The Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia) may not be on your bucket list yet, but this emerging region in Europe is growing in popularity at an exponential rate, and there’s no better time to experience it for yourself than right now.
There’s just so much history to learn about here – even in just the last century or so. From the initiation of WWI in Sarajevo with the first Balkan War, to Nazi occupation in WWII and communist rule during the Cold War, to the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, so much has happened in such a short time and border lines have changed on countless occasions. The changes are almost unprecedented, and the stories of struggle and triumph are endless and remarkable.
Considering the dissolution of Yugoslavia wasn’t really all that long ago, you can still see how these countries are rebuilding and adapting to this day, establishing their identities and embracing great tourism opportunities. Overhearing stories and learning about the complex politics that have gone on, not to mention meeting the people involved in the evolution of the Balkans as it is today, is nothing short of witnessing history as it happens.
Where else can you get an authentic goulash, a perfect pizza, a juicy sausage, a delicious doner kebab and a sweet strudel all in one place – and it’s ALL considered local?
You’ve got the Western European classics, the Eastern European meat feast, the coastal fresh seafood, the epic Italian influences and the Middle Eastern spices and flavours all at your fingertips in the Balkans. There really is no shortage of variety, with all of these culinary influences working together to deliver so much deliciousness.
With so many religions and cultures in this region, and borders that have shifted many times in the last century alone, there’s a unique mix of experiences to be had.
From the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Catholic influences to the flavours of both the Ottoman and Austrian empires, there’s literally a little bit of almost everything European and Middle Eastern in one region. Although it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, it’s so beautiful to watch it all coexist in the present.
Diversity applies to the scenery as well – the Balkans are home to huge palaces and old walled cities, awesome beaches and stunning coastal getaways, gorgeous mountains and greenery, rivers and waterfalls galore, the quaintest of small towns and mammoth European metropolises. The photo opps are endless.
This region is still very much emerging as a tourist destination (most of the tourists who are there are European), so when you’re exploring and you land on something wonderful, chances are you’re one of the first foreigners to witness your discovery.
The region is much less touristy than its Western Europe counterparts, so a smart choice if you want to experience that authentic European vibe without too much western influence. You won’t find a fast food chain on every corner, and that does a lot for making you feel like you’re really and truly experiencing a different culture.
If you’re starting in Croatia and making your way through the Balkans, things only get more affordable as you go – a mega plus for your travel budget. Many countries in the Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia) are still utilizing their own currency, which is an advantage for those of us who love to collect coins and see our dollars stretch as far as possible.
There’s nothing better than ordering an authentic meal for a few dollars, washed down with a cheap local beer or wine, and the Balkans is THE place to do this in Europe. Plus, with all of the different cultures at play, your meals and souvenirs are going to be super-unique, affordable and that much more special.
So there you have it! Unique experiences with intense history, great food and culture, plus incredible scenery – all on a budget that’s happy to play nice. The Balkans may just be Europe’s best kept secret and the sooner you go, the sooner you’ll wonder why you’ve waited so long to get there.