After three nights in Sarajevo, we picked up a rental car and hit the road! Our final destination was Mostar, but we had a few stops to make on the way. First was Vrelo Bosne, a nature reserve just 20 minutes outside of Sarajevo at the source of the River Bosna, which gives the country Bosnia its name. A series of paths and bridges guide you through the park; the peacefulness was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city. It wasn’t long after getting back in the car that we were on the scenic road toward Mostar (the M17). It’s hard to describe the drive; it was one of the best we’ve ever done, driving below craggy peaks, winding through lush valleys, passing charming villages, all the while tracing the impossibly blue-green Neretva River. There’s a scenic train ride that follows a similar path, but driving allowed us to stop and take in the views. We stopped for lunch at Vidikovac in Konjic which offered views of the river and the town’s Old Stone Bridge.
Eventually, we arrived in Mostar and checked into the incredible Muslibegovic House, which doubles as a museum (and rightfully so—it’s beautiful!). The city of Mostar is split in two halves by the Neretva River. The eastern half is predominantly Muslim and the western half is predominantly Catholic. This part of the country, known historically as Herzegovina, is home to much of the country’s Catholic (and ethnically Croat) population. The city’s two halves are dramatically linked by Mostar’s iconic 16th-century Ottoman bridge, Stari Most ("Old Bridge"). The bridge stood as a symbol of the city's blended diversity (before the war it had the highest number of mixed marriages in the country) for over 400 years until it was destroyed in November 1993 by Croat forces. After the war the bridge was painstakingly reconstructed, using pieces of the original that had fallen into the river below, and reopened in 2004. You can get a good look at the destruction and reconstruction of the bridge in the war photo exhibition in one of the buildings on the bridge. These days the bridge is most famous for the local divers who take the 65-foot (20-meter) plunge into the frigid Neretva to much fanfare—but only after they’ve collected enough money from the hordes of spectating tourists!
Kujundžiluk, east of the river, is the main tourist street and hosts a number of shops, of varying quality and authenticity. Art Studio Pandur recommended to us by our hotel, is one of the quality shops where we picked up a tin dish and bracelet. We visited two mosques nearby: Karađozbegova (simple and clean interior) and Koski Mehmed-Pašina (the best views of Mostar from the minaret—not to be missed!). On the west side of the river, we appreciated little Kriva Ćuprija, one of the smaller stone bridges scattered throughout the city.
There is a handful of restaurants in Mostar that appear on almost every list of recommended dinner spots in the city. We sampled the menus at three of them: Šadrvan (ćevapi and chicken garden salad), Hindin Han (ćevapi and chicken skewers), and Tima-Irma (ćevapi, chicken salad, baklava). We recommend them all, especially if you eat late enough for the day-trippers to have left so that you may enjoy the tranquil ambiance.
From Mostar, we took advantage of our car and ventured out on some day trips. On our first full day, we visited Blagaj Tekija (20 minutes from Mostar), a 16th-century Dervish house built into the cliffside at the Vrelo Bune river spring. The surreal setting is matched in the interior of the house, with its distinctive architecture and design.
On our second full day, we visited Kravice Falls (1 hour from Mostar), a series of lakes and waterfalls reminiscent of Croatia’s famous Plitvice Lakes. The difference at Kravice (other than the smaller scale) is that you can swim! In addition to swimming, we also climbed around the waterfalls and took the short hike to Mala Kravice (“Little Kravice,” which was underwhelming).
On our way back from Kravice we stopped at Počitelj (30 minutes from Mostar), a small town with not much to do other than stroll the cobblestoned lanes and climb up to the fortress for great views over the surrounding area. That day was the hottest yet (105°F / 40°C), so we cooled off with fresh pomegranate juice from a small stand at the base of the town.
After dealing with that kind of heat for our three nights in and around Mostar, we knew it was time to cool off. Lucky for us we were about to board a bus bound for the Adriatic for the second half of our two-week trip. Stay tuned for stories from our time in Split and Hvar in what has become one of our favorite countries in Europe—Croatia!