Touring Herzegovina (as in Bosnia and Herzegovina)

When you think of or hear about Bosnia and Herzegovina, the association with wine is most likely not the one that blinks in your mind. Nothing wrong here, don’t worry, you are not to blame. Quantity of wine produced in Bosnia and Herzegovina is really small tiny. But surprising as it may be, there is such a thing as Bosnian wine and some of it is quite delicious.

The wine of Bosnia and Herzegovina is produced in a geographical area called Herzegovina that lies to the south of the country and of which Mostar is the biggest town. It’s a region of dramatic natural beauty and even more dramatic climate: during summer it gets searingly hot thanks to the rocky, karst-like landscape and its proximity to the Adriatic Sea.

Therefore, as devoted red wine lovers we made plans to see for ourselves where the good wine we usually enjoy when in Sarajevo actually comes from. The two distinct varieties that we like the most are trnjak and blatina but the white žilavka is reportedly delicious as well. (All three are indigenous to Herzegovina.)

It was mid-August so the heat thing was as good as guaranteed but we were having none of it. We’re robust, the many Italian summer holidays made of roaming around at midday have made us resilient, so off we went!

Man, hot it was! By late morning the temperature around Mostar rose to 34°C which is more or less a norm in that area in summer. That being so, where to first? To fresh water of course.

KRAVICA

This oasis of fresh water and greenery amid the rocky landscape is a proper refuge from the summer heat. The precipice off which the water cascades is lush with shrubbery. Water is noisy and the mist it creates is cooling and invigorating. Add to this the surrounding Mediterranean flora and the persistent yet pleasing music of cicadas and you’re more than obviously on the right track to indulgence.

Then on to the wine.

NUIĆ WINERY

Probably the most established wines in Herzegovina are those from Vinogradi Nuić. We particularly like their trnjak for which, according to them, the winery is best known. I must say I like their blatina barrique just as much.

The new-built structure of the winery is positioned at the end of a descending road virtually in the middle of nowhere (well marked though). Anyhow, the land surrounding it is dense with vineyards. At the time (mid-August) the production has already started due to the early ripening of the fruit because of the mild winter and early spring.

BRKIĆ WINERY

Winery Brkić is a family run and operated estate with a wine production unit and cellar located in the centre of Čitluk. It’s a haven of orderly peace and Mediterranean elegance practically 100 meters from the main road.

The three (young) Brkić brothers are superbly running the show under father’s (presumable) supervision. It’s all very clear to the boys: it’s the quality they’re after and what unquestionably sells best. Everything – from the lovely wine (and olive oil) tasting under the front yards’ pergola together with the locally produced pršut i sir (dry-cured ham and cheese) to the wine cellar tour – was excellent.

Bonus points: every guest is greeted at the entrance by one of the young Brkićs and accompanied to the car when leaving (and waved goodbye to).

MEDJUGORJE

While we where in the area we thought it prudent to go and unlock the mystery of infamous Medjugorje. The verdict? By all means needs to be seen to fully comprehend the power of (Catholic) religion. If, on the other hand, religion is not traveller’s cup of tea Medjugorje offers a free lesson in religion driven business development: countless hotels, restaurants of dubious quality, tonnes of kitsch for sale. Pretty much everything is heftily overpriced.

Anyway, after a serious afternoon downpour cooled the air considerably we ascended the so called Apparition Hill and let me tell you, anyone attempting to ascend that hill in the summer heat under the pressing sun, as those shepherds are supposed to have done, would doubtlessly have a vision. It’s textbook krš: local description of the land of bare rocks with only flecks of red soil and some low growing shrubs or makija or macchia.

POČITELJ

“We have a very funny hodža (priest) in Počitelj. He’s mostly seen in cafés these days!” a woman selling bottles of cooled pomegranate juice in the shade of a giant (you guessed it) pomegranate shrub told us when we reached the peak of the village. The pomegranates are abundant, branches heavy with ripening fruit but they need a couple more months of sun and warmth.

Nearing the top of Počitelj. Wonderful architecture, beautiful flora.

Počitelj is a historic town that became important in the middle ages due to its guarding, natural amphitheatre-like position above the Neretva valley. The well-preserved old stone-build houses and stone-paved winding streets are stunning and the Ottoman imprint on the town is clearly visible. It’s very picturesque but serene at the same time.

Unforgettable Počitelj – view from the fortress. 35 degrees C.

The town is so small and apart from a towering fortress virtually unnoticeable from the main Metkovič-to-Mostar road that it might be thoroughly possible to drive by it and let it be. But it is well worth a stop and a climb uphill even if wiser to do it when temperature drops below 35°C.

On the way back, note a café on the left just after the town gate and take a break there. The man makes first-class Bosnian coffee.

Over-the-top Bosnian coffee in beautiful Počitelj

MOSTAR

Unfortunately, Mostar‘s historic, centuries old beauty is overshadowed by the nationalistic divide among its population. Luckily (or not) a tourist is unaware of the fact although it’s quite ridiculous not to notice the enormous (new-built) Catholic church on the right bank of the Neretva as a counterbalance to the Muslim mosques in the old town (mainly on the left bank). Additionally, a gigantic Orthodox (Serbian) church is being constructed on a slope above town. But who am I to judge? I just wish that people of all races, nationalities and religious beliefs actually wouldn’t forget the atrocities of the last Bosnian war. DON’T FORGET should be a mantra of peace and tolerance, not just a sign getting bleached by the sun.

Don’t forget

The old stone bridge over the Neretva is spectacular. It never seizes to amaze me, no matter how many times I’ve already crossed it. How perfectly it was constructed such a long time ago and how many brave men have been leaping off it into the green waters of the Neretva 24 meters below! Wow!

BLIDINJE

A colleague of my man suggested a route via Blidinje while we’d be touring Herzegovina. Apparently it was a beautiful spot up in the rocky mountains and the local restaurant served delicious food. I didn’t really think of what to expect because a lake is a lake after all and mountains are ubiquitous in Bosnia and Herzegovina anyway. But I was keen on the food because the meals elsewhere in Herzegovina were unpleasantly disappointing. Call me spoilt but food in central Bosnia, specifically in and around Sarajevo, is much much better than anything in the south.

Spectacular view of Blidinje Lake over the rugged karst landscape

Of course, for starters, I was taken aback by the wonderful landscape. It’s only a lake surrounded by mountains but the brutalist karst landscape gives it a sparkle of another kind. Also the clear fresh air smells of pine trees, dried grass and wild thyme.

As suggested, we had lunch at Hajdučke vrleti, a restaurant housed in a massive wanna-be Alpine-style building by the main road. The place was a revelation! No wonder it was packed. The service, the food, the wines – everything a complete delight! Thank you to Alija for the suggestion!

Delightful cheese (all local) and jam (home made) selection for starters and, to the right, uštipci, a local specialty (fried bread)

Not far from the restaurant, just a kilometre or two down the road, is the Unesco recognized necropolis of Dugo polje. It’s a tranquil and soothing place of typical stone grave tombs, or stećci, that dot the grass of many a Bosnian mountain.

The stečci in Dugo polje are especially beautiful: decorated with all kinds of ornaments carved in stone from mythological creatures to natural objects and religious symbols. We took a long break amid the stones, breathed deeply the crisp air and admired the rugged beauty around us.

As westerners used to omnipresent motorways and fast road travel we have learnt long ago to gear down when driving in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here’s a sage piece of advice: leave your in-built western presumptions and expectations at the border; they won’t get you anywhere faster.

There are practically no motorways in Bosnia and Herzegovina (except for a few dozen kilometres around Sarajevo). Traffic on regional (main) roads is heavy and the roads, particularly the lesser ones, are in a rather poor condition. All that slows you down but on the other hand it gives you freedom to take in the passing scenery or to take a detour on a whim. On our way from Blidinje Lake to Sarajevo via Jablanica the tarmac road abruply ended and we found ourselves on a white road for several kilometres. Just know that everything is possible in this rough yet beautiful country.

 

Related:

More on the wines of Herzegovina via Wines of Balkans and Wine Explorers and Balkanvibe

The trip from Sarajevo to Mostar by car takes roughly 2 hours. From Mostar to Čitluk, the town closest to the vineries we visited, it takes another half an hour.

Driving in Bosnia, although demanding, is not as nerve wrecking as that in Sri Lanka.

 

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