If spectacular coastal and mountain scenery appeals to you, along with fascinating cultural and architectural heritage, then check out the Balkans and in particular Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.
This is not family holiday territory, although there are a few resorts on the Adriatic catering for the package holiday market. No, this part of the western Balkans is for travellers with a sense of adventure.
Discover small enchanted islands, magical lakes and picture-postcard harbours. Marvel at the incredible range of ancient buildings including medieval palaces and a Roman amphitheatre. And enjoy the local cuisine which has as much variety as the people and scenery of this fascinating area of the Balkans.
Up until twenty years ago this region was racked by civil wars following the break-up of the Yugoslav state and in some places the battle scars from these conflicts is still apparent, for example in Mostar and Dubrovnik. There are several thought-provoking museums and exhibitions remembering these times.
I have a holiday home in Hungary and so have easy access by car to this area of the Balkans. Over the past twenty years following the end of the civil wars, I have made numerous visits and seen how these nations have rebuilt and developed.
Hotels, restaurants and tourist facilities are now largely up to international standards in Slovenia and Croatia, with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro following behind. Fortunately prices have lagged well behind neighbours like Italy and Austria.
I’ll give a few of highlights from my visits to each of these four Balkan countries, but you need to visit yourself and make your own discoveries – before too many tourists arrive!
The jewel in the crown of Slovenia is Lake Bled. This magical lake surrounded by mountains is overlooked by the 1000 year castle and has a small island in the middle with a monastery. If you are feeling fit then why not row out to the island – this senior traveller managed it!
Slovenia’s compact capital city, Ljubljana, has a great atmosphere with lots of riverside bars and cafes. Explore some of the little side-streets in the old town and before you know it you’ll find yourself atop the medieval castle with great panoramic views.
I’m not sure where to start with Croatia as there so many amazing sights. The Plitvice and Krka National Parks both have almost unbelievably beautiful waterfalls (slaps) cascading into crystal clear lakes.
On the Adriatic coast you are spoilt for choice. On the Istrian peninsula explore the old city of Rovinj and the port of Pula, which is dominated by an almost complete Roman amphitheatre. Split further south has a massive Roman palace built for Emperor Diocletian which takes up almost half the old town.
And I’ve not even mentioned the many picturesque islands like Brač, Mljet and Krk or the unique port of Dubrovnik in the far south of the country.
I found it quite moving and disturbing looking down on Dubrovnik from Mount Srđ at the top of the cable-car, and realising that this was where countless shells were rained down upon the city less than thirty years ago.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The bridge in Mostar must be one of the most famous in the world following its tragic destruction in the civil war. Now rebuilt and the launching site for local divers hoping to make a few marka. It’s an emotive experience wondering around the old town perched on the banks of the Neretva River, with war damage quite apparent and murals relating to heroes of the conflict looking down on you.
Montenegro only gained its independence from Serbia in 2006 and is still trying to find its feet as a nation. I was impressed with the stark beauty of the Bay of Kotor with its two tiny religious islands. Nearby Budva has a fine historic old town and citadel contrasting sharply with an upmarket marina.
Travel and Accommodation
It was easy for me to drive from Hungary to the Balkans. However, unless you are motoring addict, it’s not a good idea to drive the thousand miles or so from the UK.
If you want to get a good feel of the Balkans, then TUI Tours makes it easy with packages that include flights, hotels and guides. Their escorted tours in 2019 include ‘Great Lakes of Croatia and Slovenia’, ‘Islands of Croatia’ and ‘Best of the Balkans Tour’.
Travel Documentation and Currencies
No visas are required for UK citizens in any of these countries, although keep your passports handy as both Slovenia and Croatia are EU countries (but only the former is in the Schengen Zone) and the other countries are non-EU at the moment.
The Slovenian currency is the Euro and the Croatian currency is the Kuna, with an exchange rate of about 8 Kuna to £1 sterling. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the Marka is used and in Montenegro the Euro, although unofficially. Fortunately, UK credit and debit cards are readily acceptable in all these countries.
Posted 16th DECEMBER 2018 by STEVE HANSON.