Bosnia-Herzegovina has an image problem. Ravaged by civil war in the 1990s, the country is in serious need of a PR drive as most travellers still associate it with its bloody recent history. Whisper it, but it’s actually chock-full of hidden gems and it has an undiscovered feel welcomed by intrepid travellers. Couple a trip with a visit to Croatia and you’ll find none of the tourist hoards that swamp the Dalmatian coast.

Kravice Waterfall

Our introduction to the country provokes an, “Are you sure we’re in Bosnia?” reaction.

The Kravice Waterfall is an Eden-like wonder of multiple chutes gushing into a turquoise lagoon, where visitors can enjoy a refreshing swim in the searing heat of summer. The falls are encrusted with grass and moss, and are surrounded by luscious green hemp, figs and poplar trees, more akin to a scene I’d expect to see in Hawaii rather than war-scarred Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Kravice waterfall, Bosnia


We make a brief stop at the village of Medjugorje, a pilgrimage site where Catholics arrive by the busload – and all because some children playing in the nearby hills said they saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1981 (a claim which has since been rejected by the Vatican).

There’s a statue of Jesus Christ with a constantly “weeping knee”, which fervent religious folk caress and mop with tissues, apparently to use to heal sick relatives. Medjugorje is also home to the tackiest collection of souvenirs in the world. Fact. There’s no better spot to buy miniature statues of the Virgin Mary attached to a tiny box of earth from the hills where Jesus’s mum was spotted.


Mostar is the country’s star attraction, a photographer’s dream of charming cobbled streets and stone houses, painstakingly rebuilt to resemble its pre-war charm during a multi-million-pound nip ’n’ tuck.

The town’s iconic bridge graces the front covers of most Bosnia-Herzegovina guidebooks, its misty mountains providing the dramatic backdrop. The original 500-year-old Old Bridge was destroyed in 1993 during the war, symbolising the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, as it was considered a mark of unification between the east and west.

“When the bridge was destroyed, the people of Mostar cried like they had lost their families,” local guide Amela tells us on a walking tour of the city’s Turkish-style old town.

Rebuilt and re-opened in 2004 using 1400 of the original stone bricks in order to hang on to its UNESCO world heritage status, the bridge is famous for its buff Speedo-clad, oiled-up divers who jump 25m jump from it into the turquoise waters of the Neretva, a convention that began in the Sixties.

The tradition is celebrated with an international diving competition on the last Saturday of every July. If you fancy taking the plunge, exercise caution –  an Aussie guy died last year doing the jump. Although the water is 6m deep, there are strong currents that can make it dangerous if you’re not a trained diver.

Mostar’s Turkish Quarter

The city’s Turkish Quarter is all windy cobbled streets lined with souvenir shops selling evil eyes and copper coffee pots.

One of the coolest nightspots in the region is cavernous cave club, Ali Baba, where drinkers sit on cushions and treasure chests dispense chocolate coins.

But Mostar’s atmospheric alleys belie its violent past. The terrifying boom of gunfire has been replaced with the soothing soundtrack of tourists’ footsteps on the cobbles and the occasional Muezzin’s call to prayer, but the scars of war are still visible with many buildings pocked with bullet holes. Stark images of children brandishing home-made guns and an elderly woman sobbing beside her destroyed home can be seen at the War Photo Exhibition at the Old Bridge in the tower on the Neretva river’s west bank.

The photos were captured by Kiwi photographer Wade Goddard who visited Mostar at the beginning of the war in 1992 when he was 22.

Leaving Mostar for Sarajevo delivers a chocolate-box landscape of glassy rivers and soaring peaks, and I have to remind myself that I’m not travelling in Austria or Switzerland.

%TNT Magazine% bosnia herzegovina and croatia the highlights2


Sarajevo is Bosnia-Herzegovina’s cultural epicentre, so edgy and hip that it’s a crime it’s not accessible via a direct flight from London. The city is home to some 1300 cafes, full of locals smoking and sipping strong Bosnian coffee from tiny cups.

One such hidden gem is Zlatna Ribica (the Goldfish), an intimate café loaded with antique mirrors, lamps and the eponymous gold fish, who swims around an orange-lit vase-shaped bowl. Menus are contained within real books attached to the ceiling via telephone cords, and include everything from hard liquor to tea. I opt for a thick and gloriously gloopy hot chocolate, but the highlight of my visit has to be a trip to the loo.

Decked out like a ladies’ powder room, this toilet is all Hollywood glamour with a mind-boggling array of toiletries and even a tiny television by the throne showing (of all things!) German soap operas.

Other cool haunts include Kino Bosna, a cinema-turned-hip bar and live music venue, where punters sit in the former movie seats, drinking beer in a smog-filled room while dogs roam about; and Tito’s Café, near the National Museum, full of memorabilia to Yugoslavia’s popular former leader and easy to find thanks to the World War I tanks that sit proud outside it.

The Sarajevo skyline

Lesson in Bosnian history

The Bosnian capital is a historian’s wet dream. It was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo that is believed to be the trigger for World War I. I visit the spot where the Austro-Hungarian Archduke was shot, prompting Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia.

In nearby main drag Ferhadija, I find shiny boutiques lining the gleaming pedestrianised paved streets, dotted with “Sarajevo roses”, a flower-like scar in the concrete caused by a mortar shell’s explosion that has been painted blood red, anonymous memorials to the civilians tragically killed during the four-year siege.

Memories of war

I’m drawn to the clink-clink of the copper smiths at work in Kazandziluk (Coppersmith Street), where I discover shop shelves stacked with Turkish-style coffee pots sitting alongside bomb cartridge shells and deactivated bullets that have been beautiful engraved and transformed into vases, pens and umbrella stands that make novel souvenirs.

Just outside Sarajevo is the War Tunnel Museum, which showcases the surviving 25m section of the 800m-tunnel that was dug under the airport by besieged citizens, to allow desperately-needed food, weapons and aid to come into the city.

Our guide, Mustafa, from Sarajevo, went into the tunnel with his mother when he was 15 to pick up a food package sent from his cousin in Germany.

“It was like another civilisation down there – they had milk and bread, considered luxuries back then. We bought as much as we could carry as food was in such short supply,” he says. “The tunnel was muddy and sometimes flooded. When we got out we had to wait in a trench for nine hours with our 50kg backpacks on, until it was safe to leave.”

The legacy of war still weighs heavily on Bosnia-Herzegovina, but beneath the tell-tale signs of the country’s grim history, there’s a fascinating and beautiful country waiting to be discovered. Get there before the secret’s out.

Visit Croatia

Combine a trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina with a visit to Croatia. Don’t miss these gems.

Split: The historic city’s UNESCO classified treasure is the Diocletian’s Palace, built by the Roman emperor 2000 years ago as his retirement home. When the Romans abandoned the site, the palace stood derelict for centuries until refugees flocked to the city in AD614 and started living in it. To this day, it remains home to bars, shops and flats, where hanging washing flutters above crumbling windowsills.  

Dubrovnik: Dubrovnik’s beautiful Old Town, well-preserved city walls and postcard-perfect harbour make it one of Croatia’s top tourist destinations. Unfortunately, this means that it’s flooded with tourists in the summer months. Expect to pay extortionate London prices for food and drink.

The islands: The best way to explore Croatia’s dreamy sun-splashed islands is on a sailing trip, as you can swim in secluded bays and stop off in historic towns.

Zagreb: Croatia’s cosmopolitan capital is loaded with attractions, including the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Essential information

When to go: April to September for the best weather.
Getting there: Fly to Split with easyJet ( or Croatian Airlines ( in two hours.
Get more info: and

» Janine Kelso travelled with Balkan Road Trip (0845 257 8289; – from £59 a day for accommodation, transport, local guide and all breakfasts.