Adriatic Adventure: Dubrovnik, Croatia, to Bosnia & Herzegovina

(First of three parts)

The pure scenic beauty of the sea and mountains was astounding, with a daily “Wow! factor” that was off the charts. This is the most accurate one-line portrayal I can summon to describe my late-spring 2012 group tour of the Adriatic region with ElderTreks.

My partially hosted, 3-week “Adriatic Adventure” included five countries touching on the Adriatic, four of which were part of the former Yugoslav federation. This 3-part report will outline our journey through Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, the tip of Italy and Slovenia and will suggest strategies for making the most of an exploration of this fascinating region.

Sadly, due to our busy touring schedule, one activity that I had to forgo was trout fishing for some of the species that are unique to the mountain lakes and streams of Croatia and Slovenia.

War is hell

The horrific war in the 1990s which decimated much of Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, including many of the cities and sites we visited, was a war devoid of justification and rife with genocidal horror. Clearly, it was mostly about the power agendas of a few crazed individuals in control of the militaries of the aggressor nations.

Mostar’s reconstructed Old Bridge captivates visitors. Photos: Keck

While the emotional scars may never fully heal, fortunately much of the physical devastation is no longer in evidence — a tribute to the resilient spirit of the citizens of the affected regions.

An uneasy peace remains the norm in some areas, such as parts of Bosnia & Herzegovina and neighboring Kosovo, a country I visited on a previous journey. In terms of personal safety, however, in my opinion, visitors need have no qualms about visiting any of these areas.

Dubrovnik

The alluring, preserved, medieval walled city of Dubrovnik, on the southern Croatia coast, is both the most famous and most favored destination for visitors to the Adriatic region and was an ideal starting point for our south-to-north sojourn.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site pearl is best revealed with a guided walking tour combined with a walk along the top of the impressive city wall. Our highly educational walking tour outlined how Dubrovnik was able to retain its city-state independence over the ages as well as become the base for the third-largest merchant fleet in the world at its height of prominence in the 16th century.

Dubrovnik is crowded in all but the dead of winter, and the combination of summer crowds and extremes of heat can be stifling. Our group was based about seven kilometers south of the city in the relaxing seaside village of Mlini, away from the tourist crush. This proved to be a wise decision.

During prime tourism season, May-October, by mid morning there can be long lines of visitors, fueled largely by hordes of cruise ship passengers, waiting to gain access to the walled city. I suggest arriving by 8 a.m. or even earlier, if possible, to get a jump on the crowds.

A splash of Montenegro

On our second day based in Mlini, we undertook a long, full-day tour across the border into tiny, neighboring Montenegro, an exploration that focused on the entrancing Kotor Fjord and bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

High above the fjord, the mountaintop view from Mt. Lovc´en National Park was breathtaking. Our walking tour of historic old-town Kotor with its idyllic waterfront revealed a charming, bay-front enclave dwarfed by magnificent mountains whose peaks seemed to stretch into the heavens.

Regrettably, our Montenegro exploration was somewhat limited by the worst weather day of our tour. Despite this, it was clear that the sea, mountains and cultural attractions of the country warranted a longer visit. Montenegro is also known within Europe for its extensive system of established wilderness hiking trails.

Bosnia & Herzegovina beckons

Temporary cancellation of ferry service from Dubrovnik caused us to miss our scheduled walking tour of the Lokrum Island nature reserve, so we enjoyed extra free time in Dubrovnik plus a visit to the Maritime Museum and the Rector’s Palace.

Climbing one of the world’s longest city walls, in Ston, Croatia.

Later we departed for Bosnia & Herzegovina, stopping en route in the city of Ston, famous for its natural-salt production, mussel farming and impressive, 5-kilometer-long city wall. Constructed from stone during Roman times, Ston’s city wall is one of the longest in the world. Our group scaled one challenging section of the wall and later enjoyed a lunch of fresh mussels before continuing to the border.

Our fearless tour leader, Lajos, decided we should travel the more remote mountain roads to Mostar, the unofficial capital of Herzegovina, located in the southern region of Bosnia & Herzegovina. This allowed us to skip one additional (and, reportedly, often time-consuming) border crossing.

Visitors love Mostar’s thoroughly photogenic Old Town, built along the banks of the winding Neretva River. Our walking tour would reveal the full Muslim influence of this popular artisan stronghold, including a Turkish house, a mosque, colorful minarets and a thriving marketplace.

Another Mostar feature is the plethora of charming outdoor restaurants overlooking the river and historic Old Bridge, the town’s most famous landmark.

Following the tour of Mostar, we visited Kravica Falls, the first and perhaps least dramatic of the many impressive waterfall sites we would experience on our 3-week journey. We also opted to briefly visit Medjugorje, a regional pilgrimage site of questionable origin, around which a remarkable local tourism industry has been established.

Sarajevo

From our base in Mostar, we were fortunate to have a full-day visit to the capital, Sarajevo, one of the most Oriental cities in Europe and the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics.

Our guided walking tour revealed a multicultural cornucopia of ancient minarets, churches and bazaars, reflecting an exotic, inviting mix of Eastern and Western influences. Included was the eerie site of the June 1914 assassination of Austrian archduke Ferdinand, which set off a chain of events that led to Word War I.

During our free time, I explored the huge, outdoor Bašcˇaršija Market, purchasing several highly ornate copper bracelets of the type my wife and I and many friends have long utilized for their positive, drug-free health benefits, which include combating general muscle and joint stiffness as well as arthritis.

For information regarding this 21-day Adriatic sojourn and a range of other small-group adventures, contact ITN advertiser ElderTreks (Toronto, Ontario; 800/741-7956).

Coming up, in part two, I’ll focus on the entrancing coast of Croatia.

Keck's Beyond the Garden Wall

❝Toiling in the afterglow of peace upon the favored lands 
The multitudes as one summon forth a time of plenty ❞
— Randy on the mind-set of the peoples of the eastern Adriatic