In August 2018, we explored the Balkans for the first time, with 17 days in Croatia, four in Slovenia, three in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a day trip to Montenegro. This included a seven-day cruise from Split to Dubrovnik aboard the Mama Marija, stopping at six charming islands.
The region’s beauty, variety and history exceeded our expectations, from mountains to the Adriatic. Here are our top 10 highlights:
No. 10: Skocjan and Lipica’s Lipizzaners, Slovenia
Slovenia is a tidy country with an appealing assortment of attractions. This pair of treats near each other made a great day. Skocjan cave is known for its impressive canyon and a deep, windy gorge viewpoint. (Alas, no pictures allowed inside). Lipica is where the Hapsburgs started breeding the first Lipizzaners in 1580 (Lipica is the Slovenian word for linden trees, and is spelled Lipizza in Italian). Guests can cosy up to gorgeous purebred stallions during the tour.
No. 9: Lake Bled, Slovenia
When the rain cleared up, we were stunned by the beauty of the Church of the Mother of God in the midst of the lake, especially with the castle and churches behind it. Cue the duck!
No. 8: Dining
One of the delights of traveling is indulging in different cuisines. Among our best experiences was on the island of Vis off Croatia, where we had the traditional “Peka” fish, baked in a large metal dish in an open fireplace (see the video below).
No. 7: Towers, fortresses and walls!
If there’s something to climb, there I must go. It’s often grueling, but even I was surprised by these precarious steps at the church tower in Rovinj, Croatia.
No. 6: Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
25 years after enduring the longest siege in modern history, this capital city still is conflicted on many levels. Just as bullet-strafed buildings remain prevalent, so tensions and divisions remain sharp. See our Bosnia-Herzegovina highlights over four days here.
No. 5: Split, Croatia
This charming city built around the once majestic Dioclestian Palace (300 AD) features narrow cobblestone streets, a broad promenade, oodles of markets and nearby Marjan hill with its views and ancient hermitages.
No. 4: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Comprised of 16 lakes and numerous waterfalls, this park excites as you stroll next to gushing waterways and soothes with its tranquil waters. But be prepared for the masses all crowding onto the narrow walkways.
No. 4: The Adriatic Sea
Running 1,000 miles along the Croatian coast is the Adriatic, one of the most gorgeously clear, blue, calm, shallow, warm and inviting bodies of water in the world.
No. 3: Rovinj, Croatia
This may be the single prettiest town we’ve been to, a feast for the eyes and senses at every turn. It’s too bad most of the locals were so surly.
No. 2: Lukomir, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Known as the country’s most remote village, Lukomir is about three hours from Sarajevo, atop Bosnia’s highest mountain. Only a few dozen folks still live the old life in this rugged, nearly untouched landscape, and nowadays, all retreat to town during the heavy snow months.
And the No. 1 highlight of our Balkan adventures: Dubrovnik, Croatia!
The wall, cliffs, sea, mountains, fortress, history, food, ships, Game of Thrones. Wow. We had built our trip around this destination and this exquisite, compact city blew us away. No wonder it is packing in the tourists: nearly 2 million visited last year (about half on ships) and more than 10,000 tackle the spectacular wall on peak days. This in a city with just 42,000 residents (2011 census). We’ve learned you can’t appreciate a town as a day tripper and adored the quiet moments after the cruisers/day tours are gone, and delighting in the old town from every angle.
Want more? Click here for all our best Balkan photos.
How did we plan this trip?
- We’re very independent travelers, so did most of this by ourselves, with thanks to TripAdvisor and Rick Steves.
- The corner stone was a 7-day cruise from Split to Dubrovnik via Adventure Life, one of numerous brokers for these nice (but not luxury) ships.
- We built travel in front and after the cruise, attempting two-night stays wherever possible.
- We chose not to drive, partly due to the border complexities for rental cars, and partly because we’ve learned we can better enjoy travel when driven.
- In hindsight, we agreed it was nearly perfect! Aside from a different hotel in Lake Bled, we would do it all over again.