The landscape of Bosnia Herzegovina is beautiful, lush and green, albiet marred by the too-frequent ruined buildings and walls scarred by bullets from the vicious wars of the 90s. The first thing my friend and I did in the country was a tour around Herzegovina the day after we arrived, visiting an ancient Muslim holy house at Blagaj; the old town of Počitelj which was destroyed by the 1992-96 war; a catholic pilgrim’s site and location of a supposed miracle at Medjugorje and, last but not least, the Kravice falls, where we swam in a freezing lake (turned film set). And that’s not even mentioning the food.
Blagaj, Pocitelj and Kravice waterfalls
Despite arriving in Mostar 3 hours late (budget time for your transport in this region) we were picked up as scheduled and taken to the fabulous Deny Rooms hostel, where that night my friend and I and a gaggle of Australian backpackers signed up for Deny’s Herzegovina day tour, drank some rakia (potent and went down easily) and shuffled off as a group for a traditional Bosnian meal in a local restaurant.
Happily thrown together with new people, in Mostar we ate and explored with the other guests. I don’t usually sign up for tours, preferring to explore by myself or with my friends, but because we’d all met the previous night it felt like we’d be missing out if we didn’t, and so we booked an extra night, and didn’t regret it once.
One of my better breakfasting experiences, by the side of the River Buna
The picture above is where we had breakfast on the morning of the tour. It was misty, and we were led through thick stone walls into a courtyard full of tables and trees, and a massive stone walk-in oven (ok, cooking area), and told to guess what we were having for breakfast. The answer: börek and an unsweetened yoghurt drink. I was more excited about the yoghurt drink than the heavy pastry with meat or cheese.
There were kittens at breakfast. One of them kept climbing on the girl who least liked cats, and was eventually plucked up by the neck by one of the tour hosts, who pretended to throw it into the river. It promptly came back.
The Muslim holy house, or Dervish house, was just across the river from the restaurant. It’s built right at the bottom of a cliff too tall to photograph, and juts out over a vividly blue pool.
Blagaj dervish house from across the river
Close up, the two hostel owners who guided our tour wearing their I
Our next stop, Počitelj, on the left bank of the River Neretva, just south of Mostar and strategically important from the 15th century all the way up until the late 19th, was all but destroyed in the war of 1992-96, as was so much else in the region during those years. We were guided by two rambunctious kids (and it’s not often that word actually applies) up to the fortress, where the view was amazing out over the river valley. You can also climb up inside the tower.
View from the walk up to Počitelj’s fortress
The old town of Počitelj and River Neretva. You can see the fortress just left of centre.
Another short drive and we were at the bizarre site of Medugorje, 35km from Mostar. The story goes that in 1981 the Virgin Mary appeared to some teenaged walkers in the hills, and the church built to commemorate this attracts Catholic pilgrims from all over the world. There are literally hundreds of gift shops selling kitsch religious souvenirs, and not much else. There is a huge car park, and the church itself is an underwhelming pale yellow building. There was a service going on inside, though, and it was more packed than any church I’ve seen.
Our day finished at the Kravice waterfalls, where we ignored the rain and obvious onset of winter and swam in the lake. It was absolutely freezing, and while I’m glad I took the plunge (heh) and actually swum, I knew my limits and couldn’t make it all the way across to the waterfalls, the current being really strong and the temperature having evacuated my lungs of air. Letting the current help me back to the shore I grabbed on to a dinghy sheltering a load of filming equipment. Drying off I ordered tea instead of beer (and was then the envy of quite a few cold people) when we all gathered in yet another restaurant lakeside to be served up a massive meal of meat in just about every form and (thankfully) some salads.
Bonus picture: dressing in loaned scarves to look around the dervish house: