Strolling along the shores of the crystal-clear river Bregava, it is easy to see why numerous civilizations and cultures left significant traces in or around the town of Stolac: the lush Mediterranean valley surrounded by imposing pine-covered hills is a perfect environment for human settlement. No surprise, then, that one of the oldest artistic monuments in southeastern Europe, a 12.000 years old stone carving depicting a deer or horse, was found precisely here, in the cave of Badanj, which is located a few kilometers from the town center. Thousands of years later, around the 5th century BC, the Daorsi, a tribe belonging to the Illyrians, the ancient inhabitants of the Balkans, built their capital on a hill overlooking the Stolac valley. You can still marvel at the remains of the so-called Cyclopean walls of this town, built from gigantic stone blocks without any kind of binding materials. The most famous cultural monuments of Stolac were built in the Middle Ages: hundreds of stećci (pl. of stećak), megalithic gravestones engraved with mysterious symbols, are scattered around the countryside, most notably on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Radimlja and Boljuni.
The historic center of Stolac, however, is most deeply marked by buildings originating in the Ottoman period: the čaršija or central town square spreading in front of the early 16th century Sultan Selim mosque, several other 17th and 18th century mosques, charming stone bridges and recently renovated mills on the river Bregava, and numerous private houses with avlijas or courtyards, most notably Begovina, an estate of the Ottoman-era feudal family Rizvanebgović. The Ottoman buildings are characterized by the use of roughly-hewn stone walls and white flagstone roofs, thus forming a perfect protection against the long and intense summer heats and a seamless unity with the natural environment. Unfortunately, it is impossible to miss the ruins of old houses destroyed during the 1990s wars dotted around Stolac, but the majority of the most significant historic buildings have now been rebuilt. You can complete your visit of the town center by walking up to the majestic remains of the fortress of Vidoški rising on a hill over the čaršija, one of the largest in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
If history and archeology are not your thing, don’t worry – Stolac has more to offer! The river Bregava forms a spectacular waterfall known as Provalije in the town center, which is best visited in spring and autumn, when water levels are higher. During the summer months, you can relax on one of the beaches by the river, such as the one by the waterfall Pjene or numerous more isolated spots further upstream. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can go canyoning on the locality Istup where the river Svilica forms a series of waterfalls and natural pools in a pristine environment, or get lost in the vast nature and bird reserve of Hutovo Blato.
Be sure to taste one of the local delicacies such as grilled river trout, the traditional Herzegovina cheese made in a sheepskin sack or the fig cake known as smokvara. Stolac is also home to two wineries – Daorson and Erovino – producing excellent varieties of the two domestic wine sorts Blatina (red) and Žilavka (white), as well a range of brandies and liquors made of grapes, walnuts, cherries and other fruit. In terms of accommodation, the first hotel in Stolac is due to be opened in a few months, but there is a range of hostels and private house rentals, such as the stunning Mehmedbašića kuća, a renovated 19th century property offering rooms decorated with traditional furniture and hand-made rugs.
A visit to Stolac would not be complete without stopping by at the Makova hiža (Mak Dizdar House), a museum and gallery space dedicated to one of the greatest poets of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Stolac-born Mak Dizdar. The Mak Dizdar House houses a collection of his original handwritings, a permanent exhibition of artworks inspired by his poetry, as well as a collection of traditional Bosnian handwoven rugs. Come here to find out more about Mak Dizdar’s poetry and experience the ambience of a traditional Herzegovinian house.
Located only 40 km from Mostar, Stolac is a perfect destination for a daytrip, but taking in all of its sights and attractions can easily take up several days. The recently opened StolacX Centre for Cultural Heritage Interpretation, located in the Podgrad area, is a good starting point for your exploration of Stolac, where you can get useful tips, buy local products and book a guided tour. While you should certainly start your visit with the historic and natural sights, the true attraction of Stolac is to be found in the laid-back pace and welcoming attitude and humor of its inhabitants. Be sure to visit while Stolac still is a largely undiscovered tourism destination!