Sights: Herzegovina is beautiful and has some of the most stunning scenery I have travelled through. I’ve travelled through the area twice coming from the Dubrovnik direction.
Coming from the south, you first encounter Neum on Bosnia & Herzegovina’s short stretch of coast. Built as a Yugoslavian tourist destination in the 1970s and 80s, other than the pretty views of the sea there’s little to keep you there. However, moving in land, it’s worth spending some time in the dense woodlands and rushing river valleys towards Mostar. Along the road you will come across Počitelj Castle, overlooking the valley. It’s impressive, high above the river and has been a strategic foot-hold for centuries – including in the more recent wars.
Continuing north, you will travel through woodlands which are colourful in the autumn. Heading past Mostar, Kravica Waterfall is worth a little detour, particularly in the early evening when the coaches have left and the sun is hitting the falls. It’s a bit of a walk in to the valley but a tranquil spot, a further reminder of this area’s natural beauty. It is nice to take a picnic and relax.
A few miles away is Blagaj which is beautiful and heart-breaking. A rural community, nearby there is a Tekke (a Dervish Monastery) and waterfall which have attracted pilgrims and visitors for years. It is very pretty and very calm. Just outside the village is the cemetery and war memorial with many of the graves dating from the early 1990s when war crossed this part of the Balkans too many times; by the dates on the graves, you can see a whole generation of young men was lost.
A short drive further on and you end up in Mostar with its Ottoman bridge (Stari Most) whose destruction marked one of the lowest parts of the wars. Today it is rebuilt and walking along the river you would hardly know of the damage caused in 1993. A few roads back though and things are different. On the western bank, rebuilding is ongoing and new buildings are emerging out of the rubble. On the eastern bank, with a more Bosniak population, buildings remain shelled with the marks of shrapnel and bullets visible on their facades. There are small cemeteries in town squares as this was the only ground available to bury the dead. This city is healing but there are deeper wounds still to be repaired.
As a comparison to Mostar, heading towards Sarajevo is the town of Konjic. Also badly damaged during the war, its repairs have been a little more complete though Mosques lack their minarets and buildings still need some love. It feels less touristy and more of a regular town. Worth a stop for coffee by the river.
Travel: Both times I have been in a hire car, either in a car picked up in Dubrovnik or elsewhere in Bosnia & Herzegovina. There are buses but a road trip is more my sort of trip.
On one occasion, I was travelling on Croatian number plates – this can attract a little attention in more remote areas as it indicates you could be a tourist. The roads are good quality – indeed a little too good quality in that we ended up being pulled over by the Police for speed. A lack of English on the part of the officer I think saved us from a fine or any other financial exchange to solve the issue. It is important in this part of the world, when hiring a car, to make sure you have the car papers and insurance to cross the border which will incur additional charge at hire office. Ours were checked so it is not something you can get away without.
It is also worth noting that Bosnia has a closed currency so you can only exchange currency in country. That said, in tourist areas Euros seemed to do the trick and cards were accepted in larger shops (though not very popular).
Accommodation: I have stayed in both Neum and Mostar – and would recommend the latter in preference. In Neum, we stayed at the Hotel Villa Nova (7 Primorska St.). To be honest, there weren’t very many options open to us as we were off-season but this is a well-priced, clean tourist hotel with good views of the bay.
Mostar’s tourist scene has massively expanded in recent years so there are ever expanding hotel options. We stayed at the locally owned, well presented Pansion City Star. Within metres of the city’s famous bridge, this hotel has modern, quiet rooms and a welcoming host.
Food & Drink: Neum has a lack of options, to be honest, so you may end up eating at the hotel. However, Mostar has multiple options including lots of little eateries on the banks of the river. Like most tourists, we sampled Ćevapi a cross between a sausage and a kebab with breads and salad. We partiularly liked Tima-Irma (Onešćukova 7) just up from Mostar’s bridge.
As to drinking, for a view of the river it is worth trying Karma (Jusovina) but for a more party atmosphere with good local bears, check out The Black Dog Pub (Jusovina 5).
Further Reading & Listening:
Guide books: Since Lonely planet have stopped their guide to South Eastern Europe, the options for Bosnia seem to be one of their multi-country volume, such as Europe on a shoe-string, or the Bradt Travel Guide for Bosnia & Herzegovina specifically. As for maps, the Croatian map from Freytag-Berndt covers much of the Mostar/Herzegovina area but they also have a map which covers all of Bosnia.
Further Reading: A little general knowledge of the complex history of Bosnia & Herzegovina is helpful; I found sections of Martin Bell’s In Harm’s Way helpful; although it focusses on Sarajevo it gives a sense of the issues and horrors seen here 25 years ago.
Podcast: The BBC have produced a short but informative documentary on Mostar: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-destruction-of-the-bridge-at-mostar-bosnia/id1005619847?i=1000344596436&mt=2
Blog: And for another traveler’s views of this part of the world, check out World of Wanderlust’s posts on Bosnia: http://www.worldofwanderlust.com/category/europe-2/bosnia-herzegovina/
[First Published 17/08/17, Updated 28/04/19]