We had two goals for our August escape this year: 1) check out some places we’ve never been before and 2) spend more time by the sea. With a little over a month to work with and a road trip in mind, we still weren’t sure where to go. One region, surprisingly close to our home in Lucca (at least as far as European road trips go) that we’d been contemplating for years yet still felt foreign and strangely elusive, came to mind - the Balkans.
We’ve spent time in Slovenia and Croatia and loved both countries, but it felt like we had just scratched the surface. We wanted to get a feel for the differences in cultures and languages that make this region so textured, varied and vibrant. We also wanted to separate the missable from the unmissable, hunting down the coolest spots and best hidden gems to share with other travelers.
We had been to Ljubljana before around Christmas time, but August has a whole different vibe. This city is hands-down one of the most underrated in Europe.
Novi Sad, Serbia
Given that one of our goals for the summer was to spend more time by the sea, you might ask why we chose to visit a landlocked former communist country with a torrid past. It’s a good question with a pretty simple answer… we’d never been here before and didn’t have any expectations. Both things that, in our opinion, are often the starting point for incredibly interesting, if not perfect, travel experiences.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
We weren’t entirely sure what to expect of our time in Sarajevo, but as we were driving away, Ryan said “Everyone should come here.”
But the people of Sarajevo don’t want their future to be defined by the city's past. Sarajevo has become a vibrant modern city, with craft breweries, great coffee, markets, restaurants and so much more. It’s beautiful, surrounded by the Dinaric Alps with the Miljacka River passing through the city. The people are welcoming, generous and proud of their home and what they have created in the short time since the siege.
Ryan was right, everyone should come here.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The 2-hour drive from Sarajevo to Mostar was mind-blowingly beautiful - a little sneak peek to what we were about to experience in the city itself.
With stone bridges, hidden corners, riverside cafes and surrounding mountains, Mostar is straight out of a fairytale. The most famous old part of the city is small - like, really small - and can be easily explored in a few hours, making it a popular day trip from Dubrovnik (1.5 hours away). To say it simply, we really liked it here. We walked along the river, drank beers from a local craft microbrewery, learned about the city’s history, and enjoyed a couple of nice dinners out. Most notably, we were introduced to Bosnian burek, a much loved stuffed pastry which is absolutely worthy of the hype!
All in all, having spent a week in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we can’t help feeling that travelers miss out on an incredible experience by not visiting this wonderful country. Our time here provided the much needed context to better understand the history, the people, and the culture, and we absolutely recommend putting Bosnia on your travel wishlist.
When most people think of Montenegro, they think of Kotor Bay. And rightfully so… it’s pretty epic. The steep mountains seem to crash into the calm, glassy, lake-like water of the narrow bay below.
While the last couple of weeks felt like traveling, this finally felt like vacation. We spent our days swimming in the mornings, working during the afternoon heat, and staring blankly at the sheer beauty of the place in the moments in between. At night, we watched the mountains turn pink, and enormous cruise ships sail by as we drank cold lagers and made simple dinners in our apartment. We felt so relaxed here and could stay longer, but it was time to hit the road for the 2-hour coastal drive south.
It’s not often that we feel compelled to leave a place, but this was one of those occasions. We decided to chalk it up to experience, and move on…
We couldn’t drive up the Dalmatian Coast and not stop in Dubrovnik!
Also known as the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’, the famous walled city is simply stunning - no wonder it’s the most visited in the country. The calm waters are perfect for swimming and kayaking, with epic views of the coastal cliffs and hidden caves. Inland, the countryside is beautiful, with vineyards, ancient olive groves and medieval watermills. Within the city itself, the historic walls are like traveling back in time, and cliffside bars and great restaurants which (almost) make the crowds bearable. We always tell travelers that, although it can be busy and feel somewhat contrived at times, Dubrovnik is a place to visit at least once in your lifetime. It is spectacular.
This was our favorite stop of the summer. 4 hours north along the coast from Dubrovnik and only a few miles from Split, Marina is a beautiful, well-kept secret.
The final stop on our 5-week summer vacation was Pula, a near 6-hour drive north. This small city, on the tip of the Istria Peninsula, is home to the only remaining Roman amphitheater with four preserved side towers, along with an absolutely amazing coastline.
We had the added joy of spending our time here with our best mates from London (which was an unfair advantage for Pula in our destination-ranking system). We left the car parked pretty much our entire time there, opting to keep it local for our last few days of vacation. We rented a tiny - like, really tiny - boat for a morning, practiced our diving skills, lounged in the sun; drank beers on the pebble beaches, jogged the undulating coastline, told stories as the sun set, and relaxed with our friends. Just a couple hours from Italy, it was the perfect end to our adventure through the Balkans.
If you’re feeling inspired and want to explore the Balkans, check out our 11-day Designed Trip to Slovenia & Croatia where you’ll discover Ljubljana, Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik. If you want to go a little more off the beaten path, or have different destinations in mind, get in touch and we’ll work with you to plan the perfect Custom Trip.
A travel design agency.
Follow us on Instagram @CohicaTravel