The tasty lemonade of an improvised Balkan road trip

We were still mad about that travel agency announcing their bankruptcy three days before our charter flight to the romantic couple’s capital of Santorini*, Greece. There was no time for being furious though. We had some official holidays coming and totally ruined plans. We also had our location – Sofia, Bulgaria. When life gives you lemons, make a lemonade. So the lemons were: few days off work, our old but loyal Mazda, and the good base we had in the center of the Balkans. What does that tell you about the lemonade? You guessed it! A 100%-improvised Balkan road trip!

P.S. Some years later we did an Eastern European (kind of) road trip with the goal to visit the Skoda factory in the Czech Republic.

Mavrovo, Macedonia

It was the end of September and the weather was still with us! So when we reached the ski center capital of Macedonia – Mavrovo – we could actually discover what used to be a village at the bottom of a lake. Shy churches were coming to life, the late summer was creating picturesque landscapes to browse with the bikes we hired.

View over Mavrovo lake Macedonia
At the bottom of lake Mavrovo Macedonia

We kind of wanted to reach the Adriatic sea so we set off to cross Albania on our way to Montenegro.

On the roads of Albania

Albanian roads were for extremely good drivers with off-road sections coming unannounced after highways. After shaking and curving around desert landscapes, canyons, and desolated settlements, we started to get worried. With no food and not much water (improvised road trip, remember?). We finally saw a small town in the middle of what seemed to us like a desert. We carried this hope with us while passing by unknown villages and disapproving eyes to finally reach the capital Tirana just to say goodbye. Our goal for the day was still far from us…

Albania - in the middle of the desert

Budva, Montenegro

The golden sunshine of that late afternoon gave us some beautiful perspective and time to recap from the Old Bar Fortress in Budva. While we were admiring those stunning landscapes of Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro, we ended up being surprised by the beauty we had just next door and didn’t know about. The medieval walls of Budva did not just keep memories from the Middle Ages but kept some charm to make you want to walk for hours (or party!)…

Old Bar Fortress Budva Montenegro
Budva Old Town Montenegro

Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor was waiting with its port and Old Town just after sunrise to invite us for a lovely cruise or a hike up and down in between fully loaded laundry ropes (yes, people live there). After helping some non-Balkan strangers deal with the complicated parking system (read: find someone to pay in euro) we had to leave this medieval cobblestone dream. We had to head back taking the picturesque curvy road with views over the Adriatic Riviera and its gems – sandy beaches and vivid islands.

Laundry in Cotor
Kotor walls Montenegro
St. Stefan Island
St. Stefan Island

Skopje, Macedonia

Nature and history worked together to deliver some delight to our senses.

We could have used some more parties. So we ditched the idea of exploring the controversial recent art developments of the capital of Macedonia – Skopje. We had so much fun with the local celebrity monument of the shmizli girls. And who wouldn’t party in the open air with friendly locals?

Shmizli in Skopje Macedonia

Kokino ancient observatory

And who would imagine that nearby the capital you can find an ancient observatory which is made of … just stones. All it takes for one to get oriented in an astronomical and physical sense in Kokino is some knowledge and the sun. And locals are also there to give you that knowledge and guide you through this natural phenomenon – all for few pennies.

Kokino observatory Macedonia

So can some ruined-in-the-last-minute travel plans lead to something good after all? Yes, they can! They actually can lead you to something phenomenal! The best improvised Balkan road trip!

Did you know…?

Albanians love to wash their cars. We have encountered as many car washes there as we have seen in total before.

Montenegrins possess a rich vocabulary. Even if that means you can receive a few (friendly) curses when you block the traffic a bit.

Macedonians have hidden tour guide powers – all you need to do to reveal them is ask!

And here’s another wonderful trip around Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia, with some locations you wouldn’t even expect! Learn more about our latest European road trip – the goal was to reach the Skoda factory in the Czech Republic.

*We eventually got to Santorini – for a day in 2012, as part of a cruise; for a whole week in 2021.

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