The Balkans today are home to some of Europe’s hottest tourism markets, with cities like Dubrovnik struggling at times to manage the surge in tourist numbers. It’s hardly surprising given the striking beauty of the Dalmatian coast of Croatia and Montenegro where the turquoise and azure blue waters of the Adriatic Sea meet the dramatic peaks of the Dinaric Alps, while medieval walled cities and churches cling to seemingly impossible clifftop perches.
I’ve traveled this region quite a bit over the last couple of years and have found myself continuously surprised by it. Of course, there’s pure scenic delight just about everywhere you turn, but there’s also a mind-boggling abundance of cultural and historic treasures as well. The great empires of Western civilization have all left their mark in the Balkans.
Roman emperor Diocletian built his retirement palace in Split in the 4th century C.E. Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that you could spend days wandering through. Roman ruins in Zadar are some of the most impressive in the region. The Venetians built impressive walled cities during their time in cities like Dubrovnik, Sibenik and Korčula. And, in Istria you can take in some of the finest examples of Habsburg baroque architecture in cities like Rijeka and Opatjia. Traveling east to Mostar in Bosnia-Hercegovina, you can admire the Ottoman’s architectural legacy throughout the old city with its ancient marbled streets and one of the most photographed bridges in all of Europe.
At the northern edge of the Balkans, Slovenia’s lush green landscapes and towering peaks of the Julian Alps begin to feel like another world entirely. Then, at the southern Adriatic piece of the Balkans, Kotor in Montenegro enjoys an impossibly scenic location in one of the only European fjords outside Norway (…it’s technically not a fjord, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at it..).
Montenegro (the name means ‘black mountain’) is small by comparison but packs a lot of wallop for its size. There’s hardly a level piece of level ground to be found in the entire country. The Bay of Kotor is nothing short of stunning with its turquoise waters rimmed by jagged mountains shooting to the sky. Montenegro is also the place where you’ll begin to notice a decidedly eastern Slavic vibe as signs begin to appear in the Cyrillic alphabet as well as the Latin. Enough said. Here are links to some image galleries that I hope convey some of the appeal of this, my favorite corner of Europe.