Saturday, November 11, 2017

My First Impressions of Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

For starters, Mostar can only be reached by land by international tourists, either coming from the capital in Sarajevo or from Dubrovnik in Croatia and sometimes Split as well. Although a large number of tourists from Croatia coming to Mostar are day trippers from Dubrovnik (of the cruise ship package trips).

The Neretva River in Mostar. Beautiful huh?

So we came from Sarajevo with our rental car to Mostar, our 3rd stop in the Balkan road trip.

Bubbles and I were quite excited because we have seen a lot of pictures about this town. Little did we know though that Mostar is actually a huge city and is the capital of the Hercegovina region.

We were totally not expecting to be welcomed by a big city when we arrived in Mostar. It is the 5th largest city in Bosnia & Hercegovina after Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla and Zenica and the city is located in the valley of the Neretva River.

We have romanticized the beautiful postcard perfect pictures of Mostar Old Town thinking that the place is a small village with a nostalgic Old Bridge and propped on top of the rocky cliffs with the Neretva River flowing through it. Part of that imagery was correct though.

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Alfresco restaurants on Radobolja creek, just a few meters away from our hotel.

The scarves! The beautiful 5 Euro silken scarves =)

The Mostar Old Town is indeed a very charming, attractive and romantic piece of the city. The iconic image, the Old Bridge is just as captivating as well. You’ve got the Bosnian-cuisine inspired outdoor restaurants hanging from the rocky cliffs and looking down to the Neretva River, they are all gorgeous and inviting and they are the best seats for lunchtime. Then there’s the narrow and full of activity cobblestoned pedestrian alleys that are lined with cafes, gelato & souvenir shops and exotic stores selling artisanal handicrafts, scarves and more. It’s basically the ultimate paradise of every tourist visiting Mostar for a day.

Read here our lunch with a view: Bosnian Lunch with Stari Most (Old Bridge) View at Restoran Lagero

We found Sarajevo much cheaper than Mostar though and the same goes for the handicrafts and souvenir items. The lovely scarves in Mostar which I have regretted not buying, are going at 5 Euros each. Too bad.

Sustainability in tourism has become a popular topic these days, what with travel tickets and package tours becoming cheaper in the blink of an eye.

So I guess, for Bubbles and moi, the main realization was that Mostar is actually a big city and the Mostar we expected and saw in the many pictures on the internet is but a tiny fraction of the city that is called the historical Old Town. The Old Town, however, is small and to top it all, brimming with multitudes of day excursionists, much like the case of Venice and the Cinque Terre in Italy and Santorini in Greece. Mostar and its Old Bridge have become a national icon and there is nothing wrong with that because I am sure the locals are benefitting from all these attention financially, albeit perhaps on a short-term. Venice, for example, has just recently banned the cruise ships, which I can hear the locals and some people (like moi) saying – ‘Finally!’

Sustainability indeed is ‘becoming a very crucial’ subject now and in the generations to come. It touches highly challenging and sensitive core environmental issues and human social responsibility. It is a complex gamut of things to come intertwined together, with the survival (and wants) of man and nature brought to the spotlight in the middle of it all. It is something many popular destinations are trying to understand now and are researching for alternatives, compromises, solutions and groundbreaking new ideas.

Thus, sustainability was one of the first things that pop up my mind when I first set foot in Mostar. For such a small Old Town with a massive demand, how can they sustain the business whilst preserving and protecting what is or are important? I wish the city lots of good luck in addressing this.

Moi taking a selfie on the balcony of our hotel.

The Kriva Cuprija Bridge (Crooked Bridge) and the entrance to our hotel is the brown signage at the end of the stone bridge.

The next thing I noticed is the little choice of middle to upmarket hotels in the city, which is quite understandable given that Mostar is going through a major tourism boom and the civil war just less than 2 decades ago. The country is running hard and catching up with the business/tourism demand, as well as modernising the society through technology and infrastructure whilst patching up the gaps, the wounds and the shadows of the past.

We stayed at the Kriva Cuprija Hotel which is named after the Kriva Cuprija (Crooked) Bridge on the Radobolja creek because the hotel is located at the foot of the footbridge. The location is 5-star, it is right in the smack of the Old Town and just a stone’s throw away to the iconic Stari Most (Old Bridge). We enjoyed our stay here very much.

The third thing I realised is that if people are visiting Mostar only as an excursion, then a day trip is indeed good enough. This means that Mostar is the perfect combination city/town trip for tourists staying in Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia, as well as the capital in Sarajevo, who are looking for nearby great places to visit as a side day trip.

But if you are to ask me, in order to fully experience this beautiful and historical place, the best plan, in my opinion, would be an overnight stay in the Old Town with a full day of exclusive Mostar to your pleasure the next day. Yup, stay at least a night here!

Lastly, the Hercegovina region indeed is very high potential and had there been more time on the agenda, I would have loved to explore the other recommended areas and not just Mostar and Medjugorje.

These are the other great places to explore in the Hercegovina region: Blagaj, Pocitelj, Kravice, Neum, Stolac, Konjic, Jablanica, Medjugorje (for religious pilgrims – we visited!)

And here are the pictures I took of Mostar Old Town on our first day in town:

The cobbled-stone streets of Mostar Old Town are full of outdoor cafe terraces.

UNESCO world heritage site, the Stari Most (Old Bridge), the iconic image and architecture of Bosnia & Hercegovina.

Mostar Old Town as you can see is very touristy.

The many levels and terraces of outdoor restaurants hanging above the Neretva River. This was taken after the lunch hour so there are fewer patrons dining.

The colour of the river and the stone formations under and near the Old Bridge are quite dramatic.

The Old Bridge is very SLIPPERY! The footbridge is made of marble-like granite stone that has been polished by the shoes of all the tourists passing by every single day. So one needs to employ safety measures when passing here. Wear good rubber soles and mind your step. 

There is a large number of Muslim population in Bosnia & Hercegovina so every now and then you will see the minarets of the mosques in the skyline, such as this one in Mostar Old Town.

All the curious tourists. This was in April, not even high season yet. Just imagine the crowds here from May to October.

Travel Period: April 2017
Destination: Mostar (Hercegovina), Bosnia & Hercegovina

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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

All pictures were taken by a point and shoot pocket camera or a smartphone.

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