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Balkan roadtrip

Balkans roadtrip! It was a dream come true for us, which started from the idea of spending our summer on the Dalmatian Coast. The initial plan was to get there by plane, as usual. Eventually, this idea turned into something much more adventurous! So, after we had made sure we had common days off from our jobs, we set off for the road trip we were so looking forward to.

Every single stop we made during the road trip, as well as the routes we followed filled our collage with amazing images, landscapes and experiences that we would not have acquired by travelling another way.

In the article below, we are going to analyze the total road trip experience. From our departure from Athens until our way back, in thorough detail. We hope to motivate you to have a similar experience too.

What should i do & what will i need?

  • New version police ID in Latin characters, or valid passport.
  • Driving License.
  • Green card, a document issued by insurance companies for free.
  • Since we were about to drive thousands of kilometers, we made sure to have with us several snacks, so much from home as much as from the stops we made. Cookies, cereal bars, fruit and other snacks made the trip much more pleasant.
  • A necessary companion for so many hours of driving cannot be other than music. We had made a playlist with songs we liked to keep us entertained throughout the trip.
  • Another estimation made beforehand was the petrol and toll expenses. The petrol in the Balkan countries is much cheaper than ours in Greece. It ranges from 1.20 € / liter to even 1 € / liter. As for the tolls, we only calculated the Greek ones because we were sure of their price. For the respective costs of the neighboring countries we looked for information in relevant articles on the internet.
  • We had made a plan of the individual stops, cities, places of interest, distances and all the related features of a road trip. You better make such a plan yourself so that you do not deviate a lot from the original ‘’plan’’, especially if you do not have many days at your disposal.
  • Data for web connection will not be available everywhere and it may cost you a lot. It would be useful to download the Google maps of all the areas you are going through. You can also download an offline navigator app in case the first maps get stuck.

1st& 2nd day (Athens- Ioannina, 406 km)

On the first day of the roadtrip we departed from Athens, where we live. After we loaded the car with our luggage, we set out for Stratos’ village, ‘’Vargiades’’.  It is a small and picturesque village before Ioannina, where we stayed over the first night. Our stay in this quiet village along with the relaxing family moments gave us the opportunity to get rid of the stressful rhythms of the city and gather energy for the trip that awaited us.

On the second day we decided to visit the town of Ioannina. We wandered around the shore of Pamvotida lake, enjoyed a coffee looking at its gray-green waters and walked into the castle. We returned to the village at lunchtime and stayed over until the next morning when we would depart again. 

3rd day (Ioannina-Albania, 350km)

Since we were aware of the traffic at the borders of Kakavia, especially at the time that we travelled (August 15th), we departed from Vargiades very early in the morning. On our way to the borders we enjoyed the countryside and green vegetation. A few kilometers later we came across some stuck cars which had been waiting in a queue. We had no other choice but wait to hand in the necessary documents (police ID and green card) in order to move on. Three hours later or so it was finally our turn! We showed the documents and entered Albania to set off for Tirana.

As we entered the country, for some kilometers near the borders we observed villages with Greek names such as Gjirokaster. The first impression was a sense of poverty and neglect  in the streets of Albania, something that discouraged us a bit from our further exploration of the country. We also had trouble (maybe because we are not used to it in Greece) dealing with the speed limits, which were very low in some cases and we could not move as fast as we wanted. On the other hand, an asset was that we came across several patrols more than often. They carried out checks, ensured order and made sure the speed limits were not exceeded, which is rather rare in Greece.

Another disadvantage during our roadtrip were the Albanian streets. We had been expecting big highways in most of the locations of our route. Instead, the streets had a single lane. As a result, the traffic congestion took us a little off schedule. However, the closer we got to the central cities the better the road network seemed to be. We finally got into a highway when we reached Tirana. After moving to a paved road with traffic lights, lanes and signs we realized that Tirana is a recently built city with a unique architecture and numerous green parks. It is a city which was built within the last years from scratch.

We reached our hotel named Arber Hotel (40€/ night), which was in the center of Tirana. Without hesitating, we left our luggage at the hotel and started wandering around the capital. Heading to the Blokku neighborhood, we passed by the famous Skanderbeg Square. A large central square, with the emblematic statue of Georgios Kastriotis,  (national hero of Albania).  Some other buildings we passed by were the Opera House and the Ethem Bey Mosque. We arrived in the most youthful neighborhood of Blokku, where we had many options for coffee, dessert and food, but also for drinks. We chose a very nice restaurant that had been recommended to us, the Cioccolatitaliani, and after eating, we wandered around the parks of Tirana.

Both the Greek and Italian influences made quite an impression on us. We could communicate in Greek with many people we met on our way, either people at the restaurants or in the streets. We also saw many Greek banks and tasted food similar to ours such as souvlaki (meat wrap). Another interesting thing was that there were no cars in the country prior to 1990. That explains why people had a peculiar driving behaviour. Specifically, almost no one stopped at the red traffic light, the flash was never turned on and they maneuvered in a dangerous way. However, we did not see any accident taking place. Another thing we noticed was the relatively expensive and new cars, such as Mercedes and Range Rovers.

Skanderbeg statute on our roadtrip to balkans

4th day (Tirana- Kotor- Dubrovnik, 294 km)

We said goodbye to Tirana and set out early in the morning for perhaps the most beautiful coastal city in Montenegro, Kotor. We wandered around the castle walls with the paved paths and gazed at the great view of the small port with the luxury yachts and cruise boats. The stop in Kotor was exactly what we needed in order to eat, rest and get back in the car to continue our roadtrip, this time to Dubrovnik.

On our way, we passed through many seaside tourist cities. We got a little stuck in traffic, but finally saw the imposing walls of the city. Arriving early in the afternoon, we left our luggage at the house we had booked, Guest House Nikolina (88 € / night). This house was relatively close to the castle. When it comes to the accommodation in Dubrovnik, compared to other cities in Croatia, it was relatively expensive, taking advantage of the reputation the place has gained.

Dubrovnik has become well-known from the famous Game of Thrones series, where many important scenes have been filmed and their castle represented King’s Landing. From our point of view, it was one of the most beautiful and picturesque medieval cities we have ever visited. The only drawback I can think of, due to the season, was the high humidity and the high temperatures. The white buildings with the orange rooftops, the imposing walls rising till the edge of the sea and the cosmopolitan air made us love every single moment in this city.

The only thing we did not get lucky at was when we wanted to climb the walls and take the castle tour. At the entrance they would only accept their national currency while we only had euros. We walked around the cobbled alleys inside the castle walls and bought souvenirs  for our family and friends. We also came across a huge fountain of Onoufrios where we filled up our bottles. A shop inside the castle walls caught our attention. Captain Candy had a huge variety of sweets and candies, although it was quite expensive. In the evening we enjoyed a night walk outside the castle walls, saw other beautiful spots and landmarks of the city and tasted the local cuisine, which was mostly seafood, due to the location.

our stop to dubrovnik during our roadtrip
Viewpoint from Panorama Restaurant

5th and 6th day (Dubrovnik- Split, 230 km)

We woke up early in the morning and set out for Panorama Restaurant in Dubrovnik. We had two options to choose from if we wanted to climb up the hill and watch the breathtaking view. Either by using the cable car or by car. We decided to use our car since it was available, but we suggest using the cable car for a more unique ride. The view of the Adriatic Sea with its islands and the city’s warm colors composed a beautiful canvas. We enjoyed our breakfast with Dubrovnik laying under our feet, took many photos and went back to the car to continue the road trip to Split. Split is Croatia’s second-largest city and it was founded by Greek settlers.

After greeting our Airbnb owner upon our arrival there and leaving our bags, we got ready for our first swim in Bacvice beach. The sandy beach had a variety of options to have a great time, from cafes and restaurants to water sports and clubs. After the beach we walked to the old town of Split. The city reminded us a lot of our own coastal tourist cities. The only difference were the imposing remains of the Roman palace of Diocletian.

Inside the walls, we felt the vibe of a different city, with the narrow alleys, galleries and various shops. We danced in the People’s Square, where in the evening the square turns into a music stage, entertaining tourists with its melodies by street musicians or by professionals. We also noticed many music events in the coastal part of town, in Riva. There was a large crowd of tourists and several wandering vendors from where we got our souvenirs. We continued our night walk in the picturesque alleys and found ourselves by the imposing statue of Bishop Grgur Ninski (we found it very difficult to pronounce it), where it is said that rubbing his fingers brings good luck. We ended our night enjoying cool cocktails in an atmospheric restaurant, in an alley inside the castle walls, named La Bodega.

The next day we set out for the second beach we were planning to visit, called Kasjuni. It is about a beach inside a reef, a fact that makes the water calm and warm. As soon as we arrived it started to rain, so we barely swam. Therefore, we decided to leave and find a traditional restaurant to have lunch.  Konova Fetivi, which was a little far from the city, was the best choice. Croatia is famous for its seafood and we seized the opportunity to try it. We tasted many dishes but the one that really stood out was the black risotto (acquires its color from cuttlefish ink).

Then, we wandered around the castle walls, bought ice cream cones  and sat at the People’s Square. This is also where the clock of the town is. It is located at the top of a gothic style tower and offers visitors a panoramic view of the city. We loved every part of Split. We got lost in its relaxing pace but had fun, danced and sang at the same time.

Palace of Diocletian in Split
Palace of Diocletian in Split

7th day (Split- Mostar, 169km)

We said goodbye to Split and moved on to the next city we were about to spend the night. After crossing the border of Croatia to Bosnia & Herzegovina, we headed to Mostar. Mostar, or Guardian of the Bridge, is known for the old Stari Most Bridge. The historical significance of this city, combined with its picturesqueness and Turkish influences, was the reason we wanted to make a stop on our trip. In 1993 Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia. The city was occupied and bombed several times, which led to the destruction of many important monuments. One of them was the old bridge, which was rebuilt in 2004. It is now included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

We reached our hotel, called Guest House Villa Salvia (33€/ night). The room was 5 minutes away from the Old Town. We set out straight to visit the renowned bridge. Passing by the cobbled alleys and the tourist shops we felt the hospitality of the city, as all the local people we met on our way were smiling and they were willing to guide us.

The crowd of tourists made us aware of our arrival at the bridge. Two fortified towers protect it: the Halebija tower on the north and the Tara tower on the south. In the first tower, there were people with swimsuits who would dive off the bridge. Later on, they informed us that it is dangerous to dive from the top of the bridge unless you are a professional diver like them. They also owned boxes and asked for financial support. We passed through the crowed and went to the banks of the river to get a complete view of the amazing dive and the bridge as a whole.

After that it was lunchtime, so we went back to the narrow paths of the city. We tried their traditional food in Divan restaurant. Divan is a restaurant located on the banks of the river so you can hear the water running when entering. The menu included fried bread and we ordered stuffed vegetables not similar to our recipe but tastier, in my opinion. Another dish we tasted was Dolma or dolmadakia (vine leaves stuffed with rice) but with peppers instead. Another one was Cevapi which is like small lamb and beef kebabs. Everything is accompanied by pita bread and a lot of cheese.

In many coffee shops they would also serve Bosnian coffee in the kettle, similar to what we know as Turkish coffee. We actually expected to find these kind of traditional coffee shops due to the Ottoman Empire’s influence. You will also notice the Islamic influences of the city in the tourist shops that sell various lanterns, ceramics and generally these kinds of objects. When it comes to shopping, do not hesitate to purchase what you want as the prices are very attractive. The main road to the old town is full of traditional shops where you can literally find anything you wish.

As it was getting darker, we walked to the old town Kujundziluk by the left side of the river and through the stone houses and cobbled alleys. We had a drink in Ali Baba which is a club built inside a cave! It is a unique experience and the prices are low compared to Greece (about 5€ per drink). It is worth having fun and dancing inside a cave. Later that night we went downtown to the bazaar. We sat on a restaurant where we combined beer, pizza and hookah (a flavored smoking pot). This is how the night faded away beautifully in our minds full of the impressive landscapes of Mostar.

During our roadtrip we had a stop at Mostar. Here we can see the famous stari most bridge.
Stari most bridge

8th day (Mostar- Podgorica, 210 km)

Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro, a continually growing city with new buildings of modern architecture being constructed from day by day. This city was also the last stop of our trip. We booked a room 10 minutes away from the city center just for a night with only 17€ per night. They had recommended us to eat at the famous Pod Volat. A restaurant with huge portions per person but also cheap dishes of Balkan cuisine. This restaurant, in addition to the good reviews by locals and tourists, is also famous for serving quality meat. The reason is that one of the two brothers who owns it, has his own butcher shop.

To digest the food, we walked to Hercegovačka, Podgorica’s shopping street in the city center, and reached the Millennium Bridge. The Millennium Bridge is a recently constructed and particularly impressive bridge with Morača River laying under it. After getting to know some locals, they suggested visiting the Niagara Falls in Montenegro. We set off with great excitement to see this phenomenon (only 5 km from the city center). Upon arriving, however, we realized that the waterfalls had dried up from water, since it was summer and the temperatures were particularly high. The landscape, however, was incredibly beautiful since the shapes formed in the river’s ground were absolutely breathtaking. We managed to take incredible photos, too.

Niagara waterfalls to Podgorica

9th day (Podgorica– Ioannina, 479 km)

Here comes the time of our return. We left Montenegro behind and entered Albania for the second time. We decided to make a stop at Shkodra Lake. Shkodra Lake is the biggest lake in the Balkans and lies on the border of Montenegro and Albania. It has been designated as a wild bird wetland of great importance and it is a landscape of calmness and serenity. The next place we passed by was the city of Fier. The traffic jam was so heavy that we could barely move and spent almost three hours  crossing the city. After escaping the traffic, a police officer stopped us on a country road. Speed limits on these roads are constantly changing. Luckily, the police officer did not understand a word of English, probably felt sorry for us, and let us move along although we asked him where we could go to pay the fine.

Watch our video from Balkan roadtrip here.

Review

Upon arriving at Stratos’ village we realized that our road trip had come to an end. Within 9 days we had driven about 2.600 km and had managed to see countless different images. We had wandered around medieval castles, walked in picturesque cobbled streets, tasted the Balkan cuisine and passed through so many beautiful places we will never forget. It goes without saying that there were moments we felt exhausted by the journey but there was no other way we could have combined so many things at the same time.

Organize your roadtrip here.

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