Balkan Explorer


Balkan Explorer

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 15 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers

Dossier

Mention the Balkans to anyone and it can conjure up a plethora of images - flashpoint of the First World War, the atrocities of the recent civil war, Tito’s Communist dictatorship. Look beyond these clichéd stereotypes on our two week trip through four countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. We explore the crossroads of cultures, of Christianity meets Islam in fascinating historical cities such as Sarajevo and Belgrade, as well as some of the best landscapes in Europe at Durmitor and Biogradska Gora. Step back into age old traditions in the highlands at Lukomir, with its excellently preserved village where many people still sport a style of dress that has changed little over centuries. Learn about the recent tragic history of the region in old Mostar and explore the medieval walled city of Kotor. But most of all meet the people who live here, be bowled over by their hospitality, and shatter your preconceptions of the Balkans.

Day 1 – Sarajevo

Arrive in Sarajevo and transfer to your hotel. The rest of the day is free to explore or relax. Overnight Hotel Hecco or similar.

Day 2 – Sarajevo

This morning we take a tour through the old oriental part of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital city, with its beautiful architecture, sweet shops and cafes. We also visit the Princip Bridge, site of the start of World War I, and spot various markings on the pavements which are ‘mini-memorials’ to the sniper victims of the recent war. We also visit the tunnel museum, a section of the tunnel that was the only way of accessing the city during the siege of 1992-1995. Later there is free time to explore the city on your own. Overnight Hotel Hecco or similar. (BL)

Sarajevo

Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is set in a dramatic location of the Sarajevo Valley with the backdrop of the snow-capped Dinaric Alps. It is known for its religious diversity with followers of Islam, Catholicism, Judaism and Orthodoxy all co-existing peacefully for centuries here. It was an Ottoman stronghold in the 15th Century but rose to world prominence when the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand took place here in 1914 sparking World War I. A more positive time was when the Winter Olympics of 1984 were held here. However, the tragic events that overtook the entire former Yugoslavian area in the 90s ensure that its name will forever be associated with the Bosnian War where Sarajevo became the site of the longest siege in recent history. Since the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement Sarajevo has slowly re-emerged as a safe, friendly and welcoming tourist destination with enough attractions to keep a visitor busy for days.

Day 3 – Lukomir – Umoljani

Drive to Lukomir, the highest and most isolated settlement in the country, surrounded by the stunning landscape of remote uplands. The inhabitants are shepherds, and we spend time walking around the village with its traditional architecture and mediaeval tombstones, along the dramatic Rakitnica Canyon and then to the next village of Umoljani, learning about the traditional rural way of life. We return to Sarajevo for the night. Overnight Hotel Hecco or similar. (B)

Lukomir

At 1,469m Lukomir is the highest village in Bosnia. It was also the only village spared during the 90s (many villages were either destroyed or the inhabitants forcibly removed to other settlements). Lukomir villagers live a traditional way following a semi-nomadic lifestyle of shepherding and farming, still wearing the ancient dress of the past. Set in a truly remote location, high in the mountains overlooking the stunning Rakitnica Canyon, the old buildings are made from stone with wooden roofs (although electricity has now come to this ‘end of the road’ village) and on the outskirts of the village lie a collection of ancient dolmen providing a fitting addition to this old world mountain community.

Rakitnica Canyon

Lukomir lies right on the edge of this dramatic canyon, one of the deepest in the whole of Europe, made even more stunning by the untouched forest and natural surroundings of the mountains that follow its course. It was formed by the crystal clear Rakitnica River, one of the biggest tributaries of the Neretva River which courses its way for 26km from Bjelsnica Mountain to Sarajevo. The entire length is replete with endemic flora and fauna including bears, wolves, pine martens and wild goats and boars.

Day 4 – Belgrade

Today we travel to Serbia and Belgrade, arriving in the late afternoon. Belgrade is the largest city in the Balkans, and is an intriguing mix of the traditional and the modern, with its museums, galleries and lively nightlife. Overnight Balkan Hotel Garni or similar. (B)

Belgrade

Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and one of Europe’s oldest cities. Located where the Danube and Sava Rivers meet, it has also traditionally been a crossroads of East and West. It was also the capital of the former Yugoslavia and is generally considered the centre of historical and modern-day political activity. The architecture is very varied from the old city centre to the modern buildings of New Belgrade. There are many parks and also islands, some of which provide a useful if odd city centre haven for wildlife.

Day 5 – Belgrade

We explore Belgrade today, taking in the temple of St Sava, the parliament buildings and Republic Square. We then head to Kalemegdan Fortress, the oldest part of Belgrade, where we explore on foot. This afternoon we take a cruise on the Danube to see more of the city’s sights, before some free time to explore the city on your own. Overnight Balkan Hotel Garni or similar. (B)

Day 6 – Zlatibor

Continue to Zlatibor, an area of valleys and forests where we spend time walking around the local villages and enjoying the stunning scenery. Overnight Hotel President or similar. (B)

Zlatibor

Zlatibor is one of the most beautiful natural areas of Serbia. A combination of fir-covered mountains and green prairies it reaches 1,500m in places, interspersed with sparkling clean rivers and alpine lakes. Foxes, hares and wild boars abound over carpets of wild flowers and herbs.

Day 7 – Biogradska Gora National Park

Today we cross into Montenegro – a hidden gem in the heart of Europe where nature rules. Biogradska Gora is an isolated area of forests and mountains which surround nine glacial lakes, known as ‘mountain eyes’. We take a short walk around the park’s only low-lying lake, and then have the opportunity to swim in its crystal clear waters. Later we continue to Kolasin where we spend the night. Overnight Cilje Hotel or similar. (B)

Biogradska Gora National Park

This National Park is the smallest and oldest of Montenegro’s four parks and contains an incredible amount of diverse flora and fauna. It contains ancient forests, glacial lakes (lying at altitudes of over 1,800m) and huge massifs of geological and scientific interest with its highest peak reaching over 2,000m. Mountaineering and skiing are popular pastimes here as are the slightly gentler pastimes of fishing and berry-picking. Shepherds still reside in the park and it is not unusual to come across a cabin and enjoy the local hospitality.

The National Park is located in between the rivers Lim and Tara, in the central section of Mt. Bjelasica, and within the park is one of the three last ancient forests of Europe. This basin has been a protected area since 1878 when it became the so-called King's Reserve - a gift to the then King Nikola. Even then the idea of the imperative of preserving Mt Biograd was alive. And it really has remained almost untouched - a shining example of the idea of Montenegro as an ecological state. On the edges of the forest in the pasture lands and villages, there are many log cabins, water mills and shepherds huts - examples of local national architecture as well as archeological sites. Place names too (such as Sjerogoste, Kraljevo Oko, Ganovaca etc) are witness to the long history of this area, and also of its unchanging nature over the years.

Day 8 – Durmitor National Park

Explore Durmitor National Park with its breathtaking scenery of mountains, forests, lakes and high pastures. This area is inhabited by many species of birds and animals, and we may see eagles, white-headed vultures, foxes, deer or chamois, a type of mountain goat. Overnight Hotel Enigma or similar. (B)

Durmitor National Park

This park is a stunningly beautiful example of past glacial activity. It is traversed by rivers, underground streams and the Tara River Canyon which is one of the deepest in Europe. Its lush forests harbour sparkling lakes, high plateau and endemic flora. It has been protected by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve and is highly regarded by mountaineers as it contains many Himalayan-like features including massive rock faces and mountain walls. Durmitor is the second highest mountain in the Dinaric Alps and its jagged lines create an unforgettable impression when viewed from below at the Skrcka Lakes Valley. Its highest peak, Bobotov Kuk (2,523m), is known as the ‘Lord of Durmitor’ and dominates the entire country. The park contains 18 glacial lakes over 1,500m, each one different and each one a startling emerald green in colour.

Day 9 – Ostrog – Lovcen – Cetinje

Visit the Ostrog monastery, with chapels set in a sheer rock face and linked by beautifully decorated caves, passages and stairways, before heading to Lovcen National Park. We end our day in Cetinje, an important historical centre dating from the 15th century and the cultural and spiritual heart of Montenegro. Overnight Hotel Sport Inn or similar. (B)

Ostrog Monastery

Ostrog monastery stands on a hill between Danilovgrad and Niksic. The monastery was built by Vladika St.Vasilije of Zahumlje and Herzegovina, one of the four Montenegrin saints, in the 17th century. His relics are kept in the Monastery. The relics of St.Vasilije and the monastery are believed to have healing power. The monastery is a major sanctuary and a favorite visiting place for Orthodox Christians. The monastery has two churches. The Upper Church, built in a cave, was constructed in 1665. The wall paintings in the Upper Church, from the same period, are attributed to the artist Radul. The Lower Church dates from the 18th century. Among its treasures, the Church owns a prayer book (Mineon) from 1732 and decorated candlesticks from 1779.

Lovcen National Park

Situated in the south-western part of the country Lovcen is both a park and a mountain, rising from the Adriatic to heights of 1,657m. It straddles the border between sea and mainland thus creating a fascinating micro-climate for different biological systems. The mountain’s slopes are scarred with jagged fissures and the summit contains the mausoleum of Peter II Petrovic Njegos, a prince and poet, and one of the best loved figures in Montenegrin history.

Day 10 – Kotor

Visit the former palace of King Nikola, now Montenegro’s National Museum before heading to Kotor, whose lovely mediaeval walled city has been recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. We take a guided tour of some of the city’s key sights, including the Sveti Ivan fortress. Overnight Hotel Marija 2 or similar. (B)

Kotor

Kotor is located in one of the most beautiful bays in Montenegro. It is a city of traders and sailors dating from 12th Century. Charming squares are criss-crossed by narrow streets packed full of ancient churches including the Cathedral of St Tryphon. The famous city walls extend over 4km and are topped by the fortress of Saint Ivan. Beneath the imposing craggy cliffs that lay behind the town lie an endless selection of lively cafes, bars and restaurants creating a Mediterranean resort-feel to this amiable city.

Day 11 – Kotor - Dubrovnik

This morning we take a cruise around some of the islands in Kotor bay. Later we head to Dubrovnik, one of the most attractive cities in the region, where we have time to explore. Overnight Hotel Lero or similar. (B)

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik has long played an important role in the region and has changed hands many times – throughout history it has been an independent city state, and been part of the Byzantine, Hapsburg and Hungarian empires before being incorporated into Yugoslavia after the First World War. The old city of Dubrovnik, given World Heritage status by UNESCO, exudes these influences with fantastic Renaissance architecture manifested in buildings such as the Sponza Palace, dating back to the 15th century. The city is surrounded by defensive walls and towers, built to protect it from seaborne attack, and its streets contain numerous buildings of interest – churches, monasteries and cathedrals built in Gothic, Renaissance or Baroque styles combining to create an enchanting medieval atmosphere.

Day 12 – Pocitelj - Mostar

Cross the border back into Bosnia-Herzegovina and visit the village of Pocitelj, an old Turkish settlement with many interesting monuments - damaged during the war but rapidly being restored to its former splendour. We then travel to Mostar, where we explore on a walking tour through the old Turkish town. Overnight Hotel Amicus or similar. (B)

Mostar

Mostar was once one of the most celebrated tourist destinations in former Yugoslavia until the events of the Bosnian War overtook the city. The famous bridge held out during the nine month siege, being seen as a symbol of resistance to not only the inhabitants but also to the whole of the Bosnian Serbs. The sight of its final destruction struck a chord with every onlooker. Now, proudly rebuilt, it has helped the city regain its rightful position as a justifiable attraction – from both inland visitors and also for the cruise ships which stop at Dubrovnik on the nearby Croatian coast. Divers still leap daily into the depths below and the streets leading up to the single arch are packed with intriguing shops (some selling ‘bullet pens!) and lively cafes. The atmosphere here is relaxed, friendly and vibrant although it is not hard to wander off the main drag and stumble across war-torn buildings and crumbling ruins of once proud mansion houses. A constant reminder of the country’s troubled past.

Day 13 – Blagaj

Morning trip to Blagaj, with its charming Ottoman architecture and cliff top fortress. In the afternoon we return to Mostar, where the rest of the day is free to explore this charming town on your own. Overnight Hotel Amicus or similar. (B)

Blagaj

Blagaj is the spot where an underground karst river flows out of a 200m cliff wall to create the Buna River. The Ottoman sultan built a monastery (tekija) here in 1520 for the Whirling Dervish cults with elements of Ottoman architecture and Mediterranean style. Today Blagaj is still an idyllic location in which to enjoy a Turkish coffee overlooking the green waters of the Buna and its surrounding forests.

Day 14 – Sarajevo

Head back to the capital, arriving around lunchtime. The afternoon is free to wander the streets of Sarajevo and take in anything that you’ve not yet seen. Overnight Hotel Hecco or similar. (B)

Day 15 – Sarajevo

Tour ends. (B)

Tour style: Traveller

Inclusions:

Arrival and departure transfers

All accommodation on twin share basis

Services of English speaking guide / tour leader

Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)

Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

Excluded:

International flights

Any airport taxes

Travel Insurance

Visas

Drinks

Please note that you should also read the Country Notes in association with this itinerary for practical information about your trip and the destination you will be visiting.

The itinerary and supplementary information has been compiled with care and provided in good faith. However it may be subject to change, and does not form part of a contract between the client and Undiscovered Destinations.