Soul of the Balkans
This unique journey takes us to a fascinating corner of Europe that is steeped in ancient and recent history – the Balkans. Our 25-day itinerary reveals the many natural and architectural treasures of Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania.
Croatia’s beautiful Dalmatian Coast is where our journey begins, with a Travel Directors’ exclusive week-long cruise from Dubrovnik to Split. Our small, private cruise ship allows us to moor in the shallow waters right at the heart of the beautiful islands along the coast. We then head north to the amazing bridge town of Mostar before embarking on our journey to Sarajevo, a city with a formidable history. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand here in 1914 triggered the World War I. Crossing the magnificent Dinaric Alps, we then enter Montenegro before heading to Kosovo, which since 2008 has been recognised as an independent country. That is, except for Serbia, which still regards Kosovo as a United Nations-governed entity within its borders. Moving further south, we enter Macedonia and the Ottoman city of Skopje, before heading to stunning Lake Ohrid. We then cross into mysterious and little-visited Albania, the only country in Europe without a McDonald’s outlet! Soul of the Balkans takes us through a region rich in history, culture, natural beauty, reconciliation and hope. Explore one of the last hidden gems of Europe before the advent of mass tourism!
Tour Fitness Level: Moderate
- Private and exclusive seven-night cruise on a small private ship along the Dalmatian Coast
- Visit to the little-known island of Vis, Tito’s headquarters during World War II
- See the birth place of Marco Polo on the island of Korcula
- Enjoy the harmonies of an a cappella concert as you dine in Korcula’s beautiful Lumbarda winery
- Explore the magnificent old harbour of Dubrovnik and walk around the historic city walls
- Stroll through the superbly preserved Diocletian’s Palace
Bosnia and Herzegovina
- See the site where the Virgin Mary appeared at Medjugorje
- Dine at sunset at the foot of the majestic World Heritage-listed Mostar Bridge
- Drive through the picturesque Dinaric Alps between Mostar and Sarajevo
- Stand at the very spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in June 1914, causing the outbreak of World War I
- Take a 4WD drive into the heart of Montenegro’s mountains and lakes
- See some of the most pristine natural habitats in Europe at Biogradska National Park
- Enjoy a sumptuous BBQ by the shore of Biogradsko Lake
- Between Montenegro and Macedonia: stop in UN-controlled Kosovo for lunch
- Stay two nights in the heart of Skopje-Macedonia’s ancient capital city
- Enjoy a two-night stay on Europe’s oldest and most beautiful lake,Lake Ohrid
- Stay four nights in the ancient and little-visited country of Albania
- See the magnificent Roman amphitheatre at Durres
- Explore Albania’s vibrant capital city, Tirana
- Take a cable car to the top of Dajti mountain for sweeping views as far as Italy
- All flights between Australia and Europe/Europe and Australia
- All accommodation (twin-share)
- All transfers
- All meals as specified
- Travel Directors’ tour leader throughout
- Expert local guides
- All entrance fees for specified sightseeing
- All ticketable air taxes (NB may be subject to change)
- All tips and gratuities including cruise boat
Please note that whilst every effort will be made to adhere to the above pricing, currency fluctuations beyond our control can affect final costs. A booking form is to be completed by all passengers, and a non-refundable deposit of AUD $2,000 per person paid at the time of booking. All tours are based on a minimum group size of 10 people travelling.
09/06/2023 Australia – Dubai
Check-in at your chosen Australian airport for the flight to Dubai.
10/06/2023 Dubai – Dubrovnik – Board MS Emanuel (D)
Depart Dubai, Emirates EK 2431, 09.00
Arrive Dubrovnik 13.00
On arrival you will be greeted by the breathtaking sight of Dubrovnik. The stunning city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. This afternoon we board our cruise ship, MS Emanuel. With just 18 cabins,Emanuel is the perfect size for visiting the small ports and coastal towns of the Adriatic.
11/06/2023 Dubrovnik (BLD)
After breakfast we begin to explore Dubrovnik. Lord Byron famously described Dubrovnik as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’. A magnificent medieval wall encloses marble streets and baroque buildings that exude a pearly light in the Adriatic sun. The main pedestrian thoroughfare, Placa, is a maze of cafés and shops, and has outstanding monuments at either end. Churches, monasteries and museums ornamented with finely carved stone, recall an eventful history and a vibrant artistic tradition.
12/06/2023 Dubrovnik – Mljet – Korcula (BLD)
We set sail from Dubrovnik and by early afternoon arrive at the island of Mljet. We enjoy a delightful walk to the two lakes, a stunningly beautiful part of the island. In fact, no less than half of the island is designated a national park. This lushly forested paradise also attracted such residents as Ulysses and St Paul! Mid-afternoon we set sail for Korcula.
13/06/2023 Korcula (BLD)
One of the greenest islands in the Adriatic with numerous tiny and secluded bays, Korcula is rich in art and culture. It is a typical medieval walled Dalmatian town, with its cluster of red rooftops and round defensive towers. It is also reputed to be the birthplace of the great explorer, Marco Polo, in 1254.
14/06/2023 Korcula – Vis (BLD)
Vis is the most westerly of the larger Croatian islands. A British base during World War II, the island was closed to tourism after 1945 and reopened only in 1990 after Croatia declared its independence. As a result, Vis is largely unspoiled by mass tourism. More significantly, it was the island where Marshall Tito directed his partisans from a secret cave in which he worked and slept. Today we have the chance to view these living quarters.
15/06/2023 Vis – Hvar (BLD)
Today we arrive at the island of Hvar, recently voted one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world and known as the Croatian Madeira because of its lush vegetation and mild climate. A walk along the waterfront promenade and through the Old Town reveals a wealth of medieval and Renaissance buildings.
16/06/2023 Hvar – Split (BLD)
This morning we set sail for Split, stopping en route in small bays for some swimming, time permitting. Early in the afternoon we arrive in Split, the second-largest city in Croatia and a UNESCO World Heritage site. At the historical centre, and within walking distance of the port, is the huge palace of the Emperor Diocletian. Dating from the end of the third century AD, it was one of the last palaces of the Roman Empire.
17/06/2023 Split (BLD)
This morning we visit the nearby town of Trogir, with its serpentine medieval streets and imposing Kamerlengo Fortress. On our return we start to explore the old city of Split, beginning with the warren of medieval buildings that is contained within the walls of Diocletian’s Palace. We then continue along the beautifully restored promenade as we make our way to the open-air marketplace.
18/06/2023 Split – Mostar (BLD)
This morning we drive to Medjugorje, the town famous for its apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since the first appearance in 1981, millions of people from all over the world have been spiritually strengthened and renewed after a visit to Medjugorje. Countless non-believers and the physically afflicted have returned home converted or healed.
After lunch we depart for nearby Mostar. The beautiful Stari Most (Old Bridge) is the icon that gives Mostar (‘Keeper of the Bridge’) its name. On 9 November 1993, during the Bosnian War, the bridge lay in ruins. It was rebuilt and reopened on 22 July 2004 and today is a symbol of reconciliation, hope and a new era for the region. Flanking the great bridge is the old cobbled Ottoman Quarter with its 16th-century mosques and old Turkish houses.
19/06/2023 Mostar – Sarajevo (BLD)
This morning we drive through the beautiful mountainous scenery of the Dinaric Alps before entering a lush green valley with the city of Sarajevo at its heart. Sarajevo has an amazing religious diversity as Islam, Judaism, Orthodoxy and Catholicism have co-existed here for centuries. It has a long and formidable history: on 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie of Austria-Hungary were assassinated here, in one of the most bizarre attacks in history. It sparked the outbreak of World War I and four years later Bosnia became part of Yugoslavia. From 1992 to 1996, the city was under siege – the longest in the history of modern warfare. Today Sarajevo has been totally rebuilt and its inhabitants look forward to a peaceful and prosperous future. Today we begin a walking tour to discover all of Sarajevo’s hidden marvels.
20/06/2023 Sarajevo (BLD)
This morning we visit the Olympic Stadium built for the 1984 winter games, which was used as a massive cemetery during the siege of the ’90s. We then explore the Butmir Tunnel Museum beneath the airport that was used to bring food and supplies to Sarajevo when Serbs shut off the United Nations’ airlift and the one remaining road. The Bosnian Army also used it to move soldiers and guns. This afternoon there free time to explore Bascarsija, the pedestrian street.
21/06/2023 Sarajevo – Kolasin (BLD)
The scenery is breathtaking as we drive from the Sarajevo valley up to the mountains. We continue to pass spectacular peaks as we cross the border into Montenegro and on to the mountain village of Kolasin.
22/06/2023 Kolasin (BLD)
Kolasin lies at the foot of Bjelasica and Biogradska Gora mountains. Using 4WDs, we start climbing by an amazing road into the very heart of the mountains as we spend the day exploring the immensely beautiful Biogradska National Park. This is one of the oldest national parks in the world and perhaps provides the clue as to why Montenegro is the best-kept secret in Europe. It is a wonderfully-unspoilt area of natural beauty and is a fantastic place to unwind.
23/06/2023 Kolasin (BLD)
Following the mighty Tara River we head north and into the largest forest of black pine in Europe. We then descend through a narrow corridor into the second deepest canyon in the world, the Tara River Gorge. Here, in the Montenegrian Colorado, waterfalls tumble through forests and into the river. On our arrival in the small town of Splaviste, we switch transportation and head down river in rafts that take us on an exhilarating journey through the National Park Durmitor. Today truly encapsulates Travel Directors’ theme of ‘Unexplored Europe’.
24/06/2023 Kolasin – Skopje (BLD)
Shortly after leaving Kolasin we cross the border into Kosovo. After lunch in Pristina, we drive into Macedonia and continue to the capital Skopje, birthplace of Mother Teresa.
Stone Bridge Hotel
25/06/2023 Skopje (BLD)
Macedonia’s friendly capital, Skopje, is 2,500 years old and has had many different incarnations. All of them, from Roman to Byzantine and Ottoman to Yugoslav, have left indelible marks on the city as evidenced by the varied architecture and mix of cultures. A walk through the meandering narrow streets of the Old Town evokes the spirit and atmosphere of the past. Today we explore the city and, after lunch, visit the beautiful Byzantine monastery of Panteleimon.
26/06/2023 Skopje – Bitola – Ohrid (BLD)
Leaving Skopje behind we continue on to Bitola, Macedonia’s second city. Here we enjoy lunch and take a walking tour before continuing our drive to Ohrid. After checking into our hotel we enjoy a cruise on beautiful Lake Ohrid.
Millenium Palace Hotel
27/06/2023 Ohrid (BLD)
Ohrid is a kingdom of light and water; a maze of ancient ruins from Macedonia’s earlier settlements. It is a sublime lakeside city that for many represents the culmination of the Macedonian experience. Thought to be among the oldest human settlements in Europe, and with a lake that is three million years old, Ohrid is truly worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage listing and is often described as Macedonia’s ‘crown jewel’. Today we explore this extraordinary city.
28/06/2023 Ohrid – Elbasan – Berat (BLD)
This morning we leave Ohrid and cross the Albanian border where we soon descend onto a vast fertile plain and onto the town of Elbassan. Dominated by the Neokastron (new castle) Elbasan is a beautiful Ottoman metropolis and after lunch in the castle itself we head onto the UNESCO town of Berat. ‘The town of a thousand windows’ is a truly magical treat. Perhaps one of the great highlights of the tour, this cobblestoned warren of whitewashed walls and tiled roofs, set amidst rugged mountains and flanked by the Osumi River, is a kaleidoscope of a great Ottoman past. Even our hotel tonight is a fantastic Ottoman mansion that is right in the heart of the old city.
29/06/2023 Berat – Durres – Tirana (BLD)
Leaving Berat, we head to Durres on the Adriatic Sea. Founded in 627 BC, ancient Durres is today Albania’s vital port city. It is also home to the most amazing amphitheatre in the world. It was discovered by a cat called Bianca who fell into the amphitheatre in 1960. The owner of Bianca went in search of his beloved cat and discovered the 2ndcentury AD marvel. After lunch we head to the nearby capital, Tirana.
Tirana International Hotel
30/06/2023 Tirana (BLD)
Albania is slowly emerging from being the most isolated country in Europe, if not the world. The brutal dictatorship of Enver Hoxha came to a violent end in the early 1990s and today Albania remains the only country in Europe without a McDonald’s! Tirana is a lovely city of parks and striking architecture with a vibrant population forging a new relationship with Europe. Today we explore the city and take a cable car to the top of Dajti Mountain for superb views of the city.
01/07/2023 Tirana (BLD)
Today we travel to Kruje, a medieval town located northwest of Tirana which was the capital of the first autonomous Albanian state in the Middle Ages. We will enjoy a tour of the city including the Kruje Castle before returning to Tirana for our final night.
02/07/2023 Tirana – Rome – Dubai
This morning we board a flight to Rome where we connect with our flight to Dubai.
Depart Tirana, Alitalia AZ 507, 05.15
Arrive Rome, 06.40
Depart Rome, Emirates EK 98, 15.25
Arrive Dubai 23.25
03/07/2023 Dubai – Australia
Connect with the flight to our chosen Australian city.
There was a war in the Balkans in 1994, and in Kosovo as recently as 1999. Is it safe to go there?
What makes this journey so fascinating is to witness how the Balkans has moved on since the war. What makes this journey so haunting is to witness the scars of a war that was so recent. Today people in the Balkans are friendly and welcoming and the area is very secure and safe.
Do the crew members on the Emanuel speak English?
Most staff members on board Emanuel have a working knowledge of English. Also on board is a ship coordinator who speaks fluent English and therefore we have no language barriers.
Does the Emanuel have credit card facilities?
No. However, payment can be made in Euros, USD and local currency.
Are there laundry facilities on the Emanuel?
The boat has a full laundry service and is generally fairly cheap.
If I travel alone, do I have to pay the single supplement?
If you wish to have sole use of a hotel room on the tour, you will need to pay the single supplement. If you are travelling alone but willing to share a room, we will endeavour to match you up with another solo traveller of the same gender. We cannot guarantee that a share-match can be provided, and in the event that this cannot be arranged at the time of final payment, you will need to pay the single supplement.
How much spending money do I need for the entire trip and what currency should I bring?
Because almost everything is included, an amount of 700 Euros would be ample. While Croatia is not particularly cheap,Bosnia,Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania are amazingly inexpensive. Money should be taken in cash and with small denomination Euros. ATMs are also available in all countries. We do not recommend travellers cheques as they can be difficult to change.
Do I need vaccinations for this journey?
You must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel and you must carry the printed International Vaccination Certificate with you, and also a digital copy if possible. Tetanus should always be up to date. Other recommended vaccinations are Typhoid, Cholera and Hepatitis A. Please consult your doctor for more information. The Australian Government smarttraveller website and the World Health Organisation website have further information for travel during COVD-19.
Is the water safe to drink en-route and what is the general standard of hygiene?
We err on the side of caution on all of our tours and advise travellers to drink only bottled water. This is easy to obtain everywhere. The standard of hygiene is surprisingly high along the entire route.
I would like to stay on in Europe after the group departs. Is this possible?
It may be possible to extend in Europe; likewise it may be possible to stop over in Dubai on the return journey. Our consultants will be happy to provide details. If you wish to take up this option, all arrangements must be confirmed before leaving Australia.
I have been on a Croatian cruise before. Is it possible just to do the journey from Dubrovnik to Albania?
This is no problem. Please ask one of our consultants for a costing.
Do we need any visas?
The whole journey is delightfully visa-free.
A lot of companies have many expensive optional extras on their tours. Do you?
We don’t believe in a lot of expensive ‘optional tours’. Our itineraries are designed to make the best possible use of time and to include all the must-see sights, plus additional surprises. Therefore practically everything is included in the tour cost.
What is the standard of the hotels?
We use centrally located 4-star hotels for this journey, with the exception of Ohrid, which is a good 3-star property.
Are there internet facilities en-route?
All hotels we use have internet facilities and many have WiFi.
Do mobile telephones work?
Telstra and Optus mobiles work throughout the entire journey. You will need to ensure you have global roaming. Contact your service provider for further details.
How much should we tip the guides and porters?
There is no need to tip guides or porters as all tips and gratuities are included in the tour cost.
Listed below is a selection of books which you may wish to read prior to, or during, your journey.
A Taste of Croatia
Karen Torme Olson
Dubrovnik: A History
Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the failure of the West
Love thy Neighbour
The Cellist of Sarajevo
Imagining the Balkans
Artful Albanian: Memoirs of Enver Hoxha