Whilst Bosnia still remains relatively off the radar for many tourists who prefer to stick to the coast, one city which has arguably well and truly opened itself up to tourism is Mostar in the south of the country. Its proximity to Croatia and its iconic Ottoman-style horseshoe bridge bring many visitors day-trippers and visitors. Even at the end of September, when things should be winding down, Mostar was almost uncomfortably packed in places. Whilst I preferred Sarajevo, this is definitely a city that’s worth a visit, if only to view the stunning bridge which is every bit as amazing as it looks in pictures.
There is regular transport to Mostar from Croatian cities such as Split and Dubrovnik. I was coming from the Bosnian capital Sarajevo where transport is even more regular. Buses depart every hour for the 2 and a half journey south. However, the recommended way to do this journey is by train. Whilst Bosnia no longer has international train routes, it still has domestic trains and the 2 hour journey from Sarajevo to Mostar is regularly quoted as one of the most stunning train journeys in Europe. There are two trains a day in either direction (see Seat61 for details), one in the early morning and one in the late afternoon. The cost is 12 BAM, which includes a mandatory seat reservation which everyone ignores anyway. The train station in Sarajevo lies to the west of the city, right next to the bus station.
I was surprised at how clean and modern the Talgo train was. The seats were comfy, it had toilets and Wi-Fi (which only worked intermittently) and for some reason Baby Driver was playing on the TV. It was certainly nicer than Northern Rail. Coming from Sarajevo, the best side to sit on is the left, though you’ll probably want to switch sides on occasions throughout the journey because sometimes the right boasts stunning scenery too. Unfortunately, it was a miserable, grey day when I took the train – my only bad weather day in the whole of Bosnia. However, it brought an added touch of atmosphere with the hills and mountains breaking through the clouds as the train snaked its way through the lush terrain.
The train has a tendency to run late so it arrived into Mostar about 20 minutes behind schedule. Also Mostar isn’t the last stop so listen out for the announcement by the conductor. The train station is to the east of the city and it shouldn’t take long to walk to wherever you’re staying – Mostar is pretty small. My hostel, Hostel Lovely Home, was less than 10 minutes away along the same road. It’s a small place but the host was very friendly, giving great advice on food and attractions and greeting me with a cup of tea on this chilly Autumn night.
Mostar isn’t laden with attractions (though it’s a good base for day trips and tours) but has a lovely, difficult-to-traverse Old Town. It’s much more touristy than Sarajevo’s but no less charming. Wandering through it will bring you to the iconic sight – the Old Bridge. Restored in 2004 after being heavily damaged during the Bosnian War, it’s the focal point of the city. Walking across it is an exercise in trying not to slip over (I wouldn’t walk over it after rain!) but the real joy is seeing the bridge from a distance. Underneath the bridge is a little stone area with steps which is the most popular place to photograph the bridge. Another good option is the “normal” bridge to the South. Standing on here gives you a good viewpoint. Obviously, there are a whole host of restaurants and bars which have terraces overlooking the bridge too. Many of them are actually very reasonably priced, with a beer going for 3-4 BAM (£1.50-£2) and meals hovering around 10-15 BAM (£5-£8). One thing to look out for are the divers who jump off the bridge at various points of the day. This is a local tradition, and an opportunity for them to make some cash. They collect donations from onlookers and once they reach €25, they jump in.
There are of course lots of eateries and bars scattered around the Old Town and beyond. Close to the hostel was Rota, a small restaurant recommended to me by my host which served delicious cevapi (a Bosnian meat sandwich) for a cheap price. Around the Old Town, Mio Pasto is a new Italian restaurant with a brilliant terrace overlooking the river and bridge. A pasta dish and a beer here cost me 13 BAM. A lot of the places which look like they might cost a lot are actually well-priced so it’s definitely worth checking the menus. The Black Dog pub is another popular haunt, serving a range of cheap beers close to the small Crooked Bridge. The joy of Mostar is to wander round, get lost and see what takes your fancy.
Bosnia has really pleasantly surprised me. Whilst it was Sarajevo that really captured my heart, if you’re in Croatia and want a couple of days experiencing something different, charming and cheaper, you could do a lot worse than Mostar. Apart from anything else it’s a new stamp in the passport and a chance to experience a country that hasn’t let its chequered history define it.