HERZEGOVINA & CROATIAN ISLANDS - 12 DAY GUIDED TOUR ITINERARY
DAY 2 - Herzegovina - Dubrovnik to Mostar
A picturesque view of Cavtat Bay - on our way from Dubrovnik airport to southern Herzegovina.
On our way to Mostar we will stop for couple of hours and visit Trebinje - a very pretty riverside town with mills, bridges, leafy squares, ancient city walls and an Ottoman old town. Trebinje is rich with history. It is mentioned as early as the 10th century in Constantine Porphyrogenitus writings under the name of Tribunia to be later changed into Travunia. The present name dates from the 16th century.
Located just a 30-minute drive from the world-famous city of Dubrovnik, this pretty little city untouched by tourism will steal your heart with its authentic charm and postcard good looks. The Old Town of Trebinje was established in the 18th century by Ottomans and soon developed into a trading and crafts centre named Kastel. The most important person related to the development of the Old Town of Trebinje was Osman Pasha. It was he who envisaged the old town as a fort and built the moat encircling the walls and flowing into the River Trebisnjica. It was during his reign that two mosques were built. The first one was built in the name of Sultan Ahmed III and this is why it also became known as the Emperor’s Mosque. The second, the Osman-pasha mosque built in 1726 was Osman Pasha’s legacy to Trebinje.
There is a legend connected with Osman-pasha mosque, according to which, after its construction, Osman Pasha was accused in Istanbul of the fact that the mosque named by his name is more beautiful and more spacious than the Imperial Mosque in Trebinje. Sultan Ahmed the Third sentenced Osman Pasha and his nine sons to death, and when they arrived in Istanbul to ask for forgiveness, they were executed in 1729.
The Trebisnjica River is slow and shallow as it passes through. It is a unique phenomenon that crosses the valley of Popovo Polje and consists of many above and underground watercourses. On its way to the Adriatic Sea, the river, once called the Arion, flows underground and reappears many times on the surface. With a total length of 187 km, and half of it below the ground, Trebišnjica is the world's longest sinking river.
Arslanagić bridge is the most famous monument from the Ottoman period in Trebinje and has a very important place in Balkan architecture of 16th century. Mehmed-Pasha Sokolović built the bridge 1574 in honor to his son who was killed in the battle with Venice. When Turks got pushed away from Herceg Novi in 1687, many Turkish families moved from this town to Trebinje. A certain individual named Arslan-aga was among them. He was given land east of Trebinje and was also put in charge of collecting fee people had to pay to cross this bridge. Since that, this bridge was named after him – Arslanagić (Arslan-aga) bridge.
Old town, old bridges, wonderful reflections by the river…
We will have a lunchbreak in calm and beautiful surroundings of Studenac restaurant by river Trebisnjica, not far from Arslanagić bridge, where you will have opportunity to sample delicious and fresh local cuisine.
As the region on historical borders of empires, civilizations and cultures, Herzegovina has adopted much of the influence these entities had on her. One of such influences can be found in the local cuisine. It can be fairly said that cuisine of Herzegovina is a blend of Oriental, Mediterranean and Central European influences, while still adding its own touch to it all.
Old agriculture wheel irrigation system. In the rural and urban landscape of Trebinje, the irrigation wheels still have very important and authentic role. According to an oral tradition, during the pilgrimage to Mecca in the middle of the XVIII century, Mustafa Mujaga Hadžihasanović noticed a device that drew water from the River Nile. At first, he made a wooden model, but as soon as he returned to Trebinje, the famous Hadžihasnović irrigation wheel started spinning. Construction of this irrigation system has significantly improved agriculture along the banks of the River Trebisnjica.
Continuing our journey to Mostar we will pass through Popovo Polje. In general, Popovo polje is a typical karst, horizontal, longitudinal plain, encircled by hills, with villages on its edges, with a road on one side and a former narrow gauge railway on the other. Thanks to the Mediterranean climate, with a lot of sun and mild winters, this region is very fertile. It is not surprising that some the best wines of Herzegovina come from here.
Green meadows of Popovo Polje - a home to numerous species of birds, butterflies and wild flowers
Old Bridge over Popovo polje crossing Trebisnjica river.
Ancient rainwater cistern
Popovo Polje contains the remnants or ruins of a great many ponor mills. Ponors are fissures in the karst (limestone) mass through which the water from meandering Trebisnjica river sinks underground. They play an important role, from the hydrologic-hydrogeologic standpoint, in the water circulation. The ponor is lined with rock and passing water was used to turn the mill for grinding corn. The problem with these jewels of the cultural and technical heritage is that they are abandoned and forgotten.
Bee hives in Popovo Polje. Thanks to the mild climate and unspoilt nature rich with wild flowers, the quality of honey from Popovo Polje is widely known.
In small village of Velicani we will meet Baba Olga. She is proudly offering her authentic wild flower honey from Popovo Polje and various other products, such as honey combs, honey with pollen, honey with dry figs, honey brandy…
A historic narrow gauge railroad that used to cross the valley of Popovo Polje. Built in the early 1900s by the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, this narrow-gauge railway, served by the steamer popularly called "Ćiro", was connecting Mostar and Dubrovnik. The railways was build primarily as strategic military facilities and they connected the southern Adriatic ports with the hinterland and Central Europe. This was the railway of salvation for the peoples of Popovo Polje, it enabled them a better life and overall progress.
When this railway was closed in 1976, the whole region lost its visibility. Most of the villages in Popovo polje are abandoned today, and the rest of the population that lives there is mainy older generation engaged in cattle breeding and agriculture.
Today, this unused narrow gauge railroad creates perfect habitat for wild orchids.
Vjetrenica Cave is the largest cave in the country, a subterranean wonderland of lakes, stalactites and stalagmites. The cave has been explored and described to a total of 7,014 m in length. It runs from the edge of Popovo Polje to the south, and on the basis of analysis of the terrain, geologists have predicted that Vjetrenica could stretch right to the Adriatic Sea in the Republic of Croatia, 15–20 km away from its entrance.
Vjetrenica is both the natural and archaeological site. Among the many archaeological finds there are also the remains of cave bears and leopards, cave drawings whose age is estimated at 10 000 years. The emergence of a strong "wind" at the entrance is a fascinating feature of Vjetrenica. In fact, it's not the wind but the air flow, which equals a constant interior and variable outside air temperature. On the topographic surface above Vjetrenica there are deep cracks through which during summer enters the warm air, it cools and goes out through the main entrance of the cave.
The remains of eight fossilised animals have so far been found in Vjetrenica cave, the largest being the cave bear (Ursus spelacus) and the most interesting of all, the only complete skeleton of the European ice age leopard (Panthera pardus spelaea) which roamed Europe in the Late Pleistocene.
Vjetrenica is the richest cave in the world in terms of subterranean biodiversity as it is a home to at least two hundreds of different species, many of them endemic and first time discovered in the Vjetrenica. The Olm is endemic cave salamander found in the underwater cave systems of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy, and Slovenia. They are extremely cautious with their energy, moving about 16 feet on average in an entire year.
The Olm is most notable for its adaptations to a life of complete darkness in its underground habitat. The olm's eyes are undeveloped, leaving it blind, while its other senses, particularly those of smell and hearing, are acutely developed. It also lacks any pigmentation in its skin. After heavy rains and flooding of the cave, the Olms are sometimes washed up from their subterranean habitat and in the old days people believed them to be an offspring of the "cave dragons".
Somewhere on the southwestern edge of the stunning Popovo Polje, hidden in the picturesque setting of a steep cliff, stands still an architectural wonder – Zavala Monastery. Its secluded location and far-fetched appearance are perfectly matched with its ascetic monastic mission. The northern wall of the monastery's church is situated within a cave.
Established in the Late Antiquity by the first Christian Roman emperor, this sanctuary was mentioned for the first time in the 13th century. Particularly renowned for its medieval frescoes, painted in 1619 by a great Serbian painter from the 17th century named Gregorije Mitrofanović, Zavala Monastery has a power to enchant you during your visit to this fascinating Orthodox gem.
The village of Kotezi on the heights of Popovo polje is hiding remains of perhaps one of the oldest mosques in Herzegovina among its walls.The mosque was built by Kotezlija Mujo, most probably in the second half of the 15th century. During the Ottoman rule, besides the mosque and a mekteb (Islamic primary school), the village also had three towers and several residential buildings. Three hundred years ago, they had an inn and trade, and before the World War II, they also had more than five hundred residents. Today, only two resident live in this villge.
Antient threshing floor (guvno) in stone build Češljari village. Threshing floors are paved with material that may be of various kinds, for example round stone cobbles. They were usualy built on the outskirts of Popovo Polje and used for separating out grain by the feet of people or oxen. The floors usually have a slight slope, to avoid water standing on them after rain. They were owned by the entire village or by a single family, and it was usually located outside the village in a place exposed to the wind. Centuries ago, each village hired master stonemasons to design and build the local guvno. Once complete, it became a community meeting center. Inside this circle, the village chieftain would gather with the elders to discuss the pressing issues of the day.
Each day after our daily trips we will have dinner in restaurant Taurus.
Hidden right off the main paths and located close to the heart of the old town next to the Crooked Bridge, this is an attractive restaurant with rustic and homey atmosphere and large menu including seafood.
Taurus restaurant - one of the tours in spring 2023.