The Balkan peninsula is the boiling underbelly of Europe. During most of the 20th century, the people of the Balkan have been at war with each other, and among themselves. As with many European regions, the boundaries of the Balkans are fluid, but most commonly included are former Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria and Greece. A broader interpretation includes Turkey, Romania, Moldavia and even Italy, since all these countries have territories in the geographical Balkan peninsula, but the exact definition is rather irrelevant. What matters is that the Balkans are a damn interesting destination.
- Why go there?
The Balkans are the epicentre of The Clash of Civilizations – this is the place where East meets West, Catholicism meets Islam and Orthodoxy, where people, languages and religions clash and merge, like oil and vinegar, only to be separated again. About the only thing common to the people of the Balkans is their love for Rakia in all its varieties. Even if you forget for a second that almost every Balkan country has wonderful sea shores, high mountains, glorious ancient cities and unique monuments, that most of the Balkans is as budget as Europe gets, its worth visiting to see what all of Europe was like just a few decades ago, before the mass-pacification of the West, followed grudgingly by the Rest.
- What’s it best for?
If your goal is to collect as many border stamps as possible – this is the place to be. The Balkans has the highest density of (small) countries in Europe, almost all of them outside the Schengen Area, so you can improve your collection of stamps considerably.
- When is the best time to go?
The Balkan summer is hot, dusty and crowded, but its also the season to take life Balkan style – easy going. Its the season for early morning swim in the warm sea, for an afternoon nap, for evening coffee on the porch and for late-night rakia. The summer is also the season to enjoy the amazing fresh fruit and to lunch with Shopska salad, the only salad in the world that almost started a war. But then again, on the Balkans wars have started for less.
- How to get around?
While the capitals are well connected by rail, bus is still the vehicle of choice for most of the region. Driving here is for the dare-devils.
- Why is it best to avoid?
Outside the major tourist centres of Croatia and Greece, travelling here may be a hassle and facilities not on a level Westerners are accustomed to.
- Where to go if you just have one week
Montenegro. The tiny country has collected all the Balkans can offer in a very convenient space. Eat real Italian pizzas and gelato on the Kotor sea side boulevard (400 years of Venetian heritage!) one day, dine on lake fish on Skadarso Jezero the next and trek in the Prokletje (“Cursed”) Mountains the following. Plus, Montenegro uses the Euro so no currency exchange troubles here.