Blagaj, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Photo: Talha Şamil Çakır (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
You have a glass of wine and a menu in front of you at Restoran Vrelo. The white wine, a Žilavka, is bright and acidic. The menu lists all of the ways, from carpaccio to lemon sauce with pumpkin seeds, that trout is served. You’re having trouble paying attention to either, though. You’re distracted by your stunning surroundings.

Your table sits on a stone patio at the edge of the Buna river. A small footbridge is to one side. An old monastery is to the other. Clear blue-green water rushes over rocks and moss. High vertical cliffs are in the background. While the river emerges from Vrelo Bune, a large karst cavern beneath them. Blagaj has turned into a perfect day trip.

You weren’t planning on visiting Mostar, or even Bosnia and Herzegovina, during this trip. The Southeastern European country, formerly part of Yugoslavia, wasn’t on your radar. But with both Croatia and Montenegro on your Balkan itinerary, it was hard to ignore the country in between them. The mountainous country surprised you, though. After falling in love with the war-torn capital of Sarajevo and historic Mostar, you kept exploring. So when you heard about a UNESCO-nominated village—featuring a river, a monastery, and a fort—you extended your stay and traveled even farther southeast.

Like so much of the area, Blagaj’s history was not quiet. The Illyrians built a garrison. The Romans created a castrum. Then the Byzantines fortified the town. The Serbians, the Bosnians, and the Ottomans followed. It resulted in mixed architecture at the source of the Buna river. The medieval Blagaj Fort, once the seat of Herzegovinian nobleman and the birthplace of a Bosnian queen, sits on a high, once inaccessible, karst hill. Blagaj Tekija, a dervish monastery, combines Mediterranean and Ottoman styles. Arched bridges cross the water. While stone houses and mills line the rushing river.

Blagaj is truly quiet and picturesque. At least for now. Bosnia and Herzegovina won’t remain undiscovered much longer. So enjoy the wine, the trout, and the amazing view for as long as you can. Next time, crowds will have surely changed this little gem.

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