Bosnia and Herzegovina has been in the news a lot this month. Unlike 20 years ago, the headlines have nothing to do with the Bosnian War and its atrocities. 2014 marks the 100-year anniversary of the assassinations of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo. Events and exhibitions are scheduled to commemorate the beginning of World War I. On a lighter note, the country’s soccer—okay, football—team made its first-ever appearance in the World Cup last weekend. They lost to Argentina, but many are still celebrating Vedad Ibišević’s goal in their 2-1 loss. Now is a great time to visit this Southeastern European country.
Bosnia and Herzegovina sits on the Balkan Peninsula. It’s bordered by Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and just 12 miles of the Adriatic Sea. The country has a rich history. It was first settled during the Neolithic Era, and it was hotly contested by the Slavs, the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians, the Bosniaks, the Serbs, and the Croats over hundreds of years. The country is finally at peace, and travelers, realizing the amazing deals, are hurrying over the border from Croatia.
You’ll get to Sarajevo, the capital and the largest city, as well as Mostar, Jajce, and the mountains, eventually, but Neum is your first stop. The coastal city—the country’s only coastal city—is just 50 miles from Dubrovnik, Croatia’s airport. The city’s steep hills and sandy beaches are protected from the open sea by the Pelješac, a Croatian peninsula. Orange-roofed houses, a glittering bay, and warm weather add to the beachy feel.
Neum Beach is usually quiet in the morning. Soak up the sun on the white sand, swim in the calm water, or join a beach volleyball match. If it starts to get crowded in the afternoon, return to your hotel. Hotel Villa Nova, like most waterfront hotels in Neum, has a stone balcony at the edge of the water. Relax in one of the loungers, and jump off the balcony to cool off when you get hot.
When you need a break from the sun, at least for a little while, canoe up the Trebižat River. You pass green riverbanks to eventually reach Kravice, a beautiful waterfall. Visit Hutovo Blato, a nature reserve that tens of thousands of migratory birds call home. Continue on to the Hadzibegova Kula Fortress. The Ottomans once fought the Venetians at the ruins of this ancient stone fortress.
Back in Neum, stop at St. John’s Catholic Church, the Shrine of the Queen of Peace, and the busy market. And long lunches—and dinners, for that matter—feature sea views, grilled seafood, and lots of nutty Žilavka wine. Everyone is welcoming, happy, and carefree. At least until Saturday, when the World Cup team takes on Nigeria.