Jumping into a car and strolling through the stunning landscape of the Balkan Peninsula or along the turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea is a fantastic way to explore this part of south-eastern Europe.
Croatia and Montenegro: Dubrovnik – Lovcen National Park
Start this cross-border journey through the amazing Dinaric Alps, driving the D8 from Dubrovnik, Croatia, to Perast, Montenegro. While these neighboring countries share a beautiful Adriatic coast, be prepared to change the situation, as the fairly flat topography of the southern corner of Croatia turns into dark rocky peaks of Montenegro.
When you arrive in the pleasant town of Perast, which is anchored in the UNESCO-listed Bay of Kotor, you will be enchanted by its peaceful atmosphere, baroque palace and 16 stunning churches. The most popular attractions are Our Lady of Skrpela and St. George, which you will find floating right on the shore in the middle of the aquamarine bay. Both islands can be reached by boat.
Get back in the car and drive 30 km from Perest to the absolute highlight of the bay – the city of Kotor. Immerse yourself in medieval history, climbing the city walls to the hill of St. John – a fun, albeit strict march on the ancient fortifications dating back to the 9th century.
Those looking for incredible views from a height of up to 1749 meters should take the serpentine road that leads along a steep mountain from Kotor to one of the best natural wonders of Montenegro – Lovcen National Park. This drive boasts 25 hairpins and stunning mountain views. Your entire journey can last from four hours to three days, depending on the duration of each stop.
Bulgaria: Plovdiv to Veliko Tarnovo
Heading north on Route 55 from Plovdiv, this trip begins with bucolic views of the heart of Bulgaria. A great stop on this particular trip is Dryanovo, a small town located at the base of the Balkan Mountains. In this charming village is the Dryanovo monastery, which is supported by a rock dedicated to St. Michael. The origins of the building date back to the 13th century and have a long history of destruction and revolutions. The church was burned to the ground twice during the years when Bulgaria was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, but was rebuilt in the 17th century and remains to this day. The latest restoration is quite remarkable.
Continuing north of the highway to Veliko Tarnovo, this last 30-minute section is always considered the best scenic drive in Europe – the views are truly spectacular. You will meander through the expansive Valley of Roses, a lush area, on the banks of which are two river valleys, where some of the rarest varieties of roses in the world grow. If you are lucky enough to visit in May or June, when the flowers are in full bloom, open the car windows to the end, take a luxurious breath and enjoy the heavenly aroma throughout the valley. Other charming stops on this road include the Russian-style golden-domed church in Shipka and the town of Tryavna, known for its centuries-old tradition of woodcarving.
Albania: Vlora to Himara via Llogar Pass
Tourists, bikers, beach lovers and history buffs will enjoy magnificent views of the Dukat Valley to the north and the Albanian Riviera to the south. From Vlora, head south on SH8, a flat road that cuts right into the hillside. In addition to the stunning beaches below, other great attractions include a herd of goats walking carelessly along the road with their shepherd, or locals riding mules or donkeys.
It is worth noting the stops along SH8 – the beautiful beaches of Oricum and Dermi. Between these two beaches you will also find the Llogara Pass National Park – home to some of the best hiking trails in the country. The park combines fresh alpine mountain air with the wind from the Ionian Sea, which is a breeze and is a great place for outdoor adventures or a simple family picnic.
Finish your trip with a visit to Himara, one of the most pristine beaches along the coast of Albania. On the carefree ocean coast in Guimara there are also many seafood restaurants and beach bars where you can try – for something truly local, drink brandy, a popular fruit brandy that comes from the Balkans.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Sarajevo – Kravica Waterfall
The E73 / M17 runs parallel to the turquoise Neretva River, which runs through Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia on the way to the Adriatic Sea. The river successfully irrigates one of the most fertile and ecologically diverse valleys in the Balkans. Traveling from Sarajevo to Mostar, you will pass the historic city of Konic, home to a beautiful six-span stone bridge. However, this leg of the drive is so wonderful that you do not want any interruptions!
Upon arrival in Mostar, visit the old town and its charming cobbled streets lined with markets selling local jewelery, pottery and tableware. The city has a distinctly Ottoman architecture, including delicate mosques with minarets so high that they seem to touch the clouds. The Old Bridge, a bridge known for its turbulent history and incredible views, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking along its graceful arch, you will see exactly why. For multi-day travelers, Mostar is also an ideal stop for the night.
On the way from Mostar to Kravitsa waterfall you will pass the Imperial Vineyards. Unknown to many, Herzegovina provided wine to the royal rights of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during its peak. Stop for a glass of local wine among the vast fields of perfectly manicured vines.
As the perfect finale to a wonderful trip, you will be delighted by the view of your final destination, Kravica Waterfall, at close range. Enjoy dinner and swimming in its emerald waters, looking at one of the most beautiful examples of raw natural beauty in the Balkans.