Pearls of Herzegovina

Blagaj Tekija Sufi Monastery River Buna Pocitelj

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 – me, a German tourist from Frankfurt, and Adnan, our Meet Bosnia Guide.

Ducks River Bruna Pocitel

It’s hard to say which places were favorites because everything was exceptional. The main points included:

  • Konjic
  • Jablanica
  • Mostar
  • Blagaj
  • Počitelj 
  • Kravice Falls
  • Wine Cellar Begić

Dome Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

Guides from Meet Bosnia are very good. They’re gracious and provide clear and thorough information. Without taking sides or injecting personal beliefs, our guide filled a few gaps in my understanding of Balkan history and politics – a complicated subject!

Konjic Stone Bridge

Konjic – Stone Bridge, Tito’s Bunker

Our first stop was Konjic’s beautiful Ottoman Stone Bridge on the emerald-green Neretva River. Built in 1682, the bridge was destroyed during World War II, eventually reconstructed, and reopened in 2009. It’s known as a “point where Herzegovina joins Bosnia” and is on the list of National Monuments.

Konjic

Konjic and the Neretva River Canyon are surrounded by spectacular Balkan mountains rich in cobalt, minerals, agriculture, and forests. Although we didn’t visit Tito’s Bunker, our guide provided information about it. 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” – not sure exactly what that means.

Tito’s Nuclear Bunker – Hit Booker Mostar

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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 U.S. dollars!!”

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Hajji Alija Mosque Počitelj

It had eight alternative exits, one hundred rooms, and Tito’s luxurious private residence and office. In case of a nuclear attack it “was to be used by 350 people from Yugoslavia’s political and state leadership”. They could live in the bunker for six months without contact from the outside world.

Sunny View Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque Minaret

I’m pretty sure Tito alone is a whole chapter of Balkan history. Although he looks mean and evil 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.

View from Tower Kula Fort Počitelj

After the war, Tito was the unifying figure in his country and led Yugoslavia from 1943 until his death in 1980. He maintained a “highly favorable reputation abroad in both Eastern and Western Cold War blocs”.

Church of St. John the Baptist Konjic

Minaret Steps Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

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“Josip Broz Tito, president of The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, received 98 foreign decorations, including the Légion d’Honneur and Order of Bath.”

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Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque Mostar

Jablanica

“Tucked into the peaks of the Cvrsnica and Prenj Mountains” along the Neretva River, Jablanica has a mild climate between Mediterranean and Continental. It’s a small town known for the destruction of a railway bridge during the Battle of Neretva.

Jablanica Battle Spot Near Neretva Bridge

During WW II, Jablanica was the site of the battle “where Yugoslav Partisans won an unlikely battle against the Axis forces”. Today, the remains of the destroyed bridge are a “symbol of wartime difficulties and sacrifice”.

Battlefield Jablanica

Jablanica Railway Bridge Neretva River Destroyed by Yugoslav Partisans WW II – Wikivoyage

Mostar

This was my second trip to Mostar. The first visit from Dubrovnik wasn’t ideal for many reasons including heavy rain. This time the city at the foot of Velez Mountain was a delightful feast for my eyes! I wrote about Mostar in an earlier blog post but this time really saw the beautiful historic city!

Kravice Waterfalls – earthpron.org

The Old Bridge is Mostar’s most famous attraction. Built by a Turkish builder in 1566  it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We also enjoyed beautiful Kriva Ćuprija, the oldest arch bridge in Mostar.

Mostar’s Old Bazaar Kujundžiluk

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 after climbing the narrow tower, the spectacular panoramas on top were indescribable! Sadly the sun wasn’t at a good angle for photos.

Kriva Ćuprija Arch Bridge Mostar

Kujundžiluk, Mostar’s Old Bazaar looks better in sunshine. Vendors, crafts, cafés, and tourists lined the buzzing cobbled streets.

Mostar Bridge

Blagaj

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 around 1520, the monastery is an important monument of the early Ottoman period in Bosnia-Herzegovina. On special occasions Dervishes perform rituals there, including Sufi Dhikr (praise to God).

Blagaj Tekija Dervish Monastery

The Blagaj Tekija is on River Buna, cooled by the water and surrounded by spectacular mountain views. It’s easy to understand why visitors enjoy the fresh water, warm sun, and blue skies. It’s truly a peaceful place. You can tour the inside of the monastery.

View Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

We had a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Vrelo on the river bank across from the monastery. Since it’s off-season it wasn’t crowded.

Restoran Vrelo Blagaj

Steps Počitelj Tower

Počitelj

After lunch we headed to Počitelj, a stepped Ottoman-Era Fortress village. It’s a magic place. We climbed the stone steps past 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!

Neretva River – commons wikimedia.org

The view is “dominated by Hajji Alija’s Mosque, the mekteb (primary school), imaret (kitchen), medresa (high school), hamam (public baths), han (public inn), and sahat-kula (clock-tower)”. The most “dominant residential structure in the village is Gavrakanpetanović House, which has hosted thousands of artists and cultural actors from all over the world at the International Art Colony”. Sadly, many of the artists moved away.

Pocitelj Citadel

Kravice Falls, Trebižat River

Next stop was Kravice Falls on the Trebižat River. Hidden in the Balkans southwest of Mostar, Kravice Falls forms a “natural amphitheater”. For its “amazing beauty and untouched nature, it’s protected by Bosnia-Herzegovina 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.

Winery Spread

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. The Plavac Mali is fantastic!

Wine Cellar Begić in Ljubuški Herzegovina – wine-cellar-begic.com

We went on a tour of the grounds and wine cellar and listened to interesting wine making notes. At that point my brain was already saturated with details of the long day, so I don’t remember much. It was a pleasant experience watching the sunset, enjoying a full moon rising, and sampling local figs, cheese, and other products made and grown on the winery. A true Bosnian experience, it was time well spent with gracious hosts. We stayed longer than planned and didn’t begin our drive back to Sarajevo until late.

Winery Presentation