The Coldest Emerald
With cobblestone streets, old Turkish houses, and iconic arched medieval bridge straddling a charming river, the town of Mostar appears to have been plucked straight out of a fairytale adventure.
If you’d like to visit a European city not yet bombarded by a thicket of selfie-sticks, the Ottoman town of Mostar could be just the place for you. This is the town through which runs the Neretva river with its beautifully intense and emerald green water, a river that’s purported to be the coldest in the world (wonder why, since although it’s close to the Alps, it’s nowhere near the poles). We did not test its temperature but were genuinely mesmerized by the unnatural colors and the panoramic views it presented as it meandered across this small town. The historical and cultural significance of this quaint little city is something you can feel as you walk along its riverbank, where seemingly every little corner has a story to tell.
Shades of an African Nation?
The city, developed in the 15th and 16th centuries, is ethnically diverse, wielding its heritage both in its medieval and Ottoman parts. When you consider that this was one of the most heavily bombed cities during the war following its separation from erstwhile Yugoslavia, the war-torn city quickly becomes a sprawling example of life and energy. As you start walking along the river and across what – even though reconstructed just thirty years ago – is known by its politically correct misnomer of Old Bridge, you immediately realize the disparities. Its many narrow alleys are filled with shops, market stalls, and all kinds of treasures, trinkets, and souvenirs; of course, there are also the ever-present cats and kittens. Taken together, all this makes you feel like you are peeking out from a dar of a Moroccan city, which of course isn’t just a different country but also on a separate continent. If you press on beyond the city’s surface pomp and panache, however, you will encounter some of the devastation that the region has been witness to. Crumbling walls and entire blocks of bombed-out buildings will greet you with hollowness as reminder of some of the darkest moments of humanity’s past.
So much to do
For the hikers and adventurers, there’s a lot of outdoor activities that the region provides. For instance, you could visit the thundering Kravice Falls (or Kravica as it is locally called), hike the surrounding area, and kayak in its river rapids. The place is just an hour’s drive away from Mostar, but if you’re unsure of driving, don’t be. It’s much safer to drive in Bosnia and Herzegovina than it is in most places in the US. The roads here are fantastic, traffic is never an issue, and the countryside is open and alluring. If for some reason you still decide against driving, you could arrange for one of the tour buses to take you there. But mind you, we have learned over the years unless you’re in a sports arena, the amount of fun you have is generally inversely proportional to the crowd size near you.
A Different Kind
As in many of the places we describe, one of the most attractive qualities of traveling in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the solitude and isolation, by means of which you can rediscover yourself. We talk about the wisdom of the wide and expansive Kravice waterfall on a separate page, but it’s good to be aware that you’re likely to encounter only a handful of tourists, especially if you visit during the shoulder months. During our time there, when we spent a good hour-and-a-half near the waterfalls, we met fewer than half a dozen folks, and most disappeared in a matter of minutes, never to be seen again. If you’re still unsure how the lack of tourists can in fact boost your wanderlust, imagine for a moment having around you a party of half-dozen during an hour’s visit to the Niagara Falls, and you’ll get the picture right in your head.
Lulled by War
Time is always the greatest arbiter of all, and where there was once death and destruction is now peace and prosperity, albeit the present wobbly steps only means that there’s a lot of ground to be gained toward a common kinship. Stari Most, the picturesque bridge in the middle of Mostar, was bombed and destroyed in the war less than three decades ago, a conflict between factions that remain to this day nervously poised in a war of words and ideas. So, it’s easy to see how a signature of apparent harmony that we see in our days could have been the battleground of a pitched battle in very recent history. The Bosnian war alone had claimed a hundred thousand lives, and displaced over two million people, so it’s worth keeping in mind that the emerald waters of Neretva river belie an ugly truth about some of humanity’s darkest days.
When to visit? Like in most European countries, the town goes into hibernation during the winter months of November through April. Summer, too, has lately been scorching hot, likely driven in part due to climate change. But if you’re used to some snow and cold weather, our advice would be to travel in March or April, when you can pretty much get the entire town to explore on your own without getting jostled by an ever-inflating number of tourists.