As captivated as I was by Sarajevo, I was delighted when the friends I was visiting suggested a road trip. We headed south for Mostar and Pocitelj, two gems of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). While it’s possible to visit both as a day trip from Sarajevo (or Dubrovnik, Croatia, which is equally close), we opted to spend the night in Mostar. This gave us time to wander around and admire the incredible scenery. Keep reading to find out more about these two stellar destinations!
Surrounded by mountains and straddling the jade green Neretva river, Mostar is extraordinarily photogenic. The town got its name from the Stari Most, or Old Bridge, at its center. A Turkish engineer constructed the bridge in the 16th century when Mostar was an important outpost of the Ottoman Empire. The architecture of the old town reflects that era more than any other. Sadly, many of these structures were damaged during the Bosnian War and some, like the bridge itself, were completely destroyed. After the war, Stari Most was painstakingly rebuilt to historical specifications with assistance from international organizations and the governments of several countries. This coordinated effort was rewarded with UNESCO World Heritage status in 2005.
For the most jaw-dropping view of Stari Most, climb the needle-like minaret of Koski Mehmed Pasa Mosque. You’ll find a narrow staircase inside the mosque, which is notable for its beautiful collection of carpets. There is also a good viewpoint behind the mosque for those with a fear of heights. Unbelievably, not another tourist was in sight!
Stari Most isn’t the city’s only bridge. Kriva Cuprija (Crooked Bridge) is a miniature version spanning Rabobolja creek, a tributary of the Neretva river. Several bars and restaurants have decks that overlook the water, which was rushing dramatically at the time of my visit.
While the bridges and mosques are lovely year round, many of the city’s museums were closed when I visited in winter. In fact, the only one I found open was the Hamam Museum, which features a cheesy video guide to Turkish baths. (It seems like there are more things to do in Mostar during the warm summer months, as this guide by the Bosnian Aussie can attest.) But it was kind of nice to have the cobbled streets and souvenir shops nearly all to myself. And the February weather was still pleasant enough to enjoy cevapi and Hercegovacko beer on an outdoor terrace with only a handful of locals and feral cats for company.
I hadn’t heard of Pocitelj before my friends suggested it and probably would have skipped it had I been on my own. What a mistake that would have been! Pocitelj is as charming as Mostar and absolutely worth adding to your BiH itinerary. Pocitelj is a medieval walled village perched on a mountainside overlooking the Neretva River. Steep stairs lead up past an Ottoman-era hamam and mosque, then branch out in all directions. It’s very easy to get lost!
While Pocitelj may seem abandoned at first glance, many of the staircases led to heavy wooden doors concealing manicured gardens and private homes. Apparently around 800 people still live within the crumbling walls, though I only came across a handful on my wanderings. The unique mix of medieval Hungarian and 18th century Turkish architecture has placed Pocitelj on the UNESCO tentative list. Full World Heritage Status is deserved, in my humble opinion.
Pocitelj’s stone fortress was erected by the Hungarians in the 15th century. One watch tower is still in decent shape and ramparts crown the length of the surrounding mountain. Supposedly it is possible to climb both the tower and fortress wall, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it without breaking my neck. The view from the ground was exciting enough for me!
It takes about 30 minutes to drive from Mostar to Pocitelj. We were able to park for free near the entrance in a big lot, which was completely empty on a brisk Sunday morning. Food options were very limited in February, though we got coffee to go from a nearby shop. Driving in Bosnia seemed easy as the highways were new and there was little traffic once we left Sarajevo.
Are you ready to add Mostar and Pocitelj to your Bosnia and Herzegovina itinerary?