Mostar looked considerably more decrepit than Sarajevo (Read about my trip to Sarajevo) but it was also more quaint, greener and of course, cheaper. The old town was terribly crowded when we visited—most tourists do a day trip to Mostar, rarely staying over (we did the same, though I’d wanted to stay over, to catch the bridge at night) and perhaps the tour-bus-crowds swarming briefly in the morning is why it was so crowded at that hour. Still, it was fun. And 12 hours in the city is quite enough.
Mostar is situated in a beautiful valley between the high mountains of Herzegovina by the river Neretva. It has about 110k inhabitants and is the most important city in the Herzegovina region—its cultural and economic capital. The city is best known for the Stari Most (Old Bridge) of the Ottoman Empire (built in 1565) which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Even the city’s name came from its bridge keepers, “Mostari” or guards of the bridge. The bridge was destroyed during the civil war and rebuilt in the early 2000’s. Today most postcards of Bosnia has a picture of Stari Most, the best-known symbol of Bosnia.
But the bridge of Mostar is not only the city’s unique symbol, it means a lot to the inhabitants too. An extract from Madness Visible: A Memoir of War by Janine di Giovanni, says:
“During the siege of Mostar in May 1993, the Bosnian Croats—with the help of Tudjman (Franjo Tuđman first president of Croatia post-independence from Yugoslavia)—laid waste in an inhuman and exceptionally violent way to the western strip of the city where the Muslim civilian population lived. From one side of the Neretva River, they attacked the largely under-armed Muslims, shelling them relentlessly with rockets, mortars, and sniper fire….
But their greatest act of hatred came on October 9, 1993, when Croat forces destroyed the ancient Ottoman bridge Stari Most. They demolished it not because it was strategic, but because the Muslims loved it. Shortly, after the bridge came down, overpowered by the force of a rocket, I saw an old man wandering aimlessly through the east side, weeping. He loved that bridge. He said, “It survived two world wars. It took this much hatred to bring it down.” …They did that after they had wept over the destruction of Dubrovnik.”
What to do in Mostar
In the heart of Mostar’s Old Town is its market or čaršija and you will cross its serpentine cobbled streets to go to Stari Most. Stop to admire souvenirs, paintings, lace, rugs, and carpets. Have a cup of Bosnian coffee or some gelato. Send a postcard from its tiny post office. Taste some Rakija.
Walk over to Stari Most (Old Bridge) and watch people jump off it
The bridge is usually very crowded and you’ll actually be stepping on people’s toes. We skirted our ways through the crowds, jostling and ducking elbows until we saw an even bigger crowd around a few people standing at the edge of the bridge with stretched palms. Suicidal beggars? we thought, looking at each other in surprise.
Turns out that one of the key activities at the bridge is to dive from the top of it to entertain the crowds. The distance between the top of the bridge and the river below is about 20 meters, and it’s usually undertaken by trained professionals and only in the summer months. There’s even an official annual competition as part of Red Bull’s cliff diving competition. These divers ask for money before they jump, so give them some, then stand back and fill the thrill.
Climb The Koski Mehmed Pasa Mosque’s Minaret or go to its courtyard to get the best views of the bridge
From Stari Most walk over to the lovely and calm Koski Mehmed Pasa Mosque. Stop at the prayer area for a moment to admire the beautiful colors of the carpet and the dome. The minimalist yet resplendent décor is calming and beautiful. The mosque’s ensemble also includes a madrasa, drinking fountain and tombstones. Then walk over to the courtyard or terrace (78 stone steps) to catch a glimpse of the old bridge and town. There’s also a café in the courtyard apparently, but it wasn’t operational when we went.
I kept the brochure they handed out at the entry (there’s an entry fee to the mosque – 6KM, to the mosque & minaret – 12KM). Although I rarely keep souvenirs anymore, I kept this one. It talks impassively yet seriously about Islam and the mosque, and I quote from it:
“Islam is a complete way of life based upon a voluntary relationship between an individual and his creator. It is the way of life ordained by God which was taught by each of his Prophets and messengers such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and finally Muhammad. Islam emphasizes the exclusive worship of the one God who created the entire universe and to whom all creations will eventually return.” (Beautiful!)” Then it goes on to say: “It refuses to accept any form of creation whatsoever as a deity of worship.” Sigh…
Just as you come out of the mosque, turn right and make your way back, stop for lunch. There are hordes of great places on your way. Also, take in the rugged, brown houses and landscape.
Eat at Irma Tima, a cevapi meat shop or Cafe de Alma or any of them with a view to the bridge
The National Restaurant Cevabdzinica Tima – Irma is the place to eat at Mostar though we couldn’t locate it. But go there, you must. Just read the reviews.
I succumbed to the charms of a beautiful female usher and sat at another restaurant which was quite fantastic too. I’d my fill of cevapi and house wine while staring at the gentling rolling waters of the river, people jumping off the gorgeous bridge to cheers and claps…and a bubbly hum wrapped itself around me. It was only with great reluctance that I made myself leave.
Or take a Walking tour with Mostar travel
We would have loved to do this if we had reached a bit earlier. Write to [email protected] to walk with them. It pays to have someone well-informed tell you about the town’s history.
How to get to Mostar?
From Sarajevo: The Talgo train journey from Sarajevo to Mostar or vice versa ranks as one of the most scenic journeys in the world. It costs €6 (don’t you just love Bosnia) and is a 129 km (2 hour) journey across mountains, rivers, and lush grasslands. See a video and Timetable.
From Dubrovnik: Tour operators charge 300 Kuna (€40) with a stop in Počitelj and Kravice thrown in. It takes about 3:30 hours from Dubrovnik to Mostar, but it’s a half day journey if you want to cover all three. (Start at 8 AM and return at 7 PM). The drive along the Adriatic coast is lovely. Don’t forget to take your passports because you will be crossing borders. We used Laus Travel (Ivo: +38598344231). Buses from Dubrovnik to Mostar cost 16.
Visa: If you have a valid multi entry Schengen visa, you can enter most of the Balkans without getting a country-specific visa (for tourist purposes). Stay in Croatia or Bosnia is not counted towards the stay in the Schengen region but the visa must be valid for the period.
Close to Mostar: The Kravice waterfalls
The Kravice or Kravica waterfalls have often been called mini Niagara in Bosnia and are quite stunning. Located on the Trebižat River, it falls off a hill of limestone and onto the lake below. The blue-green color of the water is due to the limestone. The waterfall is roughly 25 meters high and separated into 20 falls, with the lake below being about 120 meters in radius. I understand that in summer the flow of water is low but that makes the lake good enough for a refreshing swim. You can walk to the waterfall (10 min) or take a cute little train (€1), have a beer at the bar by the side of the lake and take a swim. A good 1-2 hour stop.