Highlights of the Balkans
I spent 3 months in the Balkans in the summer of 2015 and liked it so much I came back for another month in the winter of 2017. Such a complex history, squabbled over by empire after empire after empire, means a treasure-trove of fascinating historical sites. And hardly any tourists compared to equivalent sites in Western Europe (apart from Dubrovnik – it’s swamped )
#1 Highlights of the Balkans
Belogradchik Rocks and Belogradchik Fortress are inseparably intertwined. And it’s this inseparability that makes them so mysterious, so appealing. The blending of human and natural forces means the site ends up looking like something out of a fantasy novel.
#2 Highlights of the Balkans
Bran Castle, in downtown Transylvania, is the castle the world connects to Dracula. The link is a strange one as there is no record of Vlad the Impaler having ever visited the castle, and Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, never even made it to Romania. The structure he describes in his text, what’s more, is nothing like that of the photo below.
#3 Highlights of the Balkans
It’s known as the Town of a Thousand Windows. Berat is full of stunning Ottoman architecture and comes complete with a huge castle and a sprinkling of Illyrian ruins. The town is mostly unrestored, and amazingly un-touristed.
#4 Highlights of the Balkans
The famous Ottoman Bridge, Stari Most, was blown up in 1993 during the Yugoslav Wars. It has since been painstakingly restored. Local daredevils jump from the highest point of the bridge as a demonstration of their courage.
#5 Highlights of the Balkans
The locals like to call the Bay of Kotor a fjord, but in truth it isn’t. Fjords are carved out by glaciers, whereas the Bay of Kotor, in Montenegro, is simply a flooded river valley. Disappointed? You needn’t be.
#6 Highlights of the Balkans
Sighișoara has nine remnant guild towers, a medieval clock tower, and it’s the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (the man who was the inspiration for Dracula). It’s also one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe.
#7 Highlights of the Balkans
Call yourself a Game of Thrones fan? Then do yourself a favour and get to King’s Landing… I mean Dubrovnik, Croatia.
#8 Highlights of the Balkans
Lake Ohrid is a picturesque, tranquil water body shared between Northern Macedonia and Albania. Locals love telling you how deep the lake is – it’s 288 metres deep, which I concede is pretty deep – but it wasn’t the depth of the lake that impressed me, it was the calmness that welled up inside me whenever I sat and gazed out over its glassy, still waters.
#9 Highlights of the Balkans
Like rock-cut architecture? Here’s a unique example that might give you visions of Legolas and Gimli. Guess how many people were at this site in Iron Gates National Park the day I visited? Not a single one.
#10 Highlights of the Balkans
Like Roman ruins? Well, you don’t need to visit Italy. Plovdiv holds one of the best preserved Roman theatres in the world. There’s also a Roman stadium, a Roman forum, and many other parts of the Roman city of Philippopolis to explore. Transport info here.