On Monday, the weather was warm and beautiful, so I took a long day tour of Herzegovina – 8 am until 9 pm. There were three of us, including a German tourist from Frankfurt and Adnan, our Meet Bosnia guide.
Points of Interest Herzegovina
It’s hard to say which places were favorites, because everything was exceptional. Main points of interest included:
- Kravice Falls
- Wine Cellar Begić
Meet Bosnia guides are excellent. They’re professional and provide clear and thorough information. Without taking sides or injecting personal opinion, Adnan resolved gaps in my knowledge of Balkan history and politics – a complicated subject!
Konjic – Stone Bridge, Tito’s Bunker
Our first stop was Konjic’s beautiful Ottoman Stone Bridge on the Neretva River. Built in 1682, the bridge was destroyed during World War II. After a long period of reconstruction, it reopened in 2009. It’s known as a “point where Herzegovina joins Bosnia” and considered a National Monument.
Konjic and the Neretva River Canyon are surrounded by spectacular Balkan mountains rich in cobalt, minerals, agriculture, and forests. Josip Broz Tito, president of The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, built a bunker near Konjic that could “withstand a nuclear attack of 20 – 25 kilotons” – unsure exactly what that means. Although we didn’t visit Tito’s Bunker, Adnan provided information about it.
Tito’s Bunker was “the biggest secret of former Yugoslavia”. Between 1953 and 1979 it was built under Zlatar Mountain and cost $4.6 billion US dollars!”
It includes eight alternative exits, one hundred rooms, and Tito’s luxurious residence. In case of a nuclear attack, it “was to be used by 350 hand-picked people from Yugoslav political and state leadership”. Inhabitants could live comfortably in the bunker for six months without outside contact.
I’m pretty sure Tito alone is a whole chapter of Balkan history. Although he often looks mean in photos, many of his countrymen consider him “one of the most benevolent dictators in modern history”. He led the Yugoslav partisan forces to liberation from Nazi occupation without help from the Soviet Red Army.
After the war, Tito was the unifying figure in his country. He led Yugoslavia from 1943 until his death in 1980. Tito had a “highly favorable reputation in Eastern and Western Cold War blocs“.
“Josip Broz Tito, President of The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, received 98 foreign decorations, including the Légion d’Honneur and Order of Bath.”
The small town of Jablanica is known for the Battle of Neretva, which resulted in destruction of the Neretva Bridge. “Tucked into peaks of the Cvrsnica and Prenj Mountains” along the Neretva River, mild Jablanican climate is somewhere in between Mediterranean and Continental climate.
During WWII, Jablanica was the site of a battle “where Yugoslav Partisans won an unlikely fight against the Axis forces”. Today, the remains of the bridge stand as a “symbol of wartime difficulties and human sacrifice”.
This was my second trip to Mostar. The first visit from Dubrovnik wasn’t ideal for many reasons, including heavy rain. This time, the gorgeous old city at the foot of Velez Mountain was a delightful feast for the eyes! I wrote about Mostar in an earlier blog post and this time really saw the spectacularly beautiful historic city!
Old Bridge is Mostar’s most famous attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in 1566 by a Turkish builder. We also enjoyed beautiful Kriva Ćuprija, Mostar’s oldest arch bridge.
Best of all, I climbed the minaret of Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, the second largest mosque in Mostar. I’ve always wanted to climb a minaret! The inside was interesting but the best part of the experience was the panoramic view from the top! Sadly, the sun wasn’t at a good angle for photos.
My first visit to the Bazaar was on a cold, rainy day. Kujundžiluk, Mostar’s Old Bazaar, looks better in sunshine. Vendors, craft shops, and cafés lined cobbled streets brimming with tourists.
Blagaj, a “haven of peace and natural harmony”, was a special part of the tour. It’s the location of Tekija – the Sufi Dervish Monastery. Built in 1520, the monastery is an important monument of the early Ottoman period in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Dervishes perform rituals there on special occasions, including Sufi Dhikr (praise to God).
Blagaj Tekija Monastery is on the River Buna surrounded by dramatic mountain views. Visitors can tour the inside of the monastery. Everyone enjoys the cool fresh water, warm sun, and blue skies. It’s very peaceful.
We had a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Vrelo on the river bank across from the monastery. It’s off-season, so it was uncrowded.
After lunch we headed to Počitelj, a stepped Ottoman-Era Fortress village. It’s a magic place. We climbed the steps passing interesting medieval houses and pomegranate bushes to Počitelj Fortress. At the top, we scrambled up the narrow tower to unbelievable views across the village and River Neretva!
The view is “dominated by Haji Alija Bakr-Baba’s Mosque, the mekteb (primary school), imaret (kitchen), medresa (high school), hamam (public baths), han (public inn), and sahat-kula (clock-tower)”. The “dominant residential structure in the village is Gavrakanpetanović House, which has hosted thousands of artists and actors from all over the world at the International Art Colony”. Since then, many of the artists have moved away.
Kravice Falls, Trebižat River
Kravice Falls on the Trebižat River was the next stop. Hidden in the Balkan Mountains southwest of Mostar, the Falls form a “natural amphitheater”. For its “amazing beauty and untouched nature, it’s protected as a natural rarity”. In the summer, the waterfalls are a popular swimming hole and picnic area. They’re at their best in early spring.
Wine Cellar Begić
Our last stop was not part of the itinerary, but the day had gone so well our guide asked if we’d like to stop by a small family winery – Wine Cellar Begić in Ljubuški Herzegovina – on the way back to Sarajevo. We agreed and arrived shortly before sunset.
It’s a lovely isolated vineyard started by a man who made wine for his family and friends and slowly got involved in the commercial market. Some of their wines are made from plavac mali grapes indigenous to the area. As the winery grows, they plan to expand and add a larger wine cellar and small restaurant. Plavac Mali is fantastic!
We toured the grounds and wine cellar and listened to interesting wine-making notes. At that point my brain was already well saturated with details of the long day – I don’t remember much. It was a pleasant experience enjoying the sunset, a full moon rising, and sampling local wine, figs, cheese, and other products made and grown on the winery. It was a true Bosnian experience and time well spent with gracious hosts. We stayed longer than planned and didn’t begin our drive back to Sarajevo until late.
What a wonderful day. You made me envious covering those places I remember so well from our trip a few years back. Tito’s death was the trigger for me to leave Yugoslavia. We thought the Soviets would invade. Everyone was looking for danger in the wrong direction, as history has since proved. I wrote a short story about the communal grief at his death. He was definitely revered by a majority of people, and you have probably already come across the term “Yugonostalgia” – a longing for the country as it was under his rule. There was a common joke that his nickname came from his time as a commander in the army. “You (Ti),” he would order a private, “That” (To) as he pointed to a job that needing doing.
Thanks for being a loyal supporter Gwen – I appreciate it although the blog is primarily to sustain memories not dazzle and frankly may be boring to most people. I like Sarajevo so much but at this point feel a bit like a person with no country… Perhaps there aren’t many who could live the gypsy life. I’m not homesick, except maybe for the obvious comforts. There are many things that I didn’t cover in the blog posts – some unbelievable stories that maybe I should share but then again maybe not or in an anonymous short story… It hasn’t always been an easy trip although those who fantasize about travel might like to think so… Leaving Sarajevo for Belgrade on March 5th. That may be foolhardy as I hear they have never forgiven the US for the bombings in 1999. You can’t hide your passport!
Even though I was only there for an overnight stop I found Belgrade a surprisingly “happening” city. In Serbia in general there was still talk of the NATO bombings, but let’s hope they don’t hold it against you personally. Good luck!