Day 01: Arrival Belgrade (SERBIA)
Our journey of the bewildering Balkans starts at the heart of Belgrade. Belgrade is a beautiful romantic and medieval city renowned as one of the most charming cities in Eastern Europe. We are warmly received and transferred to our hotel.
Overnight: Hotel Moskva, Belgrade (2 nights)
Day 02: Belgrade
Enjoy today a city tour of Belgrade, capital of Serbia since 1403, when Despot Stefan, son of Prince Lazar, moved his palace here. We will start our day by driving through the streets of Belgrade. First we will see New Belgrade on the left bank of the River Sava, with both Communist-styles as well as very modern apartment blocks. From here we continue to Zemun, which was once a separate town but now is a part of greater Belgrade. Here we will enjoy the old Gardos Tower and then we will return to the old part of the town by passing through the luxurious residential area of Dedinje. We will stop to pay a visit to the Memorial Complex of Josip Broz Tito, the legendary president of Former Yugoslavia. On our way to the center of the city we will see the new St. Sava Church. This is the third largest Orthodox Church in Europe, built at the place where in 1594 Sinnan Pasha had the holy relics of St. Sava burned at the stake. We will see the Federal Assembly Building of Former Yugoslavia, the Church of St. Marko, Royal Palaces of the Serbian dynasties until WWII, and the main square named Terazije.
In the afternoon we will continue our tour by walking from the elegant Republic Square, where we will make a close inspection of its architectonic monuments such as the National Theatre and the National Museum. We will stroll along unavoidable Knez Mihajlova Street – the main shopping and meeting place, in order to see a few other masterpieces of Belgrade's architecture, such as the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. We will then visit the oldest quarters of the 19th century, including the 'Question mark sign' Inn, Princess Ljubica's Residence (now housing a permanent exhibition of original furniture), as well as the Patriarchy and the Orthodox Cathedral.
Walking through the streets of the old part of town we will arrive to the fortress of Kalemegdan, which is the symbol of Belgrade, situated where the mouth of River Sava flows into the Danube. Our visit to the fort will start with the Upper fortress area. It includes well-preserved artillery structures dating from the mid-18th century, as well as a medieval fortification - an acropolis with original or partly reconstructed ramparts, gateways, towers and the excavated ruins of a 15th century castle. A few Turkish monuments and some ancient Roman remains also lie in this area. In this section of the fortification complex we will see the elegant 18th century Baroque Clock Tower and the Roman Well. Our tour of the Eastern Ward includes the Rose Church of Our Lady, along with a panoramic view of the Lower fortress and its monuments - the Nebojsa Tower, the Baroque Gate of Karl VI, and the remains of the medieval metropolitan palace. Welcome dinner at the local Bohemian quarters of Skadarlija with Serbian cuisine and music. (B, D)
Day 03: Belgrade/Mokra Gora/Sargan/Visegrad (“REPUBLIKA SRPSKA” in BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA) Zlatibor (SERBIA)
We start with a memorable nostalgic 15Kms. ride on the old and narrow gauge steam train, “Sarganska Osmica”. Capturing breathtaking scenery through 20 tunnels, 10 bridges and as many viaducts, the trail cut its path through fascinating landscapes of Serbia and Bosnia. This will be a day for rail and steam buffs, photographers and lovers of nature. Cross River Drina bordering Serbia with Bosnia & Herzegovina. Nestled here at a particularly beautiful viewpoint is Višegrad. Just like the well-known city of Mostar, Višegrad has a famous stone bridge built by the Ottomans in 1571. Ascend Mount Zlatibor National Park known for its beauty and intact nature. Our final destination is a unique and charming ethno village - an open-air museum displaying traditional architecture, handicrafts and world famous hand-knitted clothes. We walk through the village before checking into our hotel.
Overnight: Ethno Village on Mt. Zlatibor (1 night) (B, D)
Day 04: Ethno Village/Studenica/Sopocani/Novi Pazar
Another interesting day as we visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Monastery Studenica. The complex consists of the fascinating Churches of the Virgin, (1183 - 1196), SS Joachim & Anne and that of St. Nicholas. A short drive gets us to one of the most treasured sacral buildings of the Nemanjić era, the Monastery Sopoćani (WHS) with mural paintings amongst the most magnificent in European medieval art. Evening we take a walking tour of the town with a population of only 60,000.
Overnight: Hotel Tadj , Novi Pazar (1 night) (B, D)
Day 05: Novi Pazar/Monastery Decani (KOSOVO)/Patriarchy in Pec/Priština
A scenic drive to Kosovo – one of the most newest countries in the world. The Monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija are world renowned for their beauty. We visit Dečani Monastery and Patriarchate of Peć– both being WHS. Dečani Church boasts the richest and most preserved sculpture from the Romanesque-Gothic style. At the Patriarchate of Peć we visit the oldest church built in the 13th Century. Drive to the capital city of Pristina where we stroll along its streets and main square.
Overnight: Hotel Afa, Pristina (1 night) (B, D)
Day 06: Pristina/Monastery Gracanica/Skopje (MACEDONIA) /Ohrid
We start with a visit of the 14th C Monastery of Gracanica (WHS). Its architectural structure represents the apex of Serbian buildings that followed the spirit of the Byzantine tradition. Cross Kosovo to the historical country of Macedonia and drive to the capital city, Skopje tracing its origin from over 2000 years. Our exploration starts with a walking tour of the old town “Charshi”, where lies the Stone Bridge - a symbol of Skopje built by the Ottomans in the 15thC. Here we see the marvels including the Church St. Spas, the Old Bazaar, Fortress Kale (with walls dating back from the 6thC), Mustapha Pasha Mosque (a marvel of Ottoman architecture erected in 1492 with the earliest wall paintings), Daut Pasa Bath (a masterpiece of Islamic architecture from the 15thC). Next stop is Ohrid.
Overnight: Hotel Vila Mal St. Kliment, Ohrid (2 nights) (B, D)
Day 07: Ohrid
We start the day with a walking tour around the old town-museum of Ohrid, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old part of the town was known in ancient times as Lychnidos, the City of Lights. Slavs gave it the name of Arida in the 10thC, and it became a major center of culture and art for this area. It is the cradle of Slavic written language and literature, from where the alphabet called Cyrillic was created by the two brothers Cyril and Methody. Ohrid is also known as the “City of 365 churches “ and we visit, not all, but the most important ones. Visiting Tsar Smuili fortress from the 10thC, St. Kliment from the 13thC, St. Sophia from the 11th C, and St. Panteleimon from the 9th C., culminating with a walk through the local bazaar. Afternoon is free to enjoy Ohrid at our own leisure. (B, D)
Day 08: Ohrid/Berat (ALBANIA)
Drive around Lake Ohrid and enter Albania. Visit Berat known as a “city of one thousand windows”, and has been declared as a museum city. The old name of the city was Antipatrea. It is built on the slopes of mountain Timori, with a castle dominating the city. At the Onufri Museum, we see paintings by this outstanding painter from the 16thC, as well as paintings from his son Nikolla. In the old part of the town we visit several Byzantine churches known for their inspiring architecture. Overnight: Hotel Grand White City , Berat (1 night) (B, D)
Day 09: Berat/Durres/Tirana
Scenic drive to Durres (formerly Durrazzo) Albania’s second largest city and one of its oldest town. Legend has it that Durrazzo was founded by the Illyrian King, Epidamnos who called it by his own name. It was for centuries the largest port on the Adriatic and got back into world highlights when in 1939, the Italian troops met brief but fierce resistance, and those killed defending it are now regarded as the first martyrs of the War of National Liberation. Our visit here includes the Roman amphitheatre. At Tirana our visit includes the Skanderbeg Square in the centre of the town, the 1789 old Mosque of Et’hem Bey, the 1830 Clock Tower and the Palace of Culture housing the Opera. Evening at leisure.
Overnight: Tirana International, Tirana (1 night) (B, D)
Day 10: Tirana/Kruja/Shkoder/Kotor (MONTENEGRO)
Another interesting day as we visit the charming little town of Kruja, perched high on the face of a hill. During the 15th Century, Kruja was the centre. Albanian resistance led by Skanderbeg against the Ottomans started here. We visit the museum named after him. The street leading up to the castle is built in the style of a Turkish bazaar. From here we continue to Shkoder and after crossing the border to Montenegro, we take a scenic drive alongside Lake Skadar to the Montenegrin coast to Kotor. Overnight: Hotel Marija, Kotor (2 nights) (B, D)
Day 11: Kotor/Cetinje/Budva/Kotor
A scenic drive up the mountain gets us to Cetinje, capital of Montenegro during the Njegoš era. It doesn’t have a strong fort like many other important capitals from its time as nature blessed this place with natural stone protections. The town was founded in 1482, when Ivan Crnojević, the last ruler of the medieval country of Zeta, built here a palace and church. Cetinje remained as the heart and soul of Montenegro up to WW1. We visit the royal palace of King Nikola II, last King of Montenegro which contains both a beautiful small museum. Our next stop is Budva, a medieval town and is definitely the most attractive tourist place on the Riviera. The old part of the town is fortified with typical architecture of narrow streets and stone buildings placed around the main cathedral with shops and taverns surrounding the streets.
Next we visit the World Heritage Site of Kotar - a town museum which was inhabited from the times of the Illyrians and the Romans. Our walk through the city takes us back to medieval times, as most of the monuments we observe are from the 14th to 18th C’s. We vist the Cathedral of St. Tryphon, St. Luka Church, St. Mihail Church, amongst other sites. (B, D)
Day 12: Kotor/Trebinje (BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA)/Medjugorje/Mostar
Picturesque Boka Bay drive and then inland up the mountains where we cross the border into Bosnia & Herzegovina. First we will visit the village of Medjugorje - a centre for many pilgrims across the world. It is reputed that in 1981, several local children received messages from Virgin Mary. No visit of Bosnia & Herzegovina is complete without a visit to Mostar. We tour this picturesque 500 years old town made famous by the old Ottoman bridge built to unify the communities residing on the Neretva River. The original 15th Century wooden bridge was a very important strategic and trade link between the two parts of Herzegovina. In 1557 a stone bridge was built which was the masterpiece of architect Hajrudin under the close observation of the Caliph Suleyman the Magnificent (builder). Continue through the mountains following the canyon of river Neretva, before arriving at the majestic Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Overnight: Hotel Ero, Mostar (1 night) (B, D)
Day 13: Mostar/Sarajevo
We start the day with a breathtaking drive along River Neretva and through the Bosnian Mountains before arriving to Sarajevo. Enchanting Sarajevo, to some it competes (in beauty) with Isfahan in Iran but definitely reflects as a mini version of Istanbul. We start with a walking tour of Sarajevo. This magical town with all its charms takes us instantly back to the Ottoman days as we visit beautiful Ottoman mosques, old quarters and the authentic Turkish “carsija”, with its oriental sweets shops, cafes and traditional Bosnian food. Sarajevo is also a town where for over 400 years mosques, orthodox churches, roman-catholic churches and synagogues have been standing together. Before ending the day, we visit the site where on June 28, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (then heir to the throne) and his wife Sophie, whilst visiting Sarajevo, were assassinated. This triggered to what became World War 1. Afternoon is free for an enjoyable stroll of the old town walking along, what will be, a scene from Arabian Nights.
Overnight: Hotel Astra Garni, Sarajevo (1 night) (B, D)
Day 14: End first leg Join SECOND LEG Sarajevo to Dubrovnik (CROATIA)
For those taking only the first segment of the Balkan Mosaic, you are transferred to airport for your flight. For those continuing on the second leg, we start with a scenic drive to Dubrovnik the enchanting resort and historical city on the Adriatic Sea.
Overnight: Hotel Rixos, Dubrovnik (2 nights) (B, D)
Day 15: Dubrovnik
This morning we start with a walking tour through the old walled heart of Dubrovnik. All motor vehicles are banned from the center and our transport drops us outside the Pile Gate where we visit the Franciscan Monastery, housing one of the world's oldest pharmacies, the old harbor, St Laurence Fortress, the Sponza and Rector's Palaces and other points of interest in this best preserved European walled city. Afternoon, is free to enjoy Dubrovnik’s old city or its popular Adriatic Sea beach. (B, D)
Day 16: Dubrovnik/Split
After a leisurely day on the Dubrovnik coast, we drive along the beautiful Adriatic coast to Split. A picturesque drive through coastal village we make a brief stop at the town of Makarska before reaching the old town of Split.
Overnight: Hotel President or Hotel Globo, Split (2 nights) (B, D)
Day 17: Split
Split is a vibrant city of shouting stall owners, in-transit travelers, and white-suited sailors who give it night-on-the-town feel. At the heart of all of this, hemmed by sprawling estates and a modern harbor, lies Diocletians’ Palace, a crumbling old town with some of the most outstanding classical architecture wonders of the world. It was in 295 AD that the Roman emperor Diocletian started to build his palace in on the Dalmatian Coast. After his abdication in 305, the retired emperor left Nicomedia and settled in the palace, intending to spend the rest of his life there. We visit the impressive cellars of the palace to get an idea of the original structure, the Baptistery of St. John and the Cathedral of St. Domnius. Afternoon free to enjoy the traditional markets of Split. (B, D)
Day 18: Split/Trogir/Sibenik/Zadar/Plitvice Lakes
Another interesting day ahead as we visit the medieval town of Trogir, that has changed little over the years. It is still recognized as one of the most beautiful towns on the coast. Life here revolves around Narodni Trg, a creamy-white square flanked by the Cathedral, Communal Palace and Loggia. We visit the 13th C Venetian Cathedral of St. Lovro, located on the Place of Ivana Pavla - one of the finest pieces of architectural works in Croatia. Our next stop is at Sibenik known for its beautiful surroundings in the Dalmatian coast. We end the day at Zadar, the ancient capital of Dalmatia. The town offers a variety of architectural styles, with lone Corinthian columns standing alongside Romanesque churches. Zadar was part of Italy until 1947, and, though fast diminishing, one still finds Italian influence. Continue on a scenic drive to the enchanting Plitvice Lakes (WHS).
Overnight: Hotel Jezero, Plitvice Lakes area (1 night) (B, D)
Day 19: Plitvice Lakes/Zagreb
Today we walk on one of the most magnificent sites in Croatia. Here at Plitvice Lakes, sixteen lakes join the other in a series of cascading waterfalls. Surrounded by dense woods, the region, recognized by UNESCO as WHS. Wooded paths follow the succession of lakes and waterfalls where streams burst out of rocks creating a unique place. Afternoon, we visit Zagreb, capital of Croatia. We experience the past and the present of Zagreb by passing through the streets of the Lower and Upper Towns. We visit the Zagreb Cathedral followed by the lively atmosphere of Dolac Market. Our walk will also take us to St. Mark’s Church and the Lotrscak Tower, from where noon time is announced by the firing of thee cannons. Our tour ends at Maksimir, the oldest public cultivated park in Europe. Evening is our send off dinner with local delicates.
Overnight: Hotel Palace, Zagreb (1 night) (B, D)
Day 20: End second leg Join THIRD LEG to ISTRIA & SLOVENIA
For those ending with this leg, you will be transferred to the airport for your flight. For those continuing on the third and final segment of the Balkan Mosaic tour, we depart Zagreb for a visit of Istria followed by Rijeka located in the Adriatic. Next we visit Opatija, the oldest and most popular Croatian resort town with a magnificent seaside. We continue our journey to Pula, with its’ impressive 1st Century Roman amphitheatre overlooking the harbor. Built entirely from local limestone, the amphitheatre was designed to host gladiatorial contests and could accommodate up to 20,000 spectators. The Roman walls mark the eastern boundary of old Pula. We follow these walls south and continue down Giardini to the Triumphal Arch of Sergius erected in 27 BC. We follow the street to the ancient forum where the town’s central meeting took place from antiquity through the Middle Ages. Enjoy the Istria evening.
Overnight Pula – Hotel Amfiteatar 4* or similar (1 night) (B, D)
Day 21: Pula/Rovinj/Villages of Istria/Porec
Scenic drive to Rovinj where we enjoy a walking tour of this mostly Italian speaking town with shops in the narrow streets of the old town selling everything from local wines and grappa to the region's tasty olive oil and truffles. Above the old town stands the Gothic church, the Basilica of Santa Euphemia dating back to the Oratory of St Maur - a secret place of worship from the time when Christianity was still a clandestine religion. We explore the picturesque old villages of Groznjan, and Motovun. The ancient Decumanus still runs straight through the center and the Roman forum. We visit the beautiful Eufrazijana Bazilic a WHS.
Overnight Porec – Grand Hotel Palazzo 4* (1 night) (B, D)
Day 22: Porec/Lipica Stud Farm/Postojna Cave/Ljubljana (SLOVENIA)
Scenic coastal drive by to the small fishing village of Piran in Slovenia. We tour the Lipica Stud Farm. The impact of Lipica has been far greater than its tiny size would suggest. In 1580, the Austrian Archduke Charles, son of Ferdinand I, established a stud farm (kobilarna) to breed horses for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. In 1943, with WWII still raging, the Germans moved more than 200 horses to the Sudetenland in Bohemia (now Czech Republic). At the scenic town of Postojna we visit the Postojna Cave (Postojnska Jama) system, a series of caverns, halls and passages some 27 km long and 2,000,000 years old, was hollowed out by the Pivka River, which enters a subterranean tunnel near the caves’ entrance.
Overnight: Hotel Union, Ljubljana (1 night) (B, D)
Day 23: Ljubljana/Bled
We start the day with a tour of "Bela Ljubjana." A drive through the streets of this sunny city reminds us of the buildings of both Vienna and Prague. The difference, however, is that the Slovene capital is tiny by comparison, small enough to be easily visited on foot. We go up to the city's highest point to visit the 16th century castle, then descend to the lower city to see Trg Naradnih Herojev, the square housing one of the worlds newest parliaments. Here the Slovene flag was raised for the first time in 1991. We continue on foot to visit the old town with its large university, philharmonic hall, and beautiful square of the three bridges. Our walking tour is not complete without time spent wandering through the open air and indoor city market. Next is Lake Bled. Reflecting the high peaks of the Julian Alps, the lake has always been considered sacred to the locals. We start with a visit of the castle perched on a cliff overlooking the town. Offering stunning views over the still morning waters, the castle is also home to a small historical museum with artifacts dating back to the time of the Romans. At the shores of Lake Bled we embark on a boat ride to Slovenia's only island. Legend has it that fairies originally inhabited this little island. Today the island is home to a Baroque church dedicated to Our Lady of the Lake.
Overnight: Hotel Park, Bled (1 night) (B, D)
Day 24: Ljubljana departure
Completing the historical trail of the Balkans, of Yugoslavia – the country that has played a major role in the 20th Century, we bid farewell to this aspect of history with our transfer to Ljubljana airport for our onward flight. (B)