If you’ve heard of the Balkan countries but that’s about it, take an exciting trip to see for yourself why an increasing number of people are making them their next destination.
Firstly, location: they’re easy to get to, being in Europe. The Balkan Peninsula is on the southern coast of central Europe, surrounded by the Adriatic Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea. It’s generally accepted that the Balkans comprise: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. Parts of Greece lie on the peninsula so sometimes they’re included too.
Each country has a different culture and offers a diverse range of activities, local traditions and culinary delights. You’ll definitely come home feeling you’ve discovered a new and interesting part of the world.
We have some fantastic trips showcasing the cultural and natural treasures including cities like Belgrade, Skopje, Tirana and Dubrovnik, traditional villages, as well as beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As the Balkans are fairly compact, a great way to see them is to take a holiday that includes several countries in one trip, like our ‘Undiscovered Balkans’ adventure. This includes the highlights of Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, which are truly off the tourist path. Start with a scenic journey through Kosovo to the Valbona Valley - one of the most beautiful alpine valleys in Albania. Head to Tirana, the capital of Albania since 1920. Stroll around its main sights including Skanderberg Square and monument, the Opera House, Albanian National Bank and Et’hem Bey Mosque. Then finish off with a cable car ride up Mount Dajti to take in some great views.
Also visit the 700-year old Decani Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and go on to Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, in its picturesque mountain setting. The capital city of Macedonia, Skopje, has numerous ‘must sees’ as well, including the Kale Fortress, the Sveti Spas Monastery and the Ottoman Bazaar.
An area which is better known but has only recently ‘re-opened’ are the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia and you can tour many in one trip. For example, our two-week rail adventure journeys through Macedonia, Kosovo, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro. It starts in the attractive city of Ljubljana with its terrific art, culture and music, before heading to Croatia’s capital Zagreb. Another stop is the Plitvice National Park, which boasts 16 interconnecting lakes, waterfalls and dense woodland, with opportunities to spot wild brown bear, wolves, lynx and eagles.
There are also many ‘must sees’ in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as vibrant Sarajevo, home of the Eternal Flame, a memorial to all those who lost their lives during World War 2. Mostar is also of note; it still displays scars from the siege in the nineties but with its relaxed atmosphere it's hard to believe the conflicts are that recent. The city has a very Ottoman feel to it with its winding cobbled stone streets and skyline dotted with domes and minarets.
Then there’s the Old Town area of Dubrovnik. This city stands proudly on the coast surrounded by its ancient walls and the crystal clear Adriatic Sea just beyond. Despite the shelling Dubrovnik suffered in 1991, the Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been remarkably well restored. Also cross into Montenegro and visit the well-preserved Medieval town and port of Kotor.
If you want to enjoy one of the most scenic routes in Europe, take the 11-hour journey from Podgorica to Belgrade in Serbia, which is a mixture of gorges, canyons and snow-capped mountains.
Or perhaps you would prefer to just focus on one country, to truly ‘get under its skin’. If you enjoy walking or cycling our ‘Cycle the Dalmation Coast’ and ‘Walking the Coastal Towns of Croatia’ will reap rich rewards. While walking you can immerse yourself in national parks with jagged mountain peaks and deep gorges and admire the spectacular lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice. Visit the pretty coastal cities of Split and Trogir, discovering a maze of cobbled streets, meandering alleyways and medieval architecture.
If you fancy cycling, explore Istria on a self-guided holiday. Travel on peaceful roads and tracks as you pedal alongside the cobalt-blue Adriatic water, and meander through forests, vineyards and olive groves. See ancient villages and historic citadels and, along the way, discover a wealth of fascinating Roman, Byzantine and medieval architecture and enjoy superb food, wine and hospitality.
Take the whole family! We have our ‘Family Adventure Holiday In Croatia’, based on an island just off Trogir and by the beautiful Dalmatian coast. There you’ll love the thrills of whitewater rafting, sea kayaking and canyoning through caves and waterfalls. There’s also time to discover Croatia’s historic sites or just relax, making this the ideal trip for everyone.
So look up the Balkans and select from a wonderful array of adventures that you’ll always remember – they’re a different experience and they’re waiting for you!