From forested mountains to powder-sand island beaches and culture-rich cities like Croatia's Dubrovnik, the Balkans beckon you to discover them (Photo: Getty Images)

From forested mountains to powder-sand beaches and breathtaking islands, the Balkans beckon you to discover them. Taking in culture-rich capital cities, high-altitude hideaways and delectable gastronomy, from North Macedonia's wines to Croatia's seafood, this introduction to the Balkans might just define your summer travel plans.

Dine along Croatia's Dalmatian Coast

Dalmatian Coast

Croatia's gorgeous Dalmatian Coast is pretty as a picture – and it also harbours some of the finest seafood on the planet (Photo: Getty Images)

Fish, fabulous fish. From the island of Rab in the north to Cavtat village in the south, the waters off Croatia's gorgeous Adriatic coast harbour some of the finest, freshest seafood on the planet. So it figures that Dalmatia is blessed with some of the most exciting coastal restaurants in Europe. Take your pick, but one worth seeking out is Fantažija in Split, which perfects spectacular seafood dishes like octopus carpaccio, and homemade squid ink gnocchi. Afterwards, return to Le Méridien Lav, Split, which offers bright, spacious rooms with sea views. 

Visit Serbia's famous Belgrade Fortress

Belgrade Fortress

There are few sites worldwide where history is as tangible as at Belgrade’s mighty Kalemegden Fortress (Photo: Getty Images)

Perched on a nub of land overlooking the confluence of the mighty Danube and Sava rivers, Belgrade’s Kalemegden Fortress remains one of the Balkan’s great military bastions. Raised by the Celts and expanded upon by the Romans, this impregnable structure in the Serbian capital has withstood numerous incursions, as recalled in its military museum.

After exploring, take a sunset stroll through Kalemegden Park and watch locals playing chess before soaking up the evening’s twilight rays. Afterwards, sleep the night away in one of the Moxy Belgrade’s playfully themed rooms.

Stay in the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina capital Sarajevo


Bosnia and Herzegovina capital Sarajevo invites you to explore its every atmospheric corner (Photo: Getty Images)

Tucked inside a long, narrow valley enveloped by thickly forested mountains, Bosnia and Herzegovina capital Sarajevo oozes charisma. Its beating heart is Baščaršija, the city’s old bazaar, where locals puff on hookah pipes and sip on Turkish-style coffee, while open-fronted shops hawk beautifully woven rugs and copper coffee pots. Meanwhile, mosques and minarets – like the beautifully proportioned Gazi Husreg-Begova Džamija (Bey Mosque) – jostle for space with Catholic churches and their Romanesque towers, and Orthodox ones with their twisted onion domes. Stay at the Courtyard Sarajevo, whose roof terrace cocktail bar is a terrific spot to soak up the city below.

Walk the shores of Slovenia's stunning Lake Bled

Lake Bled

Stunningly beautiful Lake Bled is a sight to behold and offers a fabulous range of activities (Photo: Getty Images)

Bristling with rowing boats, gondolas and swimmers, Lake Bled is like nowhere else in Slovenia. While most people make an immediate beeline for its placid waters, the best way to get your bearings (and some exercise) is to walk its shallow shores, a delightful stroll that should take no more than a couple of hours – assuming, that is, you don’t stop too often for one of the many photo opportunities that will inevitably present themselves, be it the snow-flecked mountains, towering cliff-side castle, or fairytale church-topped island. Round the day off with a stopover at the Four Points by Sheraton Ljubljana Mons, whose verdant setting is complemented by an indoor pool.

Go wine tasting in Montenegro

Montenegro Wine

Montenegrin wine is a relatively unknown quantity – where better to get to know its riches than in the country itself? (Photo: Getty Images)

It's one of the Balkans' great pleasures to hang out high above the shores of Lake Skadar – the Balkan peninsula’s largest body of water – with a glass of wine, perhaps a dry, red Vranac or fruity, white Krštac. Montenegrin wine still flies under the radar but from the time of the ancients, viticulture has been an integral part of life in this region, in particular in the hills of Crmnica whose centuries-old stone cellars welcome anyone in need of a tipple. Sample another glass or two whilst looking out to the majestic Bay of Kotor before making for the spruce mountain resort of Kolašin. Here the Four Points by Sheraton Kolasin, set in an attractive alpine-style building with an on-site restaurant and spa, awaits your arrival.

Unwind along the Albanian Riviera

Albanian Riviera

The Albanian Riviera is fast catching on as one of the world's loveliest stretches of coastline (Photo: Getty Images)

Occupying an enviable location on the southern portion of the Albanian Riviera, Ksamil could almost be the beach that time forgot. Blissfully free of crowds, it’s an endless curve of silky white sand, complete with all the requisite paraphernalia – umbrellas, deckchairs, loungers – and a wealth of beach bars. Vlore, further north, is another beauty, offering not only dreamy beaches but a rich sweep of history. In between these two, meanwhile, lies Borsh, which claims the largest beach on the Riviera. Stay at the Tirana Marriott, whose dazzling white-on-white rooms promise eye-catching views over the Air Albania Stadium. The hotel is a great spot to start your exploration of the country.

Sample local cuisine in the North Macedonian capital Skopje

Skopje food

As capital city of North Macedonia, Skopje is filled with impressive architecture (Photo: Getty Images)

Spanning the Vadar River and so named for the crushed stones used in its construction, Skopje’s magnificent Stone Bridge is the gateway to Macedonia Square, where your eyes will immediately be drawn to the colossal statue of Alexander the Great, the nation’s greatest military hero. Admire the statue from behind the glass windows of the venerable Shopski Merak as you tuck into classic North Macedonian fare, such as sarma (meat, vegetables and grains bound in cabbage or vine leaf rolls), washed down with a glass of Vranac, the country's signature red. Sign off for the day at the Skopje Marriott Hotel, furnished with plush rooms and a gorgeous basement pool.

Relax on Bulgaria’s Golden Sands

Bulgarian Golden Beach

With a seemingly endless supply of summer sunshine, Bulgaria's Black Sea coast has countless delights in store (Photo: Getty Images)

When the Bulgarian Black Sea coast holds the promise of white-sand beaches, dazzling water and an average of ten to twelve hours of sunshine a day, what’s not to get excited about? Especially when that beach is Byala, a superlative-defying beauty manifesting a long, narrow finger of fine golden sand backed by a sheer white wall of sandstone cliffs. Factor in a cluster of superb vineyards and a birdlife-rich nature reserve in the hinterland, and you’ve got the recipe for a magical stay. Away from the coast, Junó Hotel Sofia, a Member of Design Hotels places you right in the heart of the Bulgarian capital, while Four Points by Sheraton Bansko is a memorable mountain retreat quartering beautifully appointed rooms and a smart floodlit restaurant.

For those seeking an exclusive coastal experience, Four Points by Sheraton Sunny Beach offers a luxurious retreat on a vibrant, sun-soaked beach. With its elegant rooms and stunning sea views, it's the perfect base to soak in the tranquil atmosphere and unbeatable Bulgarian coastline. 

Embrace the Old Town of Romania's capital Bucharest

Bucharest Old Town

Bucharest's wonderfully atmospheric Old Town is known locally as Lipscani (Photo: Getty Images)

More commonly known as Lipscani, the charismatic Old Town is the pulsating heart of Bucharest, packed with restaurants, bars and clubs. But there are some top cultural draws here too: the Old Court Palace, erstwhile haunt of Vlad the Impaler (better known as Dracula), and the pint-sized Stavropoleos Church, sporting an ornate arabesque facade and a gorgeous ensemble of stone-and wood-carvings. A fine stay in the Romanian capital's Old Town is The Marmorosch Bucharest, Autograph Collection, a magnificent Art Deco former bank building concealing opulent, state-of-the art rooms.

In the heart of the city, you'll find Olea Bucharest at the JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel, which offers Middle'terranean (mixture of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean) cuisine amidst elegant surroundings. Why not book a table at the exquisite outdoor setting and order from a range of local palate-pleasing appetizers, including Balkan tzatziki, crispy falafel, or prawns fataifi?

Embark on an Adriatic road trip

Adriatic road trip

Get behind the wheel, or into the saddle, for a Balkans road trip of such stunning scenery that you'll never forget it (Photo: Getty Images)

There are few more dramatic road trips anywhere in Europe than the one that sweeps down the Adriatic coastline. It begins in the pretty, Venetian-inspired Slovenian town of Piran, before crossing the border into Croatia and the Istrian resorts of Rovinj and Pula – the latter featuring an awesome amphitheatre. From here, dart south along the Dalmatian coast – the long and twisting road sandwiched between the sparkling, turquoise Adriatic on one side and gnarly limestone peaks on the other. En route, you'll pass through Zadar, Croatia's most ancient city, and Split, home to Diocletian’s Palace, the coast’s single finest monument. All the while, hundreds of sun-bleached islands – Cres, Dugi Otok and Brač among them – beckon in the distance. Further south still, beyond the dreamy medieval walled town of Dubrovnik, you'll cross into Montenegro to end this stupendous trip in the stunning Bay of Kotor, before last stop Albania, whose gloriously long beaches invite you to finally rest up.  

Published: June 18, 2024

Last Updated: July 02, 2024

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