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One of the reasons we love Europe so much is the fact that you can take a day trip to another country and be right back for a nightcap. When planning our trip to Dubrovnik, we wanted to take full advantage of Croatia’s proximity to other countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. Given that we want to experience as many cultures as possible, we decided to take on two more countries. Our first day trip was to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Little did I know that Bosnia would become my favorite country I’ve traveled to.
We booked a small group tour to see three historic towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina in one day: Medjugorje, Mostar and Pocitelj. The tour was a 12 hour day with a fantastic guide who picked us up from a centrally located hotel in Dubrovnik. We recommend booking a full day trip with Get Your Guide.
Getting to Bosnia and Herzegovina from Dubrovnik is actually pretty interesting. There is a small strip of Bosnia and Herzegovina that splits Croatia right in half, allowing Bosnia access to the Adriatic Sea. So, when traveling by car to Bosnia and Herzegovina, you’ll enter Bosnia, leave Bosnia and re-enter Croatia. Then, you’ll finally re-enter Bosnia and Herzegovina for the second time. Did you get that?
You’ll end up with a few souvenirs in the form of passport stamps!
After a 2.5 hour ride from Dubrovnik, we arrived in Medjugorje, a site of pilgrimage for many Catholics. Growing up Catholic, I’d actually learned all about Medjugorje from my grandmother whose parents were born in Yugoslavia. In 1981 Yugoslavia (now Bosnia), an apparition of Blessed Mary holding an infant appeared to six teenagers on Mount Podbrdo. She gave the teenagers ten “secrets” and called them to prayer. The Blessed Mary still appears to these same people. Although not an officially approved Catholic pilgrimage site, an estimated 40 million people have visited the undeniably spiritual town.
We were given two hours in Medjugorje to tour the grounds of Saint James Church. A beautiful statue of Our Blessed Mary stands outside the church. Mount Podbrdo (now called Apparition Mountain), where the Blessed Mary appeared, is beyond the church. Due to time constraints, we were unable to hike to the crosses on top of the mountain.
Just 30 minutes northeast of Medjugorje is Mostar, a city close to decimation from the Bosnian War. Almost everywhere we looked, we saw vacant (and even occupied) buildings riddled by heavy shell damage. From what we learned during our walking tour, the government allocated funds to only rehabilitating some buildings. Others were left decrepit even 25 years after the end of the Bosnian War.
We highly recommend taking a walking tour to learn more about the painful history of Mostar. Although the devastation the Bosnian War has left on Mostar is obvious, the pedestrian-only town itself has plenty of beauty to be enjoyed by all visitors.
Stari Most Bridge (the Old Bridge)
In 1557, Suleiman the Magnificent commissioned the Stari Most Bridge, connecting two parts of Mostar high above the Neretva River. The Stari Most stood for 427 years until its destruction by the Croats on November 9, 1993 during the Bosnian War. After the end of the war, a coalition of European organizations formed to rebuild the bridge. The Stari Most Bridge is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its reconstruction completed in 2004. While exploring Mostar, you can still see a religious division between the two sides of the bridge: one side inhabited mainly by Croats and the other by Bosnian Muslims.
On top of the bridge are local men who dive into the Neretva River once their donation bag is full. From below the bridge, we were able to cheer on a young man diving into the icy cold water. My adrenaline-junkie husband, Andrew, kept talking about wanting to try it out for himself. Thankfully, bridge jumping wasn’t on the itinerary that day.
(Fun fact: While writing this post, I found out that Mostar is home to the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series competition.)
When visiting the Old Bridge, make sure you take a photo of the bridge from both sides and below the bridge (where you might be able to see some bridge jumpers!). You’ll also notice the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque which you can see in almost every photo of the Stari Most Bridge.
Check out the čaršija (or “markets”) on both sides of the Stari Most Bridge to experience true Ottoman influences. There are stalls selling rugs, painted plates, mosaic lamps and copper jewelry. (I picked up a beautiful stamped copper bracelet and so wished we had bought a colorful mosaic lamp to take home as a souvenir!) While walking through Mostar, take note of the buildings and old war relics. The most famous is the “Don’t Forget” rock. According to our guide, most locals understandably don’t like to talk about the civil war given many had lost loved ones.
Bosnian Food & Drink
After exploring the historic spots, we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant, Sadrvan. It’s a very popular (and touristy spot) where the servers wear traditional Bosnian garb, and we loved every minute of it.
This was our first taste of Bosnian food, and, honestly, Andrew and I both agree Bosnian food is our favorite cuisine. Even back in the states, we’ve hunted to find authentic Bosnian cuisine, especially bureks (a delicious meat pie). Bosnian dishes seem to be heavy with meat and potatoes, but you’ll also find some delicious vegetarian and dip dishes. Our favorite meal at Sadrvan was the Bosnian cookie, a meat dish– I so wish we had taken a picture of it because we still dream of it to this day!
One thing we’ve noticed through our travels is how coffee is served so differently in other countries. In Australia, most of our lattes came in small glass cups without a handle, instead of the traditional American mug. After seeing how coffee was prepared in Bosnia, we ordered some at Sadrvan (and at almost every Croatian restaurant we went to after that).
Bosnian coffee was unlike any coffee experience I’ve had before. The ingredients are plated on a silver or copper tray, and the servers explain how to properly put it together and drink it. It’s important to note that there are regional differences in the preparation of coffee from the Bosnians, Croats and Turks! You are really meant to slowly sip the coffee and enjoy– quite a different experience from the quick Starbucks drive-thrus we’re used to! With your coffee you might even get a small Turkish delight sweet too.
Blagaj Monastery & Kravice Waterfalls
If possible, find a day trip that allows you to explore Blagaj Monastery, a short 6 km drive from Mostar. The monastery overlooks the crystal clear Buna River, and you can actually take a small boat into the cave for a small fee. Unfortunately, neither the Blagaj Monastery or Kravice Waterfalls were on our itinerary, but had we rented a car, we would’ve checked them out!
Počitelj, a UNESCO-listed town, was our last stop en route back to Dubrovnik. This medieval fortress was conquered in 1471 by the Ottomans. Our tour allowed us 2 hours at this stop, so we climbed the unrestored and ruinous parts of the fortress to the left. From the top of the site, there were some beautiful views overlooking the valley and Neretva River. Had there been more time, we would have also explored the Hajji Alija Mosque to the right. Fortunately, you are able to get a few good views of the mosque from the top of the fortress.
Visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina was such an eye opening experience for us as we’ve never visited a country still so divided and torn from war. Mostar and the Stari Most Bridge are painful reminders of the destruction war can inflict. However, the city of Mostar is also a great reminder of how we can overcome conflict and rebuild to remember the beauty the country always had. If you are able to take a day trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina from Croatia or Montenegro, we highly recommend it. Bosnia and Herzegovina is truly a country you won’t forget.
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