.

July 06, 2019

The Grand Balkan Tour



“From both sides” replies experienced tour manager Lana from Croatia when one of the fellow passenger Richard from our group of forty asks windows on which side of the bus will provide the best view of the scenic landscape when driving down from Cetinje to Kotor in Montenegro. This drive down is considered as one of the world’s most spectacular but hair raising adventure on road.

And soon we find out Lana is absolutely right


As our bus zigzags down the slopes of Mt Lovćen along a narrow and snaky mountainous road comprising of 25 hairpin bends, the breathtaking vista outside keeps on shifting from one side to the other. This means Richard and few alike don’t take their seats but keep standing and changing stance and at times lean over other seating passengers to capture in their mobile cameras or iPads the best panorama available through the windows.

I don’t blame them as the spectacle of the rugged mountain slants alternated at every turns with that of Kotor Bay down below is so sublime and inviting that it’s pretty tempting to store these awesome scenes electronically, rather keeping everything vaulted in our minds.

Mostar Bridge

When driving on this serpentine paths, there is little room for error .So when successful negotiation of all the scary twists is done there is loud applause for our driver Veido. He deserves it to keep us all safe.

By then the World Heritage listed city of Kotor has come into our views and the focus simply gets shifted from nature to history, culture and architecture.

This diversity of experiences offered can be deemed as the extraordinary feature of this Grand Balkan Tour package, designed by Atlas Travel Agency - one of Croatia’s leading tour operator and available in Australia and New Zealand through Beyond Travel.

Rolling over 2000kms on road, the 13-day travel in an air-conditioned luxury bus starts in Croatia’s capital Zagreb and ends in the nation’s most sought after seafront destination Dubrovnik. In between we stop at Plitvice Lakes, Trogir and Split in Croatia, Lake Bled and the capital Ljubljana in Slovenia, Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Budva, Kotor, Cetinje and Kolasin in Montenegro, capital Tirana in Albania, Ohrid and capital Skopje in North Macedonia and Peć in Kosovo.

As many world travellers, who have already toured the much-hyped European destinations like England, France, Italy, and Switzerland are now keen to explore something different from the less trodden paths. The Balkan region - named after the Balkan Mountains and comprising of several countries, some from the former Yugoslavia is becoming increasingly appealing to them because the region still offers its treasures from natural splendours and historical sites, many of which are now UNESCO World Heritage listed, in an unspoilt way. Croatia surely ranks near the top of this newer bucket list with Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo following steps

Tirana, capital of Albania

As the scars from the war in the nineties gradually fading away from these countries, they are now getting fitted with contemporary elements like modern hotels, restaurants, cafes, shopping and wifi – all engulfed in a safe and welcoming environment - to become tourism friendly with rest of the world.

For example take Albania, which was practically closed to the outside world for much of the 20th century. But with the end of the torturous communist regime in 1991, the nation has swung upon its gates and now getting cautiously used to outsiders. In their boisterous capital Tirana, a policeman requests me to take a photo with him. Surely unusual, but it tells me Tirana locals including the police are trying to be friendly with the tourists so that more of them arrive to boost the economy.

Similarly neighbouring Macedonia, have also started seeing more tourists arriving and locals from taxi drivers and restaurant waiters to shopkeepers and guides are happy to give more polite attention to prove how friendly they are and how safe it is to travel in their little country that lives with the legacies of Alexander the Great and Mother Teresa who was born as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in capital Skopje.

There is no doubt about the attractiveness of Macedonia. Skopje the capital lies in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula, at the crossroad of important communications with over two millennium old tradition. A giant statue of legendary Alexander dominates the main square while a memorial for Mother Teresa who lived most of her life in Kolkata in India stands as a site of pilgrimage for the devotees of humanity. Likewise the city of Ohrid is the awe-inspiring lakeside settlement that for many represents the zenith of the Macedonian experience.

Kotor Bay, Montenegro

The Ottomans ruled the Balkan region in the Middle Ages for several centuries. So in many parts of Albania ,Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo we see many architectural masterpieces of Ottoman Architecture like old bazaars , mosques, castles, towers and bridges, most famous is the Old Bridge on Mostar in  Bosnia & Herzegovina.

The best of nature strikes at three locations – Plitvice National Park- a UNESCO World Heritage listed site in Croatia , Lake Bled in Slovenia – aptly nominated earlier as one of the new seven natural wonders of the world , and  Lake Ohrid – one of the world’s oldest waterbody. These three sites are so beautiful and picturesque that it doesn’t take much time to consider them as images of paradise.

This itinerary spends a fair bit of time in Croatia – at capital Zagreb and at three UNESCO World Heritage sites – Split, nation’s second largest city, nearby Trogir and Dubrovnik made famous by the television drama Game of Thrones. At all the three places, the medieval architecture combines with the beauty of the edging Adriatic Sea.

This tour is not to relax, but to see as much as you can like going for a buffet spread consisting of endless items rather than opting an ala carte menu.

Being always on the road also provides a raw and intimate encounter with the land we pass through and grants the opportunity to see and discover things not mentioned in any guide books or the internet. This perhaps makes the journey most interesting. When the tour ends, we are physically tired but soulfully highly charged with lots of discoveries made during the last 13 days.

Travel Notes

Getting There: Emirate Airlines www.emirates.com have regular flights from Australia via Dubai to Zagreb

Tour Details Contact Beyond Travel  on +612 9080 0400 for dates and pricing of the Grand Balkan Tour which includes:
  • Fully escorted by English speaking guide
  • Transportation by air-conditioned coach
  • Arrival & Departure transfer
  • All 4 or 5 star and 1 only 3 star accommodation
  • 12 breakfasts and 12 dinners
  • Guided Tours of Zagreb, Ljubljana, Split. Dubrovnik, Tirana, Ohrid, Skopje & Kotor
  • No hidden costs other than the tips to local guides, tour manager and the coach driver
Words and images: Sandip Hor

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au



No comments: