Croatia – Split – A good place to start as it’s an ease into the Balkans with good swimming holes, a great ancient palace with markets to check out, and try some Balkan eats at Toc, best salads and risotto with truffle and mushrooms to die for.
You can also easily get the 1 hr ferry to Islands such as Hvar from here which is a good place to go if you fancy an easy, lovely spot and some day clubs like Carpe Diem to enjoy a sunset cocktail or two before heading to the best slow-food restaurants the Golden Shell.
Down the coast a bit head to Mala Luka resort. We’d recommend a night here to make the most of Croatia’s stunning pine-trees-down-to-the-water vibe. It’s a bit like where Baby went for her summer break, it’s cute with a handful of huts, one cafe, and a gorgeous, private-ish beach (tourists are put off by the day charge to go there)
Next stop try Drasnice – a great little secret for an overnight stay. Grab some local accoms from the signs on the houses (yes it’s normal here!) and head to the far right beach bar for drinks and a good sunset feed of seafood and local meats right on the water among the locals.
Inland to Montenegro – Kotor Bay has all the goods in Montenegro. Quiet, beautiful, serene with soaring mountains and deep blue waters. There’s old cave paintings and Roman mosaics at the ‘Villa Urbana ‘ in Rimska to check out by day, and gorgeous boutique hotels like Palazzo Radomiri to sleep by night. Only 10 rooms in a converted waterfront noble house. Private jetty, beautiful, quiet view unlike much of the coastline in Kotor Bay. Head to the waterfront and turn left to find Piruniozica for the best plate of 5 quid mussels you’ll ever have (ph: 069/416-154). Alternatively head to Perast which has great home stay accoms (email Mikey at email@example.com for sea view rooms for 30 euro) or try the waterfront hotels such as Hotel Comte or self-contained apartments at Palace Matzuievitc. Best part – head to the Pirate Bar on the beach at the far right end for all day lounging and relaxed coffee or aperitif.
Budva and Sveti Stefan- SKIP. Don’t bother – an absolute cement hell that’s been ruined by overdevelopment. Not even a free night at the illustrious Sveti Aman on a private island could draw us back.
Cetinje – again SKIP. If you want to go see some of the old buildings from the regal days then make it a day trip ONLY as it’s small and the accommodation options are terrible (unless a soviet-bunker style hotel is your bag – voted no.1 on tripAdvisor by the way….)
Bosnia – a road trip up inland to Bosnia and Herzegovnia is a more sobering experience due to the remnants of the recent war there. Take the road up through towns such as Trebinje and Lubinje (the roads here are excellent and the views sublime). Mostar is a recent memory for those who remember the ancient 500 year old bridge that was purposefully destroyed during the siege in the early 1990s. Now restored with markets and museums to get an idea of the terrible times that occurred there. Of note see New Zealand photographer Wade Goddard’s exhibition above the tower which captured the people living in the middle of the war. For a truly authentic experience stay at the national monument-turned-hotel Musibelogiv House and speak to the owner for their memories of the recent wars.
Sarajevo – again a city with a lot of sad memories, but certainly an invigorated spirit. The old Turkish quarter xxx is the place to stay (try Hotel Konak but also the Hotel Europe looks good too) as it’s only a 10 minute walk to sights such as the newly re-opened Sarajevo City Hall, the site of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. We’d highly recommended the walking tours offered by Trip Advisor 2014 Winner Ervin. They’re free but bring a healthy tip – he does it in his spare time and 10% of his fee goes to charity. You can also do a bigger ‘Complete War Tour’ which takes in wider parts of the city including the ‘Tunnel of Hope’ which was the city’s only link to the outside world during the four year siege.
Finally, Sibenik – a little marvel of a medieval village and a nice place to end your trip. Check out the ancient buildings and gardens that surround the hill forts, and also the great little find such as Tito i Vino wine bar that serves local drops. Also, don’t miss the Krka National Park which is only 15 minutes drive away. Park at the Lozocavac entrance and walk or catch the bus down the hill to see the most extraordinary waterfalls which you can walk amongst on raised wooden footpaths. Just magic.