Last year I toured the Balkans with Ethan, and it opened my eyes to a seemingly ignored region of Europe; one rich with culture, history and diversity.
Each country has its own charms, from the Ottoman influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Roman influence in Croatia, Serbian in Montenegro, and Austrian in Slovenia. One day, we were in the mountainous city of Sarajevo, where it was snowing, and then a couple of hours later, we were in the idyllic 20°c seaside jewel of Dubrovnik.
The diversity makes the region is unpredictable, which is why it’s such an exciting place to visit.
Here’s a map of the places we went:
I pin everything on a map to remember where I went, but that’s a story for another time. I’m going to tell you the good places and the bad places, tips and whatever have yous if you’re thinking of making an unforgettable Balkan trip.
From Dubrovnik, we made our way down to Montenegro. We didn’t really know what to expect, other than we were told all throughout our journey that it had the most incredible scenery in the region. They were right.
Highlight: The view from the Stari Grad. I listed it as the best view I’ve ever seen. It’s strikingly dramatic; high rising, grey rock mountains, shrouded in clouds, stand tall above the deep blue lake, complemented in the middle by medieval crimson rooves and little alleys. Stunning.
Lowlight: Restaurants in the old town centre are rather tourist oriented. (Cruise boats of people during high season!) Nothing aimed at locals, which are generally the places you want. And the main ring road is pretty busy!
Verdict: Kotor is incredible, its reputation is totally deserved. It’s easy to rent a bike/boat and go tour the area, (though it didn’t fit into our schedule unfortunately), however I would recommend it.
Tips: There’s a cake store by the shopping centre that does the fattest bajadera for a good price. I think they were also a butchers. Good combo. There’s an art school by the harbour, looks abandoned. Check it out, you might find some works in progress. Don’t forget the Cat Museum! Kotor is known for its thousands of cats that roam freely through the streets.
Highlight: The church is of a Russian Orthodox style, memorable as it’s not one you often see. The beach promenade is nice, and centre peaceful. Nothing particularly spectacular, though.
Lowlight: Really kinda just a town.
Verdict: We had to go to Bar for our boat to Italy, as it is the main port of Montenegro, however it is not a tourist destination. Check out Budva and Sveti Stefan for that, as we did passing by on the bus. Still, it’s good enough to spend a couple of hours in if you’re coming through.
Tips: If you’re need to stock up or buy presents, like we did, there’s an absurdly giant supermarket store by the bus station with good prices. We spent a good hour looking around, the local produce varies wildly. Kaymak cheese, chocolate, cakes, biscuits. We bought some kaymak and ‘Schönkobananen’, chocolate covered banana sweets popular through the Balkans.
The staff were also real helpful – they approached us speaking in Montenegrin, pointing at our suitcases. ‘Oh no, what have we done wrong?’ we thought. Nah, they just wanted to look after it for us while we walked around. Like, they seeked us out. Thumbs up to the friendly people of the Balkans.
Anything else for Montenegro?
Visit this underestimated place, is as much as I really have to say. Its influences are Roman much like Croatia, so it is not so unique in that sense, however the scenery and people make this stunning, tiny country, the same size as London, worth visiting. And after that, it was time to move on to the heel of Italy.