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Your place under the sun!

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Happy Spring to you good people. Although I admit that I dodged a bit of Sarajevo’s winter weather in Florida, it’s always nice to know that the grayness is almost at wit’s end. I know we all are. Mild or not, the smog and the gray of winter can wear on you. Fret no more.

For those of you living and working in Sarajevo, you’ll notice that the spring bloom isn’t exactly here yet. But that doesn’t mean is hasn’t arrived in BiH’s better half – Herzegovina.  And that’s exactly what this week’s column is all about. Where to get away for a pleasant, sunny weekend and to get more bang for your buck. Let’s start with Trebinje. It certainly ranks amongst the country’s most beautiful cities. It is a frontrunner in the mythical battle for the most sunny days in the year with Stolac. It’s a hop, skip and a jump from Dubrovnik.  Trebinje is all good things that are Mediterranean.

Mind you, the tourism infrastructure is not as well developed as in other areas of Herzegovina. That too has its charm, though. Trebinje is, at the very least, an authentic place for a calm and good value weekend getaway with friends or the family. Whether it’s wine tasting or a walk in the mountains, this sleepy town has a plethora of pleasant surprises.

There are a handful of cellars that offer wine tasting. Two immediately come to mind. The 15th century cellar at Tvrdoš Monastery in Trebinje Fields is a must-do visit. (Tvrdoš Monastery Vineyards +387 59 246 810; www.tvrdos.com/en/; tpodrumi@teol.net).The monastery itself is open to the public and is free of charge. The frescoes and vibrant Orthodox colors are impressive to say the least. The wine is superb. I’m a personal fan of the Vranac, but the Cabernet Sauvignon and the white Žilavka are both excellent wines as well. The wine production there is largely organic and the vineyards are not sprayed with any chemicals. I can’t say I’ve ever had a headache from a Tvrdoš wine. Vukoje is the proud owner of the Czar’s Vineyards that the Hapsburgs identified as the best Žilavka growing area in the wider region. (Vukoje Vineyards +387 59 270 370; www.podrum-vukoje.com/ba/; podrum-vukoje@teol.net).The rustic wine tasting facilities are set in the rolling hills east of Trebinje not far from Lastva Lake. Great wine.Great experience. Designate a driver.

The city center is quaint and strikingly Mediterranean. It’s probably the only place in BiH that can claim to be a truly Mediterranean town by design. Aside from the fresh produce market in the city square is the Platani Square, lined with gorgeous poplars and more often than not packed with Trebinje’s young and old. It’s an exceptionally pleasant place for a coffee or a Nik pivo from Montenegro.The tourism information center is located here and is a good source of info and maps (www.trebinjeturizam.com). The market place has all locally grown veggies and fruit. Don’t leave without a kilogram of honey. It is divine!

Across from there is a small archway leading to the old town. The Herzegovina Museum is located in the maze of tiny streets as are two originally restored mosques. The museum has a few surprisingly interesting exhibitions. Azzaro is one of Trebinje’s best bars, with a surprisingly hip mix of 70’s and 80’s music. It’s a popular destination for the 30 and 40 something’s. Exiting on the opposite end by the main arches will be Trebinje’s largest green space, lined with many monuments marking the town’s fascinating history. There is also a decent playground for kids just behind the Orthodox Church.

Be sure not to miss the replica of Kosovo’s Gračanica Church on Crkvina Hill. It’s not only the architecture that you’ll like – check out the views. From this hilltop perch one has a perfect panorama view of the entire city and the surrounding mountains.

If its adventure you’re looking for, Trebinje’s hiking terrain holds a few surprises.  Walk with Me(+387 65 645 224; www.walkwithme.ba; sindakunic@yahoo.com)offers calibrated calorie spending and mingling with the beautiful sounds, sites, and sensations of the great outdoors. Siniša Kunić is a certified and highly experienced guide.

Trebinje won’t be rolling out the red carpets anytime soon. But what it does roll into one is a clean, sunny, pleasant destination that has exceptional food, wine and nature. The cherry on top are the prices.

 Where to eat

Stara Hercegovina Tuli bb.Ø +387 65 669 707; restoranstarahercegovina@yahoo.com; www.starahercegovina.com; 7am-11pm everyday. StaraHercegovina is around five kilometers from Trebinje on the way to Herceg Novi. A rustic fireplace, the wooden floors, and the decor give it its old Hercegovina look. The food is mouth-watering. The top choice is the veal ispod sača.

Studenac MilentijaPerovića bb.Ø +387 59 482 627; 8am-11pm every day. If you are looking for fresh trout, there is no better place than Studenac. Studenac is located on the crystal-clear Trebišnjica River just beyond the Arslanagića Bridge. The outside seating is the best choice for spring days. They even have a fishpond so you can choose your own trout.

Restoran Vukoje 1982 Vinogradi bb.Ø +387 65 669 667.This restaurant is owned and operated by the Vukoje family, one of the most famous wine producers in Herzegovina. They serve excellent local cuisine and have a generous menu of international dishes as well. The wine list is, of course, highlighted by the family’s locally produced wine. They are the only restaurant in town to regularly serve the poljak bean dish. It’s well worth the trip just for that.

Where to stay

There are more and more choices of accommodation popping up. These are my two picks.

My favorite is the Platani II in Trebinje’s center square (Cvjetni trg 1; tel: 059 270 420; www.hotelplatani.info). The marketplace there is second to none. The rooms in Platani II are spacious, modern and well designed.  The only problem is parking, they have a few spots chained off on the main street so make sure to reserve a parking when making reservations.

Porto Bello is located in the heart of the old town (Stari Grad bb; tel: 059 223 344; www.portobellotrebinje.com).  Perhaps best known for their restaurant they also have 6 nice apartments that are quite spacious, comfortable and convenient if you want to do some of your own cooking over a long weekend. On their site they call the apartments luxury. They are very nice, not luxurious.

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