“I remember watching Prince Charles on the television when he was at the opening of the restored old bridge in Mostar,” exclaimed the Scottish tourist sitting next to me on the coach. We were on our way to the city where east meets west, a city divided by a river and absolutely humming with history – Mostar. And the iconic symbol of the entire city, and some would argue the whole region, is the 16th century bridge that spans the Neretva River. In fact the city takes its name from the Croatian word “Most” which means bridge in English. This would be a day to remember as we snaked through the green countryside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was travelling on a Croatia Excursions day-trip to discover Mostar and The Old Bridge Story.
Wherever you are in Dubrovnik you are pretty much within eyesight of a foreign country, the city is an island surrounded by borders. So on this full day-trip to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina it didn’t take long before we left Croatia. Contrasts - that is the word that I am sure will stick in your mind when you travel on this tour. Soaring mountains, wide open plains, historic monuments, an explosion of different cultures and religions, white-water rivers and gastronomic adventures, Bosnia and Herzegovina has it all in bucket loads.
Our first stop was the town of Trebinje, a half an hour drive after the border, and the stunning Hercegovačka Gračanica monastery. The monastery is located on Trebinje’s version of Sugarloaf Mountain. The city sits on the Trebišnjica river valley and is wide and flat, however a dome of a hill dominates the skyline and this was our first stop and a visit to the monastery. Do not forget your camera or leave it on the coach, as I nearly did. The views are expansive and well worth a selfie. A tour of the charming monastery and we were on our way to Mostar.
“Have you been to Mostar before,” questioned a couple from Holland. I had been many times, but not for a few years. “Yes, but I don’t want to give too much away, you will discover the city for yourselves, but please remember your first impressions,” I answered.
As the coach wound its way through gorgeous rolling hills we were treated to an education of the region from the pleasant guide. Most people on the coach, well no almost everyone on the coach, had never been to Mostar or Bosnia and Herzegovina before. This was going to be a steep learning curve for them. Well to be honest for me as well. I have travelled to 47 countries in my life so far and countless cities and I can honestly say that Mostar is the one city that has the starkest ethnic and cultural differences. When they call Mostar the “melting pot of cultures” they have certainly hit the nail directly on the head.
“Wow, that should be on the list of the Eight Wonders of the World, there should be nine wonders,” said the couple from Holland as they laid their eyes on the iconic Old Mostar Bridge for the first time. It is indescribable, a world famous piece of history that links two cultures. On one side of the river towering church spires of the mainly Catholic population and on the other needle-like minarets puncturing the skyline. Quite clearly the bridge was more than just a means of transportation; this was a symbol of bringing together two cultures. Issac Newton once famously said that “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”
A guided tour of the breathtaking old city followed. Turkish style bazaars, wooden façade homes, bright colours, culture clashes and history and traditions gushing as the Neretva River. “I never dreamed it would be like this, it feels so exotic, I feel like I am on an adventure and not a day-trip,” laughed a tourist from England. He was right. It was a million miles away from the Dalmatian experience of the Dubrovnik coastline, and yet physically only a few hours’ drive. “This is a memory that will stay with me for a long time,” he added.
The aroma of food drifted from every corner, which was just as well because I was in need of sustenance. Not only was the city a culture shock but so was the cuisine, in a very positive way. My tip – try some of the typical Turkish delights and do not take the familiar option with international menus, your taste buds will thank you.
“Well I hope you enjoyed your trip to Mostar,” commented the guide as we made our way out of the city. I sensed there was a mutual agreement of awe. Mostar wasn’t what they had expected and it had left them fumbling for a description. It does that to you, it is a city that always leaves an impression.
By Mark Thomas
The Mostar: The Old Bridge Story is a full-day excursion offered by the Gulliver Travel agency. For more information, including prices, dates and how to book, please visit the Gulliver Travel website here.