The Balkan Peninsula forms the southeast part of Europe, a region where different cultures, languages and ethnicities abound. Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Greece share similar historical influences. Fabulous scenery and the exotic weave of history and cultures in the Balkan Peninsula make it a traveler’s treasure chest.
Slovenia plays its Mediterranean card with old cities baking in the sun, surrounded by vineyards, orchards and olive groves. Indulge your love of alpine scenery and sports, explore dramatic caves, or relax at one of Slovenia’s renowned thermal spa resorts. The blend of Italian and Hungarian influences in the kitchen will tempt you to sample new dishes throughout your visit. At least one of these meals should be taken lazily at a riverside café in the charming old center of Ljubljana.
Croatia’s coastline is simply stunning, with more than 1,000 islands scattered along its length. Think you can pick a favorite? Start on the lovely Istrian peninsula and work your way south, visiting fantastic historic cities such as Trogir Split, and Dubrovnik. Rightfully called “the pearl of the Adriatic”, ensconced in city walls curving along the shore, Dubrovnnik makes a striking contrast between the brilliant blues of the sky and the water. Plitvice Lakes National Park is a beautiful place for lush scenery –and when you’re ready to exchange natural beauty for some urban buzz, head for the capital city of Zagreb.
Romania’s colorful past is only outdone by its colorful present. Did you know that you can see a pre-Roman fortress, painted Byzantine monasteries, the “little Paris” belle époque Bucharest, and one of Europe’s most amazing wetlands, all in one country? Situated at the northernmost reach of the Balkan Peninsula, Romania has attracted many different peoples, thanks the strategically important Danube River and the Black Sea coast. The most popular Romanian legend is of Count Dracula and Transylvania, an area replete with fairytale castles and unique medieval towns. Outdoor activities abound, both in the Danube delta, with its amazing bird population, and in the mountains, where winter sports enthusiasts and wolves, bear, and lynx all play - but not all together.
Sapphire sea, bright blue sky, brilliant white beach, and deep green forests… you’re in Montenegro. In a country of ever so manageable a size, you can peer at the bottom of one of Europe’s deepest canyons, scan the sky for the residents of one of Europe’s largest bird sanctuaries, or take up your own spot on a beautiful beach and gaze at the horizon. History goes way back here: the city of Budva is thought to be the oldest settlement in the Balkans: its founding is described in Greek mythology. The ancient city of Kotor has particularly well preserved city walls and medieval monuments – a perfect place for a stroll between delicious samplings of Montenegrin specialties.
Serbia typifies the allure of the Balkan Peninsula: down the road from an important ancient monument will be a city humming with modernity and the “cutting edge of cool”. Belgrade has been Serbia’s capital for 600 years, and has the architecture to prove it, but is known as a city that sleeps less than New York! Novi Sad is smaller, but a capital for the arts, attractive to all kinds of modern artists. Serbia’s history is palpable at sites such as the Roman Palace of Galerius or one of several beautiful medieval monasteries. Take a break for relaxing or invigorating treatments at a banja (spa), and take advantage of the natural hot springs.
Thracians, Romans, monks and farmers have all left an important imprint on Bulgaria. On one extreme are the refined carvings of the Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari , so dignified and controlled. At the other end of the spectrum are the wonderfully expressive festivals and music that permeate Bulgarian culture, its inheritance from centuries of agricultural traditions. Bulgarian choirs are famous worldwide for their eerily mesmerizing sound. Other sites and experiences to enjoy in Bulgaria include the fabulous painted monasteries, popular Black Sea resorts and restorative health spas. Dipping into the wine country has its merits: Bulgarians have been winemakers for centuries and are happy to introduce you to the fruit of their labors – in its appealing liquid form.
Greece, a land of ancient, Western world-shaping history, rich Orthodox religion, famous beaches, sun and sea and bright Mediterranean flavors – when are we going? Astounding archeological sites are par for the course in Greece, bringing mythology alive: Mount Olympus, home of the Greek gods, Ithaca, the island of legend where Ulysses reigned, or the Oracle at Delphi barely begin to tell the stories. The Acropolis in Athens will give you a visceral sense of the scope of Ancient Greece. Go north to the Pindus Mountains, steep, green, and gorgeous, as a counterpoint to your time at the seaside. Enjoy rambling, bird watching, or visiting traditional villages of a different nature than the coastal fishing villages.