by: Cheryl Peress
posted in: Globetrotting, Travel, Bucket List, Europe
Summer in Eastern EuropeSummer is just around the corner and for many that means it’s time to plan a fun trip with friends or family. But where to go?While many parts of the world are fraught with blazing heat and humidity during summer, Europe has the perfect climate at this time of year. The only issue is that travel to many of the well-known destinations tends to be prohibitively expensive and most of the popular sites are teeming with crowds.Eastern Europe, however, has great appeal in terms of affordability and wide-open space. Many of the colorful capital cities see far fewer tourists, which often makes for a far more enjoyable vacation. Plus, the region is home to some of the most stunning landscapes on the continent and plenty of outdoor activities.Our favorite off the radar spots include Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, and Montenegro.
Rila MonasteryThe country has seen its share of conquests over the centuries, first by Thracian warriors, later by the Macedonian, Roman and Byzantine Empires. This was largely due to its unique location, along key trade routes from Europe to the Middle East and Asia. As such, Bulgaria is a virtual treasure trove, laden with ancient artifacts, churches, countless monasteries, fortresses, caves, and ruins dating back as far as 400 B.C.A visit to the capital city of Sofia is rich in history and culture. Ornate, gold-domed Orthodox churches, such as the immense Aleksander Nevski Cathedral, abound, as do museums housing impressive religious art, woodcarvings, and murals.The region of Northern Thrace is home to tons of ancient sites as well as Plovdiv
, Bulgaria’s second-largest city and one of the oldest in the world. Here, old meets new as 19th-century mansions are commingled with cutting edge music and art venues.For nature lovers, Bulgaria does not disappoint and provides a wealth of opportunities for hikers, mountain bikers, skiers, and beachgoers. Nestled in the Balkan Mountains are a plethora of top-notch ski resorts as well as beautiful lakes and forests with loads of trekking and mountain biking trails. On the coast, the Black Sea lures tourists to its lovely beaches, mega-resorts, and nightclubs.On this tour, you’ll visit the Rila Monastery, the biggest and most famous in Bulgaria, hike the stunning natural sandstone pyramids of Stob or the cave of Saint Ivan Rilski, dine on freshly caught trout, and experience a local winery.Visit the Red Wall, a UNESCO biosphere paradise with over 600 plant species, including 20 varieties of orchids. You can hike to the Slivodosko Padalo waterfall, explore the immense Bachkovo Monastery, which dates back to 1083, and take in Plovdiv, the oldest inhabited city in Europe.
Bran Castle (Dracula's Castle)Romania, like Bulgaria, has a colorful, unsettled past, and is rife with ancient history that makes travel to the country a cultural treat. It’s also an outdoor lover’s paradise with lots of scenic and active adventures.The country’s biggest claim to fame is Count Dracula and Transylvania, the land of stunning, yet eerie castles pitched high among rocky outcrops in the Carpathian Mountains. Equally impressive are the countless medieval towns such as Brasov and Sibiu, replete with ornate Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture, cobbled stoned streets and street side cafes.Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is a mostly modern city, yet clearly marked by its distinct past. Beautiful Gothic and Art Nouveau structures and tree-lined boulevards are enmeshed among commercial, non-descript Communist edifices as well as trendy cafes.For nature and wildlife, the Danube Delta cannot be beaten. Covering almost 2,000 square miles, the Delta is a wild expanse of rivers, canals, marshes, lakes, and reed islands, and is a sanctuary to 300 species of bird and 160 species of fish.On this two-day tour, you’ll discover the beautiful landscape and castles of Transylvania and explore some of Romania’s most picturesque medieval towns. You will visit Pele Castle and the Sinaia Monastery, as well as Bran Castle, the intriguing 13th-century hilltop fortress known as Dracula’s castle. You’ll also take walking tours through the medieval villages of Brasov, Sibiu, and Sighisoara, where you’ll visit the clock tower and Dracula’s house.Discover the stunning Danube Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage site, by boat and uncover nature at its best. Admire one of the largest biodiversities in the world, enjoying bird watching and fishing. You’ll also be treated to an authentic fisherman’s lunch before moving on to discover Constanta, a charming city by the Black Sea.
Lake BledA mix of Slavic, German and Italian heritage, Slovenia embraces the charm of all these cultures, yet is often a whistle stop en route to better-known destinations in Europe. That’s good news for travelers because the country, a former Republic of Yugoslavia, has so much to offer - mountains, forests, vineyards, lakes, and coast.The snow-capped Julian Alps beckon skiers all year round, while hikers can enjoy trails through endless swaths of forest. Pristine lakes offer opportunities for all kinds of watersports and Lake Bled, a picture perfect resort, is an ideal spot to soak in the fresh alpine air.Slovenia also boasts numerous vineyards that produce excellent wines, while the picturesque countryside is dotted with medieval towns and castles, with prime sightseeing opportunities in the villages of Pluj and Celje. Equally enjoyable are the caves of Postojna and the beautiful town of Piran on the Adriatic coast.As far a city life, Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, moves at an easy going pace, with a quaint old town, lots of boutique stores, outdoor cafes and a thriving summer music festival.On this self -guided five-day tour, complete with rental car and lodging, you’ll have the chance to explore all Slovenia has to offer at your own pace. Visit the medieval towns of Cleje and Pluj and their majestic castles, explore the stunning town of Piran on the Adriatic coast and discover the world-famous Postojna Cave. Drive to Ajdovski gradec near the town of Sevnica, the former home of Melania Trump, and visit Brestanica and the Rajhenburg Castle.On this tour, you can explore the area around the Podravje wine-growing region. You’ll visit an ancient monastery where monks have been producing sparkling wines for ages, enjoy a typical stew lunch at one of the oldest inns in Slovenia, and finish off with a trip to a modern cellar where you’ll sample some of the country’s premium vintages.
Our Lady of the RocksThe tragic civil war in Yugoslavia during the 1990’s left tiny Montenegro in tatters and tourism suffered greatly. As the situation has stabilized and reconstruction has moved full steam ahead, travelers have begun to rediscover the country.Montenegro has a little bit of something for everyone. The Rugged Alps with wild, untamed nature and some of the tallest peaks in Europe, as well as the daunting Tara River Canyon in Durmitor National Park, offer great opportunities for outdoor adventure.In the central region lies the capital of
Podgorica, a small, laid back city with a nice café culture and excellent nightlife. It is also home to Lake Skadar National Park and Lovćen National Park, prime spots for hiking, bird and wildlife spotting.On the Mediterranean coast, the medieval UNESCO World Heritage towns of Kotor and Perast touch upon one of the most beautiful bays in all of Europe. Further along, lies the Budva Riviera, Montenegro’s most popular tourist destination, with great beaches and gorgeous mountain backdrops.On this all day tour you’ll discover many of the best spots of Montenegro. Discover the town of Budva and the private island of Sveti Stefan. Visit the old historic capital of Cetinje and its monastery, and drive through panoramic scenery to Kotor and Perast.Enjoy an exciting white water rafting adventure through the Tara River Canyon. Wind your way through more than ten fun-filled miles of stunning scenery and churning white-water rapids from Brstanovica to Scepan Polje.
Written by Cheryl Peress