Traveling to a foreign country can sometimes be a little scary, yet thoroughly exciting when you’re exploring the new and undiscovered. Even for seasoned travelers, such as myself, this can happen. That is why I love when I quickly feel as though I have found a home away from home. Naturally, it is the people who run an establishment that cause this feeling. I was lucky to find a beautiful family run hotel, in conjunction with their family run restaurant, in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
We instantly fell in love with both the history of Bosnia & Herzegovina and its people. Most notable in making us feel right at home are those at Pansion River in Sarajevo. From the moment we walked in, we were spoken to with excitement and a smile from Nesh, our extremely friendly receptionist/restaurant cook. (Yes, Nesh does it all. When he is not at the helm of the desk he is preparing amazing food.) He showed us to our room and made sure we had everything we needed. Indeed, we did. The room was spotless and pretty. Two beds arranged neatly in the room with adorable decorations throughout. The bathroom toilet had a piece of tape across it indicating to the new guest(s) when the bathroom had been cleaned and by who. It’s always nice to know that your bathroom is being properly sanitized between guests.
Everything in the building looked new and, in fact, we found out they had just opened the hotel earlier this year. Prior to the hotel, it used to be (solely) a very successful restaurant opened in 1989 and fortunately not destroyed by the war. Though we had just arrived that morning and technically should not have received the complimentary breakfast, Nesh insisted we go the above restaurant for food.
The restaurant is called Bazeni Restaurant. The dining area can seat about 250 guests and is rather unique; two large trees make themselves visible in the middle and sides of the room. Pansion River cleverly added the trees to the decor of the room by building the roof in way to accommodate the trees, rather than cutting them down. There is a view of the river and part of the old town of Sarajevo.
Nesh brought us more food than we could imagine. It followed as such:
- Coffee and orange juice
- Plate of fresh cheese and olives
- Bread, resembling Naan with various jams and butter
- Plate of bologna
- Chevapi for each of us (a traditional dish consisting of traditional sausage in the naan bread, with a type of tomato sauce and chopped onions on the side – freakin’ delicious is all I have to say!)
- Cheese pie for the each of us
- Pear dessert filled with walnuts and topped with whipped cream
The quality was unquestionable; the portion sizes were huge; and the smile with which they were brought to us was irreplaceable. We were stuffed. Our dinner later that night at the restaurant was equally amazing. This time we were mostly taken care of by a fabulous waiter, Alen, that never had anything but a smile on his face. Philip ordered a veal plate with fries and veggies while I had similar, just with chicken instead, and also a veal soup. The portions were once again massive and the quality fantastic. The original owner was seated in the restaurant sharing drinks with friends and insisted we were served drinks on him. We couldn't refuse, and so we drank a flavored, locally-made Rakija. When we finished, he ordered us another round on him before he would allow us to leave, shook our hands when we retired to the room, and bid us goodnight.
The next day, our stomachs were tested again. This time by a plate-sized omelette with cheese, a cheese and olive plate, and sausages. Our waiter, Alen, served us again with the same smile as the night before. He seemed to be a highly valued and hard-working employee as we noticed he was there all day and all night, and always with the same genuine smile. We loved him, as he added to the experience of the great hotel we stayed in and the restaurant at which we would only eat.
Later that second night we met the current owner/manager (the previous owner’s son), Ermin, who invited us to sit with him for dinner while he did some work on the computer. We happily obliged him and what an absolute treat it was. The food was, of course, amazing (big surprise), but the conversations were even better. We learned so much from Ermin about Bosnia & Herzegovina; such as:
- Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs and considered to be Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox, respectively, in Bosnia & Herzegovina.
- The country has two entities and a district: Republica Srpska (49%) and Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina (51%), and a district. Each with their own police.
- The country has three official languages: Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian (Spoiler: they are all the same language, but are each separately “taught”).
We stayed up late talking and sharing a few drinks before saying good night to everyone and heading to bed. The following morning, Alen laughed when I asked if the two of us could split a Chevapi and headed to place our order. Ultimately, Nesh and Alen must have decided to play “grandma and grandpa” for the morning, by stuffing our bellies, and not allowing us share; we were each brought our own Chevapi, with a piece of homemade baklava. Yum!
Pansion River. If you find yourself in Sarajevo, look nowhere else but here if you want amazing meals, extremely friendly and caring staff, and central location. We were less than 5 minutes walking from the Old Town, less than 10 minutes from the very center of the Old Town, and close to everything you might need while in Sarajevo.
Pansion River is the only place you should stay in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Really.
**Special thanks to Ermin and Pansion River for kindly offering me a complimentary stay. As always, all opinions are my own.