Updated: Aug 31
On a mission to travel to every country in Europe, I have been fortunate enough to explore some of the extraordinary Balkan peninsula. After multiple visits to this spectacular region, I can strongly say that it will always have a special place in my heart and is exactly why I want to share with you my 3 favourite countries in the Balkans to visit.
The Balkans is an area of the world that you do not hear enough people travelling to. When you speak to people about taking a gap year to travel, you'll often hear about Australia, South East Asia and Dubai, but I say to them save yourself the money, the tens of hours of flying and go and explore the beautiful Balkan Peninsula. When they ask why I always put it simply - you will be shocked at what you see and what you would have missed out on.
Visovac Monastery, Krka National Park, Croatia
Did You Know?
The name 'Balkan' comprises from the Turkish word for mountains.
3. Montenegro - Europe's most underrated country?
Montenegro despite its small size is actually bordered by 5 nations: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Serbia and Kosovo. The tiny state, as we know it today, has only been around since 2006 when it split from Serbia, with over 55% of the country voting for independence.
Did You Know?
Montenegro translates as 'Black Mountain' and derives from Venetian. The actual black mountain in question is Mount Lovćen in the southwest of the country.
As its name states, Montenegro is a very mountainous country, which is certainly not a bad thing as it means you will find some undeniably spectacular cliffside roads, as well as some awesome spots to take photos from a birds-eye view. Therefore, ascending some of these hills/mountains is an absolute must as it will allow you to take full advantage of the country's topography.
As well as having wonderful heights, Montenegro also has an insanely beautiful coastline - enough to compete with any country in Europe. The best way to explore this coast is to stumble on down to the little seaside town of Budva, just an hour from Podgorica Airport. Beach Greco, in the heart of Budva, remains my favourite beach mainly due to its stunning sand and crystal clear water.
As you will see when walking around, most of the town was built by the Venetians who captured the area in the 15th century. Remains of this era still remain visible today with ancient city walls and a delightful old town.
Montenegro could well be Europe's most underrated country as, to put it simply, no one goes there - at least not from the UK, and there are plenty of reasons as to why its an unbelievable destination. For what it offers: the beaches, weather, history and value, it is absolutely a great option for a summer break. It's also exciting to visit places you never would have considered before, as these trips can often end up being your favourite times away. What is the point in travelling if you don't want to explore new places and be that little bit adventurous?
Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
2. Slovenia - Cleanest country in Europe?
Although Slovenia is not entirely located within the Balkan peninsula, I just had to include it due to multiple factors that I believe make it one of Europe's best countries.
First and foremost the people are just amazing - they are truly some of the friendliest and most caring you will ever meet. They are generous, proud people who always go out of there way to ensure you thoroughly enjoy your time visiting their country.
Secondly, the streets are always so clean, tidy and well-maintained, which enhances your whole experience. In Ljubljana, the capital, cars are banned from driving in the city center which creates a unique experience unlike anywhere else on the continent. You can also walk pretty much anywhere in Ljubljana at night and feel totally safe - although like anywhere you should still remain cautious as a tourist and stick to the main streets throughout the night.
Lastly, Slovenia perfectly encapsulates its wonderful history and traditions throughout the entire country and gives you the perfect opportunities to find out more about this wonderful and interesting nation.
Slovenia could well end up being somewhere you regret never going to. It is somewhere I will always hold in high regard and is one of the first places I tell people to go. The country not only takes care of itself, its environment and population but it also takes care of the tourists who visit. Even if you visit just for a few days, you can die happily knowing you visited one of Europe's coolest countries!
1. Croatia - Is there a better summer destination in Europe?
I do have a slight bias towards Croatia, as it was the first Balkan country that I ever visited, so perhaps that is partly the reason as to why it sits at number one on my list. I have been there 3 times since and dream of many more returns to be able to explore the areas I have never seen before.
Personally, my favourite city to visit in the country was Split in Dalmatia. It is everything you could ever ask for, in terms of a Mediterranean city; stunning beaches, brilliant cuisine and interesting history on display to name just a few reasons. I also love the passion of the Hajduk Split F.C. fans who decorate the entire city with their team's logo, history and colors - unlike anything I have ever seen before. The murals display a deep love and connection between the city, the football team and the passionate locals. What also makes Split great is the access to other nearby islands such as Hvar and Brač.
Croatia's popularity with tourists has sky rocketed over the last decade, gaining more and more British tourists following in the footsteps of Italians and Germans who have been visiting for years prior. The beauty of Croatia is now starting to receive the recognition it deserves and is becoming one of Europe's most popular summer holiday spots.
I genuinely think you will struggle to find a better summer destination in Europe than Croatia. Yes, Greece and Italy are lovely but there's something about Croatia that just separates it from the rest. It just has a distinctly unique 'vibe' about it that allows you to feel really relaxed and gives you the opportunity to step back from normality.
We are interested to know your thoughts and what you consider your 3 favourite countries in the Balkans. Don't forget to follow our Instagram below for latest travel tips and to keep up with our travels!