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Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Romania

My husband and I will be in the Balkans late August through September, flying into Bucharest and heading to Montenegro first for a already scheduled event. We will be riding two people on a motorcycle for the whole trip. (Not worried about that part, we've done similar).
I'm trying to establish some sort of trip that would encompass many of the locations mentioned above but not needing to cover all in one trip as we are returning for a total year or so.
Can anyone suggest towns to stay in where we'd be able to do a bunch of small trips? I'm thinking of possibly staying in four or five locations?
Also, anywhere to avoid?
Thank you!

Posted by Lane
Seattle, WA, USA
855 posts

That's a lot of ground to cover, and I wouldn't suggest you leave it to perfect strangers who know nothing about you to advise you on where to go. To pick four or five destinations out of an area that has dozens of fabulous places worth seeing is a really challenging task. You've got beaches, mountains, historic cities, ancient ruins, art and architecture, diverse cultures, and a ton of gorgeous scenery, plus lots of excellent food and beverage styles worth sampling.

It would help if you indicated the total length of your trip and some of the things you are interested in seeing and doing. Also, where are you flying out of?

Posted by Susie C OP
Gainesville, Florida
5 posts

We are flying in and out of Bucharest arriving August 24, departing September 25. We're not interested in food tours or wineries. Love history and "out of the way" locations. We typically divide our stays with hotels and airbnb when staying several nights. I know it's a lot and I'm willing to drop some. I'm really trying to find a few locations that we can use as a base to explore the area. Thanks for your comments.

Posted by Lane
Seattle, WA, USA
855 posts

That helps. It's still hard to select 4 or 5 locations to use as bases, but here are some suggestions:

  • Research the islands off the Croatian coast. Pick one that suits you and use it as a base to explore multiple islands. You could also do day trips to Dubrovnik and Split from some of the islands. I'd recommend starting there because ferry schedules probably start to decrease in frequency once you get into September.
  • Sarajevo would make a great base for exploring Bosnia. You can daytrip to Mostar from there, plus there are some national parks and other destinations that you could do as daytrips. That might work toward the end of your trip as you're circling back into Serbia and then Romania.
  • Ljubljana is also an excellent base for exploring Slovenia. I particularly recommend Bled, Bohinj, Vrsic Pass, and the Soca Valley.
  • I haven't been to Serbia or Romania, so I can't advise you on what to see in those countries.

You should probably pick up some guidebooks and decide what are the things that most appeal to you. Then come back to this forum with more guided questions to help you narrow down your choices.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7012 posts

As mentioned, this is a huge area, so I hardly know where to start. This is sort of stream-of-consciousness.

Podgorica, Montenegro's capital, is not a terribly attractive place, so I can't recommended it for a stay of any length. Places I liked in the country include: Ulcinj (in the south, striking Turkish vibe), Budva (intensely touristy), Kotor (the bay is a must; tourist load depends a great deal on whether a mega-ship is in port), Cetinje (interior town, a former capital), and Herceg-Novi (on the way to Dubrovnik). Without checking, I'd say Kotor might be the best transportation base among those options, but that may not be so critical for you since you'll have your own wheels. People say the national parks are lovely. Certainly much of the countryside is. The ride into Podgorica from Nis in southern Serbia was quite something. Hope you like curves.

I haven't seen much of Serbia. Nis is interesting enough but for me not worth a special trip (but that bus ride!). It was my way-station on the very long leg from Sofia, Bulgaria, to Montenegro. Beograd (Belgrade) is worth a couple of days, and you can make a side-trip to Novi Sad, the old capital, which is very distinctive. Or stay in NS and visit Beograd. NS feels a bit like a hippy enclave. Serbia is less westernized than some of your other countries; English is not as widely spoken there (not sure about things like museum labels, either), though I'm sure you'll find plenty of assistance if you need it. It's useful to know that menus virtually always list several sauces that you can get on the side for no more than about $1 in a typical restaurant. Take advantage of opportunities to try them. I liked the sweet-red-pepper version, which I think is called something like "ajvar". I once encountered it mixed into some sort of soft white cheese to make a spread: delightful.

[Edited to delete unneeded suggestions for Bulgaria.]

II spent more time in the larger Romania. The Communist ruler Ceausescu amused himself by having a great deal of historic architecture pulled down and replaced by ugly piles. You need a guide book to figure out which places best survived his onslaught (Bucharest not being one of them, though if you spend a day wandering around the city you'll see some scattered nice buildings, some early 20th century).

I give top marks to the folkloric area of Maramures in the NW with its gorgeous wooden churches, carved gate posts, Merry Cemetery, etc. You occasionally still see people wearing folk garb to church on Sundays. I took a 2-day tour that stayed in a B&B out in the country (don't have the name) and can't recommend a specific base to you. The former political prison in Sighetu MarmaĊ£iei is very interesting if you get that far north. I saw nothing of the city itself.

In the NE (Bucovina) you have the also-beautiful painted monasteries. If I had to choose, I'd take Maramures because of the variety of sights there. Suceava is more or less the jumping-off point for that area. It didn't seem particularly attractive to me.

Cities with a lot of lovely old architecture (restored with EU funding, I believe) include the colorful Cluj-Napoca (closest to Maramures), Brasov, Sibiu and Timisoara (where the revolution started; good low-tech museum). Sighisoara, the most intensely touristy, looks medieval.

The western city of Oradea has some interesting Secessionist architecture. Not very touristy, but perhaps a bit out of the way.

Iasi is pleasant but not thrilling (though I missed the botanical garden). Skip it.

The Retro Hostel in Cluj-Napoca runs a lot of tours. The information on its website may give you some good ideas.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7012 posts

Croatia and Slovenia are the most western of the listed countries. Ljubljana is the obvious base in Slovenia, but if you're very outdoorsy, you might like to be closer to the Julian Alps.

Croatia is long and skinny, so it's hard to do hub-and-spoke travel there. I'd enjoy some time on the Istrian Peninsula (mostly Croatian but with a bit of Slovenia in the north). With the motorcycle you could probably stay nearly anywhere except the far northern and southern extremes, avoiding the crowding common in the coastal towns except when you want to be there. Places to see include Piran (Slovenia), Porec, Vrsar, Rovinj, Pula (Roman ruins, otherwise people don't seem thrilled by it), Motovun (interior) and Groznjan (interior). As of 2015 there was a zip line in Pazin (interior).

Southeast of Istria and inland is the Plitvice Lakes National Park, which gets my highest recommendation, but you really must stay in the immediate area the night before your visit so you beat all the day-trippers into the park.

A bit farther south you have Zadar, Sibenik and Split (with Trogir nearby), visitable from each other. There are also lots of islands you can visit in that area.

More islands as you head farther south, then after crossing the neck of Bosnia-Hercegovina you come to Dubrovnik. Try to time your visit so you hit a day with comparatively few and small cruise ships in port. Dubrovnik isn't terribly far from Ulcinj [oops--I meant Herceg-Novi; Ulcinj is way to the south] and Kotor in Montenegro. Trebinje, not far away in Bosnia-Hercegovina, might also be worth a quick visit; I've never been there.

All I've seen in Bosnia-Montenegro is Mostar and Sarajevo. Both are certainly worth the trip, with Sarajevo needing more time so probably the better base.

Posted by Susie C OP
Gainesville, Florida
5 posts

Wow thank you all so much! Plenty to start investigating. I'm excited to see Bled, Sarajevo and the islands off the Croatian coast. Ulcinj is already on my list as well.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7012 posts

I'm sorry, Susie. I goofed. I meant to say that Herceg-Novi is relatively near Dubrovnik. Ulcinj is much farther south, but it's a small country, so perhaps you can get to both of them. Ulcinj does feel a bit more exotic, but they are both worthwhile.

Posted by TC
Atlanta
2509 posts

If you go to or from Kotor there is something you need to know. There is a road that leads away from the bay inland that goes to the towns of Njegusi and Cetinje. The views are spectacular. It goes up the side of a steep mountain and has 25 numbered 180 degree switchback turns and at least 75 other sharp turns. Rock wall on one side and nothing on the other. This may very well be the type road you like to ride, but if not you might want to avoid it. Don't mean to rain on you parade, but don't want you to get into a hairy situation without any knowledge.You can go to bing.com, use the map feature, and see aerial views of the road from &*$$. You can also check it out on googlemaps.com. It is possible, however, to go to and from Kotor with using that particular road. On 12 Mar. 2017 there was a thread on this forum titled "Greece Montenegro Croatia". One person included a link to the map that shows the road. Another person had a link to a video made along parts of the road.