We spent a lovely day in Bosnia Herzegovina recently where we explored ruins, the countryside, a UNESCO site and, of course, food. It was a day we won’t soon forget.
If someone had told me 10 years ago, I’d spend a lovely spring day road-tripping through Bosnia Herzegovina, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.
Even now, few North Americans know much about the country, beyond it being the site of a horrible war, in the not so distant past. In Canada, we watched our peace-keepers head off to the cities and villages to help where they could. But since the conflict ended, Bosnia Herzegovina has fallen off the radar of much of the world.
When Andrew and I were offered a day tour from Dubrovnik, Croatia, with our own personal guide, I jumped at the chance to explore and learn more about a country and region, I ashamedly know little about.
Surprised by Bosnia Herzegovina
My first surprise came during the research phase of our trip. Despite the country’s destruction, Bosnia Herzegovina is already home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites (and you all know how I love to collect UNESCO sites). One of these, Mostar, was our day-trip’s ultimate destination.
We met our driver and guide, the fabulous Zoran, bright and early (for us anyway) on Saturday morning. Zoran, a native of Dubrovnik, and his lovely wife Ivana, a Canadian with Croatian roots, run Vacation in Dubrovnik, a one-stop shop for tours and accommodation in the city.
Andrew and I don’t often travel with a guide, but we were so thankful for Zoran’s knowledge of the history of the area, not to mention his fantastic driving on some very twisty, beautiful coastal roads. Zoran is also passionate about good food and you KNOW where we stand on that. It was a match made in CheeseWeb heaven!
My second surprise about Bosnia Herzegovina was it actually owns a little bit of the coastline. That means if you drive from Dubrovnik to anywhere in the northern part of Croatia, you must pass through a bit of Bosnia. The boarder here is pretty perfunctory (no stamps in our passport) and it was only about a 10 minute drive before we found ourselves back in Croatia.
The Croatian coastline is achingly beautiful. Picture the best parts of California’s Pacific Coast road, with a sprinkling of Greek islands and a dash of Sardinia’s rugged volcanic mountains – too beautiful for words.
And then, all of a sudden, the whole thing flattened out and we found ourselves in a vast, flat river delta. Fields of fruit and vegetables stretched out before us and farmers sold their fresh produce at the side of the road.
From there, we headed inland and crossed the Bosnian border for the second time. Things began to get hilly again and we started to see some of the after-effects of the war.
Although signs of the war can be seen in the Dubrovnik area, if you look closely, Bosnia Herzegovina hasn’t received the same cash influx from tourism dollars as Croatia, and it has taken a lot longer to bounce back.
During our day-trip, we were constantly faced with conflicting images – here, reconstruction, bright colours, people out living their lives; there, bombed out shells of churches and cemeteries full of casualties of war. Evidence of reconstruction is everywhere and hopefully people will begin to come and explore this region, injecting it with some much needed financial support.
Visiting Počitelj, Bosnia Herzegovina
Our first stop of the day was the lovely little hillside town, Počitelj. It is a historic site on the bank of the Neretva River and is a popular tourist stop on the way to Mostar.
The fortified town contains a few scattered homes and cafes, a beautiful mosque, a tower and a citadel, surrounded by the remains of a city wall. The main construction dates from two periods – medieval and ottoman.
The Ottomans erected many of the town’s public buildings and Počitelj flourished. However in 1878, Bosnia Herzegovina was taken over by Austro-Hungarian rule and Počitelj fell into neglect. The final blow for Počitelj came in 1992, during the Bosnian War. The town was bombed and most of its population was displaced.
In 1996, Počitelj was added to the list of the world’s 100 most endangered cultural heritage sites, by the World Monuments Watch. In 2000, the government of Bosnia Herzegovina started a reconstruction project and encouraged Počitelj’s refugees to return home.
Wandering around the town, in mid-March, we were among only a handful of visitors. Most of the buildings, including the mosque, were closed up tight.
We hiked up the uneven stone stairs to the citadel and found ourselves wandering through yet another European ruin, which would have been entirely roped off in North America. We were glad it wasn’t.
We clambered inside the citadel and were afforded some beautiful views of the town and river below. From above, at least, Počitelj and its neighbours seemed like any other quiet, rural town, unaffected by the ravages of war.
Once we climbed back down the many stairs to the top of the town, we grabbed a coffee to restore us and set off for our next destination – Mostar.
Stay tuned for part two of our adventure in Bosnia Herzegovnia when we visit Mostar and eat our first Bosnia meal. (There will be food porn!)
We’d like to give a giant thank you to Zoran and Ivana of Vacation in Dubrovnik, who graciously sponsored our day-trip to Bosnia Herzegovina. As always, we were free to express our own impressions of the tour. We highly recommend you look them up when planning your next visit to Dubrovnik.
- A Day-Trip to Bosnia Herzegovina – Part 1 – Počitelj
- A Day-Trip to Bosnia Herzegovnia – Part 2 – Mostar and Ston, Croatia
- Visiting the Old Town Walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia
- Dubrovnik, Croatia’s Old Town at Night in Photos