Bosnia and Hercegovina's Mostar: life beyond the bridge

by patandliza

Find out about Mostar's famous bridge, bridge-jumping, historic buildings and gastronomic treats. Then discover the outlying villages and natural sights

Poised on the parapet of the Old Bridge in Mostar the professional diver confidently spreadeagled his arms. 21 metres below lay the freezing Neretva River. It seemed like a moment frozen in time from when the iconic bridge was built in 1566, except that now the divers are paid by tourists for their daring feat.

In 1993 the bridge was destroyed in the civil war but ten years later it was reconstructed stone by stone using original methods and designs. A similar programme of restoration has been undertaken throughout the destroyed city and it is amazing to see from the photographs the scale and success of the transformation.

Mostar, Hercegovina’s most famous city, has efficient bus links with Sarajevo, as well as Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, whilst a train also connects with Sarajevo. We wanted to spend three days here exploring the old town but also finding other treasures in its hinterland.

The bridge constantly lures you to it at different times of the day and it is worth viewing it from different angles and levels. It is the play of light on the stone that draws photographers and artists to this spot. Lining the streets to the bridge, local craftsmen work in copper or create paintings, so there are plenty of opportunities for souvenir shopping.

Around the city

But it is not just about the bridge. We visited Muslibegovica House which is an outstanding example of eighteenth century Ottoman craftsmanship. For a nominal fee we had a personally guided tour by the owner and we were tempted by the opportunity of staying in one of the atmospheric guest rooms fitted out with modern facilities.

The Koski Mehmed-Pasa Mosque has some delicate artwork on display but its main attribute is the minaret from which you can get panoramic views across the city.

The Museum of Hercegovina (Baja-tova 4; +387 (0) 63 551 602) captures recent and earlier history and features poignant film footage of the bridge with its before and after shots.

Touring by car

Local transport to some of the outlying villages and towns was intermittent so we decided to hire a car and driver. Our day tour was organized through the Tourist Office (Onescukova bb; + 387 (0) 63 397 350: www.hercegovina.ba) and was good value at 60 KM (UK£1 = 2.26 KM).

Kravice Waterfalls, with a backdrop of an early summer countryside, is a dramatic sight with water foaming and cascading down 25 metres to the surface below. It is possible to swim in the river, picnic on the grassy banks or buy snacks from the café. This is a natural phenomenon which outstrips many of its more illustrious counterparts.

Tekija, a quaint Dervish monastery, situated by the source of the Buna River, lies in the village of Blagaj. It is still a place of worship and there are a number of religious artefacts in rooms which have intricately carved ceilings (4 KM entrance).The river spills out of the mountainside adding to the mystical atmosphere. Nearby there are a number of riverside restaurants if your visit happens to coincide with lunchtime,

Pocitelj, about 25kms from Mostar is an attractive village set in the folds of a hillside. It has been restored back to its Ottoman glory and we visited the sixteenth century mosque and madrassa as well as viewing the ancient clock tower.

Our tour which lasted for four and half hours was well worth it and gave us the flexibility to explore significant places of interest within range of Mostar.

Medugorje is a village less than an hour from Mostar which can easily be reached by local buses. It is a controversial site, being the place of pilgrimage for thousands of Roman Catholics. The debate is mainly about the fact that the appearance of Our Lady in 1981 has not been officially ratified by the Vatican. Whatever your views, it is a centre for meditation with some striking modern sculptures and churches.

Places to stay and eat

Relaxing on a balcony overlooking a mill stream was not our expectation when we chose to stay at Villa Botticelli on Muje Bjelavea 6 (Double B&B 46 KM each). It was a wonderful location, close to the old town and we had a very friendly welcome from the owners. There are more luxurious options such as Muslibegovica House (Double B&B 85 KM each) which offers spacious rooms decorated in the Ottoman style.

Most of the atmospheric and best value restaurants are located near the bridge. Babilon (+ 387 (0) 61 164 912) has tasty chicken kebabs, chips, salad and wine for two at 34 KM. Bella Vista (+ 387 (0) 61 656 421), nearby, has a number of Italian favourites including pizza, lasagna, salad and red wine for a similar price. Both of these restaurants have terraces which double up as bars with splendid views of the bridge.

Sadrvan (+ 387 (0) 61 891 189), near the Crooked Bridge (Kriva Cuprija), has a garden setting and specializes in local dishes. We had stuffed vine leaves, meatballs, cevapi, rice potatoes and red Blatina wine for 39 KM.

A footnote

Mostar, for many, is defined by its bridge. It is a symbol of hope for the future. Nevertheless, it is possible to become perhaps too bridge-centric. Today, as well as exploring less publicised place in the city, it is rewarding to head out into the countryside to find quaint villages, natural phenomena and historic sites.