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Death-defying leaps, bullet-riddled buildings and a true East-meets-West culture – add Mostar to your bucket list now

Amela was nine when the shells rained on Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s second city, in 1992. “I spent four years in basements,” Amela, now a tour guide, muses. She lived 300 metres from the front line and remembers her teachers dodging sniper fire as they ran between basements to take lessons. Looking at the crumbled buildings, bullet-pocked walls and brimming cemeteries today, Amela’s tale isn’t hard to believe.

When you say Bosnia, most people will think of war, ethnic cleansing and massacre, as seen on the news in the early Nineties. But I didn’t come here for a dose of shock tourism. I’m here because travel junkies have dubbed Bosnia one of the world’s most exciting undiscovered destinations. Its rugged landscapes, clear rivers and rich East-meets-West history under the Romans and Ottomans are the drawcards.

Mostar is surrounded by mountains, while cutting through the city is the emerald-green Neretva river. Its famous Old Bridge – the name Mostar comes from Stari Most, which means bridge keepers – arches over the Neretva. In-the-know travellers, notably Aussie backpackers, make a beeline for this bridge to take a precision jump into five-metre-deep water. The death leap, started by local boys trying to impress girls on the banks, has become a rite of passage in the city, but has to be executed at a certain angle, so you don’t hit the rocks at the bottom. You’ll have to sign a disclaimer first.

Hijinks aside, as we walk the city, reminders of the war are everywhere, and Amela is keen to talk about them. She warns us to be careful – it’s a windy day and loose bricks from the almost 20-year-old, overgrown ruins could tumble down and take us out. Amela quips about Mostar’s very own “botanical gardens”, pulling a typically Bosnian trick of positive spin and humour when it comes to a serious topic.

But while some buildings are left dilapidated, others have been built back up. The Old Bridge, constructed in the city’s Old Town by Ottomans in the mid-16th century, was completely destroyed by bombs in the war and painstakingly pieced back to its original state with the help of Unesco over the course of seven years. Its reopening was said to show that divisions between the Muslims and majority Catholic Croats living in Mostar had healed.


Short Break: Mostar, visit the rising star of the Balkans
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