The Balkan destination dupes to see this summer

Clients keen on a Balkan escape? Point towards these lesser-known – but no less beautiful – destinations, says India-Jayne Trainor

A heady mix of sun, sea and millennia of history, the Balkan peninsula has long been an alluring destination for British travellers. The region’s iconic fortified cities, sandy beaches and spectacular national parks certainly make for a varied holiday but, in high season, they can get a little busy.

With Balkan nations such as Montenegro and Albania boasting some of the fastest-rising visitor numbers in Europe, we’ve examined the best places to book for clients seeking a dose of Balkan beauty with fewer crowds.

Medieval cities

Bucket list: Dubrovnik’s orange-tiled rooftops and sparkling Adriatic waters never fail to impress. Walking along the medieval city walls, visiting gorgeous filming locations (hello, Game of Thrones) and hopping to pine-covered isles are just a few of the activities clients can get up to.

The alternative: The walled town of Kotor, Montenegro (just 55 miles from Dubrovnik) is backdropped by mountains, sits on the deep-blue shores of Europe’s southernmost fjord and boasts similar copper-coloured rooftops to its Croatian counterpart.

The Unesco-listed Old Town is home to cobbled streets, stone fortresses and medieval churches, while getting out on the water is easy with boat trips around the scenic Bay of Kotor. This summer, airlines including easyJet and Jet2 are launching direct routes to Tivat, a 10-minute drive away.

Book it: A seven-night break at the Hotel Casa del Mare Pietra with Tui starts from £857, based on two sharing, including breakfast and flights from Luton, departing June 3.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

National parks

Bucket list: Roughly halfway between Croatian capital Zagreb and the port of Zadar are the emerald lakes and cascading waterfalls of Plitvice National Park. The falls are connected by wooden walkways and surrounded by dense forest, making them ideal for hiking, kayaking and cycling. Visitors may spot deer, wolves and birds.

The alternative: Croatia’s Krka National Park – just over an hour’s drive from Split – is home to 17 waterfalls that tumble into impossibly blue pools (and, unlike Plitvice, this park features some areas you can swim in). Boat tours take in the best of Krka, including a stunning monastery on Visovac island.

Book it: EasyJet holidays offers seven nights’ B&B at the Hotel Park Makarska in Split for £614, based on two sharing, including 23kg luggage, transfers and flights from Luton departing May 7.

Albania Beach
Ksamil beach, Albania

Beach resorts

Bucket list: Sunny Beach is Bulgaria’s most popular beach resort, with a vast swathe of golden sand and endless activities to enjoy. Pair this with the country’s affordability and water parks, and it’s a strong choice for families.

The alternative: The sun-drenched Albanian Riviera is where you’ll find stunning beach towns like Sarandë, Himarë and Ksamil, all of which overlook an aquamarine Ionian Sea. Although popular with locals seeking sunshine, there are dozens of secluded sandy coves and even semi-secret Maldivian-style overwater restaurants to discover.

Book it: Sunvil offers seven nights at Sea View Hotel in Himarë, including breakfast, flights and transfers, from £1,442, based on two sharing, departing June 3.

Cultural cities

Bucket list: Minarets and bell towers dot the skyline of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s much-loved Ottoman city, Mostar. Renowned for its striking Old Bridge, Mostar is home to dozens of zigzagging lanes lined with shops and restaurants.

The blend of cultures and landscapes mean visitors can explore vineyards, waterfalls and mountain trails alongside churches, mosques and bazaars.

The alternative: Bosnian capital Sarajevo’s colourful history is reflected in its streets. The Old Town is filled with cafes in Ottoman-era buildings, while the Latin Bridge to the old Catholic quarter is where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, sparking World War One.

Elsewhere, bazaars and mosques sit next to opulent Austro-Hungarian public buildings, offering a cosmopolitan city break.

Book it: Responsible Travel’s 10-day Bosnia Self-Drive holiday, which includes two nights in Sarajevo, starts from £595, including car hire, B&B accommodation and 24-hour assistance, but excluding flights.

Albania Outdoors
Valbona National Park, Albania

Mountain hikes

Bucket list: The mirror-like waters of Slovenia’s Lake Bled, set against the snowy Julian Alps (which some say is where the Balkan peninsula begins), are nothing short of astonishing. Outdoor activities abound, from hiking to soaking in thermal springs.

The alternative: In the Albanian Alps, unspoiled Valbona National Park is all jagged peaks, forested valleys and rushing rivers. Incredible trails, such as the 120-mile Peaks of the Balkans transnational track, traverse lakes and waterfalls, while other activities such as horse riding, kayaking and foraging offer a truly wild experience.

Book it: Exodus Adventure Travels’ eight-day Walking in Albania trip starts from £1,849, including flights, B&B accommodation, four lunches and dinners, a group leader and all transfers. Departures are available on various dates between May and September.

Ask the expert

Lynsey jones balkan holidays

Lynsey Jones, national sales manager, Balkan Holidays

What’s your favourite destination in the Balkans?

Sozopol in Bulgaria – it has both history and culture.

What should agents focus on when selling lesser-known Balkan destinations?

Value for money – and that there’s more than just the beaches. A common misconception is that certain spots are hard to reach, but we offer transfers to our destinations, so that’s not the case.

Which country is best to recommend for clients who have never been to the region?

I’d say Croatia; we offer an Adriatic cruise that hops around Croatian islands, which means clients can explore a range of places.

Bulgaria ask the expert
Sozopol, Bulgaria

PICTURES: Shutterstock/Lucasz Okrasa, Aleksandar Todorovic, ecstk22, givaga; Exodus Adventure Travels/Sondor Travels

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