As part of a recent seaside camping holiday in Sithonia, Chalkidiki’s idyllic middle peninsula in the north of Greece, I spent a day cruising around the small but splendid Diaporos Island. The Aegean island’s dozens of sandy beaches, quiet coves and rocky headlands are surrounded by crystal clear turquoise waters and tiny islets – all yours to explore any way you see fit, you’re the captain for the day. Just bring some basic snorkeling gear to fully appreciate the Mediterranean’s underwater environment… and choose your own adventure!Continue reading
Labyrinthine bays dotted by little islands, coastal towns drawing you in with their Italianate charm, the awe-inspiring Dinaric ridges above and of course, the calm blue waters of the Southern Adriatic below. Montenegro might be tiny, but its breath-taking littoral ought to be the closest the Balkans have to paradise.
Although it might be just a 120-kilometre drive from the Bay of Kotor’s entrance to the sandy beaches of Ada Bojana on the Albanian border, literally the entire coastline of Montenegro is stunningly scenic. Add to that the allure of the local taverns (konoba) with their mix of Mediterranean and Balkan food, and you’d be hard pressed to ever leave.
From a morning walk among some of the oldest olive groves in the world to an evening stroll in the hidden gem of the Bay of Kotor, kashkaval tourist will now take you on a journey to 6 blissful places on the enamouring Adriatic coast of Montenegro!
1. Guarding the gateway to heaven: Herceg Novi
Herceg Novi might be the ancient castle protecting the entrance to the Bay of Kotor from invasion, but it’s a welcoming, benevolent guardian. Its stark medieval fortifications share the streets with gentle Venetian and Austrian-style facades and the menacing slopes of Mount Orjen in the distance are offset by the verdure of palms and fig trees down by the sea.
As the first Montenegrin town you’re likely to encounter if you’re entering from Croatia, Herceg Novi is just the perfect place to say hello to the Bay of Kotor’s beauties. Explore the alleys and stairways of the Old Town before an opulent dinner on the promenade. For the finest beaches around, it’s a good idea to hop on a boat tour to a more remote location like Žanjice.
2. A tale of two islands: Perast
Headed for Kotor or hurrying to Dubrovnik, many visitors are likely to overlook the tiny town of Perast – and that’s the biggest mistake you can make when exploring Montenegro. Just a few kilometres north of Kotor, Perast is an absolute hidden gem of Italianate palazzos, graceful bell towers and mesmerizing island vistas.
Climb the St Nicholas’ Church tower for an iconic panorama of the Bay of Kotor and the two nearby islets of Saint George and Our Lady of the Rocks. From the promenade, you can easily arrange a boat taxi to the latter island and its Baroque church and museum. Or simply enjoy a glass of rakija with some Njeguški pršut and local olives on the side in a seafront konoba!
With their steep and rugged slopes overhanging kilometres above deep and remote valleys, the Albanian Alps just have to be one of the Balkans’ (and indeed, Europe’s) most stunning mountain ranges. Their menacing appearance, thanks to which they have deserved the moniker “the Accursed Mountains”, only adds to their mysterious allure.
Whether you call them the Albanian Alps, the Accursed Mountain, Bjeshkët e Nemuna or Prokletije, it’s all the same mountain range, situated where the borders of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo meet. They’re the highest section of the vast Dinaric Alps that follow the Adriatic coast of the Western Balkans. And it’s not just sheer height that the Accursed Mountains impress with: the traditional villages, turquoise lakes, elegant waterfalls, primeval beech and fir forests and authentic highlander cuisine make this secluded region the Balkans’ perfect nature getaway.
Entering the Albanian Alps via one of the world’s most epic boat rides and driving out over an exhilarating and treacherous mountain pass, with loads of quality hiking and the odd lock-in tower (north Albanian blood feud anyone?) in-between, kashkaval tourist presents 6 adventurous activities in the awe-inspiring Albanian Alps.
1. A boat ride to remember: hop on the legendary Lake Koman ferry
Departing on the world-famous Lake Koman ferry on a summer morning is indisputably your perfect introduction to the Albanian Alps. The ferry will take you on a three-hour boat ride among otherwise inaccessible mountain gorges. The peaks above you will turn more and more dazzling as you approach the terminus at Fierzë, but the waters retain their shade of turquoise along the way.
Getting on and off the Lake Koman ferry is an adventure in itself, as friendly locals volunteer to help foreign drivers with the perilous approach on and off the ferry ramp. Quite how the seemingly erratic logistics of loading and unloading the boats works is a bit of an Albanian mystery, but rest assured, not traveller would be turned back!
2. Alpine paradise: hike up the spectacular Valbona Valley
Once you get off the ferry at Fierzë, the gorgeous Valbona Valley is just a short minibus ride away. The glacial valley of the Valbona River is nestled between the almost vertical ridges of the Albanian Alps and the altitude difference of 1,700 metres from the river bed to the summits almost directly above it is absolutely dizzying. The Valbona Valley boasts a range of trails to everyone’s taste and ability, including a gentle path along the river, a short walk to the Liqeni i Xhemës pond or ambitious ascents of the colossal Kollata massif (2,554 m) or the highest peak Maja Jezercë (2,694 m).
However, by far the most popular day hike is the steep trek from Valbona to Theth via the Valbona Pass (Qafa e Valbonës) at 1,795 m. This six to eight-hour trek of medium difficulty will take you through secluded stone villages and ancient beech forests, along pristine mountain streams and just below the intimidating peaks of the Accursed Mountains. On either side of the pass, there’s a basic café where you can stop for refreshments or fill up your water bottles.
When you return to the same place at the same time the very next year, you know there has to be a special reason. And in my case, the reason was that I fell in love with kayaking in the Black Sea. Touring the stunning red cliffs and marvelling at the maritime vistas of Bulgaria’s jagged northern coast is an unforgettable endeavour. Especially when you’re on your own in your kayak, taking on the waves and feeling like a true adventurer!
The guide and the gear
I went on both sea kayaking tours together with Trip Kavarna, a licensed tour agent, an experienced kayaker and an incredibly calm and friendly guide who speaks English, Russian and Bulgarian. Both times I paddled one of Trip Kavarna’s five high-grade Epic GPX single kayaks with Epic carbon touring paddles. At just 15 kg, this fibreglass boat was easy to carry in and out of the water and a joy to navigate. When paddling, it almost didn’t feel like I was moving any extra weight but my own body.
At the same time, the boat was stable and robust. Keeping my balance wasn’t a challenge in one of the Epic GPX, so no, I never even came close to turning over… and I’ll admit I’ve been able to capsize in an actual full-sized boat in a city lake on another occasion! This time I was equipped with a life jacket and instructed on how to act in such a situation though, so it wouldn’t have been much of an issue anyway.
Getting ready: What to bring
Bringing a waterproofed action camera on board is highly recommended, but I wouldn’t take a phone or a DSLR with me. There’s dry bags to store your gear, but given that your kayak is covered by your sprayskirt at all times, you won’t be really able to easily access your camera. And you should be busy paddling and having fun anyway! Your guide will have an action camera on, so don’t worry, you’re guaranteed to have photographic proof of your kayaking adventure.
Needless to say, this is a serious physical activity so you’d better slip into your activewear or swimsuit. On a sunny day, you’re unlikely to be cold and you won’t get too much water on you thanks to the sprayskirt. But you don’t want cotton clothes keeping you wet in any case! On longer tours, it would be wise to bring a bottle of drinking water (the action and those sea views might quickly make you thirsty), but on my shorter tours in spring, I was just fine without one.
The Rhodopes, a vast chain of forested mountains, scenic towns and mystical villages, dominate Bulgaria’s south near the border with Greece. With its mix of pristine coniferous forests, high-quality ski resorts and unique local culture, this secluded region attracts Bulgarians and foreigners alike.
From working online out of a geodesic dome igloo to trying out the Rhodopes’ unusual local cuisine, kashkaval tourist presents 6 things to do in the captivating Rhodope Mountains.
1. Ski down the slopes from the TV tower in Pamporovo
Surrounded on all sides by endless hills covered by coniferous forests, the vast Pamporovo ski area is one of Bulgaria’s top winter resorts. Pamporovo’s location not far from Greece makes it one of Europe’s southernmost ski resorts, and as a result it boasts reliable snowfall as well as an unusually large number of sunny days in winter.
Almost all ski runs in Pamporovo descend from the unmistakeable Snezhanka TV Tower, which stands at an elevation of over 1900 metres. So as you can probably imagine, the tower’s panoramic café is the perfect place for a lunch with a view before another action-packed afternoon of skiing or snowboarding!
2. Escape to an office in the woods in Chepelare
Chepelare is a charming mountain town just 15 minutes away from the ski runs at Pamporovo. And believe it or not, the local factory, which manufactures ski equipment for Atomic and Salomon, is the world’s largest ski producer! Chepelare’s scenic location and ties to business are probably why it hosts Bulgaria’s first Office in the Woods, a community for co-working and co-living.
Office in the Woods is a great way to escape from your urban office environment to a space where you can work comfortably as well as enjoy the natural environment of the central Rhodopes. A stunning view from your office window is guaranteed, and the list of outdoor activities in all seasons is practically endless. You can also pick out different accommodation and office options, from camping to luxury and from a traditional office space to a wood-and-glass geodesic dome igloo!
The massive Rila Mountains in southwestern Bulgaria are not only the highest between the Alps and the Caucasus, but also a prime destination for hiking in Bulgaria. Covered in part by the Rila National Park, Rila is a magnificent collection of jagged peaks, maiden forests and endless pastures topped by Musala, the 2,925-metre highest summit of the Balkans.
With an ancient Thracian name that likely means “well-watered mountain”, it can’t be a coincidence that water is one of the wonders of Rila. The mountains are abundant in glacial lakes, waterfalls and hot mineral springs and the depths of Rila give birth to some of the Balkans’ longest rivers.
From the iconic cirque of the Seven Rila Lakes to the Alpine ridges of Malyovitsa, kashkaval tourist presents 8 amazing hikes in Rila, the highest mountains of Bulgaria and the Balkans.
If it’s your first time trekking in Bulgaria, then why not make your life easier with a certified mountain guide from Hiking Guide Bulgaria?
1. The Magnificent Seven: the Seven Rila Lakes
When you’ve seen the Seven Rila Lakes, you’ll have no doubts as to why they’re perhaps the most famous natural site in Bulgaria. They’re a group of seven glacial lakes above the treeline, each with a characteristic shape and an unforgettable name like The Kidney, The Tear or the Eye. When viewed all together from the Lake Peak above them, the Seven Rila Lakes (Седемте рилски езера, Sedemte rilski ezera) make up one of the Balkans’ iconic panoramas.
In late summer, the followers of esoteric spiritual teacher Peter Deunov gather on the shores of the lakes. They’re all dressed in white and form huge dancing circles, quite the sight to behold. On a regular summer weekend, though, you’re more likely to encounter lots and lots of casual tourists, so better go during the week or off-season if you’re prepared.
You can get to the Seven Rila Lakes from Sapareva Banya near Dupnitsa, where a paved road to the trail and the chairlift starts. Accommodation and food are available at both the new (“Rila Lakes”) and the old (“Seven Lakes”) hut. A full tour of the Seven Rila Lakes is likely to take you some three or four hours there and back. A daytrip from Sofia is possible if you schedule your time well.
2. Top of the Balkans: Musala
At 2,925 metres, Mount Musala is Rila’s highest summit, which makes it the highest point of Bulgaria, the Balkans and all of Europe between the Alps and the Caucasus. It’s also Europe’s 7th most prominent peak and the coldest place in the Balkans, covered by snow for more than half of the year.
For such a high and extreme location, Musala (Мусала) can actually be a less challenging hike than other Bulgarian summits. It stands above one of Bulgaria’s most popular ski resorts, Borovets, so the cabin lift to Yastrebets can comfortably take you to 2,369 m, where you can start your hike. You can get to the top in only three hours, passing by Musala Hut and the Icy Lake Shelter. Both of these are good places for a short break and some refreshments.
Sure, the final hour of climbing Mount Musala is somewhat demanding and possibly vertigo-inducing, but it’s worth it because of the gorgeous views towards the lakes below. And when you get to the summit of the Balkans, you can kindly ask the meteorologists in the weather station for a cup of steaming tea!
Bulgaria’s breathtaking Black Sea coast is one of the country’s greatest assets. And accordingly, Bulgaria is one of the leading beach tourism destinations in Europe, with major resorts like Sunny Beach and Golden Sands and romantic coastal towns like ancient Nesebar and historic Sozopol.
And although much of Bulgaria’s coast has been urbanized and adapted for mass tourism, many pristine sandy beaches and places of unspoilt natural beauty still remain on its Black Sea shores. From cult hippie oases to scenic red rock coastlines, kashkaval tourist presents 9 pristine beaches on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast!
1. Where the mountain meets the sea: Irakli
A few kilometres south of Obzor near Emona, Irakli has achieved cult status as a favourite hangout of hippies and other young people with alternative views. Nowadays, everybody who respects nature is welcome on this unspoilt sandy beach, and camping there for weeks at a time is a common summertime activity. Irakli is often visited by nudists, and skinny dipping is by all means encouraged!
Irakli (Иракли) lies just next to Cape Emine, the Balkan Mountains’ easternmost point, and this is where Kom – Emine, the epic and gruelling hiking trail along the entire length of the mountains terminates… with a refreshing bath in the clear Black Sea waters, of course!
2. Protected by the rocks: Silistar
Silistar (Силистар) is a protected coastal area in the southernmost Bulgarian coast, south of Sinemorets and not far from the border with Turkey. With its beautiful sandy beach somewhat off the beaten path, Silistar is the best-kept secret of the residents of Burgas.
Located in a tranquil cove within the Strandzha Nature Park, Silistar has avoided the mass construction and urbanization that has befallen other pieces of beauty on the Bulgarian coast. Silistar features a quiet camping site, so you can spend the night by the sea and wake up for a majestic sunrise!