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Shhh... Don't Tell The Other Tourists. But Europe's Best Kept Secret Is The Former Yugoslavia.

February 10, 2019

"Chey. Eastern Europe lah. I was thinking what big secret you talking about."

 

But no, Yugoslavia isn't Eastern Europe. What is Eastern Europe anyway?

 

As far as Europe is concerned, almost everyone we know refers to any European country they aren't too familiar with, as "Eastern Europe".

 

The Czech Republic? Oh, that's Eastern Europe. Croatia & Hungary? Also "Eastern Europe".

But Vienna sits further East than Prague does, so why is Prague widely considered "Eastern Europe" while Vienna is not?  Most of Croatia is also further West than Vienna is. But Croatia is referred to as "Eastern Europe" yet Austria is "Central Europe"?

 

Geographically, the above doesn't make sense.

 

I know what your thinking. Perhaps from a historical point of view, Eastern Europe would be the countries under the USSR. Allies = Central "Safe Europe". Communists = "Dangerous Europe", aka "Eastern Europe".

 

Well, Yugoslavia was largely communist, but they were ruled by "Tito", and not part of "Stalin's fearsome USSR". So historically, Yugoslavia isn't the stereotypical "Eastern Europe" as well.

 

So the next time, before you say the words "Eastern Europe", think about what or where that really is. To be honest, I don't have the answer either (what exactly is Eastern Europe is a widely debated topic), and that's what makes it interesting.

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

 

Now that we've established that the former Yugoslavia is NOT Eastern Europe. Here's what it really is. Yugoslavia used to make up a portion of the Balkan Peninsula. If you'd like, you could call this particular region "South-Eastern Europe" (yeah, like the "South of France").

 

In this post, we'll be covering the 9 points below, so read on.

 

1. What Was Yugoslavia?

2. Yugoslavia Today

3. Individual Country Breakdown

4. Accommodation

5. Getting Around

6. Food

7. Key Attractions

8. Planning & Getting Started

9. Final Thoughts

 

 

What Was Yugoslavia?

Image Credit: Home of Postcards.blogspot

 

Well, we've all studied about the "Cold War", the "Allies", the "Soviets", the "Warsaw Pact". Heck, the PC game "Red Alert" was hugely popular during my school days. Yugoslavia back then was like Switzerland today, it was neutral and was made up of 6 Socialists Republics (basically 6 states).

 

Under "Tito" (a communist dictator), the Yugoslavian economy was great. After his death, the 6 states, with no true leader to unite them, were further separated when elections took place. Tensions were high; and coupled with the collapse of the Soviet Union, (which meant no more money flowing in) the economy tanked. A combination of ethnic tensions, a fight for independence and territory, on the back of a failing economy, lead to the eventual break up of Yugoslavia.

 

Yugoslavia Today

Today, the former Yugoslavia is made up of 6 countries (no longer states);Slovenia, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro.

 

At the peak of its economic success, Yugoslavia was probably the most developed of all communist states. Fast forward 27 years in 2019, things have taken a turn for the worse. With the exception of Slovenia and Croatia, the remaining 4 countries are still struggling economically and have among the highest unemployment and lowest GDP in Europe.

 

In short, as far as European vacations are concerned, it's way more affordable to visit the former Yugoslavian republics as opposed to "touristy Europe". Also, in these countries, you get to experience a very different side of Europe.

 

There are no (or few) skyscrapers. Castles, which most people think are easily found all over Europe are almost non existent in the former Yugoslavia.

 

So then, what exactly is there to do or see here?

 

Country Break Down

 

Slovenia

Lake Bled with the Julian Alps in the backdrop; Slovenia

 

"The Girl" & I found Slovenia the most beautiful among the 6 former Yugoslavian republics.

 

We would highly recommend Slovenia to those of you who enjoy visiting a country for it's natural beauty, as opposed to tourists who's idea of a vacation are shopping malls and luxury goods.

 

Go skiing or rafting down the slopes and rivers of the Julian Alps. Explore the Škocjan Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site or hike through the country's beautiful Alpine valley's and gorges. And in Lake Bled, Slovenia is home to what is arguably Europe's most beautiful lake.

Appreciating the natural beauty of the Slovenia during a hike through Vintgar Gorge.

Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital in the evening

 

With the strongest economy in the Balkan Peninsula, Slovenia uses the Euro and is the most expensive to visit among its former Yugoslav neighbors. It is of course still way cheaper than the rest of "tourist Europe". Visit Slovenia soon though. It's already very popular among European tourists and I can only see the cost of vacationing in this country shooting up.

 

Montenegro

The view of the Bay of Kotor.

 

Visiting the country of Montenegro, is pretty similar to visiting Croatia, just that you pay a lot less. Yes, Montenegro is cheap, way cheaper than Croatia (which has become an overrated tourist hot spot)

 

Here you can enjoy wandering around medieval old towns, sunbathe along some of Europe's best beaches, and explore beautiful national parks just like those in Croatia but without the tourists hordes.

 

Montenegro's Tara River Canyon offers some of the continent's best water rafting opportunities, and the coastal town of Budva is the Miami of Europe. The country's key attraction is the Bay of Kotor, where in one destination, visitors get to experience the country's coast, medieval towns, and mountains.  

Part of Budva Town, not the time of the year for sunbathing of course.

 

The tourists aren't totally here, period.

 

Many visit Budva for cheap partying but in general, the country is still pretty untouched, and by European standards, it doesn't cost anything to visit Montenegro. We could get a steak for 6 Euros, a hostel bed for 7 euros, pizza and a coke for 2 Euros in total; European beach destinations don't get better than Montenegro.

 

And, there's more to Montenegro than just beaches.

 

Croatia

"Kings Landing in Game of Thrones", Dubrovnik, Croatia

 

Alright, I'll come out and say it. I'm not a fan of Croatia.

 

Yes, I enjoy watching the Game of Thrones. I also do agree that the beaches, national parks, waterfalls are some of the best preserved in Europe. It's beautiful, Croatia really is.

 

What I don't like? The hordes of tourists. There are way too many tourists. Thanks to the tourist hordes, prices are close to those seen in Central Europe (a meal at a restaurant costs 15 Euros on average), the country charges central European prices for attractions (15 Euros to walk the city walls of Dubrovnik...roll eyes), and.....need I go on?

Of the 6 former Yugoslav republics, Croatia is of course the most "recognizable".

 

All I'm saying is that Croatia's other neighbors offer almost as much in beauty but at a fraction of the cost.

 

I'll move on to the next country on the list. You can read more about Croatia at the next travel fair.

 

Bosnia & Herzegovina

"Stari Most", the famous icon of Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

 

One of the coolest and most interesting of the 6 Yugoslav states is Bosnia & Herzegovina.

 

Bosnia is a predominantly Muslim country with a melting pot of cultures, and offers a very different sort of European travel experience (as opposed to the typical shopping and churches).

 

History buffs will enjoy a vacation in Bosnia. "The Girl" and I are not exactly the museum/history sort, but when we were in Sarajevo (Bosnia's capital), we found ourselves spending hours in the museums, reading, and going to one historical site after another. It was just so fascinating.

 Typical bullet riddled buildings through Bosnia & Herzegovina

 

The thing that stands out the most in Bosnia, are its bullet riddled, half bombed out buildings, many of which are still standing. Yes, and people actually still live in them.

A museum in Sarajevo depicting living conditions during the Bosnian War

 

If you enjoy shopping in Bangkok, you'll love shopping in Sarajevo. Like Bangkok, the bazaars sell pretty much anything, and yes, bargaining is key here. In Mostar, you'll see the legendary old bridge where you can watch the locals take a leap off into the sparkling waters below.

 

Waterfalls, mountains, bullet riddled buildings, museums, war tunnels, Ottoman styled architecture, great food, and a fascinating history. That's what a vacation in Bosnia is about.

 

Serbia

The streets of Belgrade, Serbia

 

Serbia was once the largest republic in Yugoslavia.

Today, Serbia is relatively poor. They don't get a lot of tourists because the country seems to lack the "star attractions" like Croatia's Plitvice National Park and Slovenia's Lake Bled. Being a landlocked country, Serbia doesn't have beautiful white sand beaches to boast either.

Street bazaar shopping in Belgrade

 

So what does Serbia have to offer?

 

For a start, it is really cheap. And the nightlife in Belgrade (Serbia's capital) is once of the most vibrant in Europe if you consider the fact that that partying in Belgrade happens to be very good value for money. Let's just say you could party the whole night away without really bothering to check the prices on the menu. Yes, it's that cheap (compared to the rest of Europe).