An adventure in the Balkans
Thanks to the fantastic Busabout Tour Company, planning an adventure in the Balkans is as easy as booking a domestic flight. If you, like me, are fascinated by Eastern Europe, exploring the Balkans from Croatia to Greece is a great itinerary to cover Balkans highlights!
Split is a small coastal town in Croatia, which became an independent country in 1992. It’s impossible to go wrong with Croatia because of its smiley people, lovely weather, green landscape, turquoise waters and delicious food. Life is also slower than what we are used to in Northern Europe and other fast-paced countries, which is definitely a good thing.
Split is beautiful to visit and stay in for a couple of days and it’s also great to use as a base for day trips. There is a lot of accommodation available and apartments are normally good value.
Stroll around the beautiful old town of Split, sample some food and head up to Park Šuma Marjan for fantastic views of the city.
Drive to Dubrovnik, have some seafood for lunch, climb the city walls for spectacular views and visit Fort Lovrijenac.
We arrived in Kotor, Montenegro, just before dinner time and checked in at the unique Old Town Kotor Hostel where we stayed for two nights. We spent some time walking around this very picturesque town and relaxed with a dinner with the whole group, organised by our beloved guide Wes (who now founded his own cruise touring company at https://www.horizon-sail.com/)
The morning after we visited Budva. Its old town is really pretty and very similar to Dubrovnik, however it was not my favourite place as it’s very built up.
But it does offer a very good night life and lots of excursions, jet ski rides, etc, for cheap, so it is definitely a place where you can have lots of fun and adventures without spending a fortune.
That afternoon I was very happy to return to Kotor though, and climb its Fortress for amazing views of the deepest bay in the Mediterranean. I loved the walk and I was impressed with how clean the whole path was.
The views were absolutely breathtaking, we took so so many pictures, we couldn’t stop! And then we sat and chilled while enjoying this incredible place. It is also full with stray cats in Montenegro so we found quite a few on our way, which is a plus 🙂
This morning we drove into Albania and reached Tirana with some mixed feelings. While Montenegro is already a consolidated tourist destination, its neighbour country has not reached that level of wealth yet.
The border is always an interesting part of any country to see as you will be faced with police checks and these can tell you a lot about how things are dealt with in a particular place.
On our drive to the capital we saw many farmers sat by the road holding posts which advertised their produce. It looked a bit like what I had seen in the south of Italy, it was refreshing for someone who is used to buy at Sainsbury’s.
But we didn’t stop and drove to our four star hotel instead, where we arrived just after lunch. The hotel was really nice and comfortable and only a thirty minutes walk to the centre. Wes, our guide, offered to meet at the Enver Hoxha Pyramid, the emblematic building of the city, to give as a familiarisation tour of the city and a few tips.
I think it was Wes saying he had never took the cable car and was gonna do so that afternoon that convinced us to do with him. It was the craziest and best idea ever. We caught the local bus and got to the base of the cable car, up the hill.
It was raining and thundering and it did not seem a good idea to go, but I think the fact that the cable car was made by the Austrians (known for their engineering) convinced us to go. And it was so much fun! It took us on the top of Mount Dajti, where there is a rotating restaurant and bar with spectacular views over the city and more. Unfortunately we could not see much because it was so foggy but it was still exciting and worth it.
An adventure in the Balkans is not complete without a stop in Gjirokastër. On day 6 we left Tirana behind and drove to Gjirokastër, a UNESCO town in the Albanian mountains. The road trip there was itself an unforgettable experience, where the image of the most turquoise river I had ever seen will be stuck with me forever.
After having lunch in Gjirokastër, we drove all the way to Kalambaka (Meteora) in Greece, crossing yet another border. We arrived at our hotel late, but the town was fully awake and finding a ‘giro’ was an easy task 🙂
I will never forget the emotion I felt, when, lifting my head up to the sky, I spotted the massive geological formations Kalambaka is so famous for. The sightseeing is unreal! These masssive rocks just stand in the middle of the old town, like time never passed.
It was very easy to wake up to such an exciting day planned ahead, when we were droven up to the monasteries to take in views like this!
The Meteora monasteries were built in the 14th century – I cannot even start to imagine how such a construction could happen! The monks definitely left the world with a unique site, which is now part of the UNESCO heritage too.
On our drive to Athens we stopped in Thermopyale, where one of the most acclaimed battles was fought between Greeks and Persians.
Here is where I learnt about the way the marathon idea was born – it is said by a Greek legend, that a messenger run the distance of 40 km between Marathon and Athens to communicate the victory of the Persians over the Greeks. He also died after that – this is why I don’t run marathons, if the Greeks say it it must be true!
Our hostel in Athens could not have been better located, in the centre of the old town and with breathtaking views over the Acropolis and the city. That night the host cooked a moussaka for us and it was delicious! We had wine and enjoyed the views.
The day after we took off to visit the Acropolis – I’m normally not one for many museums and sites, however the Acropolis was absolutely stunning! So much history, so much beauty, and still so intact! Plus the incredible views. I really loved it.
Climb up Mount Lycabettus for stunning views of Athens.
This trip was an unforgettable experience and it was thanks to Busabout, once again!
The quality of the hostels and the guide, value for money, atmosphere on the bus and the right balance between doing your own thing and being part of a like minded group is what brings me back to Busabout!
For more ideas about travelling in the Balkans, have a look at my post here!