We finally made it! After cancelling it back in 2019 due to health issues, postponing it in 2020 due to the pandemics and postponing it again due to pregnancy and baby in 2021, we finally did it in 2022. An epic Balkan road trip with our Defender that is. It was well deserved I believe, and we really had a wonderful time. Although a little bit different than originally planned, since we had Mila on board, but travelling around these countries with an 11 month old baby turned out to be a great idea actually. I´ve lived in Slovenia for the first 27 years of my life so it might sounds strange, but I have never ever been to most of the countries we visited this time, even though they are really close to my home country, geographically speaking. But isn´t it often like this that we are mostly attracted to faraway places and not the ones closer to home? Anyhow, the time was just right now and we´ve enjoyed driving through so many different landscapes, were swimming in the Mediterranean sea, walked on snow in the mountains, sweated a little bit during a couple of easy hikes, ate a whole lot of amazing local food, met some of the friendliest people and so much more. And yes, we were also a little bit appalled about the amount of trash in some places, but we were prepared for it and it wasn´t a big shock for us. The possibilities for a road trip route in the Balkans are of course endless, in this post I am presenting you how we did it. I think it turned out just awesome and we would actually do it again the same way. At the end of this post I also added logistical advice and some statistics regarding prices, mileage, accommodation and more. More posts about what to see and do in individual countries are coming up later on the blog.
Places: coastal Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
How: with our LR Defender from Slovenia
Stayed in: wild camping, guesthouse, camp sites
Initially we planned the route in the reverse order, so the original plan was to drive from Ljubljana through Plitvice NP and Bosnia and Herzegovina, visiting the mountains of Montenegro, onwards to the Albanian Alps, possibly also stopping in Kosovo and North Macedonia, continue to the southern most tip of Albania and taking the coastal roads of Albania, Montenegro and Croatia back home to Slovenia. But just the day before we left, we turned everything upside down due to pretty bad weather forecast in the mountainous areas and therefore ended up spending our first night in Split at Croatian coast. We had to slightly change our route due to weather conditions later on as well, which meant we unfortunately had to leave out two very nice places in Montenegro, but we have a good reason to come back now. This is also the thing we really love about travelling with a camper car, we can really be free and decide on where to go and how long to stay while we´re already on the road. We completely left out Serbia this time but we will surely discover it another time, possibly in combination with visiting Bulgaria and / or Romania.
From Ljubljana to Montenegro with stops on the way | Split, Omiš, Veliki Žal, Neretva, Dubrovnik, plaža Pasjaća, Konavoski Dvori
SPLIT was not a completely random choice, since we stayed at my relatives there, and I have to say a nice evening with good food and company was a great decision after those long five hours of driving in the rain. The next day we stopped for breakfast and a walk around in charming OMIŠ and stayed the night on VELIKI ŽAL beach. Waking up at the sea for the first night in the Defender on this trip was the best feeling. Though wild camping is not allowed in Croatia this was still before the main season starts and we felt comfortable under the pine trees over here. The choice is always yours, but bear in mind the fines can be quite high so I would advice against it in the high season. The road took us through the beautiful lush NERETVA VALLEY, where we stock up on fresh orange juice the following day.
We decided to skip visiting the centre of DUBROVNIK this time and drove to the top of SRĐ hill to get the perfect view instead. A little further down the coast, we later on stopped at one of the best surprises of this trip – PASJAĆA BEACH. Honestly, I had no clue such place exists in Croatia and we were all just very pleasantly surprised. We just wanted a beach to have a quick lunch at, but ended up with a 1km long cliff hike and a wonderful bay at the end. We had the beach almost just to ourselves but have heard later that it does get quite full in July and August so obviously the place isn´t all that hidden and secret anymore. Anyway, it is really stunning and worth going. We did another stop at the green KONAVOSKI DVORI before crossing the border to MONTENEGRO.
The coast of Montenegro | Kotor, Lovćen, Rijeka Crnojevića, Budva, Sv. Štefan, Buljarica, Stari Bar, Ulcinj
First time in Montenegro. I admit, after a couple of years of this horrible pandemics it was really amazing to be somewhere I’ve never been before. First impressions of the country, it’s wonderful. The BAY OF KOTOR reminded us a little of the Italian lake Como. We visited the charming town of PERAST, where we indulged in delicious seafood, and got lost in the hills above the lake on very narrow roads without safety fences later on. Our search for a place to sleep at along one of these roads has failed but we did get some incredible views from up there. We ended up spending the night on the totally opposite side of the bay, at CAMP BEGOVIĆ, which was officially still closed at the time but the friendly owners let us stay anyway.
And because we drove quite a lot in the last few days, we decided to take a full day off here so we stayed two nights in the end before we continued to the beautiful LOVĆEN NP. Onwards through CETINJE to the edge of SKADAR LAKE, where we stopped at a few excellent lookout points in the vicinity of RIJEKA CRNOJEVIČA, before zigzagging on winding roads back to the coast, to BUDVA. We really really liked this part of Montenegro.
The coast of Montenegro is, how can I put it, modernly built. Luxurious hotels, villas, apartments and spas everywhere you look. And it seems like this is not yet the end of it, considering the number of new construction sites. Did we like it there? Well, honestly, it is not really our thing but I can see why people want to stay there. For us it was more of a driving tour through these towns and we only stopped in SVETI ŠTEFAN as it is really something special. The little island with its charming houses is a part of a luxurious resort as well though and you can only visit it if you are staying the night there too. The view is nice from above though and you can relax on the stretch of beach connecting the island to the mainland. We found our spot in what seemed to be the last bay with no hotels, BULJARICA.In Montenegro, wild camping is not legally allowed as well, but there were quite a few of vans in the bay and the locals coming for a swim didn´t seem to care. I repeat, in the main season the picture is most probably different and it might not be possible to sleep here. On the last day before crossing the border again we strolled through the narrow streets of STARI BAR which was really nice, and made one last stop in ULCINJ, where we could already feel Albanian vibes.
From Montenegro to Albania | Mrizi i Zaznave, Berat, laguna Narta, Zvernec, Vlore
Albania was the first country on this trip which language I could not speak so it immediately felt even more interesting and adventurous. For our first stop we chose the well-known agritourism MRIZI I ZAZNAVE, which is famous for its excellent traditional dishes and home-made products. They also have a special space for campers in their parking lot and since we had dinner at their place we could also just stay the night there. We had a wonderful dinner and honestly we couldn´t have had a better start or introduction to a new country. Mila was happy as well, there were so so many animals on the spot, it was a paradise for her. The next day, we made a stop in BERAT, the “city of thousands windows” as it is often called, and continued to our next overnight spot in NARTA LAGOON on ZVERNEC peninsula, just a little bit north of the modern town called VLORE. In Albania, wild camping is allowed under certain conditions, so we really never had a problem finding a place to sleep.
Towards the south along Albanian coast | prelaz Llogara, Gjipe, Jale, Akuariumit, Livdi, Himare, Borshit, Bunec, Sarande, Ksamil, Butrint
The more we moved towards south, the more beautiful the coast seemed to us. Driving over LLOGARA PASS to the beaches of GJIPE, JALE, AKUARIUMIT, LIVADI, HIMARE, BORSHIT (some bays can only be reached by 4×4 or on foot) and last but not least to BUNEC bay, where we had a day of rest and slept twice. There is nothing more beautiful than a morning coffee on the beach, just a few steps from the bed, a refreshing jump into the sea in the morning, a cold beer in the beach bar (where the friendly owner allowed us to use toilets and showers 24 hours) in the afternoon, and an abnormally spectacular sunset to end the day! But the series of breathtaking beaches was not over yet, in fact the most stunning ones were yet to come at the very southern parts of the country. We only stopped shortly in SARANDE town, which looked nice actually, before arriving to KSAMIL. Here, the white sandy beaches with turquoise sea literally left us speechless. Not only were they picture perfect, they were also pretty empty at this time. Really lovely. We also tried to visit the important archaeological sites in BUTRINT but being a Sunday the place was absolutely packed with school bus trips so we decided to give it a pass this time.
From southern Albania to N. Macedonia | Syri i Kalter, Gjirokaster, Permet, Langarica, Vithkuqit, Korca, Podgradec
We left the coast at this point and continued our way to the source of BLUE EYE or. SYRI I KALTER as it is also called, before visiting charming GJIROKASTER. Close to PERMET we drove into LANGARICA CANYON and stopped at another awesome spot, hot springs just next to a very interesting old stone bridge called KADIUT BRIDGE. Based on the number of cars we met, we then obviously took the road less travelled which roughly took us along the border with Greece for a while and we really liked the landscapes here. We ended up spending the night at LAKE VITHKUQIT, which was very beautiful. The next day we passed KORCA and PODGRADEC before crossing the border into NORTH MACEDONIA.
North Macedonia | Ohrid lake, Galičica NP, Mavrovo NP
I find it hard to say that we liked N. Macedonia, but at the same time I do not want to do the whole country any injustice, as it is difficult to judge based on our really short visit. Let’s put it this way, we’ll definitely be back one day and I hope we have a better experience next time. Unfortunately, something just didn’t convince us over there, maybe also because some things came together at the same time – for example we had rainy weather for the first time on the trip, we couldn’t find a place to park in OHRID, because we didn´t have internet and could not download a certain app, we had difficulties to find a camp site which wasn´t either abandoned or closed and so on. We liked GALIČICA NATIONAL PARK, but compared to what we’ve seen in the past days it didn´t seem like something extraordinary to us. Hoping for a surprise and that wow effect we have experienced so many times in Albania, we also drove to MAVROVO NATIONAL PARK the next day, but we unfortunately encountered lots of road works and a rather deserted infrastructure. Maybe it’s really different in winter or summer, but in May it was clearly not the best time to visit I would say.
In addition to all of the above, I wasn´t feeling good and had some severe dizziness and tingling in my feet, which made driving really difficult for me. So we basically decided we wanted to go back to Albania before nightfall. On a more positive note, there were some places and things in N. Macedonia which we really liked. The first one for sure is the beautiful MONASTERY OF SAINT NAUM at Lake Ohrid. Very touristy though, but still beautiful. The old part of the city OHRID also seemed really nice to us, even though we just drove through, while searching for a parking space. OHRID LAKE is magical in the morning light as well and we can also point out the hospitality of the locals and the tasty food. So there are definitely reasons to come back one day.
Back to Albania and towards north on panoramic mountain roads | Peshkopia, Korab, Kukes
I can’t really explain it, but as soon as we crossed the border, we immediately felt better. It was sometime in the afternoon and we decided to drive a little bit further so we took the panoramic mountain road that branches off at PESHKOPIA and leads under the mountain KORAB in the direction of KUKES. For the first and the only time on this trip we decided to stay in a guesthouse here, mostly because I was still feeling pretty unwell and I really didn´t want to sleep in the middle of nowhere unless this was absolutely the last available option that night. By pure coincidence, we found a really nice place to stay, where we were the only guests, the nice lady did not speak any English, but she fed us so well we slept really early and had a great night. We also had breakfast the next day and it was really nice to spend some time with a local family for a change.
After a short discussion whether to drive to Valbona Valley on the Albanian side or make a detour across Kosovo, we decided on the latter. Both routes looked about similar long but we have never been to Kosovo and were interested how it was over there, so why not. After a rather uncomplicated border crossing, we had to buy Kosovo car insurance for € 15, as our insurance card does not cover it, and then we continued our journey to PRIZREN.
Kosovo. I admit, my first associations before the visit were probably something in that sense: war, KFOR, underdevelopment, poverty. I didn’t know much about a country that is still recognized as an independent state only by 97 countries today. In fact, I still don’t know very much about Kosovo, as I find the country´s story quite complex. But, this blog is not political, so let´s stick to our impressions from a tourist point of view, based on our short visit. We were actually really surprised how developed and organized everything was, the roads were good, most of the houses seemed brand new, there is a lot of agriculture but also the towns we visited were looking neat. Similar to Albania, a car wash and a petrol station every few kilometers. We quickly visited the town of GJAKOVA, went shopping for local specialties and continued on the road 9-1 towards the border crossing with Albania, where we came to the road SH22 and continued towards Valbona. I believe Kosovo offers a lot more, so we are happy to come back again some day.
One last time back in Albania | Albanian Alps, Valbona, Koman lake, Skoder, Theth
The weather was sunny and we were looking forward to the views of the mighty ALBANIAN ALPS while we sighed over the beauties of the turquoise river VALBONA, which flows through the valley of the same name. It reminded us a little of the Soča river back in Slovenia. When we arrived at the end of the road in the valley, we again felt as if we were somewhere in my home country. Beautiful places. A bit of offroad fun along the dry riverbed, an afternoon rest, a delicious barbecue dinner and sunset accompanied by the sounds of cowbells. For the first time, we were a little cold as it was only about 4 degrees in the morning. So after a long time we put on sneakers and socks, and those thick fleeces finally came in handy. Valbona is a great starting point for various hikes, among which a full day hike to the neighboring THETH valley is very popular. This was currently not possible without a guide, because of the snow, but with Mila this ould have been very difficult to pull off so we gave it a pass this time.
Because we still wanted to see Theth valley, we decided to drive there in the next days. From Valbona we drove for about an hour before arriving in FIERZA where we embarked a small ferry which took us to the other end of the wonderful LAKE KOMAN. This was really a spectacular ride and totally worth the 80€. A few more bends and we found another great location for dinner where we could sleep in the parking lot. If you’re ever in these parts, I really recommend Ledi´s place.
Next day we drove through the bustling city of SHKODRA and took the winding road over the pass down to THETH VALLEY. The road is now completely asphalted from the top towards the valley and equipped with protective fences – if it was once considered a real challenge and access was only possible with 4×4 vehicles, this is certainly no longer the case today. As a result, the valley is developing, there are more and more visitors. It is still very beautiful, peaceful and authentic, but somehow it already feels like this idyll can change soon. Here we took a short hike to the waterfall and refreshed ourselves in the cold river below, before enjoying a peaceful evening surrounded by mountain peaks bathing in sunset colours. We were a little sad to realize that this was actually our last night in Albania, but we´ll definitely be back here soon because we really loved it.
From Albania to Montenegro | Podgorica, Kapetanovo jezero, Žabljak, Tara bridge, NP Durmitor
The original plan was to visit the PROKLETIJE National Park, but then we decided differently because the weather forecast for these parts wasn´t looking very good. So we crossed the border at the Hani Hotit crossing, in the northern part of SKADAR LAKE. In Podgorica, we admired the decorated streets, as they were celebrating Independence Day these days. But we were not drawn to explore the city any further this time. We wanted the exact opposite of a city and we had a good plan. Our goal, KAPETANOVO LAKE. I admit, until recently I had never heard of this lake but its images online made my heart sing. If you look it up on Google maps, you see that it is in the middle of nowhere and there are countless unmarked paths leading to the area around the lake. It is hard to say which roads we took exactly, I also don’t know how long it took us to get there. It was slow though. And the landscape was just wow. Also, we didn’t encounter any cars. Just a couple of shepherds guiding us in the sense of “go right at the yellow house”. We wanted to sleep at the lake so we could have it “for ourselves” for sunrise, but unfortunately we had to abandon the mission just before the end. About 3 km before we would finally reach the lake we had to stop and turn around due to snow. Too bad we couldn´t make it but we enjoyed the views of the beautiful fields of daffodils, which was not bad at all. We will definitely return one day, maybe September is a good time to come. So we continued our way to ŽABLJAK. We were in the car for about 9 hours that day, which is also the longest on this road trip.
There was a more foggy and rainy atmosphere the next morning in Žabljak for a change, but we still managed to walk to the idyllic BLACK LAKE before driving to the famous TARA BRIDGE. Unfortunately, the snow on the road ruined our plans in these parts of Montenegro as well, since the panoramic road P14 was still closed. So DURMITOR NP and the area around BOBOTOV KUK is another place where we simply have to come back to one day
From Montenegro to Bosnia & Herzegovina | Mostar, Međugorje, Kravice waterfalls
As the drive along the above-mentioned P14 was canceled, we took another border crossing and arrived in hot MOSTAR in the afternoon. We usually avoid visiting bigger towns when we travel with the Defender but sometimes we make an exception and Mostar is always a good choice. It was the first time for Charlie so we were happy to stop. We also found an ideal location just 5min from the old bridge where we could stay overnight in the car and could use a roof top terrace overlooking the old town. Perfect spot! Evening stroll around the charming streets and obligatory meaty feast in the Hindin Han restaurant, a morning coffee, baklava and shopping for local delicacies at the market. Mostar never disappoints and it was still pleasantly calm this time of the year.
We continued past MEĐUGORJE to KRAVICA WATERFALL, where we were first a little surprised by the higher entrance fee, but once we saw the waterfalls it was all worth it. This time our visit to Bosnia & Herzegovina was really short, because we wanted to squeeze in some beach days at the end of our trip and were therefore rushing towards Croatia.
Croatia and the way back home | Makarska riviera, Krvavica, Split, Pag
The road led us to MAKARSKA RIVIERA, where we decided to spend the night in CAMP KRVAVICA. Mostly by coincidence, since it was the first place on the coast when crossing over from Bosnia. We liked it so much that we immediately decided to extend it for another day so we stayed two nights. Friendly owner, mostly empty camp, fragrant pine trees, clean toilets and two minutes walk from the beach. For 15 € per night. I don´t know how it looks like in the main summer season but in the pre-season when everything is calm it is really a dream location. And that’s exactly what we’ve needed for the last few days, to do nothing, relax and enjoy.
Due to bad weather, the event we wanted to attend back home in Slovenia for the weekend was canceled, which in the end meant we didn´t have to hurry back home. Mila´s first birthday was coming up though so this was our absolute deadline when we had to be back home to celebrate with friends and family. So we had about 5 extra days of time and first we decided to visit PAG ISLAND, followed by a couple of days with friends from Germany, who were just travelling around in Croatia at the same time as well. After a short coffee stop in SPLIT with our friends Simona and Jure we made a first swim stop at Metajna, on the Ručica beach.
From here we were off to a great spot at the sea where we wanted to spend the night, but then … surprise! I don´t think any of us imagined our trip would end so abruptly and inglorious as it did but oh well, we are travelling with a 21 year old Defender after all and things tend to go wrong at one point. The problem was, we were not able to turn off our engine. The key was stuck in the ignition switch and basically didn´t move left or right. So even if we did intentionally let the engine turn off by releasing / pressing the clutch and break we were not sure we could turn it back on the next morning. Considering the fact we had some diesel left in the tank and it was 5pm, we decided to continue driving back home to Ljubljana. This meant another 6 hours on the road but at least we were not stuck on an island. We made it home at 11 pm, tired but happy everything turned out okay and this didn´t happen day or weeks before. We were really happy with this trip and really grateful for al the new memories we made.
Our Balkan road trip in numbers
We drove around 4000km and visited 6 countries, 4 of which use their own currencies, and in Montenegro and Kosovo they have euros as well. At most border crossings, additional to personal documents, they also wanted to see the car papers, and sometimes the car insurance paper too. We had to take a special insurance to enter Kosovo, as ours did not cover it. We found N. Macedonia to be the cheapest country we visited, followed by Albania and Kosovo. In Albania, diesel was really expensive, close to 2€. In three weeks we mostly camped for free, 1x we stayed in a guesthouse, 1x we slept in the parking lot / yard, 3x at the restaurants parking lots where we ate dinner, and in three locations we slept in a camp site. Even if we wouldn´t be camping, we could easily find accommodation on the spot everywhere. We felt welcome everywhere and have really positive experiences with the locals in all the visited countries. We can also honestly say these Balkan countries are also super destinations for travelling with babies.
In total we paid around 750€ for DIESEL, 70€ for ACCOMMODATION, around 300€ for food and drinks in RESTAURANTS, around 160€ for GROCERIES in shops and markets, 80€ for a ferry across lake Koman, 25€ for local SIM CARDS in Albania and Montenegro, around 50€ for entry and parking fees and some more for Croatian motorways. All in all, it comes to around 1500 € FOR 3 WEEKS OF TRAVEL. Could it be cheaper? Of course. If we didn´t occasionally eat in restaurants and avoided entry fees and highway tolls in Croatia, the number would be much lower. There´s not much one can do about fuel prices at the moment though. In general, such a road trip in the Balkans offers so much different experiences and is still very affordable at the same time.