Stari Most, the Old Town Bridge of Mostar has become a bit of a siren song for travellers in recent years. Admittedly, I had seen pictures of the exquisitely sweeping, half-moon structure with the crystal-clear blue river dancing beneath, but I genuinely had no idea where in the world this beautiful scene was.
Whilst planning my recent trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia I discovered that a day trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina was entirely possible. After a little more research on the rich history, culture and what to do in the city of Mostar I was sold.
Mostar is located around fifty miles from Dubrovnik and is a two-and-a-half-hour direct drive. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not currently in the European Union, as such your passport is essential on this trip.
Who to travel with and how to get there
Walking around Dubrovnik you have your pick of tour agencies and companies offering day trips. I opted for Laus Travel. Laus Travel has a comprehensive website, a 2018 certificate of excellence from Trip Advisor and everything can be booked online. The backing of Trip Advisor did give me a little comfort in the knowledge that I had booked a quality and reputable trip. The tour cost £43 which included travel, professional guide and all local fees and taxes.
I received confirmation from Laus Travel within an hour of booking. All the relevant details of our collection point and key information for also provided, notably “don’t forget your passport!”.
Our collection point at the Pile Gate at 7.20 am was a five-minute walk from our hotel in the Old Town. From there we were taken to the main meeting point where we transferred to a larger more comfortable minibus for the day. Our party was a small group of twenty-eight, so it never felt too crowded or chaotic. The early start was, unfortunately, necessary as you never know how long the border crossings are going to take. Thankfully there is a coffee stop around 9 am, then a brief onward journey to our first stop. Despite spending a considerable chunk of our day on the bus, Sylvia was a brilliant storyteller and historian. The time just slipped away as we were all engrossed in our history lesson.
First stop of the day was Kravice Waterfalls in the Herzegovinian region of Bosnia. The waterfalls are nature at it’s very best. With twenty falls tumbling over the edge of limestone cliffs, it’s clear why this natural beauty spot has been protected by the state government.
Entry to the falls cost an additional €5/40Kuna to your tour price although prices do vary depending on the time of year you visit. We visited late October which is off-peak close to the tail end of the season. The primary benefits of visiting in late October were the lack of tourists and the weather was still gloriously warm and sunny. Other than our group of twenty-eight, there didn’t appear to any other travellers visiting. Exploring a place without the buzz of hundreds of tourists is definitely a bonus and made our visit feel a little more intimate.
Our tour stopped at the falls for around an hour which was plenty of time to experience the area and the falls close up. Boat trips into the lake are available for €5/40Kuna and last around twenty minutes.
Stari Most or ‘Old Bridge’ is probably the most iconic landmark in Mostar. The bridge has connected the two halves of the city since it’s initial construction between 1557 – 1566. The gloriously curved half-moon archway, originally commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent stood the test of time until it was brutally destroyed in November 1993 by Croatian artillery. The new bridge, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, was finished in 2004. The reconstruction is a delicate, sensitive and accurate restoration using original sixteenth-century building techniques. The final result is an awe-inspiring piece of engineering and every bit as magnificent as it’s sixteenth-century counterpart.
For the best views of the bridge, I would head to any one of the cafes which line the banks just off the main bazaar. Alternatively, amble down to the shores on either side and lookup.
A small word of caution when crossing the bridge – it is incredibly slippery! The beautiful stone which perfectly reflects the golden sunlight will play havoc with footwear with poor grip. My crossing in flip flops had me diving for the side rails just to retain my balance.
Food & Drink
Before leaving the bus, our guide Sylvia gave us a list of local foods we should try for lunch. Sylvia also recommended trying a traditional Bosnian coffee.
We opted for the first and largest café on the right-hand side of the Eastern side of the bridge. There was a large outdoor courtyard with unobstructed views of the bridge. We were still confident at that point that we might catch a glimpse of some bridge diving. Sylvia was not wrong when she said your money goes a long way when it comes to food in Mostar. We ordered two soft drinks and two plates of Ćevapi and the final bill was under £10.
Ćevapi is a traditional dish, consisting of small rolls of grilled lamb or beef served in pita bread with onions, chips and salad. I’m fairly sure the chips and salad have been added to appease the hungry tourists rather than being a staple part of traditional cuisine. But it did the job and, the whole thing was delicious.
Before heading back to the bus, we decided to try the coffee, both my husband and I are avid coffee drinkers so this was a caffeine encounter we were willing to try. Sylvia’s tip had been to put the whole sugar cube in the cup then stir, of course, the traditional Turkish option of putting the sugar in your mouth first then drinking is also an option. Liking to keep my sugar consumption to a respectable minimum I thought I’d try the coffee without any sweetener to start…bitter, grainy and oh my life that’s just not pleasant. I opted for the whole cube in the cup, and the result was a much tastier caffeine fix. To sweeten the deal further our coffee was served in an exquisitely worked copper pot with a fabulous Aladdin’s cave vibe and topped off with traditional Turkish delight flavoured with nuts.
The beautiful blue Neretva River runs through the centre of Mostar splitting the town in two. It is possible to swim in the river, but I would recommend visiting in the summer months when the water temperature is a little warmer!
One of the main spectacles on the river is the locals who fearlessly jump the seventy-eight feet into the depths of the river below. Sadly, we didn’t see anyone jumping on our trip but there were several local men in swimming shorts who looked ready and were waiting for the opportune moment. The Stari Most bridge and the Neretva River have drawn worldwide attention with Red Bull using the location for the 2015 World Cliff Diving Championships. Whilst it is an incredible spectacle, jumping from the bridge is best left to the trained professionals that is of course unless you are a hard-core adrenaline junkie and have some seriously good travel insurance.
Old Bazar Kujundziluk
On either side of the bridge are tightly packed, slightly tipsy sixteenth-century buildings jostling for prime position on the cobbled streets. Each building houses different handmade crafts and artisans’ workshops. From intricate works of copper to traditional woven carpets and jewellery, the Old Bazar has a lot to offer. Yes, there are some standard tourist tat offerings but in amongst that are some real gems. During the Ottoman period, there were over five hundred workshops occupying these small streets, making the Old Bazar a real hive of historical commerce. So, if like me you love a good nose around take a trip into some of the shops and workshops to really soak up the history or snap up a bargain.
Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque
A short walk down the Eastern side of the bridge you come to the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque. The Mosque dates back to 1618 and is accessed from a small courtyard. Sadly, the Mosque was significantly damaged during the war but has been carefully restored whilst still leaving some signs of the devastation which befell it during the 1990s. Entry to the Mosque is 12Kuna and is available to anyone of any faith. The only time when access to the Mosque may be restricted is during prayer times. Additional layers of clothing for legs, shoulders and heads are provided for both men and women at no extra charge.
We opted for the Mosque, Parapet and Minaret ticket at a cost of 12Kuna. Inside the Mosque the main prayer room is simple yet beautiful. Botanical motifs decorate the domed ceiling and bright coloured glass windows interrupt and juxtapose the plain whitewashed walls.
I am not someone who is anxious about heights. However, on all our trips we end up climbing some sort of tower. I guess I’m a sucker for a panoramic view. So, climbing the Minaret seemed like an excellent idea. The inner staircase is tight, twisty and peppered with the faint scent of claustrophobia and danger as there is no handrail. This part I could handle. Upon emerging from the staircase, you are greeted with the most spectacular view of the city. East and West sides connected by Stari Most, Church spires and Minarets punctuating the horizon, a stark reminder of the multicultural origins of the city, it truly is breath-taking. My issue lay in that the parapet we had emerged onto only came to around thigh height. With no barrier or handrail I was suddenly struck by how high up I was. In the interests of safety, I would advise hugging the interior column to take in the vista. The parapet is only wide enough for one person so it’s worth checking that you are the only ones taking the trip up. After composing myself for a moment crouched on the floor of the parapet, I was fully able to embrace the view and the experience. A trip to the top is at the top of my recommendations for your trip to Mostar.
Finally, we ended in the private courtyard behind the Mosque. This small area was a gorgeously secluded place away from the buzz of the main bazar to take in the views.
War Photo Exhibition
As we ambled back to the West side, my attention was piqued by a small sign announcing a war photo exhibition. Carefully picking my way across the slippery stone, I made my way up a wooden staircase tucked into the side of the Westside entrance. Entry to the exhibition was 6Kuna. The exhibition was laid out over two floors of the West Tower. Although there aren’t hundreds of images on display, my husband and I didn’t speak for the thirty minutes it took to go around. We were so engrossed in the stories and moments captured during the Bosnian war.
It was so easy to see geographically how Mostar became a target. Surrounded on all sides and sitting at the bottom of a valley. It must have been horrific. The photographs on display show various facets of life during the conflict; from people washing, salvaging car parts to an aid worker thrown into a gutter by the force of a snipers shot, thankfully she was wearing a bulletproof vest and walked away unharmed.
The whole exhibition although modest was incredibly powerful and thought-provoking.
Old Bridge Museum
Although our time in Mostar was limited, we didn’t get an opportunity to visit the Old Bridge Museum. The museum is dedicated to the story of the bridge including the pre-Ottoman archaeology all the way through to the devastation of November 1993 to the reconstruction after the war. This was on our guide Sylvia’s list of recommendations, so it will be firmly at the top of my list when I return.
Our day trip to Mostar was fabulous. I learnt so much about a place and time in history that I knew relatively little about. Sylvia our guide was knowledgeable, friendly and made the time spent on the bus thoroughly enjoyable. After learning about the history and troubles of the not so distant past, I am keen to explore more of the Balkan region, so will definitely be booking some visits in the future. I would absolutely recommend a day trip to Mostar if you are travelling to Dubrovnik and have time to explore.