Bosnia and Herzegovina was never at the top of my travel list, or even on my list at all until Matt suggested a day trip away from the Dubrovnik leg of our honeymoon (full Dubrovnik post here!) to visit the Vjetrenica Cave (pronounced “vyuhtrenitsa”) in the village of Zavala. It was about an hour and half away over terrifying single-car gravel roads through hilly olive and stone fruit country. The most thrilling part of this drive was the border checkpoint where we couldn’t understand the Bosnian/Herzegovinian agent and were becoming more and more confused and anxious when he kept asking us for our “papers” in broken English when really he just needed to see proof we had permission to take our rental car out of the country. Phew. Oh how we all laughed nervously when that transaction was over.
One bumpy but seriously beautiful drive later, we arrived at the cave. It’s famous because it’s at least 7 km long, maybe more (I don’t know anything about caves but apparently that’s super deep!) and contains a lot of endemic species. Geologists and biologists are apparently very into this place. The first couple of kilometers have been paved with slippery pathways and some dim lighting and you can pay a small fee for one of the hourly guided tours through this cold, windy space. A little touristy, but they tightly control how many people can go in each day so it’s in good condition and I would not be into exploring this space on my own with all the creepy rock formations and the statue of a prehistoric bear that lurks in one of the open spaces.
After that, we’d worked up a huge appetite and turned to the only eatery in the village, Gostionica Zavala. It’s a restaurant and inn in an old stone train station. Sadly, Zavala hasn’t had nearly as much traffic and the jobs have dried up since the railway was diverted from the area in 1975 (thanks to the locals for explaining this), but the village and cave are collectively being considered as a UNESCO world heritage site – my fingers are crossed after meeting these wonderful people!
Our meal was incredible, too, and made all the winding, gravel roads to get there that much more worthwhile. We were offered free sips of local booze (and ended up buying a bottle of fortified cherry wine as a result – I see what they did there!) along with our meal, which consisted of a lot of simple, satisfying food along with a Coke, which was charmingly served in a wine glass.
I loved this variety of cheeses, all made locally. You could see a flock of sheep grazing on the plain across the road from the restaurant and I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the milk that went into this cheese was produced by those ewes! The cheeses were great with the meat, stabbed solo on a fork or crumbled onto hunks of simple, complimentary bread that accompanied nearly every meal we had on our trip.
Like at the Bosnian restaurant we tried in Dubrovnik, we had to get our hands on some savoury donuts. These didn’t have the same satisfying chewiness as the others, but they were still hot, fresh and so tasty.
We also ordered some beef skewers, which came out with some raw and fire-roasted vegetables as well as a big pile of fries. This hearty meal (including the bottle of wine we brought home with us to Calgary) all came to less than $30 CAD with the tip and was exactly what we needed after our cold tour of the cave.
A couple of days later, we ended up stopping in a coastal Bosnian and Herzegovinian town called Neum on the drive from Dubrovnik to Split, our next stop in Croatia. We had researched and hunted down a very well-reviewed spot called Restoran Laguna at this halfway point between the two popular Croatian cities. Since Neum was a proper town with switchbacks, traffic and pedestrians all over, it was a bit stressful trying to quickly navigate the English, Croatian and Cyrillic signage to get down from the main road to park near the restaurant. There’s also a (not-so) hilarious back story here about how we were later shaken down for a “cash only” parking ticket despite having carefully chosen a spot that seemed legal and safe to park. But I digress.
Restoran Laguna was so charming. The owners were very excited to learn we were Canadian (familiar feeling, anyone?) and again served me Coke in a wine glass. As a hardcore pop lover, this was possibly my favourite thing about our two meals in this lovely country!
We were craving something filling after a lackluster breakfast on our way out of Dubrovnik, so we split some more hearty entrées.
The Zagreb steak appeared on a few menus throughout our trip. It’s very thinly pounded veal schnitzel filled with ham and cheese.
An obvious and heartburn-provoking favourite, though the giant pool of tartar sauce wouldn’t have been my first choice as a condiment. Still , look at those gorgeous layers of meat, cheese and breading!
We also ordered a baked pasta. I felt tepid about this when we ordered, but I was so impressed when it came out. Every bite was cheesy, gooey and melty – no regrets! (Until about 2 hours later when we both felt like we were going to die and still hadn’t reached Split).
So yeah, we had two very tiny interactions with Bosnia and Herzegovina and kind of loved it. I would highly recommend checking out the Vjetrenica Cave and if you’re looking for a delicious stop on your way between Dubrovnik and Split, you can’t go wrong at Restoran Laguna (though double check with the restaurant staff about where it’s ok to park)!
The next stop on our trip along the Adriatic coast was in Split, Croatia. But more about that some other time!