Bosnia’s new cycle trail is a big ‘open-air museum’

The Ciro trail, from Dubrovnik to Mostar in southern Bosnia, is encouraging tourists back to the empty green landscape that was largely abandoned during the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia

The Balkan express: from Belgrade to Bar by railway

Over 435 bridges and through 254 tunnels, this spectacular scenic railway is one of Europe’s most stunning rides

Mostar – Triangular War memorial

If the visitor just sees the area around the Turkish bridge, they would find it difficult to believe there was ever a war in Mostar. To find this evidence the visitor should walk past the Karadozbeg Mosque and the Roznamendi Effendi Mosque to the Musala Bridge and look at the ruins of the Neretva Hotel. 80% of Mostar was destroyed during the Balkans War and the ruined buildings in the area of the hotel bear witness to this devastation. The Bosnian Muslim elements within Mostar and the Croats were allies against the Serbs and when the latter were defeated there was peace in the city for roughly a year, before fighting between Bosnians and Croats began with the front line being the street called Kralja Zvonimira.

Walking along this street, the visitor can see the bullet holes in some of the buildings, but otherwise the only evidence of a battle is the Ljubljanska Banka building on the corner. This monstrosity, with its triangular point jutting towards the river a few hundred yards away, is pockmarked with bullet holes that at least give the building some character and interest, which I hope preserves it for future generations to see and remember what happened here. Most war memorials are small and easily missed, but surely no one could miss this ugly, nine-storey, triangular shaped memorial?

Playing Fountains

From my book on The Balkans

In the main square the fountain next to the Alexander the Great statue was now coming into its own as night fell. There were sixty small holes in the main square, six rows of ten out of which water would pour. Each hole contained a light that could switch colour. The water could either shoot out vertically, to a height of about six feet, or at an angle of about 45 degrees, so that it appeared to be jumping into another hole close by. This display of playing streams of water was choreographed to the accompanying music. The jets would play at the same height and then gradually decrease from one end to the other in a line, so one jet at the end of a line would have completely disappeared whilst the jet at the other end was still playing to a height of four feet. All the time the colours in each of the lines was changing. This fountain drew a large crowd, some of whom thought they could run through the fountain without getting wet. They were wrong.


Bay of Kotor

The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro contains a number of stunning man-made sights, but the true beauty of the bay comes from seeing the mountains sweeping down to the sea. This can best be appreciated from either the water or from the fortifications above the town of Kotor itself.

Beginning in Kotor, my advice would be to obtain a map from the tourist information at the Venetian built Sea Gate but then put it away, safe in the knowledge you do have some help if you get horribly lost in the Stari Grad (Old Town). In other words, Kotor is a place to wander around with no set plan or destination in mind. At some point you will pass by the Maritime Museum, St Tryphon’s Cathedral, The Clock Tower, a stone pyramid and the Cats Museum, though not necessarily in that order. There will be time to admire the shops, squares, and churches of the Stari Grad and eat or drink coffee/beer in some of the numerous cafes and restaurants.

The more energetic can climb the 1350 steps to the fortress, situated 260 metres above the town, for unforgettable views of the Bay of Kotor and the old town with its seemingly triangular shaped walls. There may be a cruise ship docked at the quay while other, smaller boats will be ferrying visitors to some of the other sights in the bay, such as Perast and the Our-Lady-of-the-Rock Island. This is a view to savour and, in my opinion, it is better even than the view from Mount Srd over Dubrovnik as the grey, steep-sided mountains appear to clutch the bay in their grasp as they disappear to the horizon.

In the town of Kotor there are no signs or reminders of the recent Balkan War and it’s possible to believe that the people who live here, even in the Old Town, can have some semblance of normality in their lives even during the main tourist season. The old town never appears to be busy, except perhaps between the Sea Gate and the cathedral, and there are no pigeon-filled squares to avoid.    

Dubrovnik – Mount Srd

Dubrovnik’s cable-car runs from the north of the city walls to the top of Mount Srd in just under four minutes. The top of the mountain is 405 metres above the city and the views from the cable-car station are stupendous, although the best views are from the roof of the Napoleonic Fort, which houses the Homeland War Museum, to the west of the cable-car station. Here the visitor can see Dubrovnik and the coastline without the paraphernalia from the cable-car system getting in the way. The museum is worth devoting time to as the exhibits clearly show the Serbs, on nearby Mount Zarkovica, targeting the old town of Dubrovnik with fly-by-wire missiles, artillery shells, and machine-gun fire. Naval vessels also shelled Dubrovnik. 56% of the buildings in the old town were damaged and 116 people died.