Explore Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina's Second City

When you say Bosnia, most people will think of war, ethnic cleansing and massacre, as seen on the news in the early nineties. But I didn't come here for a dose of shock tourism. I'm here because travel junkies have dubbed Bosnia one of the world's most exciting undiscovered destinations. Its rugged landscapes, clear rivers and rich East-meets-West history under the Romans and Ottomans are the drawcards.

Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina's second city, is surrounded by mountains, while cutting through the city is the emerald-green Neretva river. Its famous Old Bridge - the name Mostar comes from Stari Most, which means bridge keepers - arches over the Neretva. In-the-know travellers, notably Aussie backpackers, make a beeline for this bridge to take a precision jump into five-metre-deep water. The death leap, started by local boys trying to impress girls on the banks, has become a rite of passage in the city, but has to be executed at a certain angle, so you don't hit the rocks at the bottom. You'll have a sign a disclaimer first.

Hijinks aside, as we walk the city, reminders of the war are everywhere, and Amela is keen to talk about them. She warns us to be careful - it's a windy day and loose bricks from the almost 20-year-old, overgrown ruins could tumble down and take us out.  Amela quips about Mostar's very own "botanical gardens", pulling a typically Bosnian trick of positive spin and humour when it comes to a serious topic.

Our guide Amela was nine when the shells rained on Moster, in 1992."I spent four years in basements," she muses. She lived 300 metres from the front line and remembers her teachers dodging sniper fire as they ran between basements to take lessons. Looking at the crumbled buildings, bullet-pocked walls and brimming cemeteries today, her tale isn't hard to believe.

But while some buildings are left dilapidated, others have been built back up.  The Old Bridge, constructed in the city's Old Town by Ottomans in the mid-16th century, was completely destroyed by bombs in the war and painstakingly pieced back to its original state with the help of Unesco over the course of seven years.  Its reopening was said to show that divisions between the Muslims and majority Catholic Croats living in Mostar had healed.

Minarets belonging to mosques, such as the Old Town's stunning Koski Mehmed Pasha, reach up along the city skyline.  They stand alongside a Roman Catholic cathedral, a synagogue, Orthodox churches, a Croatian and a Bosnian National Theatre, plus a shiny new shopping centre and plenty of bars.  The call to prayer rings out every day, and people spill out of clubs late at night. The 105,000-strong population is a mixed one - today it's split almost evenly between Muslims and Catholic Croats - but the city is now seen very much as a whole. When I ask Amela where she would say she's from, she answers: "I prefer Yugoslavian - I'd prefer it all together."

The combination of cultures is even more apparent in the food - hearty meat pies are eaten off the same tables as Middle Eastern-style sweets. So next up, we're heading to a flat on the former front line for a local cookery lesson.  Armel,  a hostel and travel company owner, has lived here since he was a child and his friend Azra, a law student who takes the classes in her spare time, is going to teach us some Bosnian foodie basics: peppers stuffed with beef; rice and veg; burek - a collect meat roll with extra-thin pastry; and hurmasice, a sweet doughy dessert soaked in sugar syrup.

I tentatively roll and stretch out the pastry dough for the burek under Azra's instructions. "It usually ends up on the chandelier," Armel jokes.

The pair tell stories about being children during the war, interspersed with that typical Bosnian positive spin and wit - they both laugh as they remember hunting in bombed-out houses for firewood, but being more interested in finding sweets. Tucking into dinner as we chat to Armel and Azra, it hits me that Bosnia really does have it all - food, history, architecture, natural beauty, a fighting spirit and a darn good sense of humour.