The Western Balkans is the most beautiful region in Europe. It has everything nature has to offer: sea, mountains, forests, wild rivers, a warming sun and lovely people. Travelling around the region for many years, I have been lucky to witness some spectacular sceneries and capture them with my cameras.
From the natural wonders hidden in the forests of Slovenia to the last wild European river in Southern Albania, from a winter day blanketed in snow in Belgrade to a beautiful, lazy summer day in sun-blessed Herzegovina, there is not a place in the Balkans that will not take your breathe away. Prepare to fall in love.
Note: all the pictures are mine and only very lightly edited through Lightroom. I don’t edit out people or garbage bins, I don’t give the sky an unnatural colour… What you see is what you get.
Most-wanted Slovenian view over Lake Bled
Where: Bled, Slovenia
When: August 2018
A hike worth the sweating! Lake Bled is the most popular Slovenian out-of-town trip and truly deserves the praises. The area is crowded during the peak of the summer season but enjoyable all year long. Come early. It’s especially important when taking the hike up the hill to catch this incredible view over the lake and the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria. Wear good shoes as the path is steep and full of unstable rocks. Once you reached the top, there is space for a dozen people to sit around and enjoy this view comfortably.
Ljubljana’s dream-worthy reading spot for book lovers
Where: Ljubljana, Slovenia
When: An afternoon in August 2018
Ljubljana is one of those destinations that are amazing all year long, from the magic of the winter season to the outdoor adventures of the summer. I came across the perfect summer reading spot in Ljubljana while wandering in Tivoli Park. I was enjoying my time alone, discovering the most beautiful green area of the city. However, after several hours on my feet, finding this quiet area was providential. Everything was so perfect: the calm water of the pond, the little frogs and ducks playing around, the readers lying on the grass… One of them was reading the same book as me, The Goldfinch by Dona Tartt (which I wholeheartedly recommend!). There is a café nearby in the park. This part is very neat and tidy like a French garden.
The most romantic sunset from Sarajevo’s fortress
Where: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
When: June 2018
If you come to Sarajevo, walking uphill to the “yellow fortress” (Zuta Tabija) will be one of the highlights of your stay. At sunset, the city goes fifty shades of orange and pink. Locals and tourists gather at the viewpoint to admire the sun going down over the old town. Couples embrace in the caressing light. Cats play around. Waiters bring Bosnian coffee (not Turkish!) and beers. I suggest starting climbing before the sun starts going down as it might take you some time to reach the fortress. The path is steep but worth the effort!
The iconic church of St John in Ohrid
Where: Ohrid, North Macedonia
When: March 2017
The eldest lake of Europe is the gem of your Balkan tour. This unique Unesco world heritage site combines the lake and the old city (both named Ohrid). Some people from the region think about it as a little sea as it stretches all the way to neighbouring Albania. It was always a popular touristic destination for Yugoslav citizens. Nowadays, foreigners are flying from all over the world to enjoy the pristine water, the history and the hospitality of the people. Climbing up above the Church of St. John at Kaneo will give you this Instagram-worthy photo. The lovely building sits on a cliff overlooking the lake and is impossible to miss while exploring the area. If you come during the summer, it will be hard to avoid the crowd on the picture. But Ohrid is also delightful in spring when the trees are blossoming.
Jumping from Mostar’s Old Bridge
Where: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
When: August 2016
Mostar, located in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a very popular city among locals and foreign tourists. This area is blessed by the sun and vibrant nature. The old town, the emerald Neretva river, the summer gardens and terraces stretching along the ice-cold Buna river and the spirituality of the dervish monastery in Blagaj are some of the must-sees in the area. In Mostar’s old town, the Ottoman bridge destroyed during the war in the ’90s and rebuilt identically is the most visited spot. The majestic structure offers a breathtaking view of the city and the Neretva river. Stand below by the water in August and you will have a chance to witness the jumping competition. According to traditions, 16-year-old men have to jump from the bridge into the icy Neretva to show they are ready for adulthood. Nowadays, there is a competition and foreigners can also reach out to the diving school located nearby for training and a chance to make the jump.
Serbian breathtaking mountain view in Zlatibor national park
Where: Zlatibor, Serbia
When: September 2018
Mountains are a Balkan wonder. There is nothing like going on a one-day trip outside of Belgrade to the mountain resort of Zlatibor and fill one’s lungs with the area fresh air. Climbing up the path to the Yugoslav monument bathing in daylight at the top of a hill and sitting up there watching the sunset over the mountains with a beer and a book in my hands, remains one of my most beautiful experience in four years roaming around the region. Drinking a cup of coffee while looking at the sun darting its first rays of lights through the pines was a simple yet beautiful addition to the whole experience.
Magical Slovenian forest and Vintgar gorge
Where: Vintgar Gorge
When: August 2018
Easily reachable by bus from Lake Bled or lake Bohinj, the Vintgar gorge is one of the most visited sights in Slovenia. The water runs down 1,6 kilometres between the hills and ends in a 13 meters-high waterfall. Wooden bridges take the visitors along the rocks all the way to the waterfall. If you get there at the opening at 9 am, even in August, you will be able to take photos with very little people on it. From 10 am, tourist buses start arriving and people have to wait in a long line to enter the protected site. Another reason to come early in the morning is to enjoy the fresh, wet air in the shadows of the gorge. The area has a magical atmosphere and one can easily imagine fairies flying around, unnoticed by mundane eyes.
Konjic’s no-crowd Ottoman bridge on the Neretva
Where: Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina
When: June 2018
Away from the crowds of Mostar, Konjic has so much to offer. Starting with a beautiful Ottoman bridge over the Neretva joining the two sides of the old town. The city and the bridge are still a well-kept secret, half-way between Mostar and Sarajevo. Here, one can enjoy a plate of delicious cevapi by the bridge without the busy crowd that one would find in Mostar. And you still get the beautiful Neretva. The Balkan’s coffee culture of sitting with friends and enjoying a slow-paced life makes total sense here.
Europe longest cable-car ride over Tirana
Where: Tirana, Albania
When: July 2017
Suspended high above the ground for more than 15 minutes, visitors exploring Tirana will have all the time to admire the 360° view over Albania’s fast-growing capital city and its natural surroundings. From the air, one can see the urban area spreading in the valley, the rivers and lakes and the mountains everywhere around. You cannot visit Tirana and miss taking the cable car going from the city to the Dajti resort on the mountain. It is the longest cable car ride in Europe and takes more than 15 minutes to reach its destination, a small resort from where you can hike up the mountain or simply enjoy the view while drinking coffee and eating some delicious Albanian food.
The last wild river of Europe is in Albania
Where: Permët, Albania
When: September 2017
Imagine a river running free, without any man-made infrastructure stopping its course, from its spring to the sea. Imagine going down this river in a raft or jumping into it from a rock. The Vjosa river in the south of Albania is the last free-flowing river on the European continent. Thanks to the relentless efforts of the inhabitants of the valley, all the projects of building hydro-power plants on its course have been stopped so far. Locals and visitors can still enjoy its pristine blue waters bubbling between mountains, through arable lands and small cities using its water to develop a sustainable, environment-friendly and local-based economy. One can find all this in the peaceful city of Permët spread across the Vjosa and blessed by a beautiful environment.
Prizren historical fortress
Where: Prizren, Kosovo
When: November 2017
Powder cannons and high stone walls on top of the mountain. Kosovo is an underrated European destination that should be receiving much more attention. Pristina is definitely one the place to be nowadays to enjoy a mix of history, crazy architecture, incredible food and party scene and the simple genuine hospitality of the people. What’s more, the country might be small but its capital is far from the only interesting place to visit. Just a couple of hours away, Prizren is another dynamic city buzzing with activity in the summer during the spectacular International documentary and short film festival Dokufest. In winter you will avoid the crazy crowd and enjoy the dramatic scenery from the old fortress walls. Nestled on top of a high hill accessible by foot from the old town, the Kaljaja (also known in Serbian as Dusan’s fortress since it used to be a major medieval city of the Kingdom of Serbia) offers a breathtaking view of the city and the nature surrounding it. It’s even better with a stormy sky and crazy wind blowing in your face – then it feels like a being in a movie!
Waking up with the peaceful Danube in Serbia
Where: Malo Golubinje
When: November 2016
I will never forget the sight of the Danube this morning of winter. The peace I felt with a coffee in my hands just looking across the undisturbed waters. The Western Balkans are the perfect place to find a balance between a dynamic urban environment and a peaceful life surrounded by the generosity of nature. In Serbia, waking up with only the sounds of birds and the little splashes of fish in the majestic Danube is only a few-hour-long ride away from the busy capital city of Belgrade. The road follows the Danube all the way to the Iron Gate and Romania before turning south into the wine country of Negotin and towards Bulgaria. The ride is easy, simple and sprinkled with historical sites such as the recently renovated fortress of Golubac, the archaeological site of Viminacium, monasteries and churches hidden in the hills…
The most exquisite golden hour is in Belgrade
Where: Saint Sava in Belgrade, Serbia
When: May 2017
The biggest orthodox church in Europe stands white and majestic in the capital city of Serbia. It is one of the sites not to miss while on a three-day visit to Belgrade. And the best time to visit is when the sun starts going down and the light takes a beautiful golden hue. I always say the way the light reflects on the city is peculiar here. It is one of the reasons I have fallen in love with the city. The rays of declining light hit the white walls of Sveti Sava, the water spurting from the fountain and the tall glass building of the national library. People gather with their children and pets and enjoy the last moments of the day. The scenery is not only brilliant to catch the golden hour but also to get a sense of the city and its inhabitants.