Why Bosnia is Europe’s Best Kept Secret
Bosnia Herzegovina, in the Balkan Peninsula, seems largely forgotten by the tourist industry and truly seems like Europe’s best kept secret. Bosnia still feels undiscovered and finding places like this is such a joy.
There was a nasty war in the 90’s among the former Yugoslavian countries with Bosnia taking the brunt of it. Their economy has not recovered with a staggering 45% unemployment rate. While this is unfortunate for the residents of this country, for tourists this means affordability and a growing tourist industry will help their country greatly. The beauty of the country is still dazzling and the warm hospitality of its people even more dazzling. You should move Bosnia way way up on your bucket lists before the secret gets out!
The bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar is about three and a half hours, depending on traffic and how long you are at the border. Many companies offer day trips to Mostar but this is not enough time to enjoy this special little city.
The Hostel Goa is a great place to stay that is run by a very nice family. You can request the private room with a balcony that has a direct view of the famous bridge.
Stari Most (Old Bridge) was built in 1556 by the Ottomans and destroyed in the Croat-Bosnian war of 1993. Eventually it was rebuilt and re-opened in 2004. It was considered one of the most exemplary pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. It is traditional for the young men of the town to leap from the bridge into the Neretva and the first recorded jump was in 1663.
The old town is very charming, with cobblestone streets, Ottoman style architecture, and many Turkish style items sold. Konobo Taurus is a restaurant in the old town that locals love and has two lovely terraces and great Bosnian cuisine.
There’s another great hostel in Mostar called Hostel Nina. Zika and Nina are a sweet married couple who own and run the hostel. Zika leads a famous Herzegovina tour almost every day that begins with breakfast at the hostel. You don’t have to stay there to do the tour. This tour is amazing and very personalized with only about 6 or 7 tourists.
The first stop is a sight not on many tours. There is a hidden tunnel complex from the Yugoslavian era, built by Tito as an emergency bunker in case Yugoslavia was attacked. Nobody knew about these until the war in the 1990’s when a false stone wall was destroyed, revealing the bunker.
Next you will visit Blagaj which is a village situated on the Buna River. There is a historical tekija or Dervish Monastery. This Blagaj Tekija was built around 1520 and has elements of Ottoman architecture. It is considered a national monument.
Pocitelj is the next stop and is a fortified village on the Neretva River that was partly built during medieval times and part during Ottoman rule in the 16th century. Sadly much of it was damaged by Croatian forces in the 1993 Bosnian War. It is beautiful to hike up or down the hill and walk around exploring the old mosque and tower.
After this you will go to Kravice Waterfalls. At the waterfalls, there are two scenic restaurants to have traditional Bosnian food and beer. The water is very very cold!
Lastly Zika will take you to a hill overlooking all of Mostar. There he gives a sobering history lesson which is vital to truly understanding Bosnia. The war here was the bloodiest conflict Europe has seen since WW2. The Balkans war was incredibly complicated. This hill is where both Croatia and Serbia could siege Mostar. Mostar received the most shelling of any city during the war and still shows these signs both emotionally and physically. You can see bombed out hollow buildings if you walk a few blocks beyond the pretty old town. Houses are neglected. There is still animosity today with a divide in the city between ethnic Croats who are Catholic and Bosnians who are Muslim. It seems that the war and resulting tension has less to do with religion and more to do with nationalism. It will take generations for people to truly move on.
Obviously a drink is needed after that emotional part of the tour. Zika recommended Restaurant Legaro, a great place with an amazing view of the bridge located conveniently across the street from Zika’s bar.
Bosnian food is to die for. The food has a strong Ottoman Turk influence. Lots of kebab, eggplant and something called burek, which is a delicious pastry filled with cheese or spinach or both. Pizza burek is the latest craze. The Pekaras, or bakery, are everywhere and you should definitely visit one. The national specialty is called Ćevapčići and is found through the Balkans but apparently is supposed to be the best in Bosnia. It is a skinless meat sausage. The type of meat varies from country to country but no pork is used in Bosnia. It is cooked on a coal-fired grill and served with flat bread, onions, tomatoes, Ajvar (a roasted garlic red pepper sauce) or Kajmak (a creamy buttery cheese-like product similar to clotted cream).
There is a train or a bus from Mostar to Sarajevo. The ride is scenic and lovely and about two and a half hours long. Sarajevo is often called the Jerusalem of Europe because there are Mosques, Catholic Cathedrals, Orthodox Churches and Synagogues literally steps from one another. A walking history tour here is a must because this city is incredibly rich in history and culture and worth learning about. The city where an assassination ultimately led to two World Wars shouldn’t be ignored!
You will see the most beautiful City Hall in the world, a blend of Ottoman and Baroque architectures built by the Austro-Hungarians. You don’t wan to miss The Emperor’s Mosque, built in 1457, the first to be built after the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia.
Another amazing site is Inat Kuca which translates to Spite House. It is a historic house with a hilarious story about a man who refused to move from one side of the river to another for the building of the City Hall. The government offered him the moon and stars and finally he agreed but only if they moved his entire home, brick by brick, to the opposite side the river and kept it exactly the same. It is now a very good restaurant for traditional food.
Bosnia is a special beautiful country that is quite ready to welcome more tourists. You will enjoy large portions of delicious food, gorgeous scenery, incredible history and warm friendly people.