In my opinion, traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina from Montenegro is one of the best options for a short trip you could choose. Perhaps, you have seen reviews saying that Bosnia is boring and the tours are unimaginative. I should say that I had also once believed this. I believe this only to be the case when you go there on a bus tour or a 1-day stop.
I will try to debunk the myth and make your trip here one of the most memorable of your visit.
Route length: 550 km.
Time: 2 nights/3 days.
There are two larger border crossing points on the road to Bosnia and Herzegovina from Montenegro. The southern one is located on the road from Herceg Novi to Trebinje. The northern one, on the road from Nikšić to Sarajevo. I would recommend choosing the southern one, because there it is much easier to get a voucher, which you will need to enter the country. If you rented a car in Montenegro, all the papers should be presented in their original form (no copies) and you must have international insurance (‘zelena karta’ or green card). As a rule, the card will be issued with each car that you rent.
Trebinje — Mostar
You have left behind the Bay of Kotor and its borders to enter Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first town of your trip is Trebinje. I have been there many times, always trying to find something interesting and unusual, but failed each time. There is an old part of the city and a new temple complex on the Crkvine hill above the town but there are only new buildings there. It is worth bypassing the town and going to Mostar.
Within a few kilometers, to the left you will see a well-known monastery from the middle-ages,Tvrdoš. The reason it is well-known is because Basil of Ostrog, founder of the Ostrog monastery in Montenegro, started as a monk here. The monastery is also known for its fine wines. The tradition of winemaking tradition goes back centuries here. The monastery itself is very impressive and attractive. The next stop on the route from Trebinje to Mostar is the Vjetrenica cave, the most popular in Bosnia and Herzegovina, located in 9 km from the main road. The cave is longer than 1,000 m. It has cave paintings, many underground lakes and a native ‘human fish’, a tiny reptile that lives at the end of the cave. The colour of its skin resembles human skin hence the name. Its metabolism is so slow that it can eat once every few years. Guided tours cost €7 per person. To organise a trip it is best to call in advance and check whether the guide is available at the time of your visit.
The only nationwide currency in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the convertible mark (konvertibilna marka – KM). The exchange rate to euro is approximately 1 to 2. You will get 2 marks for a euro. Exchange booths are present at all tourist places. Euros are also accepted, but ‘unofficially’. You will always get your change only in marks. ATMs are frequently found in cities and towns. Many restaurants, stores and hotels accept bank cards.
Stolac and the vicinity
The trip to Mostar continues. Near the town of Stolac there are two notable places of interest. First, there is a large fortress called Daorson, located on a hill above the town. I could only find fragments of information about it. They say it was built by the Illyrians at the beginning of our time, later it was a Roman fort, and ten Turks expanded it with lots of newer buildings. The current fortress was the work of Austro-Hungarians and was damaged during the recent war. Still, the fortress looks very impressive from a distance.
The second place of interest is the medieval necropolis of Radimlja, that fills nearly the entire valley of the town (the so-called Vidovo field). It has impressive gravestones with varied iconography and inscriptions, created in the XV century by locals. There are about 130 stones, but residents believe there to be thousands. Some 60 tombstones can be seen to the right near the road at one spot. Though it is the largest necropolis of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is largely unmaintained and unprotected; the tombstones are not fenced off so anyone can reach them. In the XIX century, the Austrians built a road that still goes right in the middle of this site, so it hard to miss quite hard to miss it. From the necropolis to Mostar, it is 30 km or half an hour. If you have time you could visit Blagaj, a very interesting place, to have a dinner. However if it is late, you could go straight to Mostar and visit Blagaj the next day.
Blagaj is mentioned in all travel guides for Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a cave in a steep rock, with a deep river flowing outside. Near the entrance, there is a tekija (tekke) – a type of Islamic religious building. Around the cave and the tekija, there are many restaurants at the waterside and gift shops. The tekija was built by Turkish dervishes in the XV century. For a long time, this was a politically significant area. Currently it is a religious site. There are lots of restaurants built nearby and thousands of tourists from around the world come here on coaches to visit and have dinner. There is also a traditional village nearby which is a quiet yet popular place. There is no set timetable, it is always open. The parking nearby will cost you €1. Prices at the adjacent restaurants are quite reasonable. If you arrive here in the evening, take warm clothes. When the sun goes in it can get cold here.
Mostar is one of the most popular tourist centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The town is famous for one reason. The old bridge across the Neretva river, built in the XVI century, was at the junction of many trading routes. Its role in local economy was so significant, that it was under constant guard by ‘mostars’, or bridge watchmen. Today, lots of restaurants and gift shops surround it. Each year, at the end of July there is a bridge jumping festival. It is a tradition that has lasted since the XVI century; it is mentioned by some Turkish sources of information. The festival is so popular it has live TV coverage even in the neighbouring countries. There are two categories of jumpers from a 24m high bridge: feet-first and head-first. When the bridge was destroyed by NATO bombardments in 1993, locals built a wooden trampoline, so the festival would continue. The bridge was only rebuilt in 2004. For the opening ceremony, local artisans created the world’s largest jezve coffee pot, that held 650 litres of coffee. This record entered the Guinness Book, making every citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina proud. I recommend staying in Mostar for a night, in a remarkable hotel called Muslibegovic House. It is actually a private museum of ethnography. Each room is in the style of an old-fashioned Turkish apartment.. In 2010, this hotel was in the Top 10 interesting hotels of the world list, according to Expedia.com, and it fully deserves this honour. Book a room in advance or call the owner (he speaks English). There are only 12 rooms, which are always booked during the summer.
If you travel to Bosnia and Hercegovina by car, note that you should leave your car at paid or restricted parking spots. Do not leave anything of value inside. This is most relevant for Sarajevo, where some people literally live off car theft. No insurance will cover a broken window outside of Montenegro.
Sarajevo – the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina
After a night in Mostar, go to the northern part of the country to visit Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is only 120 km on a good road. With a quick stop for lunch, it will take you about three hours. There is nothing remarkable on the way, except for a large antique shop, around half way there at the left side of the road. All the places of interest are to be found in Sarajevo and its vicinity. I have spent three days there and I’m not sure it was enough. I have noted anything I found of interest.
The old city
Here you will find a maze of old streets, alleys, winding paths and squares with a distinctly Mediterranean feel. Almost the entire Old City of Sarajevo is like a market where you can buy gifts, embroideries, brass items, jewelry, eastern style sweets, leather goods, antiques etc. There are also a number of old churches, mosques and even a synagogue. An important tip for your visit – be sure to explore the small alleys. Unremarkable looking turns can lead you to a lively, crowded square. It could be a square with restaurants, a square with a bazaar, a square with a museum, or even a square with a library. They are covered from sight by walls and alleys and the sound of livery markets makes them almost invisible.
Bezistan is a XVI century shopping mall
Once, Sarajevo was a part of the famous Silk Road. Local authorities definitely profited from it. In XVI, they built the largest tavern in the region, that welcomed merchants and their caravans; it had a water fountain and even central heating. The accommodation was free. However, they built a market, where the passing traders left their money, making up for their ‘free’ accommodation. Unfortunately, only the market is left today. Still, the remains convey the medieval atmosphere of the place. Besides, this marketplace, Bezistan, is still operated by locals.
Bridges and the quay
Sarajevo is a place where many cultures meet. Many different eras and styles of architecture stand side by side You can witness the beauty of this mix, by taking a walk along Milacka river, that flows through the old part of the city. Many bridges cross it. The most well-known ones are:
- The Goat’s bridge, the oldest one,
- The Latin bridge, where the assassination of Franz Ferdinand started the First World War,
- The Romeo and Juliet bridge, that makes a circle over the river.
The fortress of Bijela Tabija was also established in the XVI century, but the way it looks today was the work of Austro-Hungarians. I cannot say it is a stronghold, but there is a lot of interest if you have spare time and like old fortifications. The view of Sarajevo from the fortress will please any visitor.
Tunnel of Life
This is a reminder of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tragic and recent past in the 1990s. For almost four years, Sarajevo was besieged by the Yugoslav Army. More than 10,500 people died and more than 50,000 were wounded. School classes, theatre performances, libraries and art exhibits continued under heavy fire. In the beginning of 1993, a tunnel leading outside the ring of blockade was dug out in a few months. It is 800 m long. During the final year of the siege, 4,000 people crossed it daily; it was lit, had a gasoline pipeline and a phone connection. This was the only route that connected the besieged city to the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now there is a memorial museum nearby. Unfortunately, the section available to tourists is very short, about 30m. The entrance fee is KM10 (about €5, but they do not accept euros here). Museum website: http://tunelspasa.ba
Be prepared for this amazing story! In 2006, 20 km from Sarajevo, ancient pyramids were discovered that resemble their Egyptian and Latin American counterparts. However, they are even older and larger. The details of their discovery, excavation and further discussion can be found in the illustrated article. Currently, the works have come to a halt and only a few enthusiasts continue digging. There is no museum and almost the all discoveries are easily available to anyone. The people involved in the dig can walk you through the pyramids and underground mazes for €5 per person (this includes dinner). However, you need to make a reservation in advance. Nearly all the locals are hospitable enough to take you around.
I cannot say that the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a shopping mecca, but you can find quality goods at reasonable prices. There are a few shopping centres in the city. A couple of larger malls are almost ready. So far, the best of them all is the BBI Centar. It is located within 15 minutes walk from the Old City (see a map tag). There are five floors accommodating 125 boutiques. It is Sarajevo’s largest trading centre. Others are listed in the Wikipedia entry.
For your stay in Sarajevo, I would recommend the Hecco Deluxe hotel (4*). It is located in the centre, on a pedestrian street. The rooms start from the 10th floor of one of the tallest buildings in the city. The view from any of the rooms is spectacular, especially at sunrise or sunset. If you decide to stay here, you can leave your car at the BBI Centar underground car park. A night will cost you about €1, a day — €0.5. Warning! Never park your car in an alley. Once it cost me a damaged windscreen, money lost and a few hours of hassle with the police. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a lot of restaurants. But there is one that is an absolute must. The Dveri restaurant, small and unremarkable, is located at one of the alleys in the Old City. It is not that easy to find. I have traveled the Balkans a lot and had good cuisine here and there but nothing nothing compares to this restaurant. Only here you can really appreciate the traditional Sarajevan ćevapi (a type of kebab with bread and sour cream). They are on the menu all around the Old City. You can see this dish on any menu in the Balkans, but they consider Sarajevo the capital of ćevapi.
From Sarajevo to Montenegro
The distance from Sarajevo to Montenegro is about 320km. With border crossings, photo opportunities and dinner it will take you no less than 7 hours. From Sarajevo, follow the Foča road signs. Further on, there will be no road branches. Starting 10km before the border, the road is rather worn out, but the rest is fine. The border crossing is usually fast, with almost no queue. The road follows various river canyons before and after the border. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, you will drive along the beautiful Bistrica and Drina canyons and in Montenegro you will see the wonderful canyon of the Piva river and lake Piva. The views are spectacular. You will pass one of the largest water power stations in the former Yugoslavia, which stands on the Piva river. The building itself is very impressive, as well as the approach. You can plan to have lunch somewhere near Nikšić or be patient and wait for the Ognjiste restaurant. You could choose a longer route around Montenegro yourself, depending on where you are staying. I hope like me, you enjoy the trip.