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Medjugorje: fervent worship and booming business

The last time I came to Bosnia was in the middle of the Balkan War. My mother loves bargains and war zone holidays always are cheaper. In Bosnia, though, we were looking for something more profound than bargain-priced entertainment.

We got onto the only plane that flew there (surely enough, there were only about five holidaymakers on the plane). When we landed at the airport, we realized were on the only civilian plane there.

On the bus to Medjugorje we could hear and see the bombs going off in the distance, and it was a bit scary. However, when we arrived at Medjugorje, where the virgin Mary has been appearing to 6 visionaries since 1981, we realized that the scary part was well worth it.

The village was small and rustic with a big modern church surrounded by vineyards. The village itself was situated between two hills, Krizvas and Podbrdo (the name Medjugorje means “between the mountains”). Miraculously, although the surrounding villages were bombed severely in the war, Medjugorje was somehow left untouched. The village was comprised mostly of rustic stone houses where we enjoyed home-cooked meals.

My recent drive to Medjugorje from Split, Croatia, was very different. No bombs were going off in the distances, and instead of closing my eyes and ears in fear, I was able to appreciate the beautiful scenery. The drive up the hills, overlooking the coast below, was breathtaking. Beautiful wildflowers grew by the roadside.

Here’s a tip, however: if you drive to Bosnia, don’t get carried away and daydream, surrounded as you are by beautiful nature. Be careful when crossing the border.

My friend was driving and didn’t realise where the Bosnia check point was. She mistook it for a toll-both and drove right past, since the barrier was open. We were lucky the guards at the border didn’t shoot our tires James Bond-style to make us stop, for all they could have known we could have been terrorists!

In Bosnia, the aftermath of the war can be seen all around, burnt stone house are a reminder of the conflict. Yet the closer you get to Medjugorje, the more things change. Medjugorje is starting to resemble a bustling town: there are petrol stations, shopping malls, and pizza restaurants all over. Thousands come every week to pray – the daily program consists of the morning mass and evening rosary prayer, and you can organise to visit the visionaries.

It’s a powerful experience, to be surrounded by so many in deep prayer. There’s something incredibly beautiful about being under the stars, on a clear night, with thousands praying and singing in the candlelight.

The restaurants and hotels that have sprung up have totally changed the landscape of the Medjugorje that I once knew. If you like great seafood, look for a place called Galija. Also, within 30 kilometers of Medjujgorje there are great excursion destinations like Pocitelj (unfortunately most of its old mosques were bombed in the war), Mostar (also partially destroyed) and the beautiful Kravice Waterfalls, with a lake to swim in below, surrounded by fig trees. The nearby hiking trails are amazing.

Medjugorje is the perfect destination for your next romantic mini-break. I especially recommend it for anyone looking for a spiritual vacation. Remember, as an added bonus, Saravejo, Split, and Dubrovnik are not far away!