The historic town of Mostar, nested in a deep valley of the Neretva River was developed in the 15th and 16th centuries as an Ottoman frontier town and it is known as where the “East meets West” in terms of people, history and culture. Mostar is known for its iconic Stari Most (Old Bridge) which is a reconstructed medieval arched bridge that local boys jump from as a right of passage, today to cheers of tourists. During the 1990s conflict Mostar served as the front line and much of the historic town along with the Old Bridge was destroyed. The Old Bridge and much of the Old Town have since been restored or rebuilt with the contribution of an international committee established by UNESCO. However when you walk a few minutes outside the attractively restored cobbled lanes of the Old Town you’ll come face to face with the vivid scars of the conflict, especially around Spanski Trg. Mostar was a surprising destination, it was nothing like we imagined but was one of the most interesting places we’ve visited in our European travels. It was eye opening to see the juxtaposition of the beautiful Old Town with its iconic Stari Most and gorgeous emerald green river with the very real remnants of the conflict which serve as a reminder of the terrible atrocities that happened here during our lifetime. We didn’t know a great deal about Mostar when we arrived but couldn’t believe the wealth of information we learnt during our 24 hours in this enchanting town which has both very old and very recent histories.
[spacer height=”10px”]After our week of sailing in Croatia we caught a bus from Split to Mostar which only took a couple of hours. We’d booked a night at Elite Guest House through booking.com which was located halfway between the bus station and the Old Town. It was a great guesthouse, really clean, affordable at €23 a night, comfortable and the owners were so lovely and friendly! They gave us plenty of recommendations of what to see and do as well as great places to eat and then surprised us with a room upgrade! It was also really hot during our stay in Mostar (the hottest weather we’ve had this year) and the air conditioning was absolutely wonderful! After we dropped our bags off we headed into the cobblestoned Old Town which was only a few minutes walk away. As I mentioned we had little knowledge of Mostar and so had no idea about its huge Ottoman influence and were really surprised by all the Turkish foods, clothing and souvenirs. The Old Town really is gorgeous and it was wonderful to stroll the streets, listen to traditional Bosnian buskers and catch the occasional glimpse of the stunning turquoise river below!
As we strolled through the Old Town looking for somewhere to stop for lunch Dan spotted Urban Grill, a restaurant that he’d read about in Lonely Planet. The menu looked reasonable and the food smelt great so we headed inside where we discovered that downstairs they have a hidden terrace which has a perfect view of the Old Bridge! I literally was speechless by how stunning the view was! We’d planned to walk up Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque’s minaret after lunch for panoramic views of the city and bridge but we didn’t think we’d beat our lunch view! It was fantastic as well because the restaurant was really quiet so we had basically the whole terrace and view all to ourselves, which was pretty magical! The food was fairly cheap and I had an enormous chicken salad and Dan had a delicious kebab and chips, so we were very happy! I would have paid a LOT more just for that view!
We then strolled through the Old Town to Stari Most where we marvelled at the both the beauty of the bridge as well as the gorgeous views from it! From here we walked to the bottom of the river where we sat and watched a number of locals jump off the bridge! It is a tradition for the young men of the town to leap off the bridge into the Neretva river which is a very risky feat! These guys were incredible and it was very impressive to watch them take the leap into the very cold and fast flowing river below. There has been some instances of tourists doing it in the past but we’d recommend leaving it up to these skilled and well trained locals and just sit back and watch them do it!
The Old town is very charming but also very tourist oriented and so we headed out towards Spanksi Trg along Bulevar armed with our map and a lot of recommendations from our lovely guesthouse hosts. The moment we stepped onto Bulevar, which was part of the front line during the war it was possible to see remnants of the conflict which claimed so many lives. Many buildings lie in a state of ruin, covered in bullet holes or completely shelled. We learnt that in some cases there was no funding to demolish and rebuilt the ruins and in other cases it’s just not clear who actually owns the building and so the property is stuck between red tape in litigation. Either way, it is a really vivid and chilling reminder of what happened here only two decades ago.
That evening we strolled through the old town on our way to dinner. Our guesthouse had recommended we dine at Restaurant Sadrvan, a traditional Bosnian restaurant which was also very cheap! We tried local raki spirits which were ridiculously strong and decided to share a ‘National Plate’ for dinner which was comprised of a lot of traditional Bosnian foods and was very hearty and delicious! It was also only 41 marks which was the equivalent of €20, which we were very happy with!
Mostar was a complete surprise to both of us and we are really glad we took the time to visit. The people could not have been more friendly and helpful and the city felt extremely safe to visit and walk around, even at night. Everyone that we interacted with during our time in Mostar just seemed truly happy to have people visiting their town. We learnt a lot about the city and it’s history, particularly its very recent history during the war. If you get the opportunity to visit Mostar during your travels through the Balkans we implore you to do so! During Summer the town gets a lot of day trippers and so it is well worth staying at least one night so you can experience the magical charm of the city once they’ve left for the day. This and first thing in the morning is often our favourite time of the day when we travel as we love having the place to ourselves. If you read about our recent visit to the Cinque Terre then you’ll know we felt the same about our time there too!