Decoration on the Balkan Peninsula are a unique blend of motifs from ancient civilizations and the Slavic esthetic, so imagine the breadth of design you’ll find when you shop for those essential keepsakes on your travels through Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia.
Greece simply glitters with all kinds of jewelry. And it’s so easy to pack! Athens’ numerous jewelry shops, located mainly in Syntagma and Kolonaki areas, have a wide collection of ancient Greek jewel replicas as well as traditional and modern pieces, mostly crafted by local jewelers. You can also find filigree pieces of silver and turquoise, which are mainly made in Ioannina of Epirus and have traditional motifs of unique beauty. Fun souvenirs are bronze vases, copper utensils, clay items and ceramics, popular since ancient times. At the Hellenic Organization of Small and Medium Industries and Handicrafts (EOMMEX) you can find handmade carpets of excellent quality. You will be amazed with the wonderful designs, the bright colors and the quality of the materials used for EOMMEX carpets – surely your floor at home will be happier with a Greek carpet upon it?
You’ll usually find an energetic shopping throng in the town centers of Montenegro, enjoying the scene at cafes as well as boutiques stocked with international designer labels as well as locally produced fashions. In coastal towns, these trendy stores are mainly in the old medieval centers and opening hours are until quite late, so shopping can be part of your evening’s entertainment. Be sure to wander through a green market, where most of the stallholders are owners of small farms and farmsteads from nearby areas, who bring fresh produce to town on a daily basis. Fruit, just picked from the branches, blueberries from mount slopes, fish just caught from the sea, and the enticing smell of fresh cheese or “kajmak” are all yours to enjoy at Montenegrin green markets.
Bulgaria is an interesting shopping destination as here you can still find relics of other eras at fascinating flea markets. Open markets are the best place to find local crafts and handwork. Traditional pottery motifs hearken back to Thracian days and woodworking styles evoke centuries past as well. If you’re very lucky, you may find a stunning icon to bring home with you. When you finally emerge from your float-away spa experience on the Black Sea Coast, be sure to purchase some of the local beauty products, with the magic that only mud and salt from this part of the world can do to your skin.
Traveling through Croatia you’re most likely to be dazzled by the scenic beauty and fabulous historic towns such as Split and Dubrovnik, but there is a need to focus on the crafted and manufactured to round your holiday: you must shop! Zagreb of course has the hottest fashions in the country, and in the summertime you can follow some of these designers to seaside ateliers where they catch high season crowds and some inspiration. Stroll around the harbor in Dubrovnik and you’ll find a speed-knitter who can produce a custom-fitted, beautiful lacy top by the time you finish your day’s touring. Bring back some Adriatic lavender from Hvar and the scent of vacation will waft from your suitcase when you (sadly) unpack at home.
Romania has a vibrant crafts tradition and you’ll be hard pressed not to succumb a sample of it to take home. Most of your treasure hunting will take place in open markets, directly with the craftsperson. The most well known keepsakes are the intricately hand painted eggs, whose designs were originally secret languages known only to residents of the regions where they were painted. The most widespread craft is weaving: Romanian women weave and embroider just about every cloth article used in their homes, from colorful linen and cotton towels to window draperies, bedspreads, rugs, wall hangings, furniture throws and clothing. Pottery with geometric designs and wooden items carved with natural motifs are also great examples of Romanian handiwork; maybe you’ll find a prize flute, a lovely carved box or the perfect wooden spoon.
Belgrade offers both local and visiting shoppers in Serbia the variety you’d expect in a European capital: familiar high street brands, exclusive boutiques, local designers, and exciting open bazaars where you can bargain your way to retail victory. For authentic Serbian crafts, the ethnic village is the trustworthiest guardian of tradition. Folk skills have been preserved through local handicrafts, folk embroidery and the almost forgotten crafts of loom weaving and woodcarving. Besides old folk customs, authentic folk music and polyphonic singing have also been preserved, so a visit a traditional village will delight all your senses with the spirit of Serbia.
Travel through Slovakia and you can easily come home with souvenirs both global and local: shopping centers representing the world’s best known brands are increasingly popular and are fun to explore.The most treasured mementos, however, have to be the examples of Slovakian folk art you can find in markets throughout the country. Cornhusk dolls and puppets wearing suits typical of a particular region are lovely gifts, as are the traditional clothing items, embroidery, pottery, wire objects, pictures painted on glass or wood, pictures or statues carved in wood. A beautiful if bulky souvenir is fujara - the giant shepherd flute, inscribed by UNESCO. Glass and china lovers, you’ll love what you can find in Slovakia’s larger towns to make your table sparkle.