Pearls of Herzegovina: Mostar, Blagaj, Pocitelj, Mogorjelo and the Kravice Waterfalls
Comment are off
Herzegovina is part of the country that makes up Bosnia and Herzegovina, located in the Balkan peninsular in Southeastern Europe. The country is one of the most underrated in Europe due to its turbulent and war-filled history; but if you look beyond the shadows of its past, it is a country that is rising from its struggles and looking for its chance to shine. On my visit to Herzegovina, I was enthralled by the region’s never-ending beauty — be it in its bustling old town with its iconic bridge, or its gorgeous landscape of emerald rivers and rugged mountains, or even its centuries-old fortresses and ruins.
Ever since reading an article on Herzegovina, I’ve been fascinated by the rustic beauty of the region. So on my stopover in Mostar (Herzegovina’s unofficial capital and biggest city) during my vacation in the Balkans, I made it a point to spend a day exploring some of the stunning and popular sites outside the city. I was traveling with my sister, brother and sister-in-law so we decided to hire a tour guide to bring us around, as we figured that visiting the places on our own would take a considerable amount of time and energy.
We spent a total of 2 days in the Herzegovina region (4 days including Bosnia); and we used 1 day to explore the old town by ourselves, and the other day for the tour around Herzegovina. Our private tour guide was Camil from Herzeg Day Tours — I’ve written more about the company at the bottom of the post. Our 8-hour day tour included stops at Blagaj, Pocitelj, Mogorjelo, the Kravice Waterfalls and Mostar’s Hum Hill.
The calm mountain water flowing into Buna River is crystal clear, and freezing cold.
The 16th century monastery under the cliffs.
The beautiful Blagaj is a small village built at the start of the crystal clear Buna River as it flows out of the 200-metres high mountain cliffs that overlooks the area. The river is surrounded by modern restaurants and ancient Ottoman-era structures, including the Tekija, a 600-year old Sufi-Dervish monastery built within the cliffs’ walls. Visitors can take boat ride into the Buna Springs within the cave, or hike up the narrow road along the cliffs to the Stjepan-Grad Fortress on top of it.
Blagaj was the first stop on our tour that began at 8am in the morning. There was no one around when we arrived, so we got to admire the beauty of the village in complete tranquility — watching the calm river flow out from the cave and down a small waterfall; and dipping my hands into its freezing cold waters. The scenery was like it came out of a postcard — it was all so surreal.
The medieval walled town of Pocitelj from the 16th century.
Within the stone walls of the Pocitelj fortress.
Our next stop for the day was at Pocitelj, about half an hour southwest of Blagaj. Pocitelj is a fortress village that sits on a natural karst formation on the left bank of the Neretva River. The walled town is believed to have been built in the 16th century, and features architecture from both the medieval and Ottoman period. It was extensively destroyed and its residents displaced during the Bosnian War in 1993; but in recent years is being restored and rebuilt.
It was a hot summer’s morning when we made our way up the pathway that snakes along the old stone houses and lush greenery of Pocitelj. We passed by the iconic Hadzi Alijina Mosque, as well as fruit trees and bushes — pomegranate, grapes and figs; and were accompanied by the most breathtaking view of the river and beyond. We made our way to the top where the partially ruined Utvrda Fortress stands, and got to climb the narrow staircase of what remains of the Gavrakapetan Tower. I can only imagine how stunning these structures must have been way back then.
An ancient cooking stove/pantry.
Mogorjelo is surrounded by lush greenery and cypress trees.
From Pocitelj, it was a short ride over to Mogorjelo, located south of the town of Capljina. Mogorjelo was a 4th century Roman Villa — and is now a Roman archeological ruin that is one of the oldest and most important in the country. The very first building on the site was built in the 1st century but burned down, and the villa was built in its place. The remains of the villa is surrounded with lush vegetation like cypress trees, and on the site is a park, a farm, horse stables and a restaurant.
It was almost mid-day when we arrived at Mogorjelo, and we walked around the ruins, noticing the intricate carvings and some of the structures that once were. After visiting the site, we dropped by the restaurant and were served some of the sweetest melons that were grown on the grounds.
The stunning Kravice Waterfalls in the middle of Herzegovina’s lush forests.
All set and ready to enter the cooling and refreshing water!
The Kravice Waterfalls is located 40km south of Mostar and is a large 25-meter cascade on the Trebizat River. The falls are a spectacular sight from every angle — creating a 150-meter long amphitheater-like effect as the waters come crashing down into the collection of natural pools. During winter, the Kravice waterfalls are wild and dramatic; but during summer when the falls are less intense, the shallow pools become a popular swimming area.
There were large crowds of people by the falls when we arrived on our summer afternoon visit to the Kravice Waterfalls. The area is equipped with changing rooms, toilets and plenty of chill-out places — and people were eating, drinking and sunbathing along the pool banks. We just couldn’t wait to get into the cool refreshing waters; and spent a good few hours swimming, sitting under the running waters and admiring the falls from up close. It was the highlight of our entire tour, and definitely a MUST-VISIT during a trip to Herzegovina.
The exterior of the Udovice Restaurant.
And we all say “Živjeli!” with a glass of Herzegovian white wine.
Lunch at Udovice Restaurant
Time for lunch! The Udovice Restaurant is located midway between the Kravice Waterfalls and Mostar. Opened since 1953, the restaurant is known for serving traditional Herzegovinian dishes. It was started by two widows (udovice is widow in the Bosnian language) who prepared food for field laborers from the nearby lands. However, we were recommended this restaurant by our tour guide Camil for one dish, and one dish only — the roast lamb.
I have to say, I have never had roast lamb as flavorful, succulent and tender as the one I had at Udovice Restaurant. The lamb served at the restaurant has been traditionally prepared the same way over the years, and whatever secret recipe they’re using, it’s absolutely perfect. We started off our meal with some lamb soup, and then paired the main course with some Mostar white wine. I had a fantastic and memorable meal — so memorable that if I ever return to Bosnia and Herzegovina again, I will be back.
The gorgeous view of Mostar and the mountains beyond from up above.
A huge cross (that’s its base) stands at the top of Hum Hill.
Mostar’s Hum Hill
When I first arrived in Mostar, the first thing I noticed was the huge cross on top of a hill. It was only during my visit to the hill that I learned more about it — a 33-meter tall cross standing dominantly at the tip of Hum Hill that has been a constant disagreement between the Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims on the two sides of Mostar since it was built in 2000. However, take a look away from the cross (which is really just a simple structure) and instead, admire the scenery and the journey to the top.
Our last stop of the tour was at Hum Hill. Not many people bother to visit, so it is a relatively secluded spot and we were the only ones there that day. You can either drive or hike, but since we were visiting in midst of the summer heat, we took a lovely picturesque drive up the hill. I loved feasting my eyes on the smooth rolling hills on the way up; and then upon reaching the cross, being greeted by the most beautiful panoramic view of Mostar.
Craggy mountains, lush greenery, the fast flowing Neretva River, orange-roofed buildings, and the bright blue sky — it provided the perfect backdrop to end our tour of this gorgeous region.
Beautiful landscapes surrounding Herzegovina.
Dipping my feet in the waters of Kravice.