Friday, 28 July 2017

Bosnia and Herzegovina in May: Five Things Not to Miss

Balkan Travellers   
Shaken by ethnic conflicts and devastated by economic depression, Bosnia and Herzegovina generally does not attract many foreign visitors. But the lack of tourist crowds, combined with the fact that that the country’s nature is at its most beautiful in May makes it one of the most attractive places in the Balkans to visit this month. You could spend an enjoyable week surrounded by lavish greenery, eat well and walk along slightly adventurous paths in what is now Europe’s backyard. Here are five activities you could plan:

Stay in Sarajevo for three days. Enjoy the cobbled streets of the old town, which get crowded by locals each afternoon and stay lively until late at night. The air, already warm with the advancing of spring, will be pungent with spicy and sweet aromas from the numerous terraces in the area.

Do not miss the Gazi Husrev Beg Mosque in the heart of the old town – it uses airport-like sound equipment to inform its visitors when the next prayer time is. Its beautiful stone yard attracts many young people, who sometimes come only to sit on its wide shaded stairs and chat.

Have dinner in one of the old market restaurants, many of which serve the local pride dish – lamb or beef börek, traditionally baked under clay lids. If you prefer a lighter, or a more sophisticated meal, visit To be or not to be for black risotto and delicious salad, or Dveri, where you can try the local version of polenta.

See the old library at the end of Obala Kulina Bana st, where the city centre ends at the outskirts of the nearby mountain. Its half-destroyed, but magnificent façade is one of the sad symbols of the country’s barbarous recent history.

Make a day trip to Kraljeva Sutjeska. About an hour and a half away from Sarajevo, this sleepy town, high up in the mountains, was once the home of the Bosnian kings and still has preserved some traces of its glorious past.

The former kings’ palace is in ruins, but a splendid Franciscan monastery still stands next to them, stunningly placed on a hill overlooking the settlement. Take a tour of the monastery (you could arrange it with a call to 00387 32 552 160), see the monument of the last Bosnian queen Katarina and then visit what is considered to be Bosnia’s oldest surviving mosque at the other end of the town.

For a deep dive into Bosnia’s nature, take the road up the mountain. The asphalt ends soon after you leave Kraljeva Sutjeska behind, but after some 10 kilometres on a rough road you will reach an even more pristine region of the country, Bobovac. This is where a Bosnian king once brought a Bulgarian wife and established a kingdom which survived for over a century. The landscape is wild and mild at the same time, with endless green woods, dotted with small agricultural villages.

From Sarajevo, take another day trip to Visoko, 30 kilometres away. This area also hosted the royal family once. Next to the town, on Visocica hill, there was a castle, which is now being excavated. Visoko’s main charms include the surrounding nature and an amateur-archaeologist’s recent claims of an intriguing discovery of 12,000-year old pyramids. Here the relief is softer. Locked between two rivers – Bosna and Fojnica., its rolling hills create the feeling of an ever-blooming garden, especially when the frequent fogs are dispersed by the warm spring wind.

The town is considered to be a showcase of the country’s traditional leather industry, but don’t hold great hopes of finding authenticity in what its ateliers feature nowadays. Check for a guide at the town’s history museum, or head on your own to Visocica hill just behind the centre. On your way to the top (4 kilometres) you will see an excavation, which is supposed to prove that you stand on an ancient pyramid. Have a Turkish coffee at the top and enjoy the area’s heavenly panorama, dotted with similar ‘pyramids.’

Spend the rest of your trip in the area of Mostar. You can drive there from Sarajevo in about three hours. The road passes along the river bed of the turquoise Neretva, whose waters have cut a dramatic canyon south-east – all the way to the heart of Herzegovina.

At the end of the canyon, or rather at its beginning from the point of view of the local population, is Mostar. The atmosphere of this town is unique and truly magical. However many pictures one may have seen of Mostar’s prominent symbol –the Ottoman bridge, they would not suffice to prepare one for the real thing.

A maze of white cobbled streets leads to this medieval construction in such a way that it turns it into a natural highlight and a centre of the town’s beauty. Terraces on the river banks offer spending dining experience. Exit the oldest part and stroll along Mostar’s streets to observe the sad consequences of the recent war. You will see numerous façades, fine examples of European architectural styles from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, standing against the blue sky with no buildings behind them.

If your spirit is adventurous enough, dive into the Neretva. The fresh look of this river is not only a visual effect – its waters are quite icy throughout the year. In the first hot days of the spring there is nothing more refreshing than to try its temperature yourself. If you feel uncertain where and how to do it, there is a diving school right on the old Mostar bridge.

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