Bosnia & Hercegovina
Craggily beautiful Bosnia and Hercegovina is most intriguing for its East-meets-West atmosphere born of blended Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian histories filtered through a Southern Slavic lens. Many still associate the country with the heartbreaking civil war of the 1990s, and the scars from that time are all too visible. But today's visitors are likely to remember the country for its deep, unassuming human warmth, its beautiful mountains, numerous medieval castle ruins, raftable rivers, impressive waterfalls and bargain-value skiing.
Major drawcards include the reincarnated historical centres of Sarajevo and Mostar, counterpointing splendid Turkish-era stone architecture with quirky bars, inviting street-terrace cafes, traditional barbecue restaurants and vibrant arts scenes. There's plenty of interest to discover in the largely rural hinterland too, all at prices that make the country one of Europe's best-value destinations.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Bosnia & Hercegovina.
The world-famous Stari Most (meaning simply 'Old Bridge') is Mostar's indisputable visual focus. Its pale stone magnificently reflects the golden glow of sunset or the tasteful night-time floodlighting. The bridge's swooping arch was originally built between 1557 and 1566 on the orders of Suleiman the Magnificent. The current structure is a very convincing 21st-century rebuild following the bridge's 1990s bombardment during the civil war. Numerous well-positioned cafes and restaurants tempt you to sit and savour the splendidly restored scene.
There's a slightly unreal Disney-esque quality to this outstanding natural attraction, where the Trebižat River plummets in a broad 25m-high arc into an emerald pool. In spring, this gorgeous mini-Niagara pounds itself into a dramatic, steamy fury. In summer it's a more gentle cascade, but the basin offers an idyllic respite from the sweltering heat for hundreds of locals and tourists.
Forming Blagaj's signature attraction, the centrepiece of this complex of traditional stone-roofed buildings is a very pretty half-timbered dervish house with wobbly rug-covered floors, carved doorways, curious niches and a bathroom with star-shaped coloured glass set into the ceiling. The dervishes follow a mystical strand of Islam in which the peaceful contemplation of nature plays a part, hence the tekke 's idyllic positioning above the cave mouth from which the Buna River's surreally blue-green waters flow forth.
Based in and around the derelict battery factory that served as the Potočari UN base, this memorial centre incorporates a major display entitled Srebrenica Genocide – The Failure of the International Community. However the main focus of the complex is the extensive cemetery directly across the road, with row after sentinel row of pointed white Islamic-style gravestones, each commemorating a reburied victim.
Ostrožac is one of Bosnia's most photogenic castles, a spooky Gothic place high above the Una Valley, up 3km of hairpins towards Cazin. There's plenty to explore from various epochs, ramparts to walk, towers to climb and a manor house on the verge of collapse that all add to the thrill (and danger) of poking about. Off-season you might have to call the caretaker to get in, but it's only officially closed if it's snowing.
This affecting museum had its genesis in a 2013 book edited by Jasminko Halilović, in which he asked a simple question of survivors of the Sarajevo siege: 'What was a war childhood for you?' Of the hundreds of replies received, 50 short written testimonies are presented here, each illustrated by personal effects donated by the writer, such as diaries, drawings, toys and ballet slippers. It's a lighter, less gore-filled approach to the conflict than you'll find elsewhere, but equally devastating.
Built in 1571 and named after the grand vizier who commissioned it, this glorious 11-arch bridge is the only structure in Bosnia confirmed as being designed by Mimar Sinan, chief architect for the Ottoman Empire. The bridge rose to international fame after WWII when it played the starring role in Ivo Andrić's Nobel Prize–winning classic Bridge on the Drina. Declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2007, it has been fully restored and is tastefully floodlit at night.
Collectively, this group of cascades tumbles down a vertical height of more than 50m, with a wide arc of rivulets pouring into a series of pools surrounded by lush, green foliage. The main viewpoint is a minute's walk from the ticket gate, 1.3km off the Bihać–Dravar Rd in Martin Brod village. Make sure you check out the view from the red footbridge near the car park, too.
This gallery uses stirring photography, video footage and audio testimonies of survivors and family members to create a powerful memorial to the 8372 victims of the Srebrenica massacre, one of the most infamous events of the Bosnian civil war. You'll need well over an hour to make the most of a visit, and it's worth paying the extra for the audioguide to gain more insight.