cup of coffee and in Bosnia and Herzegovina this is a particularly special treat. Coffee is a ritual in Mostar; it is an opportunity to socialise and watch the world go by. The art of Bosnian coffee-making is wonderful to watch. There are countless places to avail of your caffeine fix that boast fantastic views of the dramatic riverscape, including Café Stari Grad, Karma and Café Lasta. What better way to end a day of sightseeing than soaking up some evening sun while enjoying a Bosnian coffee on one of Mostar’s coveted terraces.
Seeing as the country was under Turkish rule for almost four hundred years its no surprise that Bosnian coffee is very similar to Turkish coffee, the primary difference being that the coffee is added later in the boiling process. The thick, bitter foamy coffee is not to everyone’s taste, but to those who appreciate a strong espresso will relish in the potency. Bosnian coffee is served in a dzezva, or long-necked pot, along with an ornate cup and the Bosnian counterpart to a Turkish delight, a rahat lokum.
After consuming all of this rich food and coffee you may think you will never eat again. However as the next day rolls round in Mostar, you are in for more treats. Breakfast is, in my opinion, the most important meal of the day and luckily Bosnia and Herzegovina seems to agree with this. Each street corner is home to a pekara, or bakery. These have the widest variety of pastries I have ever witnessed and go perfectly with other breakfast favourites such as local cheese travnički, which is similar to feta, as well as yoghurt and fresh fruit.
For budget accommodation I would recommend secluded guesthouse Hostel Lovely Home. Like the name suggests, there is a real homely feel to this guesthouse. The owner is always around for a chat and is great at giving recommendations for everything, from restaurants to day trips. Although it is only a ten minute walk from the centre of the old town, Hostel Lovely Home is a quiet refuge with a pretty courtyard.
For a touch of luxury stay at the beautifully designed Kriva Cuprija Hotel. A rustic stone facade greets you at this hotel, while the interior is modern and full of comfort.
It is possible to fly to Mostar via Zagreb or Stuttgard, although this is quite expensive. The most reasonable method of reaching Mostar is by flying direct from Dublin to Dubrovnik or Split with Aer Lingus. Average summer flight prices cost between €150-€200. From there, bus companies such as Croatia Bus or Globtour can take you to Mostar Bus Station in three to four hours.
Be aware that your passport will be collected at the border by border security and will be handed back before the bus continues its journey. This is the case with any border with Croatia, as Bosnia & Herzegovina is not an EU country.
A lover of all things food and travel, Kate hails from Cork and has aspirations to see and experience all that this world has to offer, including tasting as much delicious food as possible. Kate has a background in music and languages, particularly the Irish language, and constantly attempts to learn new languages while travelling, which doesn’t always go smoothly. Working with educational and cultural travel groups coming to Ireland, Kate has previously lived in Madrid while teaching English.