History, Hikes, and Homemade Rakia in Trebinje, Bosnia
If Bosnia and Herzegovina has made it onto your travel itinerary then congratulations, because most people wouldn’t have even considered this country as a holiday destination, myself included. But, the adventurous travelers who do make it to this particular Balkan city are in for a pleasant surprise. Far from the war scared capital, Sarajevo, and the tourist dominated city of Mostar, Trebinje has its own small-town charm and a variety of things to do, whether you’re active and outdoorsy, a history fan, or just need a cozy spot to chill out.
What to do in the town?
The first thing to do, after dropping off your luggage, is to head into the Old Town. Now, during the autumn when I visited the cobbled stone streets were pretty much bare, save for a handful of local residents drinking Bosnian coffee in heavy winter jackets. Visit in the summer though as I was assured that the streets are alive with busy sightseers, a mixture of traditional and international restaurants and even a few craft shops.
The ancient walled city is built around an orthodox church, which was originally a mosque, and hidden around the back is Trebinje’s Museum. If you want to learn a something interesting about Trebinje’s history then this is a good place to start. Just a heads up, only exhibits on the top floor are translated into English, but, as the 1st and 2nd floors are taken up by art and clothing, it’s not that bigger problem.
Outside of the old town you can take a stroll or a jog along the Trebisnijca River and visit the Old Bridge. I recommend going for a walk at sunset time and bringing a fully charged camera. The bridge is popular with both the youngsters of the city and weatherworn fishermen.
What if I Don’t Like Coffee or Old Towns?
No problem. Trebinje is built on the flat ground between several hills most of which are topped by Austro-Hungarian fortresses or bunkers and make for decent day hikes. My favorites were Tvrdava Strac and Kala Golo Brdo both of which can be reached on foot or by mountain bike in the same day.
The first was once a bunker which somehow survived heavy bombing during the wars. I wasn’t brave enough to venture into the bunker on my own, but if you bring a flashlight and some moral support then I’m told that an old staircase leads inside where you can walk through the underground rooms. If that doesn’t appeal to you then, like me, you can just enjoy the panoramic view from the hilltop.
How to get there?
There are a few ways to get there depending on where you’re coming from. Of course, the city is connected by direct bus to both Mostar and Sarajevo, where you can take an international flight. There is also a daily morning bus from Dubrovnik, Croatia, and one from Kotor, Montenegro either going via Dubrovnik or via Podgorica.
Where to Stay
Unlike Mostar and Sarajevo, Trebinje is not a destination that many backpackers stop at, therefore travelers accommodation is limited to 2 cozy hostels and local hotels. Personally, I had only planned for an overnight stop in the city so, my backpack and I headed directly for a hostel on the edge of the old town.
One week later, I was so taken with Hostel Polako (which translates as Chill Out Hostel) that if they hadn’t been about to close for the winter I might not have left! Lauren and Bartek, an international couple, are fantastic hosts who can tell you exactly where to get the best Borek and the cheapest Rakia, and, they might even invite you to join them on their daily coffee trips after pancake breakfast. I really can’t praise this place enough.
Eat and Drink
Staying in Trebinje you can’t help but notice a huge farmers market that occupies the main square from Monday to Saturday. In fact, it was so close to my hostel that I visited every day. All the produce comes from local farms and you can find anything from fruits and vegetables to nuts and dried fruits, second-hand clothing, homemade wines, flavored honey and a variety of Rakias. I recommend the Orovada, a walnut flavored Rakia, ask the old lady manning the stall and she’ll probably let you try before you buy.
Trebinje also has a big coffee culture and you’ll have no trouble sourcing a comfy café get your caffeine kick and it’s not just traditional Bosnian Coffee on the menu. The cafes also serve your regular cappuccino, espresso and so on.
Tip: pick an outside table near the market square, it’s great for people watching and most of the cafés have Wi-Fi if you need it.
In a place where a shot of Rakia costs just 50 cents and a small beer costs the same as a large beer, because, who on earth is going to ask for a small beer anyway? Your sure to have some fun nights out. Not only is the old city center filled with traditional style restaurants and bars, outside of the walled town, there are also plenty of café’s serving Rakia and other spirits.
With a little local knowledge, you should be able to find your way to a venue with live music and local bands playing a mixture of Herzegovinian and international music. Dancing on a night out is not so popular here but bars do have dancefloors so there’s nothing stopping you if you want to bust a few moves.
In the Area
Bosnia and Herzgonivia is a great country for road trips in general and the area around Trebinje certainly doesn’t disappoint. If you have access to a car or are up for renting a bike and peddling hard, then there’s quite a bit to see in the surrounding hills.
Organic farms which produce award-winning olive oil, vineyards fermenting delicious red and white wines, and enough honey farms to attract Winnie the Pooh himself. There are also a handful of travel companies offering rafting, kayaking or hiking excursions
No Beach, No Problem
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. There is no beach in Trebinje. In fact, the country is completely landlocked. That said there is a mini-beach on the riverside, just 5 minutes from the old town. The water remains chilly almost all year so during the summer months it’s the perfect place to cool off.
Still not convinced? Well, what if I told you that Trebinje also happens to be less than an hours drive from Dubrovnik? Now you’re interested. Yes, in just one day you can be in the same place that Game of Thrones was filmed and lounging on a Croatian beach on the Mediterranean Sea. Sounds pretty good right?
Got Some Time?
Do you enjoy flying? Well if you’re on a long-term trip and have a few weeks to spare then Trebinje is a great place to learn to paraglide. Actually, a Finnish man at my hostel was doing just that! There are English-speaking instructors in the area and a number of hills in the area which means that there are plenty of take-off points at various altitude. From May to September this region is generally blessed with good weather too.
Just for Fun
Now, during my stay in Trebinje, I recall a certain Italian traveler telling me of a wonderful bench, the best bench in Trebinje as it happens. Problem is neither myself or any of my hostel companions were actually told the exact whereabouts of this, particular bench. So, if you fancy a challenge, put aside a few hours to roam the riverside and pick out your favorite seating spot.
Life in Trebinje goes at a steady pace and a visit to this underacknowledged corner of the country should, likewise, be gentle and unrushed. Plan at least a few days to discover the special character of this Herzegovinian city. Pack your essentials like walking shoes, prepare your camera, and don’t leave without tasting some homemade Rakia.