Sampling the Culture of Herzegovina: a visit to Počitelj, Mogorijelo, and Ljubuški

(click here to read this post in B/S/C language)

Although Bosnia is known for its thick forests, snow-capped peaks and rich river valleys, neighboring Herzegovina is a Mediterranean landscape dotted with olive groves, old stone villages, and roman ruins.  It’s sometimes hard to believe the richness and diversity of this country, which is only about the size of the State of West Virginia.  For travelers, this represents much opportunity: You can spend the morning skiing and the afternoon sipping wine on the seaside.  

My wife Danuta and I had a chance to learn about some of this country’s vast potential for tourism earlier this month during a visit to Herzegovina. 
I’m proud to say that the United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development, has invested roughly $36 million since 2009 in projects aimed at improving the potential of Bosnia and Herzegovina to both attract tourists and also export its unique farm products, such as wines, cheese and olive oil. 

The medieval Ottoman village of Počitelj, located less than 30 minutes from Mostar (see attached video), is an example of this potential.  The U.S. has worked with local partners to develop a management plan aimed at preserving and protecting the historic sites of this town perched on a craggy hillside above the Neretva River.

Just down the road from Počitelj are the Roman ruins of Mogorijelo, which date back more than 2,000 years.  Here, Danuta and I saw evidence of ancient olive oil presses and underground vaults where wine was stored.  Along with our partners, the U.S. government has funded preservation work at sites like this.  Protecting this cultural heritage is not only our obligation to future generations; it will also help Bosnia and Herzegovina tapped into the world’s largest industry: tourism.

Luckily, after a long day of sight-seeing, we had the chance to enjoy a relaxing dinner of Herzegovinian specialties at Ljubuški Most Restaurant.  The restaurant, along with several others in the region and the STAP Association of Ljubuški, are part of a growing “gastro-tourism” movement.  With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, they are working to attract foreign visitors while preserving unique local traditions and food.

This type of economic development is not only sustainable, it's also delicious.  Along with Davorin Medić, of the STAP Association, and Smiljan Vidić, the mayor of Čapljina (and many other partners from the region), Danuta and I had the chance to enjoy a truly excellent meal of regional specialties.  The table groaned under the weight of the lamb, chicken, bread, wild greens, ham, soups, and vegetables.  There was also locally pressed olive oil and wine made from the indigenous zilavka and blatina grapes.

Nearly all of the food and drink came from nearby fields and farms.  As one person at the dinner told me, “There’s a giant new ‘slow food’ movement across the world now, but with us, it’s just a way of life.”