Tucked away near the border of Slovenia, Buje epitomises the Istria region of Croatia. Its fertile lands and Mediterranean climate make it a prime spot for wine-making, with the view of rolling vineyards and olive groves only interrupted by the turquoise ocean. Here, sleepy villages boasting winding cobblestone paths, quaint restaurants and boutiques dot the tranquil countryside, ensuring visitors fall in love with their surroundings.
Still relatively unvisited in comparison to its Balkan neighbours, travelling to Albania’s remote northern mountain region is a must. Studded with breathtaking views, this stunning mountain range takes a bit of effort to reach – but it’s worth every step because Valbona offers some of the most majestic views in the region. Discovering the landscapes with a local tour guide comes recommended.
Lake Skadar, Montenegro
Looking like it was plucked straight from a fairytale, dolphin-shaped Lake Skadar is the Balkans’ largest lake, with the majority of the water sitting in Montenegro and the remainder in Albania. About 400-sqm of the Montenegro part is a protected national park and is famed as being one of Europe’s best bird habitats. The lake is surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery that takes in mountains, medieval monasteries and small towns.
Often dubbed Sarajevo’s most isolated village, Lukomir – which sits 20km from Sarajevo at an altitude of 1,500 metres – is abandoned during the cold winter months, with a few semi-nomadic herders living in houses built from rock during the summer when they work the land and tend to their flocks. The traditional customs of nomadic tribes and Dinaric highlanders are still practised here.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
While Lake Bled is bustling with visitors – mainly locals – during the summer, fall is the perfect time to visit this postcard-perfect destination when the crowds have died down. Instagram-worthy photos can be found everywhere, from the shimmering emerald lake, medieval castles, quaint churches and a backdrop of the Julian Alps and Karavanke. Hiking, biking, kayaking and canyoning are some of the activities available.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Home to eight national parks, Croatia is packed full of delights. However, this Unesco-listed destination is not to be missed. As Croatia’s oldest national park – dating back to 1949 – it is teeming with karst rock formations, waterfalls, turquoise lakes and blooming flora. It can easily be accessed as a day trip from Zagreb.
Also referred to as “The city of a thousand windows”, this charming city is a highlight of any visit to Albania. Renowned for its collection of white Ottoman houses that hug the hill that leads to the castle, which helped secure it a spot on the list of Unesco World Heritage sites in 2008, Berat has retained a laidback vibe and welcoming appeal. Throw into the mix the stunning backdrop of Mount Tomorr and once you arrive we can guarantee you’ll never want to leave.
Having become the first southeastern European city to receive the title of European Capital of Culture in 2007, Sibiu – which lies in Transylvania – is shrouded in cultural magic. Medieval charm oozes from every corner, with museums, colourful homes and stores lining cobbled streets. And for those who like to tap into a country’s cultural heritage while visiting, then Sibiu has a great artsy vibe, with festivals and exhibitions taking place throughout the year.
Olomouc, Czech Republic
Steeped in history, this city can easily rival the Czech capital of Prague. Believed to be founded by Julius Cesar, Roman heritage runs rife throughout Olomouc, where modern influences have helped create a more than desirable destination. Said to be the Czech Republic’s best-kept secret, get there quick before the crowds catch on and it becomes overrun with tourists.
They say they best things come in small packages, and this is certainly true with Prizren. Holding the crown as Kosovo’s “Cultural Capital,” this small town comes with a rich history and plenty to see and do. Full of historic bridges, riverside cafes, a medieval fortress and diverse architecture that reflects its occupied past, visitors can spend days meandering through the cobbled streets and exploring the mix of mosques and monasteries.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Another gem that came straight from a postcard, Mostar is home to the Balkans’ most celebrated bridge, Stari Most. The 16th-century, Ottoman-style bridge stretches 28 metres across the Neretva river, connecting the two sides of the city. Explore the cobbled lanes and dive into the long history of Mostar, which still bears some of the scars of the 1990s conflict. While Mostar gets painfully hot during the summer, the autumn months see the temperature become more pleasant.