Located near the hearts of ancient civilizations and long a gateway between East and West, the Balkans have seen and been influenced by major global triumphs and tribulations. In addition to local customs, cultures, and histories, the Balkan nations were at the crossroads of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Islam. They found themselves in battles with and for the Roman, Byzantine, Macedonian, and Ottoman empires. The Balkans offer journeys literally through history as every visit offers insights into all that made Europe as we know it today.
Where else can you see a symphony of east and west, past and present, religious, and secular, set against stunning mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, and coastlines? No matter what corner of this region you choose to visit, there are amazing adventures that await you. And although they may share influences and are grouped together geographically, make no mistake, the countries that make up the Balkans have their own distinct style and flare!
Here are some highlights of what you may find during your explorations:
Tirana is the capital of Albania. Its iconic clock tower in the city centre was built in early 1800s and was one of its first structures. The Et’hem Bey Mosque, unique for its frescos and still life paintings, became a symbol of religious freedom after communist rule when it was unofficially opened for worship in 1991.
Butrint, Albania, is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its examples of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine period architecture. Abandoned in the Middle Ages as malarial swamps formed around it, this ancient city has been well-preserved and provides for a unique tour through history.
Plovdiv is Bulgaria’s second city. “The City of the Seven Hills” is one of the world’s oldest cities and has a fascinating history incorporating Thracian, Greek, Roman and Ottoman rule. Plovdiv is among the few cities with two ancient theatres; remains of the medieval walls and towers; Ottoman baths and mosques; an old quarter from the National Revival period with beautiful houses, churches and narrow paved streets.
Devil’s Throat in the Rodopi Mountains of Bulgaria is named after the myth of Orpheus travelling to Hades to rescue his true love, Euridice. A slippery passageway leads down to the “Hall of Thunder,” a vast cavern owing its name to the pounding 140ft waterfall above. Visitors are faced with a 288-step ladder out to the waterfall or having to double back!
Ohrid, Macedonia, is one of the few UNESCO World Heritage site for both cultural and natural attractions. As one of the oldest human settlements in Europe, it is home to an amazing group of historical and cultural sites, including the oldest Slav monastery. All this abuts one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes whose waters and shores are also a treasure trove of distinct flora and fauna.
Tetova is a multi-ethnic city in Macedonia that boasts a large Albanian population. During its Ottoman period, a number of mosques were built, including the Painted Mosque, a unique structure known for its beautiful façade, and the Saat Mosque, with a clock featured in its minaret. The Baltepes Fortress was built above the town in the 1800s to include a series of tunnels down to the homes below as a defense against possible sieges.
Kotor, Montenegro, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is well-known for its stunning architecture and its beautiful setting in the Boka Kotorska Bay. A tribute to having UNESCO attention, much of its monuments and modern structures destroyed in a 1979 earthquake were rebuilt or restored. Once a regional naval power, Its Old Town is a labyrinth of cobbled laneways linking small squares containing ancient churches and former aristocratic mansions.
Budva, Montenegro, may be over 2,000 years old with a well-preserved medieval fortress surrounding it, but its coastline has fantastic beaches and a vibrant nightlife that earned its name as the Montenegrin Miami.
Trebinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina dates back to the 10th century and features a plethora of history and architectural splendors, including include the Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, an early 20th century church famous for its spectacular interior artwork, and the Saborna Crkva, a late 19th century religious sanctuary that stands on historic Crkvina Hill and offers captivating panoramic views.
Dubrovnik, Croatia, built itself up through maritime trade from its spot along the Adriatic coast. Its main road is said to be made of marble but is actually highly polished limestone, but this adds to its beauty and attraction. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visitors can wonder at Renaissance and Baroque period churches, monasteries, and palaces.
Discover the Balkans by Bicycle:
Albania Heritage by Bicycle – 10 days / 9 nights – US$2,150
Highlights of Bulgaria by Bicycle – 10 days / 9 nights – US$2,350
Mountain Biking Montenegro – 8 days / 7 nights – US$1,675
Macedonia Mountain Bike Odyssey – 8 days / 7 nights – US$1,850
Mountain Biking the Balkans – 10 days / 9 nights – US$2,500
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