Sip the famous Croatian Traminac Premium wine at a wine tasting at a 15th century family-run vineyard in quaint Ilok. Witness Mostar’s famous bridge divers hurl themselves from the stones of a bridge that has spanned the river here for centuries. Sarajevo is one of the most scenically located cities in Europe. See the sights on a guided walking tour and learn about its recent history as a city under siege. Spend a full day exploring the green island of Mljet – with its small seaside villages, lush national park trails, shimmering waters and largely untouched environment, you’ll never want to leave!
Stunning coastlines, historic cities, pristine national parks and some of the most delicious local cuisine your stomach will ever encounter – the Western Balkans have it all. And, this epic 29-day journey will show the best of it. Beginning in Budapest, which is also known as ‘the Pearl of the Danube’, you’ll have the chance to see a range of small towns, bright lights and natural wonders across Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia. Your local leaders along the way will be able to give you insights into the different cultures you encounter, with a focus on the people, history and food.
Szia! Welcome to Hungary. Budapest is Hungary's intoxicating capital, on the banks of the Danube River. If you arrive early you could take part in one of our Urban Adventure day tours, such as the Buda Castle Explorer or Bites and Sights. Check them out at urbanadventures.com. After the welcome meeting this evening, perhaps take a night walk along the Danube River to see the surrounding buildings and bridges lit up in lights, or head out with some of your new travel buddies to one of Budapest's funky 'ruin pubs'.
Today you have a full free day to explore Budapest, known as 'The Pearl of the Danube'. Admire intricate carvings on resplendent buildings, cross the iconic Chain Bridge to explore the Castle District, or simply meander through winding streets snacking on local delicacies. Budapest is a great city to enjoy from the water. Perhaps take a boat trip along the river or catch a funicular up to the castle for spectacular views of the Parliament Building. With so much to see and do, hiring a bicycle is another great way to move between the sights. Perhaps head to Statue Park to see the communist monuments that were removed from the city after the fall of the Iron Curtain. You might like to take a tour of the beautiful Hungarian State Opera House, or check out the Hungarian National Museum. One unmissable activity is a soak in the healing waters of Budapest's hot thermal baths.
Travel by private van through the Hungarian Puszta and cross the border into Croatia to a land of cornfields, vineyards and pastel-hued villages, famed for its cuisine – arriving at the Slavonian capital of Osijek (approximately 4 hours). This laid-back university town features an enchanting medieval citadel (tvrđa), as well as the Upper Town, only a short walk along the banks of the Drava. Many cafes line the river, inviting you to join in on the Croatian national pastime: people watching. Osijek is a fairly well-designed city easily navigated on foot. There are also numerous cycling routes throughout the city. Navigate the hallways of grand buildings, stroll along the banks of the Drava River or pick up the true flavours of this destination at a local cafe. Our accommodation is at our long-time friend's guesthouse, located right inside the citadel. The guesthouse is family owned, and local wine and craft beer are always on offer.
Today is a free day to explore Osijek and its surrounds. You might like to visit the small provincial town of Dakovo, about 35 kilometres south of Osijek. The town is dominated by an impressive neo-Romanesque cathedral. While here, don't miss seeing a workout session at the Lipizzaner horse training stables and learn about their history from a local guide. You could also use the day to do a full day trip that includes a visit to the wetlands of Kopacki Rit Nature Reserve for a spot of bird watching, nearby Tikves Castle, historical Batina Hill from where you can see both Hungary and Serbia across the Danube, wine tasting at Belje wine cellar and lunch at the etno-village at Karanac. In Osijek itself there’s the Museum of Slavonia and the Archaeological Museum to explore. Or you could just hire a bike and cycle around this delightful region. However you're feeling, there are plenty of options to choose from today. This evening, maybe discover some of the best cuisine in Croatia with traditional dishes like fiš paprikas (fish stew with hand-made noodles), kulen (spicy sausages), and čobanac (stew).
Vukovar / Ilok / Novi Sad
Today travel to Novi Sad by private minibus. Learn more about recent history by taking a side trip to nearby Vukovar en-route, a town that symbolises the devastation of the recent war – the town fell in 1991 after the fiercest and most protracted battle seen in Europe since 1945. The town's ruined water tower now stands as a memorial of the ethnic war that raged in this region during the early 1990s. Our stop includes a visit of the local hospital and the museum in its basement. It was used as a refuge during the siege, and the group will be shown around and hear wartime stories from hospital staff, some of whom still work here and who were among the few survivors. Next up is a visit to a local vineyard in quaint Ilok to see the workings of a family-run vineyard. The old wine cellar dates back to 1450, and is the first originally purpose built wine cellar in this part of Europe. Taste a range of their wines, including the famous Ilok Traminac Premium wine, which was served at the celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Head across the border into Serbia to the historic town of Novi Sad (approximately 1 hour). Sitting on the banks of the Danube River, the city is surrounded by fertile farms and vineyards and features an interesting mix of traditional Serbian cultural heritage and Austro-Hungarian architecture. During your free afternoon make sure you stop by the city’s fortress of Petrovaradin, which sits right on the Danube and contains a museum of historic artefacts from the region.
Travel by two-hour train or bus to Belgrade. Known as the' White City', Belgrade is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Sitting at the confluence of two major rivers the – Sava and the Danube – it’s an important intersection between Eastern and Western Europe. Here you’ll experience an energetic mix of progressive flamboyance and conservative customs. On arrival, enjoy a guided tour of the city’s wide boulevards and squares, and the historic and green heart of Kalemegdan Park. The park is home to Kalemegdan Fortress, which has overlooked the Danube River here for centuries. In the evening, head down to Skadarska Street in the bohemian quarter of Skadarlija to sample some authentic local food and enjoy the lively atmosphere, in a place where Orthodox churches vie for space next to fashionable nightclubs.
Today is a free day to further discover Belgrade. You might like to take a cruise along the Danube River, passing the Kalemegdan Fortress, Pancevo Bridge and Zemun. Make sure you visit the imposing Hram Svetog Save (St Sava Church). Alternatively the local market Zeleni Venac can keep you occupied for hours. Perhaps take a stroll through the Nikola Tesla Museum to learn about the life and work of Serbia's greatest inventor, or check out the city's Ethnographic or Military Museums. You can climb the 36-metre, 1896 Gardos tower in Zemun for sweeping views of the city and the Danube, or get a crash course in Serbian contemporary art at Zepter Museum. If the weather is warm, why not brave the crowds on Ada Ciganlija beach, where you can swim, take part in water-sports or simply soak up the sun with a cocktail. Throughout the summer months, Belgrade hosts a variety of musical and cultural events and the city is abuzz with people and activities. The city’s nightlife has become legendary throughout Europe, with several hundred floating bars, restaurants and nightclubs lining the Danube and Sava rivers.
Today travel by bus through beautiful countryside to Sarajevo. The journey will take around eight hours in total, so sit back and enjoy the scenery. Sarajevo is Bosnia and Herzegovina's small but vibrant capital. Twenty years after the end of a devastating war, Sarajevo is slowly asserting itself as one of Europe's most beautiful and interesting destinations. The city often draws comparisons with Istanbul as a city that mixes east and west – dotted with minarets, mosques, bazaars and the aroma of coffee. On arrival, embark on a guided tour to gain an insight into the history and culture of the city. Sarajevo is one of the few cities in the world that features an Orthodox church, a Catholic church and a mosque (the famous Begova Džamija) all within close proximity. In the evening, perhaps enjoy a simple but delicious meal in Bascarsija, Sarajevo's old bazaar. Out from here the city’s history unfolds – from Ottoman-era buildings to the elaborate constructions of the Austro-Hungarian period and on to the ugly structures of the communists. Try the local speciality of bosanski cevapi (grilled minced meat mixed with mild spices).
Mostar / Sarajevo
Today head out of Sarajevo for a day trip to Mostar, a town situated in a beautiful valley in the high mountains of Herzegovina (approximately 2.5 hours). Thanks to the river Neretva Mostar was able to develop as a city in the barren landscape of Herzegovina. Neretva's size turned Mostar into a trading centre of the region very early on. The city was the most heavily bombed settlement in Bosnia during the war, but it has since been rebuilt and now features on UNESCO's World Heritage list. On arrival, head to the famous Stari Most Bridge, first built by the Ottomans in 1565 – it was the great architect Mimar Hajrudin who succeeded with the impossible mission to cross the Neretva River with a single span stone bridge. The bridge also made headline news during the Yugoslav wars when it was destroyed in 1993. It was rebuilt and reopened in 2004, and there’s an interesting museum about its history next to the bridge itself. If you’re lucky you’ll see the famous bridge divers hurl themselves into the icy waters below. It’s a tradition for the young men of the town to make the jump, and it’s now an annual competition. In the evening, return to Sarajevo, where you'll enjoy a cooking class and included dinner at your pension.
Enjoy a free day in and around Sarajevo. You could take an optional day trip out to the thermal springs and green parks of Ilidza, the source of the River Bosna. You might prefer to discover local history with a visit to the History Museum and the Sarajevo War Tunnels (dug underneath the airport runway and used to smuggle provisions into the city during its siege), or learn about the tragedies faced by the city's Jews at the Jewish Museum. Perhaps get cultural with a stroll through the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Perhaps return to Baščaršija and get lost in the mosques, caravanserais, and stone-vaulted bazaars, snacking on burek or ćevapi, or ramble along through Park Prinčeva for views of the city. The Pivnica HS brewery, which also has a restaurant, is a good place to sample local award-winning beer and spend an evening.
Durmitor National Park / Niksic
Board our private transfer and travel through beautiful countryside to Montenegro, arguably one of the most stunning countries in the world. The drive today is long (approx 7-9 hours) but very scenic, and we will stop numerous times, so have your camera at the ready. Get back to nature by travelling into the heart of the beautiful Durmitor National Park. This World Heritage site was formed by glaciers and is crisscrossed with rugged mountains (40 of which reach over 2,000 metres in height), pristine pine forests, two deep canyons, rivers, crystal lakes and underground streams. Enjoy a hike through this wonderful, lesser-explored wilderness, along the shores of a lake (approx 2km). Keep an eye out for some of the 163 species of bird or 50 species of mammal that the region is home to. If you prefer to opt out of the hike you can instead just take in the tranquil surrounds until the group returns. Continue to the nearby town of Niksic where you will spend the night.
Today drive to Kotor (approximately 3 hours). This 5th-century World Heritage-listed city is set on a secluded bay, with towering peaks surrounding a rocky coastline dotted with pretty waterside towns. Upon arrival why not head out to see the 12th-century Cathedral of St Tryphun, the South Gates of Kotor (the Gurdich Gate) and the Armoury Square (Trg od oruzija). You might like to get delightfully lost in the crooked alleyways, checking out the boutiques and cafes, or climb the hills behind the city to visit Kotor's ruined fortification walls. A one-and-a-half hour hike up the stone steps, past churches, gates, and bastions to the Fortress of Sveti Ivan at the top rewards you with magnificent views across town and the brooding Bay of Kotor. In the evening the city walls are prettily lit up to provide a unique night-time perspective.