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The Western Balkans are that rarest of European finds: an idyllic landscape covered in wildflowers, conifers, Roman ruins and sleepy little hamlets, but with hardly a tourist in sight. We'll start this 22-day journey among the waterways and canals of Venice, the Queen of the Adriatic, then make our way south-east along the Dalmatian coast, stopping in at the old Roman city of Split, doing a little island-hopping in Lastovo and Korcula islands, and moving on through Sarajevo, Belgrade and Novi Sad. This is a chance to see the Western Balkans before the boom - with scenery like this it won't be long until the tourist hordes begin to take notice.
Day 1: Venice
Arrive in style! Your airport arrival transfer is by private water taxi. Glide into the centre of Venice by boat to gain an appropriate sense of perspective of this unique city from the water… don’t forget to keep your camera handy! This watery wonderland of bridges, towers, piazzas, canals, churches and gondolas – practically unchanged for 600 years – is literally sinking under the weight of iconic sights. You may choose to take a boat tour or a gondola ride on the Grand Canal, passing under the Rialto Bridge and admiring some of the city's many monuments from the water. Perhaps take a walking tour of the highlights, including St. Mark's Square and the Basilica, Doges’ Palace, Accademia Bridge, and the Bridge of Sighs. There are also numerous museums to visit. After the group meeting tonight, do not be afraid to lose yourself on a short walk of discovery, through mysterious, quiet alleys and sleepy canals.
Day 2: Postojna Caves / Ljubljana / Bled
This morning, farewell Venice and Italy, and travel to the Postojna Caves (approximately 2 hours), where you will have some free time to have lunch before exploring the cave. A network of 20 kilometres of passages, galleries and chambers, Postojna is the largest classic karst cave in Europe. In 1872, railway lines were laid in the cave and electricity arrived in 1884. Begin with a 2-kilometre open-top train ride through narrow tunnels to this jungle of stalactites and stalagmites. In the vast chambers the electric lighting allows you to admire the size and splendour of the underground world, where the geological past is recorded in a unique manner. The wealth of speleothems, calcite and formations is dazzling, and they abound in a variety of shapes, colours and age. Continue on to Ljubljana (approximately 1 hour), a city full of style and sophistication, and a treasure-trove of history, monuments, churches, museums, and great restaurants. On arrival you’ll take a guided tour around the old city centre, renowned for its unique architectural appearance. The Old Town consists of three main squares and baroque houses. Visit Ljubljana Castle, the Town Hall, Cathedral of St. Nicholas and the Dragon Bridge. You'll also pay a visit to the open market under arcades before continuing to the lake side town of Bled (approximately 1 hour).
Day 3: Lake Bohinj / Bled
This morning you’ll drive through the misty Sava Bohinjka Valley to beautiful Lake Bohinj (approximately 30 minutes). The lake is the largest permanent natural lake in Slovenia, formed by a glacier and fed by several underwater springs – the most well known is the karst spring Govic. Take a cable car to the top of Mt Vogel, where you will be greeted by simply astonishing views of this incredibly stunning region – evergreen woods sloping down the mountains to touch the brilliant blue waters. You’ll then have free time to enjoy this amazing area. Back down in the valley it's then back to Bled. With immense natural beauty, Bled, together with its surroundings, ranks among the most beautiful of alpine resorts. It's renowned for its mild, healing climate and thermal lake water. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and then embark on some sightseeing. Take a Pletna boat ride (a wooden, awning-covered boat rowed by a special oarsman) to the island on Lake Bled – climb up the 99 steps to St Mary's Church. Enjoy a free evening – perhaps head to the cliff-top Old Bled Castle, dating from the 15th century and overlooking sparkling Lake Bled. Be sure to seek out the famous Bled cream cake, which isn’t hard; nearly every cafe and cake shop in town claims that theirs is the best.
Day 4: Motovun / Rovinj / Pula
Farewell Slovenia this morning and drive to Motovun, one of the most interesting towns in Croatia (approximately 2 hours). Motovun sits on the top of a cone-shaped hill, 277 metres above sea level, surrounded by the romantic and natural diversity of the bountiful Mirna River Valley, whose forests are famous for truffle hunting. Motovun is the one of the most beautiful medieval towns in Croatia's Istria region, with houses scattered all over the hill. The town grew around a core settlement surrounded by well-fortified walls, and its Celtic origin name comes from the word 'Montona', which means the 'town on the hill'. The medieval charm of the town is still found in its well-preserved architecture. Truffles are a glamourous-sounding local produce in this region. Enjoy a truffle tasting combined with fritaja (Croatian omelette), a local speciality. Your sommelier will pair your tasting with suitable Istrian wines to try, such as the famous Malvazija. Continue on to the romantic Croatian town of Rovinj, one of the best-kept towns on the Adriatic Coast (approximately 1 hour). Among Rovinj's qualities is the beautiful, architecturally intact old town centre, with a relaxed Mediterranean feel. Through the centuries, Rovinj’s character has enchanted many an artist or writer, including Jules Verne. Whilst in Rovinj you will also pay a visit to the venetian-style St. Euphemia Church, dedicated to the early Christian martyr whose marble coffin is said to have floated to the Rovinj shoreline. Continue on to Pula, only a short drive and tonight’s destination (approximately 40 minutes).
Day 5: Pula / Opatija / Plitvice
This morning, explore the famous Roman Amphitheatre of Pula with a local guide, and step back in time to the town’s heyday as a Roman regional administrative centre. Overlooking the harbour, the arena is the 6th largest surviving amphitheatre in the world. Built in the 1st century, it was designed to hold up to 20,000 spectators, who revelled in the bloodthirsty gladiatorial contests shown there. The 30 metre-high wall, inset with two rows of arches, is made entirely of local limestone, with gutters on top for collecting water and slabs that were used to hold a shady fabric canopy in place. In the late morning you will make your way inland with a stop at the town of Opatija (approximately 1.5 hours), a former resort town for wealthy Austro-Hungarian families. Here you’ll have the opportunity to walk along the famed centuries-old Franz Joseph I Promenade, better known as the Lungomare – a coastal footpath that stretches from Volosko to Lovran. There will be time for you to explore the stretch of the promenade closest to town, and to have lunch. In the afternoon, you will transfer to your hotel (approximately 2.5 hours), located in the Plitvice Lakes area.
Day 6: Plitvice Lakes National Park / Zadar
Today you will visit one of Croatia's most beautiful sites – Plitvice Lakes National Park. The park was given World Heritage status 20 years ago and comprises 19 hectares of wooded hills that surround 16 stunning turquoise lakes, all connected by a series of waterfalls. The area is populated by deer, bears, wolves, boars and some rare bird species, and the thick, primeval forest vegetation of beech trees, fir spruce and white pine adds another element to the park's beauty. You’ll have free time to explore here – all trails in the national park are well marked so it's difficult to get lost, but please follow the national park rules, which your leader will outline to you. After your memorable visit to the lakes, drive to the walled city of Zadar (approximately 1.5 hours). For centuries Zadar was the capital city of Dalmatia, and the city's rich heritage is visible at every step. Take an afternoon sightseeing tour of this splendid city – see the Roman Forum built in the 1st-Century and St. Donatus' Church, which dates back to the 9th century and is the most famous medieval basilica and trademark of the city. You’ll also see numerous other fascinating constructions from between the 12th and 16th centuries, like the reconstructed Romanesque St. Grisigono's Church, St. Mary's bell tower, St. Anastasia's Cathedral, and the People's Square. Lastly, you will visit the Three and Five Wells Squares. There is also an opportunity to visit the Gold and Silver Museum.
Day 7: Zadar
Today is a free day in Zadar. There is so much to see and do in this harbour city, the hard thing is deciding what to choose. There are a number of excellent museums to visit including the Museum of Church Art, the Archeological Museum and the National Museum. Don't forget to visit the famous ‘Greeting to the Sun’ and the ‘Sea Organ’, two of the more modern sights of Zadar. The latter is a man-made organ on Zadar's Riva that works with the motion of the waves and 35 pipes to create a musical soundscape. You could also visit the vibrant fish markets of this port town, take a dip in the clear coastal waters, or explore the café culture and do some people watching. Your leader will also be able to offer you suggestions. Later, why not get together and try some Dalmatian food specialties at a local restaurant.
Day 8: Sibenik / Primosten / Split
After breakfast, you will drive to Split, making a few interesting stops on the way. Your first stop is at the town of Sibenik (approximately 1 hour), where you have the option to visit St Jacob's Cathedral, a 15th century jewel that’s UNESCO protected. After some free time for lunch you will drive to Primošten (approximately 30 minutes), one of the most famous and picturesque small towns on the Adriatic. Explore the stone houses, churches, narrow alleys and lanes around the town’s old walls, where past and present sit in harmony. Continue on to your next destination Split (approximately 1 hour). This is Croatia's second largest city, located in the heart of the Dalmatian coast and set on the azure waters of the Adriatic Sea against a backdrop of coastal mountains.
Day 9: Trogir / Split
This morning you will embark on a sightseeing tour of Split with a local guide. The city dates back 1,800 years, to the time when the Roman emperor Diocletian built a monumental imperial residence for his retirement. Today this fortified camp is an intriguing warren of narrow cobblestone streets where pre-Romanesque churches exist alongside Gothic chapels and a multitude of museums. You will also visit Diocletian's Palace, which was built in 295 AD and constitutes the heart of the city. Very much a living monument, it is framed by four gates, the most famous of which is the Golden Gate. In front of it stands a statue of the 10th-century bishop Grgur Ninski, who once opposed the pope and introduced the Croatian language into his services. In the afternoon you will take a small boat to the town of Trogir. Explore this quaint seaside town on a guided tour. Visit the cathedral where you can see the famous monument (a 13th-century portal of Dalmatian masonry) before returning to Split in the evening.
Day 10: Lastovo Island
Enjoy a free morning in gorgeous Split before boarding an afternoon catamaran for our ride to Croatia’s most remote island – Lastovo. The 4-hour journey is worth it to reach this secluded slice of paradise. Being so remote the island is still undiscovered by mainstream tourism and it has a unique local flair to it. The whole island is a nature park and as such protected from over-exploitation. This means that the locals didn’t develop the mass tourism infrastructure as seen on other islands and for that reason most of the locals moved away and the island’s population is slowly dying out. However this makes it the last authentic Adriatic Island that preserved the life as it once was in the whole region. We support the locals who have decided to stay there. Transfer to your guesthouse and enjoy an included dinner with your group, looking over the tiny bay.
Day 11: Lastovo Island
Today you’ll learn the local trade with an immersive fishing experience – early start included. Rise and shine to head out with a local fisherman, his wife and his crew, helping to bring in the days' catch, usually scorpion fish, mackerel, sardine and bream. Enjoy the fishy fruits of your labour with a seafood lunch freshly prepared on board. Make sure you ask the captain any questions you may have. Return to Lastovo and enjoy the rest of the day as you see fit. Perhaps relax on the beach or explore the peace and quiet of the stone waterfront and tiny port of this unique island lost in time.
Day 12: Korcula Island
Bid farewell to Lastovo and transfer back to the port of Ubli, where you will board the mid-morning ferry bound for the island of Korcula (approximately 1.5 hours). Disembark at Vela Luka and transfer to Korcula Town, stopping en route at Blato, a little-known interior town on the island. Enjoy some time to explore a town many tourists never see and enjoy an optional lunch before continuing. Arrive in Korcula Town and get acquainted with this fortified, seaside city on an orientation walk. Enjoy a free evening in this stunning city. Perhaps wander through the narrow streets of the Old Town, taking in the stocky Revelin Tower and impressive defensive walls before stopping for dinner in one of the many restaurants.
Day 13: Peljesac Peninsula / Dubrovnik
Take a short ferry ride from Korcula to the Peljesac Peninsula, famous for its wine. In a family run winery you will try some of their locally produced wines accompanied with light cheese and smoked ham. Next visit the town of Ston, with time for you to enjoy an optional lunch, before continuing to Dubrovnik. Once settled in, head out into the amazing Stari Grad, Dubrovnik's compact Old Town, with your leader, just in time to enjoy the sunset views from the famous Dubrovnik city walls. This walled treasure is often referred to as the 'pearl of the Adriatic' and is surprisingly tiny (400 m by 600 m within its protective walls). It's a lovely city to walk around, as it's been restored to its former glory since the damages of the 1991 conflicts.
Day 14: Lokrum Island / Dubrovnik
Travel by boat to the island of Lokrum. It's located off the coast of Dubrovnik's old town. In this quasi 'botanical garden' you'll encounter a collection of exotic Mediterranean plants. Lokrum is also strewn with many golden sandy beaches that are popular with the locals. You will visit the ruins of an old Benedictine monastery and enjoy great views back across to Dubrovnik as well as Napoleon's fortress. Return by boat to Dubrovnik at around lunchtime. The remainder of the afternoon is free for you to walk around at leisure. Make sure you visit the Franciscan monastery and the Rector's Palace. In the evening meet up with your group again to enjoy an included dinner.
Day 15: Dubrovnik
Spend free time in Dubrovnik, one of Croatia's most bewitching seaside cities. Continue to explore the charming Old Town, or simply enjoy the city's lively outdoor cafe culture. Alternatively why not rent a sunbed and umbrella at the city beach, or the beaches south of town.
Day 16: Kotor / Dubrovnik
Set out from Dubrovnik on a day excursion to the stunning country of Montenegro. Montenegro occupies a thin strip of the Adriatic coast and is a land of beautiful sandy and pebbled beaches, dramatic mountain peaks and delightful old villages. Your excursion will take you to Europe's most southerly fjord, Boka Kotorska (Bay of Kotor), one of the most beautiful bays of the region. On the way, pass through the small and picturesque towns of Risan and Perast, situated on the banks of the bay, before arriving at the UNESCO World Heritage listed town of Kotor, where you will embark on a sightseeing tour with a local guide. Visit the Cathedral of St. Tryphun, which dates back to the 8th century (according to the annals of Constantine Porfirogenet, the Byzantine czar), the South Gates of Kotor (the "Gurdich Gate"), and the square "Trg od oruzija" (The Armory Square). Return to Dubrovnik in the afternoon.
Day 17: Blagaj / Mostar / Sarajevo
Depart Dubrovnik this morning and travel to the peaceful town of Blagaj, our first stop in Bosnia (approximately 2.5 hours). Blagaj is the location of the turquoise Buna River spring, where you’ll visit a historical tekija (Dervish monastery). After lunch there is a short drive to Mostar (approximately 30 minutes), a town situated in a beautiful valley in the high mountains of Herzegovina. Thanks to the river Neretva, Mostar was able to develop as a city in the barren landscape of Herzegovina. Neretva's size turned Mostar into a trading centre of the region very early on. The most famous feature of the city is its bridge. Stari Most ('Old Bridge'), which was built by the Ottomans in 1565. It was the great architect Mimar Hajrudin who had succeeded with the impossible mission to cross the Neretva River with a single span stone bridge. In the late afternoon you will drive to Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo (approximately 2.5 hours). Enjoy a dinner in a local restaurant.
Day 18: Sarajevo
Explore Sarajevo this morning with a walking tour of the city. You will visit the famous Baščaršija, the old Turkish quarter, home to one of the most interesting market centres in the country. Sarajevo is one of the few cities in the world that features an Orthodox church, a Catholic church and a mosque (the famous Begova Džamija) all within close proximity. You will be visiting all three buildings on your tour. This city may well be one of the highlights of your trip. It has emerged from the brink of ruin in the 1990s to become one of the most interesting capital cities of Europe. After your exploration of the city, there will be free time for lunch before you depart for the Tunnel Museum in the suburb of Ilidža. The tunnel was dug underneath the airport runway and was used to smuggle provisions into the city during the siege. The rest of the afternoon ids free for you to explore this exciting city.
Day 19: Srebrenica / Belgrade
After breakfast transfer from Sarajevo for Srebrenica (approximately 2.5 hours). Explore the narrow streets and learn about the town's tragic past on a guided tour, including a visit to the Srebrenica Memorial Center. The Centre honours the thousands who died in the infamous Srebrenica Genocide of 1995. The local guide who has lived through the horrors of war will answer any question you might have. Take time to reflect on the experience over lunch at a local restaurant before travelling to Beograd, the Serbian capital more commonly known as Belgrade (approximately 3.5 hours). The 'White City' is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Sitting at the confluence of two major rivers, the Sava and the Danube, it’s an important intersection between Eastern and Western Europe. Here you’ll experience an energetic mix of progressive flamboyance and conservative customs.
Day 20: Belgrade
After breakfast take part in a guided sightseeing tour of Belgrade to give you some familiarity with the area and local amenities. Then you'll have the rest of the day free to explore the city. Perhaps begin with a wander around the city’s wide boulevards and squares, and the historic and green heart of Kalemegdan Park. The park is home to Kalemegdan Fortress, which has overlooked the Danube River here for centuries. In the evening, head down to Skadarska Street in the bohemian quarter of Skadarlija to sample some authentic local food and enjoy the lively atmosphere.
Day 21: Novi Sad / Sremski Karlovci / Belgrade
Embark on a day trip to Serbia's second-largest city, Novi Sad (approximately 1.5 hours). Experience Novi Sad's fascinating blend of traditional culture and Austro-Hungarian architecture wit your leader. Visit the city’s fortress of Petrovaradin, which sits right on the Danube and contains a museum of historic artefacts from the region. In the afternoon, head out of town to visit a local vineyard in Sremski Karlovci (approximately 30 minutes) and see the workings of a family-run wine making business. Visit the Zivanovic family’s honey museum and winery. Their old house has been converted into museum full of beekeeping memorabilia and the have had a wine cellar here for 300 years. You’ll try Bermet dessert wine which is a speciality of the region. Reports suggest it was drunk at the emperor's court in Vienna and was even served on the Titanic. This family are said to have kept the original recipe. Return to Belgrade in the evening for a final dinner with your group.
Day 22: Belgrade
Your trip ends after breakfast this morning in Belgrade. Those wanting to extend their stay can arrange additional nights' accommodation at the time of booking. If you have some spare time before departing, the markets near the Hram Svetog Save (St Sava Church) and Pijaca Venac will keep you occupied for hours.
- Complimentary Water Taxi Arrival Transfer from Venice Marco Polo Airport
- Postojna Caves
- Ljubljana Sightseeing with Local Guide
- Ljubljana Castle and Funicular
- Pletna Boat Trip on Lake Bled
- Cable Car to Mt Vogel
- Day Trip to Bohinj
- Truffle and Wine Tasting in Motovun
- Pula Roman Amphitheatre
- Guided Tour of Pula
- Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Zadar Sightseeing Tour
- Zadar Sunset Drink
- Guided Walk of Split
- Diocletian's Palace
- Day Trip to Trogir by Boat
- Trogir Sightseeing with Local Guide & Visit to Trogir Cathedral
- Fishing Trip with Local Fisherman with Seafood Lunch
- Visit to the Town of Blato
- Dubrovnik City Walls
- Dubrovnik Card (1 day local transport and entry to sites)
- Matusko Winery Tour and Tasting
- Boat Tour to Lokrum Island
- Kotor Sightseeing with Local Guide
- St Tryphon's Cathedral
- Blagaj Teke Monastery
- Guided Tour in Mostar with a Local Guide & Craftsman Visit
- Sarajevo Sightseeing with Local Guide
- War Tunnel Museum
- Gazi Husrev Beg Mosque
- Srebrenica Memorial Centre with Local Guide
- Guided Tour Belgrade
- Petrovaradin Fortress
- Wine & Honey Tasting in Sremski Karlovci
- Novo Hopovo Monastery
21 Breakfast(s) Included
5 Lunch(es) Included
7 Dinner(s) Included
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