How our Balkan road trip started
It was 2016 and I was getting over a bad breakup. Summer was knocking at my door, but I found it difficult to make any traveling plans. Then along came Ana, one of my best friends, with this amazing, crazy idea of going on a Balkan road trip with her and her boyfriend, Tim.
It would last several weeks, we’d be traveling in an old Cielo, it would be just me and a couple every day, sometimes even sharing the same room. But what else was I going to do?
What are the Balkans?
The Balkans are the wide Southeastern peninsula of Europe. Some would say that they include the countries from the former Yugoslavia, plus Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Moldova, and even the European side of Turkey.
Although I am Romanian and can see how our tourism industry benefits from travelers who include us in their Balkan road trip… I tend to disagree. We are too far North to be part of the Balkans. And so is Moldova. But do come on over when you visit the other Balkan countries!
Did you know that the word Balkan means a chain of wooden mountains in Turkish?
Is it safe to drive in the Balkans?
Yes, it is very safe to drive in the Balkans. People living in the Balkans are no crazier behind the wheel than those you’ve seen in most any city. Plus, everything’s taking place on the right side of the road, so it’s easier.
The only difficulty/weirdness you might notice is if you are a female driver in Tirana. Everyone was staring, at least in our case. But otherwise, they respected the law and drove as usual, so it wasn’t really a risk. Just a bit uncomfortable for Ana, the driver on our Balkan road trip.
What is the best time to visit the Balkans?
In my opinion, the best time to visit the Balkans is during the warmer months. People say that you should avoid July and August because they are too hot and that it’s best to travel between April and November. Poppycock! In August we did suffer some warm days but we also froze our butts off in the mountains. You just have more options and more chances to swim if you go in the heat of summer on your beautiful Balkan road trip.
Planning the Balkan road trip itinerary
Did I mention Tim was German? This came with some advantages, one of them being that he was very well organized. He handled all the planning of the road trip, and it was one of the few times I could just relax and enjoy myself.
He used Ana’s Lonely Planet Southeastern Europe guide, selected the best Balkan highlights, and we ended up with a very interesting list of places to see. Our road passed through the following Balkan states: Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia, bringing us back to the starting point – Romania. Here’s how our Balkans road trip travel itinerary went:
- Bulgaria: Veliko Tarnovo, Devetashka Cave, Sofia (capital city), Rila Monastery
- North Macedonia: Skopje (capital city), Matka Canyon, Lake Ohrid, Ohrid town, Bitola
- Albania: Tirana (capital city), Shkoder, a day trip with the ferry on Koman Lake
- Montenegro: Buljarica, Budva, Lovcen National Park, Kotor town, Perast, and the beautiful bay of Kotor
- Croatia: Dubrovnik
- Bosnia Herzegovina: Sarajevo (Bosnia capital city), Mostar
- Serbia: Belgrade (capital city)
Unfortunately, I only had three weeks of annual leave to fit this Balkan itinerary. This got me only as far as Croatia, where I took a flight back, with a stop in Belgrade, Serbia.
If I ever have the chance to go again on a Balkans road trip, I’d love to spend some more time in Montenegro and get to beautiful Mostar Bosnia. I would also be very happy if my road-tripping adventure could take me through more national parks and as far as Lake Bled in Slovenia.
On the road
Ana was our driver and despite a bumpy start, she did an amazing job.
(I slept peacefully for many hours in the back seat and not once did I get carsick!)
The trip itself was amazing. It combined adventures in crowded cities with hikes to admire nature’s beauty. And the people we’ve met along the way have brought us many smiles. They also left us with lots of great memories.
This is why I’ve decided this ultimate road trip in the Balkans was going to be the best thing to start the blog with!
Recommended Balkan tours
As awesome as a Balkan road trip can be, not everybody can travel by car. But that doesn’t mean that you should be missing out on all the wonders of the Balkan Peninsula. There are lots of tours out there that can help you discover the Balkans, but here are some I personally recommend.
Of course, you can also rent a car for your Balkan road trip. However, getting a rental car can be an alternative, although a much more expensive one, since you’ll be crossing borders not only from one country to the next but also outside the EU during your Balkan trip.
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