Highlights of the Balkans

The Balkans lie on the fault line that separates Europe from the Orient, sandwiched between great powers of old – the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. For this reason, it is perhaps the most eclectic part of the continent, and to use a well-worn – but very appropriate – cliché, where East meets West. And from the shores of the Adriatic to snow-capped peaks and glacial lakes, its landscapes are as diverse as its history.

Within a couple of weeks we visit the countries of Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia. Our Highlights of the Balkans trip will show you the many highlights of this little-understood region.

From the lively city of Belgrade we travel to Nis with its Roman remains and gruesome ‘skull tower’. Then we explore the old Ottoman influences of Novi Pazar. Next crossing into the mountain republic of Montenegro we explore the gorgeous landscapes of Durmitor and Biogradska Gora, full of lakes, forests and mountains. En route to the coast, we stop at the historic city of Cetinje.

Once at the coast, we explore the charms of Dubrovnik and then return inland to learn about the region’s tragic recent past in cities like Mostar and Sarajevo. Along the way we stop in small villages like Jacje, with its atmosphere of yesteryear and old watermills. We’ll try to uncover some of the more rural aspects of Balkan life.

In Plitvice we walk along turquoise lakes, waterfalls and rivers, through forests, where some of Europe’s most enigmatic wildlife still hides.

Our final days of the tour see us travelling to Vukovar, to learn about its role in the Balkans War, the monasteries of Fruska Gora and the town of Novi Sad, with its imposing fortress. We’ll visit atmospheric bazaars and typical villages where the pace of life has changed little in generations.

The Balkans defy easy or single definitions – modern yet traditional, Islamic yet Orthodox. It is this mélange that makes a journey here so special. Travelling here, on our Highlights of the Balkans tour, you’ll cross many borders, not just between nations, but through endless layers of history.

Highlights

  • The beautiful walled cities of Kotor and Dubrovnik
  • The mountains and forests of Montenegro
  • Wander along the lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice National Park
  • Discover ancient monasteries
  • The Ottoman towns of Novi Pazar and Mostar

Day 1 - Belgrade

Arrive in Belgrade and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight Hotel Bohemian Garni or similar.

Belgrade
Belgrade has been the Serbian capital since the early 15th century, becoming the capital of Yugoslavia in a Serb dominated union. Having expanded dramatically since the end of the Second World War, much of the city still has rather a Communist feel in terms of architecture, but new developments are bringing it more in line with other European cities these days. The city is overlooked by an 18th century fortress and still holds a few old Ottoman monuments; the most interesting part of the city is undoubtedly Stari Grad, or the ‘old town’.

Day 2 - Belgrade

Spend the day exploring the lively city of Belgrade, one of the largest in the Balkans and the former capital of Yugoslavia. Visit the church of St Sava, Republic Square, and the historic area of Kalemegdan, which we explore on foot. The afternoon is free to explore at your leisure. Overnight Hotel Bohemian Garni or similar. (B)


Day 3 - Nis

Travel to the city of Nis, in the south of Serbia. We visit the ‘skull tower’, a grisly monument to the Serbian resistance against the Ottoman empire, as well as the Roman ruins of Mediana, with its rich mosaics. Overnight Hotel Eter or similar. (B)


Day 4 - Novi Pazar - Stari Ras

Drive west to the town of Novi Pazar. The influences of the Ottoman empire are much more evident here, and the town feels like a crossroads between east and west. Explore its old Turkish quarter with its mosques and bazaar, then visit the nearby medieval ruins of Ras and the Sopocani monastery. Overnight Hotel Dragulj or similar. (B)


Day 5 - Berane - Biogradska Gora National Park

Today we cross the border into Montenegro and head to Berane, where we visit its Archaeological Museum to learn a little about the history of the region. From here continue to Biogradska Gora, a beautiful area of mountains, forest and lakes, and explore on foot before continuing to Kolasin for this night. Overnight Guesthouse Sandra or similar. (B)

Biogradska Gora National Park
Although it’s relatively small, Biogradska Gora National Park contains great diversity of flora and fauna. There are around 220 different plants, 150 species of birds, and 10 species of mammals here and in its forest, there are 86 species of trees and shrubs. Rainfall is extremely high in the area, averaging up to 100 inches per year, and allows the growth of temperate rainforest. One of the unique features of the park is its pristine forest with trees over five hundred years old.

Day 6 - Durmitor National Park

A day excursion to Durmitor National Park. Durmitor is one of the Balkans’ most stunning regions, with glacial lakes, canyons and dramatic peaks, and we explore the area before returning to Kolasin for the night. Overnight Guesthouse Sandra or similar. (B)


Day 7 - Podgorica – Cetinje - Njegusi – Kotor

Drive to Podgorica, Montenegro’s small but interesting capital. After a short visit of its old quarter, we then continue to Cetinje, and visit the palace of the former king as well as its monastery. In the small village of Njegusi we take a break at the country’s oldest inn to sample some traditional food and drink, then end the day in the delightful coastal town of Kotor. Overnight Hotel Rendezvous or similar. (B)

Kotor
The medieval walled city of Kotor dates to the time of the Byzantine Empire, and occupies an enviable position on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, within its ramparts lie a mixture of architectural styles, and the lack of vehicles within the walls makes it a relaxed place to explore. It is a dramatic town where the present lives in the maze of medieval churches, cathedrals, Venetian palaces and pillars. Kotor is made up of contrasts – the old squares with modern cafes, the sounds of serenade and live music, the echo of the footsteps down the narrow cobblestone alleys and the lazy purr of cats lying under the balconies with wrought iron railings, decorated with petunias.

Day 8 - Dubrovnik - Mostar

Heading north along the stunning coastline, we cross into Croatia and visit Dubrovnik, the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’. Explore this gorgeous walled city before heading into Bosnia and the town of Mostar. Set on either side of the River Neretva, Mostar is an atmospheric city full of the mixed cultural influences of the region, with an old Turkish quarter which we explore. Overnight Hotel Hana or similar. (B)

Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is one of the finest cities in the Balkans, a walled citadel facing the sea, with marbled streets and red roofed houses. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site it is home to a remarkable collection of old buildings and monuments; highlights include the Franciscan Monastery, a Baroque building dating to the 18th century purportedly containing the oldest pharmacy in the world, the splendid Sponza Palace, and the Rector’s Palace with its mixture of Venetian and Gothic styles. Dubrovnik is remarkably well preserved, and its extensive walls and ramparts give fantastic views over the city

Mostar
Lying on the both sides of the River Neretva, Mostar was a major centre of the Ottoman occupation and many monuments from that time remain. The most famous was the Old Bridge, which dated back to the 16th century and united both parts of the town. Mostar suffered enormously during the conflict of the 1990s, with the bridge being destroyed and the eastern, Muslim part of the town under siege for eleven months, a time which has left a deep psychological imprint upon the people here. The bridge was rebuilt in 2004 along the same style, and today people dive from it into the river as ever before, a Mostar tradition. The town is one of the most beautiful in Bosnia, with a number of mosques, markets and hammams giving it a flavour of the east.

 

Day 9 - Sarajevo

This morning we visit Tito’s bunker, a Cold War era nuclear bunker built to protect Yugoslavia’s former president. From here we continue to Sarajevo. Our explorations here include the Tunnel Museum – the only way of entering and exiting the city during the siege of Sarajevo, the site where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and the historic district of Bascarsij with its oriental atmosphere. Overnight Hotel Alem or similar. (B)

Sarajevo
Bosnia’s capital is best known for its fateful place in history; it was here that the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, sparking the European powers to enter into the First World War, with tragic consequences for the entire continent and beyond. It’s also one of the most culturally mixed cities in Europe, drawing influences from Rome, the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, the Venetians and more. It’s said to be one of the few places where one can find a mosque, synagogue, Catholic and Orthodox churches all in the same square, a reflection of its cultural and ethnic diversity.

For many, Sarajevo will always be associated with the horrors of the Balkans War. Despite supposedly being under UN protection, Sarajevo suffered enormously and was besieged for three years by Serbian forces, resulting in the deaths of over 11,000 people. Since then the city has undergone a facelift, with many buildings having been restored, but it has lost none of its charm; wander the narrow streets of the old Turkish quarter or stroll through Ferhadija with its Austro-Hungarian buildings, and it’s not hard to fall a little bit in love with the city

Day 10 - Travnik - Jacje

This morning we visit the medieval fortress of Travnik, then continue to Jacje. Jacje is dominated by a hilltop citadel and is the site of numerous watermills, as well as two striking waterfalls, and we explore this low key but charming town this afternoon. Overnight Marivo Guesthouse or similar. (B)


Day 11 - Bihac - Plitvice

Drive to the pretty town of Bihac, centred around the Una River, then continue to Plitvice, one of the Balkans’ most impressive natural sights. Within the forests here lie 16 terraced lakes, connected by waterfalls extending into a limestone canyon, and with walkways winding around them. Overnight local guesthouse. (B)


Day 12 - Plitvice

A full day to explore Plitvice, discovering its graceful landscapes and talking walks around the lakes. Overnight local guesthouse. (B)


Day 13 - Ljubacevo - Banja Luka

Drive to the traditional village of Ljubacevo where we learn about local life and customs and see the old Turkish Inn, dating back to the 18th century. From here continue to Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska, with its fortress, 16th century mosque and orthodox church, among other sites. Overnight Hotel Ideja or similar. (B)


Day 14 - Vukovar

Cross back into Croatia and drive via the historic town of Slavonski Brod to Vukovar, lying on the banks of the Danube. Learn about the role that the city played during the Balkans War of the 1990s, and take a boat trip on the river. Overnight Vukovarska Kuca Hotel or similar. (B)

Vukovar
The city of Vukovar – in previous incarnations a Paleolithic settlement, a medieval fortress, and a royal seat – rose from the devastation of an eighteenth-century Turkish occupation to become one of the largest and most significant cities in Croatia. The city’s Baroque core, which contained some of the most outstanding symbols of Croatian cultural identity, faced its biggest threat in 1991, when the occupying Yugoslav National Army launched a half-million missiles into the city, sometimes at the rate of 12,000 a day. Nowadays much restoration has taken place and the city is starting to revert to some of its former glory, with important monuments such as the Franciscan Monastery well worth a visit.

Day 15 - Fruska Gora - Novi Sad - Belgrade

Return to Serbia and the mountains of Fruska Gora. Here we visit some of the Serbian Orthodox monasteries hidden in the hills, before continuing to Novi Sad, the capital of Serbia’s Vojvodina region and a centre for its Hungarian minority. Explore the city centre on foot, including the Petrovaradin Fortress with its numerous underground tunnels. In the late afternoon, return to Belgrade. Overnight Hotel Bohemian Garni or similar. (B)

Fruska Gora
Fruska Gora rises up from the Vojvodina plains in the north of Serbia, and was proclaimed a National Park in 1960. The higher sections of Fruska Gora consist of thick forests, whereas the lower valleys of the mountain contain orchards and centuries-old vineyards. Within its slopes lie sixteen orthodox monasteries famous for their specific architecture, dating back to the 16th century and holding impressive religious icons and frescoes.

Day 16 - Belgrade

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)


What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

    Please note that while we prefer to use centrally located hotels where possible, this is not always practical and in some locations they may not be the best option in terms of standards or reliability.

  • Guides

    In most cases you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again. Please note that when meals are included, sometimes these will be in hotels, as often these are the most appropriate option, and will sometimes be set menus. Local restaurants are often lacking in variety, as well as the capacity to cater for groups. Drinks are not included and are at your own expense.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour (www.travcour.com) can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Most travellers, including UK, US and Australian travellers do not need a visa to enter these countries. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The local currency in each country is different, as follows:
Serbia – dinar
Bosnia – mark
Croatia – kuna
Montenegro – euro

It is best to bring Euros for exchange purposes.

It’s not difficult to change money here, either at banks, exchange booths or the hotels and your guide can assist with this. Algeria is very much a cash society – credit cards are not widely accepted, and ATM machines are not especially reliable.

When to go

The best time to visit the Balkans is from May to October – the winters can be cold, especially in the mountain regions, and early spring wet. It can be quite cool at any time of year, depending on where you are, but the summer is reliably the warmest and most pleasant time to explore this region.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to any of the parts of these countries that we visit on this tour.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
15 May 2021
Price (PP) -
£1,899
Single Supplement -
£370
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
04 September 2021
Price (PP) -
£1,899
Single Supplement -
£370
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
14 May 2022
Price (PP) -
£1,940
Single Supplement -
£370
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
03 September 2022
Price (PP) -
£1,940
Single Supplement -
£370
Trip Status -
Available