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While The Balkans may bring to mind a region with a tumultuous past, the political unrest has long since subsided, and today, the area offers a wealth of fabulous travel destinations, with its diverse cultures, incredible scenery from jewel-like islands to soaring mountains.
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The stunningly gorgeous country of Montenegro only became an independent nation in 2006, and the city of Kotor, set within a secluded tip of Boka Kotorsky Bay, offers extraordinary beauty few travelers get to experience, simply because they aren’t aware it exists. This coastal town on the Adriatic offers a true unspoiled retreat from the chaos of the modern world, with the entire old town area declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Float through the sunlight-drenched fjords with mountains soaring overhead, dine on delectable Mediterranean cuisine and explore the medieval walled city with its many ancient structures, churches, cathedrals, palaces and museums, for a trip you won’t soon forget.
Plitvice Lakes National Park was once a hidden gem, unknown to most outside of Croatia, and while it’s becoming increasingly popular, it’s still a sight that should be on every traveler’s bucket list. One of the most stunning natural landmarks in all of Eastern Europe, if not the entire continent, the maze of lakes and waterfalls, lush greenery and clear azure waters is so fantasy-like it appears as if it were computer generated and plopped right down in Croatia.
Dubrovnik is not only a strikingly picturesque city, it’s renowned for its medieval charms and as one of the most captivating ‘Game of Thrones’ filming sites. Enjoy beautiful white sand beaches and crystal blue waters along with a vibrant city life and Baroque palaces. You might even take a day trip to one of the sparsely populated islands of Kolocep, Lopud or Sipan where you’ll discover an array of unspoiled beaches, or venture just a short drive from the city to enjoy scenic mountain hikes.
Lake Bled is one of Europe’s best kept secrets, surrounded by alpine mountains it looks as if it stepped right out of the pages of a fairy-tale book. Located on a tiny isle in the center of the glacial blue waters is Bled Castle, calling artists and photographers from around the world to capture its beauty at sunrise, when the first rays of sunshine break through the morning sky.
In the historic town of Mostar, which spans a deep valley of the Neretva River, visitors can watch daring locals that jump off Stari Most Bridge, marvel at the beautiful old Turkish houses and enjoy refreshing dips in the nearby Kravice waterfalls.The Old Bridge is one of the many remnants of the long Ottoman control of the region, and the entire city is now one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s major cultural attractions.
This former capital of medieval Bulgaria is tucked within the valley of the river Yantra,set atop a hill between two massive gorges. Visitors can enjoy wandering through narrow, cobbled passages that weave their way among small red-roofed cottages and Byzantine dome churches that add to the feeling of tranquility and solitude. Tsarevets fortress, a medieval stronghold protected on three sides by the Yantra River, is a must-visit. Remnants date back to the 13th-century BC, while excavation works have revealed more than 400 dwellings, 22 churches and 4 monastery complexes.
A small, frequently misunderstood Balkan state, Albania sits across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, directly above Greece. Once a communist run country, Albania, it’s now an open, friendly nation with spectacular terrain and a flourishing nightlife. Look forward to exploring everything from 7th-century ruins to 13th-century towns and often be the only visitor there. You can even take a guided tour of the largest amphitheater in the Balkans, led by one of the archaeologists who actually excavated the site as well as visit ancient hilltop castles that sit along the shores of the sea and in the middle of fields.
Transylvania is often thought of as a fictional city, a land filled with blood sucking vampires and howling wolves, but it’s a real destination located in central Romania bordered to the east by the Carpathian Mountains. Take the “Road to the Sky,” TransFagarasan, one of the most impressive drives in the world. It climbs through the highest peaks of the Transylvania Alps, connecting Transylvania and Walachia, and is home to an abundance of wildlife and miles of scenic hiking trails. This region also boasts some 150 fortified churches as well as a host of castles, including Bran Castle, which appears as if it’s just popped out of the pages of your favorite vampire novel.
Nestled in an alpine valley along the Ljubljana River, the town of Ljubljana is famous for its fairy-tale good looks, often ranked as Eastern Europe’s most beautiful city. It’s also remarkably affordable, with low accommodation rates as well as offering cheap entertainment and delicious low-priced dining options. Wander the charming cobblestone streets that are lined with interesting museums and art galleries, as well as hip bars and charming cafes that offer lots of fun after dark. At the hilltop castle, learn about Slovenian history in the interactive museum before heading to the tower for impressive views of the city and well beyond.
This national park is sprawled across the Durmitor Mountain Range and a narrow branch heading east along the Tara River, and is renowned for its absolutely jaw-dropping scenic beauty. The landscaped, carved from limestone with ice and water over time, is home to 48 peaks that soar over 6,500 feet in altitude, with the highest, Bobotov Kuk, reaching nearly 8,300 feet. Three magnificent canyons can also be found here, including the wild Tara River, home to the deepest gorge in all of Europe at 4,265 feet. Rivers flow under the park as well, including Black Lake, which travels below the Durmitor Massif to the upper canyon valley of the River Komarnica, and the park is also filled with more than a dozen sparkling lakes. The high plateau can be reached by multiple trails, while an ice cave, filled with icy stalactites and stalagmites all year round, serves as an ideal spot for hikers to cool off, even in the middle of July, with cold water dripping from the ceiling.