Time was getting tight on the home stretch of our 15 month travels and, considering Bosnia wasn’t really on the agenda, visiting its city of Mostar was.
I’d always wanted to see its icon – that Stari Most (or Old Bridge in English) – for as long as I can remember, and thanks to not being much of a diversion from the coast, we decided to bus it from Dubrovnik and spend the night.
This is a city that was struck pretty hard during the Croat–Bosniak War in the early 90s, with very visible battle scars still seen in many of its buildings today. Mortar holes, fallen walls and building destruction are grisly reminders of the bedlam and horror that occurred just a couple of decades ago.
For hundreds of years this once multicultural city got on relatively peacefully, regardless of faith or background. The war came and went, yet to some extent many of the people are supposedly still divided. The Croats on the west and the Bosnians on the east.
The city itself isn’t exactly a visual treat, but the setting and its historic centre most definitely are. Old stone buildings, pastel façades, stone roofs, domes and minarets make up the enchanting historic part of town.
On either side of Stari Most is čaršija, a bazaar that has the feeling of Istanbul, not Southern Europe. Colourful mosaic lanterns, rugs, Persian-style painted ceramics, metal platters, coffee sets, belly dancing dresses and plenty of tourist tat can all be purchased.
Kadaif – a local specialty
Infused honey at Tepa
Restaurants and cafés also fill the area, many of them taking prime positions with lovely outdoor terraces with views of the river and its star attraction. There’s also Tepa, the covered fresh produce market that sells some beautifully colourful infused honeys, plus some old dudes selling their homemade rakija (brandy).
One thing that ought to be tried is kadaif, a traditional Bosnian sweet with Arabic roots. Golden threads of kadaifi pastry, nuts, raisins and a sugar syrup scented with vanilla, rose, orange and lemon.
And then there’s that bridge.
Originally commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557 to replace an older wooden suspension bridge, its life of connecting the east and west ended when the Croats bombed it in 1993, sending it crumbling into the Neretva River.
A temporary cable bridge replaced it for 11 years after the war, then thanks to an international effort, the stone bridge was rebuilt and replicated using the same building techniques of the one that was destroyed.
The prototype of the original bridge isn’t too far away. The much smaller Kriva Cuprija – or Crooked Bridge – was built by an Ottoman architect Cejvan Kethoda, yet the one we see today is also a reconstruction. Rather than being bombed, this one was severely damaged by flooding in 2000.
Finding somewhere to eat in Mostar is an easy task, especially either side of the old bridge. This is tourist central, so you don’t see many locals eating out in this part of town. Not that this should be any deterrent as I’m sure the food at many of the restaurants is decent.
For some standard local edibles, there’s the friendly Behar 2 next to Radobolja; a rushing stream that connects to the main Neretva River right by Stari Most. Go for breakfast, sandwiches, pizza or something grilled like good old ćevapi (7) served with lepinje and onion. The best seats in the house are on the terrace built above the stream.
Behar 2 – Jusovina
Next to Kriva Cuprija (Crooked Bridge) is Konoba Taurus, a lovely stone tavern with indoor and outdoor seating. Their well-priced menu features many local specialties, including seafood, grilled meats and even risotto.
Konoba Taurus – Onešćukova b.b.
Centrotrans Bus runs to Mostar from Dubrovnik’s main bus station at 8am, arriving at 12.30pm. Cost is 102kn per person.