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Balkan Tales: Stories from staff adventures

Packed spectacular mountain scenery and a whirlwind of culture, the Balkans are the perfect destinations for the curious traveller - which is probab... Read more
Balkan Tales: Stories from staff adventures

Packed spectacular mountain scenery and a whirlwind of culture, the Balkans are the perfect destinations for the curious traveller - which is probably why just so many of our team have visited this fascinating part of the world. From Lisa, our Product Manager who lived in Slovenia for 13 years, to Hugh's journey to the sacred summits of Olympus, here are their stories and tales around the Balkans. 



Living in the Julian Alps

The spectacular Julian Alps were my home for 13 years and even today, are an undiscovered Balkan gem.  For a true mountain journey there is no greater adventure than Across the Julian Alps to Mount Triglav, the highest peak in the country.  Here you’ll head off the beaten track and experience traditional mountain huts nestled in the Triglav National Park.   I’ll never forget my first ascent of Triglav and as I stood on the summit with a panorama which included not only Slovenia’s incredible mountains, but Italy’s Dolomites and Austria’s Alps too, I was blown away and emotional.  We’d trekked for 5 days to reach this summit on a hut to hut adventure which included alpine lakes, dramatic peaks, some superb scrambling and day after day of breath-taking scenery.  However the Julian Alps are not only for people looking for a challenging hut to hut trek. The mountains offer a fantastic variety of easier daily walks just a short drive away from the beautiful lake of Bled.  Here you'll experience cascading waterfalls, pretty alpine pastures and hiking trails which take you along the Slovenian-Austrian border.                                    


Trekking the Transylvanian Alps

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on my first visit to Romania.  I’d heard numerous stories about Count Dracula and the country’s filled cabbage rolls but heard very little about its trekking.  What I quickly realised is the true beauty of Romania’s Transylvanian Alps is due to a lack of mountain accommodation, meaning the chance of bumping into another group is a rarity.  I can honestly say I was blown away by the wonderful feeling of isolation as we reached a mountain hut nestled in an alpine amphitheatre.  I also learnt that light backpacking isn’t something to worry about, as our fantastic leaders were a wealth of knowledge in what was “necessary” and what was “a bit of a heavy luxury.” Unlike other companies, and in true KE style, we include Moldoveanu, the highest peak in the country, which this turns this trekking holiday into a magical mountain journey.  The Transylvanian Alps are Romania’s best-kept secret –however just make sure you keep that to yourself.  



Exploring Croatia

I first travelled to Croatia in 1997 and heard a lot of “are you sure it’s safe?” “Isn’t it part of Former Yugoslavia?” Even now I often get asked, “have they rebuilt it after the war?” The only Croatian concern I have now is the fear of knowing I’m going to overeat! Home to one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, Croatia is not all sun worshippers and all-inclusive hotels. It's a culinary delight alongside spectacular scenery. Paklenica National Park is bursting with dramatic mountains which fall into a sea dotted with archipelago islands. On our Croatia Coast and Islands holiday, you’ll ferry hop to three of these island gems as you discover them on foot. Alongside walking, you’ll also get to explore the Mediterranean jewel of Dubrovnik. However, if mountains, islands and trekking is what you’re looking for, KE’s Walking Croatia’s Coast and Mountains is perfect. A two-day trek takes you up into Paklenica National Park where you’ll be rewarded with sweeping sea views and a wonderful spot of mountain hospitality. If you're a lover of great food then Croatia is a foodie feast, but the ultimate region for food lovers is Istria. Home to indulgent truffles, fragrant olive oils and delicious wines - you'll experience all this and more on our Footpaths and Flavours of Croatia.



Trekking the High Peaks of the Balkans

Wild and very remote, I absolutely loved my time trekking in Albania and criss-crossing it's once impenetrable borders with Macedonia and Montenegro. This is a holiday that challenged my peak bagging ambitions (during the week I got to summit the highest peaks in four countries) and made me genuinely feel like I was in an area few tourists have yet explored. This couldn’t have been more evident than the night we were due to stay in a shepherd’s hut. Unbeknownst to the shepherd owner, he had double booked his small dwelling with another group of 10 trekkers. Earlier that day as we stopped for lunch we said 'guten tag' to a group of 10 German trekkers who were following a similar route to us. That evening we bumped into them again as we all walked to the same front and it became apparent that we would be sharing our bunks that night! However, the whole village came together to find us all accommodation and this was without a doubt one of the best nights of the trip.



Following the Tastes and Trails of Macedonia

From Skopje to Ohrid and all the bits in between, Macedonia really is a hidden gem in the Balkans. From the city tour at the start at the holiday, you really get the feel of the history that makes Macedonia a special country. Making our way into the mountains, the shepherds and their loyal companions are the only other inhabitants we bumped into on the days we were trekking; you really are off the beaten track. Staying in beautiful family run guesthouses, you can guarantee a warm welcome and will without a doubt leave with a full stomach and with fantastic memories. What I loved the most; getting a feel for local life in Ohrid and being the only trekkers on the trails! Going back to the hustle and bustle of Skopje really makes you appreciate the week you have just spent in a beautiful country.



Crossing the Balkan Borderlands

The beauty of the Balkans lies in the fact you can meander cross-border, something I discovered on a journey through Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Kosovo last year. The Balkan Borderlands are home to some of the wildest parts of Europe, and the hiking consists of days spent walking through Kosovan pastures, beneath the huge cliffs of Montenegro’s mountains and passing by Albania’s iconic haystacks. Peopled by warm and welcoming mountain folk, who are still genuinely curious about the few tourists who come here, this area deserves to be better known for the quality of the locally produced food. We ate sumptuously, revelling in everything from plump, stuffed vine leaves to fresh goats cheese paired with fat olives and warm home-made flatbread. Every single one of my fellow travellers wanted to return to the Balkans before we'd even left - I know we'll all be back!




Climbing the Sacred Summits of Olympus and Meteora

I have been to many parts of Greece and saw 2 more amazing parts on this trip. You can’t help but be in awe of the monks who built the monasteries that are perch on top of the rock towers. Even without the monasteries, Meteora would be a fascinating place to visit. Moving on to Olympus, trekking to the true summit involves an easy but worthwhile scramble – never tricky but enough to keep you on your toes. Post-summit I loved the cosy nature of refuge ‘c’, where it’s easy to talk to others trekking in the area. The refuge is idyllically located sat on the edge of the plateau with breath-taking views back towards the towering Mt Olympus.



The Ultimate Albanian Cycling Tour

We cycled south from Lake Ohrid, crossing briefly into Macedonia to visit the stunning monastery of St Naum, then continued southwards with the Greek border on our left-hand side. Time has stood still in this part of Albania; horse-drawn transport is common and the rich agricultural land is still worked by hand. Wild flowers proliferate along the roadsides and the few car drivers we met tooted their horns in greeting as they passed by. This is a land full of surprises; we bathed in hot springs beneath a 16th century Ottoman bridge, ate lunch at a restaurant with a waterfall flowing across its roof, hiked up to the fortress above UNESCO-listed Gjirokaster, rode the long and sinuous descent from the Muzino Pass and enjoyed a guided tour of the important archaeological site of Butrint with its Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Venetian influences. Two nights on the Albanian Riviera and the chance to swim in the Ionian Sea was a great way to sign off on one of the best cycling holidays in Europe.




Finding the Undiscovered Balkans

It's hard to imagine that only 20 years ago Bosnia was under siege deep in the Yugoslav war. Although there is still real evidence that this country still suffers from political differences and lack of resource, I was genuinely surprised by how beautiful it was. I travelled a clockwise route from Dubrovnik in Croatia, through the southern part of Bosnia known as Herzegovina, north to the city of Sarajevo where east meets west, finally heading southeast to the beauty of the Sutjesksu National park and the towering Maglic. I loved the warmth of the people in Bosnia, everyone had a story to tell about how there were affected during the war which made you feel very humble indeed. I learnt so much about the fascinating history of the Ottoman empire and genuinely fell in love with this country. It felt completely undiscovered, the mountain scenery is wild and dramatic, the local food and hospitality is warm and friendly and the trekking is remote and rewarding. There is a lot more to Bosnia than meets the eye and it's still one of my favourite KE trips to date.


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