Go Bonkers in the Balkans
Travelling through Europe for summer has become a rite of passage for young Aussies. The lure of castles, culture and getting by with English (and a smattering of high school French) means that we’ve been heading over in record numbers. One stunning region that is largely still off the radar is the Balkans – a union of countries next door to Italy. If you’re a seasoned European wanderer looking for something different, or want to stretch your travel savings that little bit further, the Balkans have emerged from the turmoil of their recent history to become a fascinating destination. Blending Eastern European and Turkic influences, hidden gems like Sarajevo and Ljubljana are great cities to explore before checking out highlights of the Dalmatian coast, such as Budva and Dubrovnik (aka King’s Landing for all the Game of Thrones fans out there!) Here’s what you can expect…
Despite being badly damaged during the conflict of the 90s, Serbia’s capital Belgrade still boasts an impressive array of architecture. The tottering ruins of buildings bombed by NATO stand as a memorial to the war, whereas the Old City’s Kalemegdan Fortress hides some of the prettiest Orthodox Churches in Europe. If you’re more science inclined the Nikolai Tesla museum is well worth a visit before heading to cobbled streets of Skadalrija area to check out the local cuisine. Surprisingly, there are a few good beaches along the river, which transforms into a giant nightclub after dark with floating ‘Barge Bars’ all the rage. Try out the Plum Brandy at Club Acapulco if you dare…
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia is hands down one of Europe’s prettiest countries, with trips between each city showing off the jaw-dropping mountainous scenery which made if perfect for the 1984 Winter Olympics. The abandoned bobsled track in Sarajevo is even more picturesque than the touts will tell you and a great vantage point for views over the city. After you’ve wandered past a variety of churches, mosques, synagogues and one of the world’s only lunar clocks, the Latin Bridge where Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand set off WW1 is another must see. Pretty Mostar is great for learning to bridge dive like a pro; 24 metres is a lot higher than it sounds from the top! On a darker note, visiting the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial is a confronting way to pay respects to the memory of over 8000 Bosniaks killed during the war. Locals who survived the siege volunteer as guides to tell their stories and help heal the wounds of the past.
Have a few days spare before sailing around Croatia? Make like Ned Stark and head off to Montenegro. Budva is a great place to chill out for a couple of days, boasting a gorgeous seaside which is best seen from the walls of the medieval castle. If you need to recover from the Old City’s happening nightlife head down to Ploce Beach or paddle out to Sveti Nikola in the morning, keeping the afternoon free to visit Kotor and climb the 1350 steps for one the best views over the Adriatic Sea.
Game of Thrones has provided a massive boost to tourism in Croatia. The city of Dubrovnik is better known as ‘King’s Landing’ and must be seen to be believed – the massive limestone city walls rise up out the ocean and dominate the coastline. Its winding cobblestone streets are UNESCO listed and best seen from the city walls, the top of Mt. Srd or floating from a kayak. You can even get an insta-worthy selfie on a replica of the Iron Throne!
Dubrovnik isn’t the only treat Croatia has to offer. Towns and Islands such as Split, Pag, Hvar and Krka are not only pretty but host some of Europe’s best youth sailing trips and EDM festivals. Zadars’ sea organ is a crazy experimental instrument and Plitvice National Park is one of those places that look even better in real life than in the tourist brochures – if it’s not on your bucket list yet Google it right now!
Possibly the hardest to pronounce city east of Wroclaw, Ljubljana (lyoo-BLYAH-nah) is a great place to ride a funicular, check out Dragon Bridge or try horse meat (it tastes nothing like chicken!) It’s also a great base for visiting nearby Lake Bled.
While technically not part of the Balkans, Hungary is a convenient gateway to reach the area from Western Europe with heaps of flight and bus links. If you’re heading this way save yourself at least a few days to explore here. Home to some of the most interesting post-Communist museums and artifacts around, Budapest is an up and comer that’s changing rapidly. The Gellert or Szechenyi Turkish baths hark back to Roman times while more modern attractions include the Ruin Bars or Escape Games. The city lights up at night and Buda Castle, Parliament and the Chain Bridge all look best from dinner on the Danube!
This blog was written by Student Flights' Consultant Josh Cranston after his recent Euro trip. If you're in Sydney, drop into Student Flights Anzac Parade and chat to Josh about a Balkans adventure, or any adventure for that matter! For everyone else, you can drop into any of our 80 stores nationally, pick up the phone or book online. Hop to it and book in for Euro summer 2016 while our Worldwide Black Market Airfare Sale is on (offer ends Nov 16, 2015). Make the journey worthwhile and book a Round the World ticket instead? From $1699* return until Nov 30, 2015.