I am absorbing and creating cultural connections during my trips. With our lives becoming pretty hectic, we need our trips to offer total relaxation, but it doesn’t mean you have to always travel at a slower pace excluding yourself from local activities. For slower travel: you need an open mindset. Southeast Europe is incredibly beautiful and there’s no place quite like the Balkans. I love the Balkans! They have a rich and complex history with lots to see and experience. We have spent 10 days on the road vising multiple countries, drinking rakija, swimming in a lake near the Albanian border, reading, eating more salads a day than I can remember, sleeping by the sea, climbing hills surrounded by hundreds of olive trees, following rays underwater and eating fresh corn on the cob and homemade donuts on the beach as a post-swim snack. We have reconnected with nature and people throughout the whole journey in so many different ways.
When to go? The best time to visit the Balkans falls roughly somewhere between May and early September. Late summer is my favourite season to go there because during peak season the coast can feel somewhat crowded. The weather is consistently hot and sunny in August which makes it more appealing to me with a bit more privacy.
Where to go during your Balkan travel? That depends on your travel interests. I’d suggest you to start from the top at Croatia driving south towards Montenegro via Bosnia and Herzegovina – finishing off in the western part near Albania. Fly and flop is not my preferred choice here – The Balkan Peninsula is amazing for country hopping and I would love you to try that. Driving in the Balkans is an experience and you can’t be shy about it because it’s not the easiest of road trips – it will certainly test your endurance.
We flew from London to Dubrovnik where we’ve picked up our rental car and drove straight to Montenegro during the night.
Let’s talk about Montenegro for a second – what a beautiful and inspiring country and nation. We have driven through the most magical places, did some snorkelling and climbed some more steps. This country is extremely underrated here in the UK – hence why we like it so much.
Budva: Arriving to Budva is like stepping into a small fairytale. We were extremely lucky with our apartment and the views which we have picked from Booking.com (Villa Mona) – We have Level 2 Genius discount with them which is the top level comes with a whooping 15% discount. The Genius benefits only apply if the hotel includes them in the rooms they offer on Booking.com. You can also try Airbnb. This medieval town has Montenegro’s loveliest sandy beaches (Our favourites: Mogren Beach, Jaz Beach, Kamenovo Beach, Przno, and Old Town Beach) and the nightlife is pretty good too.
Slow travel tip 1: Wake up and smell the sea. Choosing a sea view apartment considerably far from the city centre was intentional. You can enjoy some quiet time and practice yoga on a terrace overlooking the sea at sunrise or sunset.
Sveti Stefan: This place is effortless but graceful even from afar. Sveti Stefan is a preserved fortified island village from the 15th century with amazing swimming opportunities and forest walks nearby.
Slow travel tip 2: Walk, walk, walk. Ditch the car for a day and where you can. You can easily walk to Sveti Stefan from Budva – picking up some fresh plums supporting the local markets.
Kotor Old Town: Kotor is a photographer’s dream. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site situated in southern Europe’s only fjord with lots of steps, coffee shops and hidden lanes. You can earn this view by climbing the city walls knowing you have found the perfect spot for the most magical sunset.
Slow travel tip 3: Get away from the touristy spots, cafes and restaurants – It is extremely difficult in Kotor, given how small and popular it is, but it isn’t impossible. Support local businesses and try the local cuisine instead of eating at a chain or seemingly popular restaurant.
Our Lady of the Rocks: An artificial island with a church and chapel off the coast of Perast, I’d recommend you to get on a boat and stop by for half an hour if you can to take some great photos and enjoy the 360 views on the smallest island you can imagine.
Lovcen National Park: Driving up to the national park from Kotor is quite magical – it is definitely taking you away from the buzz of the cities and beaches for a few hours. We were in awe from the views.
Slow travel tip 4: Nature at its best. Don’t rush after taking a few photos, enjoy the views and the sunshine as long as you can ✨
Blue Cave Adventure on a speedboat: Except walking tours, we are not a big fan of planned tours in general. But this one is worth paying for. It is not only helping the locals to keep their business going, but it is also well-planned. They are providing you exclusive access to a speedboat, showing you around the Bay of Kotor, Mamula, Our Lady of the Rocks taking you all the way to the ex-submarine military base with a 30 minute open water swimming experience in the Blue Cave. What’s not to like?
Slow travel tip 5: Don’t rush through your day, be open to new experiences and people. Create new cultural connections. The people we met along the way, even on the boat, were extremely welcoming, friendly and adventurous. It was great fun to share our journey to the Blue Cave with others.
Njegos’s Mausoleum: This mausoleum sits at the second-highest peak of Mt Lovcen (1657 m) in the southwestern region of Montenegro. From the top you can see Albania and take some eye-catching photos after a bit of hike and look around. You can either join an organised tour in the city (Budva & Kotor) or drive there yourself.
Perast: Tiny idyllic village hidden and locked away on the Bay of Kotor. You can stop by for a lunch and a quick sunbathe before heading to the Blue Cave.
Lake Skadar – Albania: We weren’t able to drive and enter Albania with our Croatian rental car due to the local travel restrictions, but we’ve managed to get on a boat and swim in Lake Skadar which lies on the border of Albania. We had the best time jumping from these small boats whilst enjoying some local food and drinks ending the day with an hour sunbathe on the boat’s rooftop.
Slow travel tip 6: Forget about the internet and use the time to unwind. Our views from the boat’s rooftop were insane and I am so grateful how we soaked up every bit of sun barely looking at our phones.
Snorkelling: We had so much fun snorkelling in the crystal clear waters of Montenegro with rays and small fishes cruising around underneath us. Some areas are perfect for SCUBA certified divers and snorkelers too. This is a must-do, so I’d suggest you to pack some goggles or a diving gear. Montenegro has it all, have I convinced you yet?
Slow travel tip 7: Snorkelling always reminds me of our beautiful underwater wildlife and how important it is to protect it as much as we can – our daily activities and habits have an awful lot of impact on our oceans. Be mindful, be sustainable.
Dubrovnik: We’ve spent a day in Dubrovnik and enjoyed the sunset from a cabel car with breathtaking views of the Old Town and Elaphiti Islands.
I think the Balkans is Europe’s next big thing. Given how underrated it is here in the United Kingdom – it is still waiting to be explored. Encourage the new, encourage the different by moving away from obvious tourist attractions. Can’t wait to come back for another visit in a few years. Happy travels!