The Balkans Mosaic

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Departures: May, July & September
The Balkans is a land of such great diversity and textures that one gets the blown up by the colors, cultures, hospitality, food, landscape and above the ethnicities. We trace the scene of medieval Europe and the diverse nationalities originating from Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania. A visit to the “Republika” Srbska has also been included. Not to forget that all these nationalities also inherited considerable influence from the long reign of the Ottoman Turks. Like many things bottled up and let loose, they burst forth with passion and gusto rarely seen. This then is the Balkans Mosaic. This tour has been tailored in manner to offer you the Balkans in three legs – you are free to choose the complete three leg tour or a part of the Mosaic.

(Photo courtesy of Bestway Tours)

Day 01: Arrival Belgrade (SERBIA) (FIRST LEG)
Our journey of the bewildering Balkans start at the heart city of Serbia, Belgrade. We find a beautiful romantic and medieval city competing amongst the most charming cities in Eastern Europe as we are warmly received and transferred to our hotel. Overnight: Hotel Moskva, Belgrade (2 nights)

Day 02: Belgrade
The capital city of Serbia since 1403, our Belgrade tour starts with the Republic Square, where we see the architectural wonders in monuments such as the National Theatre, National Museum, Serbian Academy of Science & Arts in the famous Knez Mihajlova Street. At the old town we see 19thC quarters, the ‘Question mark sign’ Inn, Princess Ljubica’s Residence (now housing a permanent exhibition of original furniture), the Patriarchy and the Orthodox Cathedral.

No visit to Belgrade is complete without the fortress area which includes well-preserved artillery structures dating from the 18thC, acropolis with original ramparts, gateways, towers, some Turkish monuments and some older, ancient Roman. Evening is a 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)
A 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. Latter we cross River Drina bordering Serbia with Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Visegrad is nestled here in the valley at a particularly beautiful point. Just like the well-known city of Mostar, Višegrad also has a famous stone bridge that hails from the Ottoman era. The bridge in Višegrad was designed by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan and completed in 1571. It is an Ottoman structure of pumice stone, and was the inspiration for a novel by Ivo Andric, “The Bridge On The Drina” which got him the 1961 Nobel Prize for Literature. Continuing our journey we drive south and ascend Mount Zlatibor National Park known for its beauty and intact nature. It is a mountain of golden pines, after which it got its name (Zlatan – golden Bor – pine three).

A short drive through the beautiful countryside gets us into an area where the vegetation changes into a jungle. Here we find flora and fauna such as the Omorica. This is also one of the last refuge areas for Bears. Our final destination is a unique and charming ethno village – an open-air museum of displaying traditional architecture handicrafts and world famous hand-knitted wares. 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 Monastery Studenica (UNESCO WHS) founded by Stefan Nemanja. This is considered to be the crowning achievement of medieval culture and art in Serbia. The monastic complex consists of the fascinating Church of the Virgin (1183 – 1196), the Church of SS Joachim & Anne (also known as the King’s Church) and the Church of St. Nicholas. The monastery circle contains monuments raised over a period of 130 years, and several Serbian rulers had a hand in their construction. A short drive will get us to one of the most treasured sacral buildings of the Nemanjić era, the Monastery Sopoćani (UNESCO WHS). It is an endowment of King Uroš from the 13th C. The mural paintings here are known to be amongst the most magnificent in European medieval art. Overnight at the small town of Novi Pazar with a population of only 60,000. Evening we take a walking tour of the town and meet the local folks. Overnight: Hotel Tadj , Novi Pazar (1 night) (B, D)

Day 05: Novi Pazar/Monastery Decani (KOSOVO)/Patriarchy in Pec/Priština
A scenic drive as we cross into Kosovo. The Monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija are world renowned for their beauty and we visit the Dečani Monastery – World heritage site from where we visit the Patriarchate of Peć – both being World Heritage sites. The most monumental building in medieval Serbia is the church devoted to Christ the Pantocrator at the Dečani Monastery. King Stefan Dečanski initiated its building, while his son, the famous Emperor Stefan Dušan completed it in the 13th Century.

Dečani church boasts the richest and most preserved sculpture from the Romanesque-Gothic style, a lavish portal with decorative windows. It bears witness to the regal origins of the Nemanjić’s. What makes this monastery exceptional is also its treasury, a safekeeping of precious old icons and other objects of superb value. The monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage List. We then visit the Patriarchate of Peć. The complex stands on its own in this area with its four churches. The oldest, dedicated to the Holy Apostles, was built in the 13th Century.

The Patriarchate of Peć plays a major role in the Church and State history of Serbia. We drive to the capital city of Pristina where we stroll along its streets and the main square located right in the heart of the town. Overnight: Hotel Afa, Pristina (1 night) (B, D)

Day 06: Pristina/Monastery Gracanica/Skopje (MACEDONIA)/Ohrid
Our first visit will be the Monastery of Gracanica (UNESCO WHS). Located in the suburb of Pristina where we see the church devoted to Annunciation. The monastery was an endowment of King Milutin and was built in the early 14th century. Its architectural structure represents the apex of Serbian building that followed in the spirit of Byzantine tradition. However, this monastery also stands apart as a work of harmonious proportions and extraordinary beauty.

We then cross from Kosovo to the historical country of Macedonia and drive to the capital city, Skopje. Skopje is not only the capital but also the largest city in the Republic of Macedonia. It is located in a valley, on both sides of River Vardar and traces back to over 2000 years of history when it was known as Skupi. Our exploration of this historical city starts with a walking tour the old part of the town “Charshi”, where lies the Stone Bridge – a symbol of Skopje built by Turks in 15thC. Here we will see some of the marvels which include the Church St. Spas, (famous for its marvelous iconostas from 17thC), 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) . Continue to 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., we culminate the tour of Ohrid with a walk through the local bazaar. Afternoon is free to enjoy Ohrid at our own leisure. (B, D)

Day 08: Ohrid/Berat (ALBANIA)
Before crossing into Albania, we visit the famous Monastery of Sv. Naum. Continuing our drive we go around Like Ohrid and enter Albanian before arriving Berat. Berat is known as a “city of one thousand windows”, and is a 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 over the city. Within its walls there are dwelling houses and the Onufri Museum, where 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 interesting architecture. Overnight: Hotel Timori or Hotel Antipatrea, Berat (1 night) (B, D)

Day 09: Berat/Durres/Tirana
We drive from Berat 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 and named the port after his grandson, Dyrrah 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. We then drive to the capital city of Tirana relatively a new town, founded in 1614 located on the site of a Byzantine fortress. Tirana has been the capital of Albania since 1920 and lies at the foot of Dajti Mountain. Our visit here includes the Skanderbeg Square in the centre of the town, the 1789 old Mosque of Et’hem Bey, the 1830 Clock Towerand the Palace of Culture housing the Opera. Overnight: Hotel Tirana International, Tirana (1 night) (B, D)

Day 10: Tirana/Kruja/Shodra/Budva (MONTENEGRO)
Another interesting day as we start at the charming little town of Kruja, perched high on the face of a hill. Kruja was the centre of the 15th C. Albanian resistance under Skanderbeg against Ottoman Turks. 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 Budva. Budva is 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. This area is a popular tourist hang out with now many shops and taverns. Budva also has several attractive beaches and hotels. Overnight: Hotel Avala, Budva (1 night) (B, D)

Day 11: Budva/Cetinje/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. 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. Overnight: Hotel Marija, Kotor (1 night) (B, D)

Day 12: Kotor/Trebinje (BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA)/ Mostar/ Medjugorje/Sarajevo
An extremely picturesque Boka Bay drive and then inland up the mountains where we cross the border into Bosnia & Herzegovina. No visit of Bosnia & Herzegovina is complete without Mostar. We start the day with a breathtaking drive to Mostar. We tour this picturesque 500 years old town made famous by the old Turkish bridge that once was the only means uniting the city over the emerald waters of the Neretva River. The bridge played a central role in the lives of its inhabitants. The original 15th Century wooden bridge was a very important strategic and trade link between the two parts of Herzegovina. The growing needs led to the construction of a new bridge in 1557 making it the masterpiece of Hajrudin under the close observation of the Caliph Suleyman The Magnificent (builder). We stroll through the narrow medieval style old bazaar with astounding Ottoman Islamic architecture.

A short drive gets us to the village of Medjugorje, which is a centre for many pilgrims across the world. It is reputed that in 1981, several of local children received the messages of Virgin Mary. We visit the big local church and the area where the miracle is reputed to have taken place. Continue through the mountains following the canyon of river Neretva, before arriving at the majestic Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina. Overnight: Hotel Astra Garni, Sarajevo (2 nights) (B, D)

Day 13: Sarajevo
Enchanting Sarajevo, to some it competes with Isfahan in Iran. We start with a walking tour of Sarajevo. This magical town with all its charms takes us instantly back to the Ottoman day 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 in which for more then 400 years mosques, orthodox churches, roman-catholic churches and synagogues have been standing together. (B, D)

Day 14: End first leg Join SECOND LEG Sarajevo to Dubrovnik (CROATIA)
For those taking the first leg only transfer to the airport will be provided. For those continuing on the second leg to Croatia, we start with a scenic drive to Dubrovnik the enchanting resort and historical city on the Adriatic. 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, we are free to enjoy Dubrovnik’s old city or its popular Adriatic Sea beach. (B, D)

Day 16: Dubrovnik/Split
After a leisurely day at 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 a noisy, night-on-the-town feel. At the heart of all of this, hemmed in by sprawling estates and a modern harbor, lies Diocletians’ Palace, a crumbling old town, and some of the most outstanding classical architecture in the world which we will enjoy visiting today. It was in 295-A.D., 1700 years ago that the Roman emperor Diocletian started to build his palace in the bay of Aspalathos on the Dalmatian Coast, the land of his birth. After his abdication in 305, the retired emperor left Nicomedia and settled in the palace, intending to spend the rest of his life there. The rectangular palace of Diocletian occupies an area of about 29,000 square meters.

The transformation of the palace into the town began in the 7th C when the inhabitants of nearby Salona took refuge in the palace during the invasions of the Avars and Slavs. We visit the impressive cellars of the palace to get an idea of the original structure, Peristyle, Baptistery of St. John, Cathedral of St. Domnius and many more. Afternoon is free to enjoy the markets of Split. (B, D)

Day 18: Split/Trogir/Sibenik/Zadar/Plitvice Lakes
Another interesting day ahead as we start with a visit of the medieval town of Trogir, which has changed little over the years and even today is one of the most beautiful towns on this coast. Life here revolves around Narodni Trg, a creamy-white square flanked by the Cathedral, Communal Palace and Loggia. We visit the Venetian Cathedral of St. Lovro, built from the 13th to 15th centuries on the Place of Ivana Pavla, one of the finest architectural works in Croatia. Our next stop is at Sibenik located in an area of several hundred inlets spread out to the open blue sea, forming many channels, bays and droves of rare beauty. Especially lovely are the inlets posted in front to the open sea, with their rocky cliffs and deep abrasions. Sibenik and its beautiful surroundings occupy a unique place in the Dalmatian coast.

Our last stop of the day will be at Zadar, the ancient capital of Dalmatia. The town offers a variety of architectures and styles, where lone Corinthian columns stand alongside Romanesque churches. Zadar was part of Italy until 1947, and, though fast diminishing, one still finds Italian influence. We visit the Archaeological Museum, which has a neatly displayed collection of Roman relics, pre-Christian, Roman and medieval finds from nearby Nin, as well as fragments of sculpture from most of the local churches. We also see the Roman Forum from the 2ndC. BC. And the 9th century pre Romanesque church of St Donatus and St Elias church. 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, the Plitvice Lakes. Here sixteen lakes, each at a different level join the other in a series of cascading waterfalls. Surrounded by dense woods, the region, UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site is a natural phenomenon of rare and unique beauty. Wooded paths follow the succession of lakes and waterfalls where streams burst out of rocks creating a unique place. The colors of the pools are reminiscent of Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies. Afternoon, we visit Zagreb, capital of Croatia. It has 770 000 inhabitants and it is a political, cultural and economical center 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 cannon firing. We culminate the day with a tour of 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 & SLOEVENIA
For those ending with this leg transfer to the airport will be provided. (B)

We depart Zagreb for Istria. We drive through the mountainous region of Croatia to the Adriatic the town of Rijeka – the largest town in the Istria Peninsula. Next we visit Opatija, the oldest and most popular Croatian resort town with a magnificent seaside. A Rijeka businessman built the first villa here in 1844, and after a visit by the trend-setting wife of the Austrian Emperor, the town was developed into health resort for the aristocratic Austrians.

We continue our journey to Pula, with its’ impressive 1st century Roman amphitheatre overlooking the harbor northeast of the old town. 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. This majestic arch was erected in 27 BC to commemorate three members of the Sergius family who achieved distinction in Pula. Until the 19th Century the arch was backed by the city gate and surrounded by walls that were pulled down to allow the city to expand beyond the old town. The pedestrian street beyond the arch, Street Sergijevaca, winds right around old Pula. We follow the street to the ancient forum where the town’s central meeting took place from antiquity through the Middle Ages. Overnight: Pula-Hotel Amfiteatar 4* or similar (1 night) (B, D)

Day 21: Pula/Rovinj/Villages of Istria/Porec
A short scenic drive gets us to Rovinj. Originally an island, it was settled by the Slavs in the 7th Century and developed into a strong fishing and maritime industry town. We enjoy a walking tour of Rovinj – a mostly Italian speaking town. Shops line the narrow streets of the old town selling everything from local Istrian 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 (who is said to have lived on this site) – a secret place of worship dating from the time when Christianity was still a clandestine religion. We explore the picturesque old villages of Istria inland and visit Groznjan, and Motovun. The sweeping view of the vineyards that produce Motovun’s fine Teran and Malvasija wine and the forests that hide Istria’s prized white and black truffles. Passing along the cobblestone street see the 15th Century Gothic Chapel of St. Anthony the Abbot (Sv. Anton). We end our day with a walking tour of Poreč, a pretty little place set on a small promontory cut into an ordered mesh of streets that dates from its time as a Roman encampment. The ancient Decumanus still runs straight through the center and the Roman forum. The Romans conquered the region in the 2nd century BC and made Poreč an important administrative center, from where they were able to control Lim Fjord to the Mirna River. We also visit the beautiful Eufrazijana Bazilic a UNESCO World Heritage site. Overnight: Porec-Grand Hotel Palazzo 4* (1 night) (B, D)

Day 22: Porec/Lipica Stud Farm/Postojna Cave/Ljubljana (SLOVENIA)
Scenic drive by the costal road 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. The stud farm remained the property of the court in Vienna until the end of WWI when the Italians took control of Primorska province and herds were moved to Hungary and then to Austria, but the change in climate took its toll on the horses. In 1943, with WWII still raging, the Germans moved more than 200 horses to the Sudetenland in Bohemia (now Czech Republic).

When the area was liberated by American forces in 1945, most of the horses and the stud farms’ archives were shipped off to Italy. Sadly, only 11 horses returned to Slovenia when operations resumed in Lipica in 1947. We later visit Postojna. The cave at this scenic town is one of the largest in the world, and is among Slovenia’s most popular attractions. 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. The river continues its deep passage underground, carving out several more series of caves, and emerges again as the Unica River. Overnight: Hotel Union, Ljubljana (1 night) (B, D)

Day 23: Ljubljana/Bled
We start the day with a tour of “Bela Ljubjana.” This was the nickname given to this delightful city after it was entirely rebuilt in the 16th century following the massive earthquake of 1511. 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.

Across the bridge in the old town we will see the city cathedral. Perhaps the most interesting parts of the building are the brand new bronze doors. Commemorating centuries of struggle towards independence, these doors recount major events in the history of Slovenia. Our walking tour is not complete without time spent wandering through the open air and indoor city market. People come here to buy fresh mountain herbs and flowers, famous forest honey, wild mushrooms, and fresh fruit and vegetables from local farms. Fresh cheeses made each morning for the market are also on display. Our next visit 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 this little island was originally inhabited by fairies. Today the island is home to a Baroque church dedicated to Our Lady of the Lake. Near the altar of the church hangs a rope attached to the bells in the tower. Legend has it that if you make a wish while ringing the bells the wish will come true.
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 20thC., we bid farewell to this aspect of history with our transfer to Ljubljana airport for our onward flight. (B)

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