I am leaving in about 10 days for a trip through Western Balkans. Plan to spend some time in Italy before and after. Have been looking at transportation options in Balkans. Originally, I had planned to use public, but am wondering about renting a car instead. Have found good rental rates with well-known companies. I am traveling with a friend. We are both mid-60s. She is afraid to drive there as she has heard about steep cliffs with no guard rails. I am not too worried about it as I have driven the entire coastline of Ireland, with steep cliffs, etc. I normally drive on the right with a manual transmission at home. I would like some feedback from any of you who have driven there. Was it easy or difficult? Scary? What were the roads like? Other drivers? Any other feedback? Thank you so much for your honest answers and feedback!
Having driven a rental car in Montenegro and travelled by bus in Croatia and Bosnia Hercegovina i would say that the picture of steep cliffs with no guard rails is a stereotype. Sure you will be able to find them if you go off the beaten path and look for them, but the main roads are fine, though not in mint condition. I found driving (in Montenegro) easier than i had expected, though there was the odd cow on the road :-). The Balkans are fairly sparsely populated compared to western Europe, so the traffic is not that heavy, especially in between the mayor cities. Personally i found driving in rural Montenegro way less stressfull than driving the well regulated German autobahn.
Be sure to tell the car rental company the full list of countries where you want to drive. When I gave my proposed list of countries to Auto Europe, they could not find a car to fit my trip. Not driving at night is a good way to avoid unseen hazards from rough roads, slow-moving vehicles, or wandering livestock. I did not find driving in Greece or coastal Croatia to be particularly different from the rest of Europe and the same for my impressions of Bulgaria through our tour bus window.
We are older than you and last September we (that is, Mr.) drove in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro over a 4 week period. We found some of the roads better than ours here in California. Some of the country roads are one lane in each direction but no other issue. We did drive on a road with steep cliffs in Montenegro but we knew what we were getting into as we were driving up to a mountain top site. There was not much traffic. We have not driven in Ireland so can't compare it for you, but we have driven in a few other countries in Europe and found driving in the Balkans to be similar. One thing to be aware of are the speed signs. On some back roads the speed limit can change quickly from 60 kilometers/hour to 40 to 20 back to 60. There may be police with radar around the curve and if you are driving above the limit you will be required to pay a fine on the spot.
Thank you to all of you for the wonderful information. It is so reassuring to read. Having this forum is such a wonderful thing. I really do appreciate each of your responses!