One of the most amazing things about the Balkans is that you can be dancing away in a bar in an exciting, modern European city and – just 10 miles away – is a village that hasn’t changed in a century. The countries of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Kosovo – were all part of the former Yugoslavia, and so share several characteristics, but in other ways are very different. Travellers will notice huge variations in culture, language, food and landscapes when travelling through this region. The combination of lush mountains, idyllic beaches, canyons, remote villages and exciting cities makes this a fantastic region to explore, with something for everyone.
In terms of tourism, Serbia is still a relatively unknown country, despite being so near to both Italy and Greece. It’s a great time to visit and to explore the rugged mountain scenery, untamed forests, and vibrant cities. And, to check out some of the traditional ways of life.
Sarajevo, now the capital of Bosnia Herzegovina, has a very chequered history as well as being a very beautiful place to visit. Before 1992 Sarajevo was perhaps most famous to schoolchildren as the place where the First World War was triggered when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed here on 28 June, 1914. The country was transformed into a war-zone in the early 1990s when tensions between the different ethnic groups living here erupted. The result was the longest siege in modern European history, when the Bosnian Serbs besieged Sarajevo for 3 years from 1992–1995. Today things are changing for the better and old divisions are gradually fading. Once one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, Sarajevo is now finding its feet again.
Montenegro has an amazing range of landscapes for such a small country. From the white-sand beaches and fishing villages on the coast to the craggy mountains and deep canyons of the north, Montenegro is small enough to explore it all with ease. But despite the crowds of tourists flooding to the picturesque coastal towns, the interior of the country is still largely wild and untouched, and you could easily explore here without seeing another visitor at all.
Very few tourists are visiting Kosovo as many people still think of it as a war-zone even though fighting there ended back in 1999. The reality is that most of the country is completely safe. The Rugova Valley near Peja provides wonderful walking country, while the cities have a great mix of culture, music and history.
MUST SEE & DO
1. Rafting on the Tara River (Montenegro)
2. Mountain Biking on the Sinjajevina (Montenegro)
3. Bridge jumping, Mostar (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
4. Ottoman House, Mostar (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
5. Kotor Old Town (Montenegro)
6. Sarajevo Tunnel Museum(Bosnia & Herzegovina)
7. Floating Bars in Belgrade (Serbia)
8. Monasteries of Serbia
9. Rugova Valley outside Peja (Kosovo)
10. Sunset over Sarajevo from the Jewish Cemetery(Bosnia & Herzegovina)
- When to go: The snow in winter can make the mountain regions inaccessible so May to October is a good time to visit. July and August can get very hot in Herzegovina and during this time it can get very crowded on the Montenegrin coast and accommodation can become hard to find.
- What to wear: Dress for hot weather in the summer, and bring appropriate outdoor clothing for any hiking you’re planning to do. In monasteries and mosques, you should wear long trousers or skirts, cover your arms. Women should also wear headscarves in mosques.
- Getting there: Getting to the Balkans is quite straightforward. There are international airports in Belgrade, Prishtina, Sarajevo, Tivat and Podgorica. It is also easy to arrive by road from any of the neighbouring countries. It is important to remember that you will not be allowed to enter Serbia from Kosovo unless you have already been into Serbia. This is because Serbia does not yet recognise Kosovan independence, and will consider that you have entered Serbian territory illegally. It is advisable to check for local updates before you travel.
- Getting around: There are a few train lines, but trains are slow and unreliable. Most people use the bus system, which is affordable and frequent. Getting into the mountains is not possible by public transport though, and you will need to hire a vehicle or take a bike. Organisations such as Green Visions (Bosnia and Herzegovina), and Black Mountain Montenegro (Montenegro), can help to arrange transport for you into these inaccessible areas. To hire a car you will need an international driving license and you should be vigilant about sticking to speed limits as the traffic police are everywhere.
– Bosnia and Herzegovina: Convertible Mark (KM)
– Serbia: Dinar (DNR)
– Montenegro: Euro (EUR €)
– Kosovo: Euro (EUR €)
– Albanian (in Kosovo)
– Bosnia and Herzegovina: 4,590,310
– Serbia: 10,159,046
– Kosovo: 2,126,708
– Montenegro: 678,177
- Don’t forget to pack:
– Phrasebooks (villagers often won’t speak English)
– Walking boots
– Swimming costume
EAT & DRINK
Much of the cuisine of this region is locally produced meats and cheeses. The villagers produce wonderful home-made yoghurt as well. There are also soups and stews, and also pitta and burek (especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina) which are stuffed filo pastries filled with cheese, meat, and spinach, or sometimes nettles. Travellers will always be offered both home-brewed coffee (Turkish & Greek style) and home-made rakia, the local clear spirit made usually from plums, but also sometimes from grapes or berries. In Sarajevo you will also find cevapi, a type of spicy lamb sausage Kosovans are very fond of their kebabs.
In Sarajevo, you can buy beautiful vases, pens and other ornaments made from old shell and bullet-casings left over from the siege. Local people make all their coffee themselves, and you can buy the copper grinders and coffee pots in any city. In the mountains, local people make and sell woollen clothing and rugs, which they would be very glad to sell you. Tito-based souvenirs are everywhere – communist buttons, or other items with his face or name on them.
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