I can’t think of a place I have visited whose architecture has affected me as much as Mostar in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The recent history of the countries battles are worn on the buildings as if they open wounds waiting for attention so they can heal. The juxtaposition to all of this is the quaint and perfect village of Mostar.
My travel friend from KatandDogTravels recommended we spend some time in Mostar after our month in Croatia. I hadn’t ever thought of going to Bosnia-Hercegovina but the pictures looked to good to pass up.
We decided to drive from Plitvice Lakes to Mostar. Working out the schedules to take buses or drivers across the border was going to take too much time so when we rented our car we made sure to get the green card necessary to take it into Bosnia-Hercegovina. As with all drives through Croatia the scenery was stunning. We listened to podcasts and took in the beautiful mountains of Croatia.
Crossing the border into Bosnia-Hercegovina couldn’t have been easier. It was a quick check of paperwork and off we went. Admittedly once we crossed over we felt a little trepidation. The only thing we have ever really known of Bosnia is war. This hung over us as we acclimated to the new country. We had been told that the people were very nice and it was very safe yet as we drove through some of the towns the underdevelopment fed our trepidation a little, being honest here. I am never proud to admit when I allow my lack of knowledge or limited exposure influence me.
Arriving in Mostar is an absolute treat. The stone village is tucked in the mountains with a vibrant river running through it, splitting it in two. The brown, grey and black stone buildings and streets are so perfect it feels like you have stepped onto the scene of a movie. They have been so well preserved for hundreds of years. It is a bustling village, surviving on tourism. Women hang lacey linens from the sides of the stone bridges showing them off to passers by in hopes of making a sale.
It seemed impossible to us to drive a car on the tiny roads so the owners of the tiny hotel we were staying in volunteered to come to the main road and park the car for us. Watching him maneuver our little rental car through streets barely wide enough to pass was entertainment in itself.
I was so excited to get out and see Old Town Mostar that I drug J. out with the enticement of a delicious lunch. We were not disappointed. The food in Mostar is really good. They serve a lot of seafood, pizza, mushroom dishes and meats. Most of the restaurants have river views. They are in quaint stone buildings oozing romance and relaxation. Everything in Mostar moves slowly, there is no need for a fast paced life here.
There are two main roads in Mostar, one on either side of the incredible bridges. The streets are lined with tourist shops, which are set up more like an Arabian bazaar. There are also cafes, restaurants and gelato shops in between the tourist shops. Yet somehow it doesn’t feel overwhelming. The town is so small it can easily be walked in an hour or less. This adds to the intimate and romantic feeling of the town.
Mostar is famous for the Stari Most Bridge. It is a reconstructed bridge, due to the bombings of the war, originally built in the 1600’s. I loved sitting by the river, below the bridge and watching as men jump from the top. Sitting amongst the moss covered rocks and the vibrant blue-green waters with the bridge overhead, was one of my favorite things to do in Mostar. It is dramatic not only because of its amazing architecture but also because of the reconstruction, which had to be done after the war where it was almost completely destroyed. Walking over the Star Most is not easy if you do not have rubber-bottomed shoes. I, like many of the tourists, clung to the side of the bridge, and used the raised road dividers to make it across the steep slopes.
The Stari Most is the most famous bridge in Mostar my favorite was the Crooked Bridge (Kriva Cuprija). It is a smaller version of the Stari Most, built as a test run for the larger Stari Most. It was destroyed in December 2000 by flooding but rebuilt in 2001 exactly as it had been for over 400 years. The Crooked Bridge is tucked away where the water forms small waterfalls rushing into the main part of the city. There are mossy rocks, mossy tree branches and flowers surrounding it, all adding the sweet atmosphere of this precious bridge.
Due to my complete ignorance I was surprised to see several mosques in the town and further out in the more modern city. The call to prayer was quite beautiful as it reverberated through the surrounding mountains. We toured the oldest mosque in Mostar, Koski Medmeh Pasa Mosque, which was a special treat as most mosques are not open to non-Muslims. It was a simple building with gorgeous painted details inside and a killer climb to the top of the minaret. This climb is an exercise in determination. It is a steep climb up a very narrow minaret. If you are at all claustrophobic I might consider skipping this bit. However, if you can muster through the reward is the breathtaking 360-degree views of the city. Luckily we had started early and had the mosque and the minaret to ourselves. I would definitely recommend this as the 400 year old mosque can get a bit crowded later in the day as the tour buses arrive.
On our last day in Mostar we walked through parts of the more modern area of town. While we had seen a few bullet holes in buildings in the old town the more modern area shocked us. Buildings were still sitting with massive holes where bombs had ripped through them. Many of the buildings reduced to rubble as bullet holes claimed the exteriors leaving them looking a bit like Swiss cheese. It was such an intense experience to realize this war happened so recently in our history. As we stood in front of buildings the sorrow and pain the people suffered could not be ignored. While I have seen many sights in the world where horrific things happened this was more intense for me because I was alive when all of this happened. It could so easily have been my father fighting, or my family killed if we lived there. In America we have been so removed from wars on our own soil that to be face to face with something so recent was not only foreign but shocking.
The most overwhelming part of the experience though was how quickly the people had begun to heal and forgive. It is a true testimony to the resiliency of the nation and the kindness of the Bosnians.
Don’t be afraid to stop and eat or get coffee in the gas stations along the highway in Croatia. The food is usually quite good and the coffee is great. We even stopped at one station where we were served at tables set with dishes, glassware and flowers.
Where To Stay:
We loved our hotel-Pansion Cardak. The location was fantastic, the rooms were very big and the beds super comfy! The owners were so kind and helpful, recommending places to eat, things to see, arranging taxis etc. I wouldn’t stay anywhere else in Mostar.
Where To Eat:
Hindin Han had great meat dishes and a grilled mushroom dish I loved so much we went back for it the next day.
Divan Restaurant has the most beautiful spot right along the river with views of the Crooked Bridge. The pizza is fantastic here. Sit outside along the river for a wonderful experience you can’t have anywhere else in the world.
How To Get There:
It is easy to drive to Mostar from Croatia if you want to go on your own. Just make sure to get a green card to take the car over the border. There are also tons of day trip tours to Mostar from Split and Dubrovnik if you prefer. You can hire a personal driver from the Dubrovnik airport, or take public buses if you want to stay longer than a day, which I would recommend.