Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country that has seen a lot. It is a piece of land with a rich history and was already inhabited in Neolithic times. The name Bosnia is an ancient name but the land has been concurred by many. Borders have changed a lot as well as the cultures. The nowadays capitol city Sarajevo is a good reflection of the country’s history.
The city is stretched along the river Miljacka and someone told me you can see the city like a time line. You will not find any signs from the oldest settlements but it starts with the dominance of the Ottoman empire. The first part of the city has a lot of Turkish influences like mosques, bazaars and small streets. When you keep walking, the buildings suddenly change into the style of the Austro-Hungarian time. The streets are wider, the architecture is more advanced and you will find some churches. When the Austro-Hungarians dominated, they used Sarajevo as an experimental playground and this is why the first tram was introduced in Sarajevo for example.
Further on you will find the practical charmless apartment buildings from the former Yugoslavia mixed with recent modern architecture. So when you walk through the city you will get an good impression of the different eras Bosnia and Herzegovina has known. Nowadays the country is still recovering from the last war of 1992 – 1995. Cities were destroyed and the war left a scar as well as in the buildings as in the minds of the people. But things are slowly getting better. Older buildings are getting restored and new buildings are build. The country tries to get up on its feet again.
Because so many civilizations dominated the country it has a very interesting culture. It is like a big mix of everything. It offers a lot of authenticity and especially when you leave Sarajevo, it feels like you have stepped back in time. I have been in Bosnia and Herzegovina a couple of times now. I know Sarajevo quite well, I have visited other places as well and I have driven around in the countryside. The country has so much to offer and I just love it. I think everyone should visit Bosnia and Herzegovina at least once. Perhaps you are not convinced and have some doubts because you do not know anything about it but I assure you, it is really worth it. Let me give you a couple of reasons.
1. Beautiful Nature
Every time I see it, I am touched by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s beautiful nature. It is in one word amazing and the country has it all. Mountains from where you have beautiful views, unspoiled forests like oak and pine forests where wolves, bears and the lynx still roam. In the south there is even a little bit of coastline where you can enjoy beautiful beaches with crystal clear water from under the shade of pine trees.
Also the countryside is very beautiful. There are grasslands full of colorful flowers and if you are there at the end of spring, the cherry trees are rich on red juicy fruit. Wild rivers are running through the country while calm mountain lakes are good for a quiet retreat. There are so many things you can do. Bike, hike, raft, canoe, climbing or if you want to take things easy, you can just relax at one of the beautiful lakes while throwing a barbeque. And it is still quiet and not loaded with other people who have the same plan. Avoid the areas where there are signs for mines because that would be a bit too much adventure but the rest is perfect to explore.
2. Back In Time Feeling
For me, this is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most appealing aspects. Many times it feels like you have stepped back in time and in a very good way. You already get this feeling in the old Ottoman part of Sarajevo or Mostar but you will experience it even more in the countryside. Everything is so calm there. Life goes on at a slow pace and people live of the land. They herd sheep or have a couple of cows and use the milk to make yoghurt or cheese. They have a garden where they grow vegetables and everything feels so far away from modern busy society. It is such a calm breath to watch life in the countryside and I love to be surrounded by it.
The biggest ’back in time feeling’ I had was at Prokoško jezero, a lake in the Vranica mountains right in the middle of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A long and exhausting dirt road will take you there but it is worth the reward. It was a secluded lake surrounded by mountains and the water was very clear. On the shore of one side, little wooden houses were build and it looked like a village from the middle ages. Smoke was rising at some points caused by the cooking fires. There was no electricity, life looked quiet and peaceful.
We crossed the houses when we tried to find some food and every house had a small little garden. There were no shops so we had to buy the food directly from the villagers. Finally we found a women who had prepared a fresh spinach pita so we bought some. On the ground she had a bucket of yoghurt, fresh from the sheep and nothing added. She poured some of it in a bottle and we bought it. At another place we bought some white cheese, bread, tomatoes and blueberries, just picket in the mountains. When we were picnicking at the lake and I was tasting pure nature I thought: ‘why do we dream of time machines while you have these places in Bosnia to go to’.
3. It Is Cheap
What if I tell you that you can have a meal and a drink in Europe for 2,25 Euro? Or a kilo of strawberries for 1,50 euro? Last one, two liters of beer for 1,25 Euro. Maybe it tastes a bit like monkey butt in the last case but have some more and you do not taste it anymore. It is pretty cheap right? Bosnia and Herzegovina is still fairly cheap these days. Hostels are around 10 – 15 euro a night so if you do not go crazy you can live of 30 Euros per day. But keep in mind that things already got more expensive over the years. You might not want to wait until the prices are just as high as in Croatia.
4. Delicious Food
I have the feeling I always gain weight in Bosnia and Herzegovina but maybe it has something to do with the fact that I am eating all the time when I am there. But the food is just so nice and it is not fair that they make it smell so good. I mean, how can I resist the smell of freshly baked bread or tender grilled meat? I experience the Bosnian kitchen as quite unique and there are two dishes that are very characteristic for the country, pita and chevapchichi. It is everywhere! On every street, you see people eating pita and chevapchichi and why not, it is delicious and cheap. Pita is thin and crispy fillo dough filled with a choice of ingredients often prepared in traditional ovens. Overall the choices are potato, minced meat, spinach, cheese and pumpkin. All variaties tastes great and you can get it any time of the day. Tip, eat it with a glass of yoghurt.
Chevapchichi is grilled minced meat in the shape of little sausages. It is served in a piece of bread (somun) with chopped sweet onion aside. Definitely a must-eat when you are there. But besides pita and chevapchichi there is a lot more. Skewers with tender meat called raznjici, stews with potatoes beans and meat cooked for hours and peppers filled with minced meat and herbs influenced by the turkisch. If you go to the mountains they serve trout fresh from the water with tomato or sour cabbage salad and at the sea all kinds of seafood.
Bosnians have quite a sweet tooth as well. You can find lots of places where they serve a wide range of cakes and ice cream. My personal favorite is baklava made of fillo dough, walnuts and sugar water. Another great dessert is tufahije which is typical Bosnian. It is a poached apple, filled with walnuts and served in sugar water. It is super sweet and it feels like your teeth will fall out but I can still recommend it.
5. Interesting Cities
Next to beautiful nature, Bosnia and Herzegovina has also a couple of interesting cities with Sarajevo and Mostar as the highlights. In both of these cities you can still see the signs of the Ottoman influence. The small alleys and the low houses built in this Turkish style give these cities a romantic fairytale atmosphere. Sarajevo is a bustling city with a lot to offer. Museums, markets, great restaurants, an active nightlife, everything you can expect from a capitol city. There is an easy going vibe and you can explore almost everything by foot. Mostar is much smaller but because of that also more intimate. The bridge ‘Stari Most’ is the most characteristic for the city and it is a tradition that the tough men of the city jump of the bridge in the cold water.
Of course there are more cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina that are worth a visit. There is Bihać close to the Croatian border, Banja Luka and Tuzla with its salt lake in the city center and which is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Višegrad close to the Serbian border is beautifully located along the river Drina and has a famous old bridge. In this city they are currently building Andrićgrad named after the writer Ivo Andrić. It looks like a small city in an old style and it is quite nice.
6. Tourism Helps The Country
Bosnia was the victim of a pointless war that started in 1992 and ended in 1995. Many people were killed for no reason and parts of the country were destroyed. It was an ethnic cleansing that took the lives of more than 100.000 people and everyone lost during this war. When you drive through the country nowadays you can still see the scars of the war. Buildings are destroyed and are full of bullet holes and people are poor.
But the country is rebuilding as well and the signs are getting better. More and more tourists are attracted to the country and this means business. Hostels open their doors, tours are getting organized, picnic areas are created in the mountains and this means an opportunity for many people to make a living. It is a country with so much potential and it needs to get a change to overcome the horror of the last war. I have seen that tourism gives the country a really positive boost so it is a win-win situation when you give it a visit. You get to see a wonderful part of the world and the country gets a chance to rebuild.
Tip: If you decide to visit Sarajevo I can really recommend the online city guide ‘The Girl With The Blueprint’. In this guide you can find the best places to eat, the coolest places to have a drink and much more. I am the photographer of the guide.