Sometimes you visit a place because they’re simply on the way to elsewhere. While travelling to Montenegro through Bosnia Herzegovina, that place for me was Trebinje. It was certainly my good fortune that I did. Beyond the capital Sarajevo and popular Mostar, the other cities of Bosnia Herzegovinadon’t have a lot of name recognition yet. It’s no surprise then that places like Trebinje are mostly unknown to the wider tourism world.
Trebinje is a small city tucked away in the southernmost reaches of Bosnia and Herzegovina, right near Montenegro and Dubrovnik. The modest city is situated in a scenic valley along the Trebišnjica river and is surrounded by looming hills in most directions. It all makes for a particularly picturesque destination and if you’re looking to see more of Bosnia Herzegovina for yourself, I’d highly recommend visiting.
City of Trebinje
Found right down in the very south of the country, Trebinje is considered the main city for this corner of Bosnia Herzegovina. With only 30,000 people though, it is by no means a large city. Historically, it was situated on the road between Dubrovnik and Constantinople, an important trade route with obvious benefits for the city. With the coming of the Ottomans in the 15th century, much of the old city including a fortress was built over. This explains why so much of modern Trebinje’s historic character reflects the Ottoman period and little from earlier.
It’s worth noting one interesting detail about Trebinje in particular. Before visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina, I never knew that the country was effectively split in two between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. Visitors that only visit Sarajevo and Mostar on a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, will actually only visit the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Trebinje however, is in the Srpska Republic and this can be a contrasting experience.
Republika Srpska literally means ‘Serb Republic’ and so this region has a much higher population of ethnic Serbs and even uses the Cyrillic alphabet. I didn’t have enough time there to delve into the big differences here, only to glimpse a few superficial differences.
Old Town and City Centre
As with most places in Europe, the best place to start your visit is with Trebinje’s little Old Town. Mentioned earlier, the Old Town owes its look to the Ottomans, including its city walls and several of its mosques. It’s a small area by the river, but with its stone houses, pedestrian streets and stark difference to the rest of the city, it’s obvious when you’re there. Surrounded by stone walls, nowadays it hosts a number of cafes and restaurants.
Beyond the old town, you’ll find a number of squares and parks, typically with locals sitting out there watching the world go by. Sometimes you’ll come across memorials to events like the first and second World Wars, plus several modest churches. Admittedly, there isn’t a whole lot in the city centre to hold your attention, with regards to sightseeing.
Trebišnjica River and Bridges
Things start to get a whole lot more scenic once you reach the riverfront. It’s fair to say that the major defining landmark of Trebinje is the Trebišnjica river that flows through it. Like elsewhere in Bosnia Herzegovina, the river brings with it vibrant nature and greenery. Upstream, the Trebišnjica river is actually used to generate hydro power, but here in Trebinje, it just gently flows and cascades peacefully.
Given the river’s importance, it’s no surprise that one of the big attractions of Trebinje is a beautiful old bridge that cross it. Built by the Ottomans, Arslanagic Bridge actually sat further upstream originally. Due to its heritage, the entire bridge was moved to its current spot in the 1970s because of the hydropower station. With its distinctive shape and the beautiful colours of the river, it’s certainly a beautiful sight.
Hercegovačka Gračanica Monastery
Besides the historic mosques in the Old Town of Trebinje, most of the religious buildings in the city are Serbian Orthodox. Without question the most impressive of these orthodox churches is the striking hilltop Hercegovačka Gračanica church and monastery. Sitting on a hill on the eastern bank of the river, it’s viewable almost everywhere and is lit up at night. To reach the Hercegovačka Gračanica church, you can walk or drive the winding road through the forest to its summit.
Oddly enough, the monastery is actually brand new and basically a copy of another monastery in Kosovo. Built in 2000, it still manages to look historic with its Byzantine architecture. With its bright and colourful interior, it might become a bit more obvious that it’s not as old as it first appears.
Along with the monastery you’ll find the obligatory souvenir shop, as well as a restaurant. What won’t cost you a cent though are the spectacular views you’re treated to from the hilltop. Not only can you look out over the city and admire the mighty backdrop of hills, but you can follow the valley east to where it opens out. Quite possibly my favourite thing about Trebinje was simply the majestic setting and landscape of the city. It was unlike anything I could have expected from Bosnia Herzegovina.
If you’re feeling a little adventurous, on the way down from Hercegovačka Gračanica you can walk to a ruined medieval tower in the Police neighbourhood. I honestly can’t even remember how I came to know about the tower. All I know was that there aren’t any signs to lead the way, so a map is key (search for Brankovića Kula on Google Maps). I think I navigated towards it by guessing whereabouts on my map it was. To get up close, you actually need to walk up into a nearby field, something which was encouraged by a helpful local pointing from his balcony. It’s believed this medieval tower was built by noble Vuk Brankovic in the 14th century. Pretty sure it’s on someones property though so be considerate and don’t trespass.
Getting There and Staying There
When I stayed in Trebinje, there wasn’t a broad selection of accommodation but things seem to have changed since with lots of apartment options available now. I stayed at the quite nice Hotel Platani, where I also ate for convenience and the food was pretty decent.
Dubrovnik is only a 40 minute drive from Trebinje and much closer than Mostar, making it a great option for a day trip from Dubrovnik. All you’d need to do is simply rent a car and you’re on your way. Getting there by public transport is another thing though. I took one of the few minibuses from Mostar, which took a while honestly. There are limited bus connections with Dubrovnik, Kotor and Herceg Novi, so plan wisely.