Wednesday, 30 July 2014

3 reasons to put Montenegro on your to do list

There's a lot to love about the country of Montenegro, the very name of which sounds as though it has come straight from a fantasy novel. Find out why we think it's one of the most magical places on Earth.

1. Because some of the colours here don't exist anywhere else

Sometimes there's a vibrancy to a green that can only be described as emerald, or a flair to a red that more closely resembles crimson. Throughout Montenegro's wild gorse-coloured mountains, Adriatic beaches and enticing cities, you'll find aquatic blue waters, vibrant violet flowers and terracotta orange roofs. Everywhere you look, there are incredible hues, spectrums and sights - this is a photographer's dream.


2. Because there is much to be done here

Despite being less than half the size of Wales (the country, not the sea creature), Montenegro certainly packs a lot in. Deciding where to start is likely to be your biggest problem. With a landscape that plunges and soars like a drunken dragonfly, there are plenty of adrenaline-inducing experiences abound. White water rafting through the Durmitor national park is certainly a highlight - the narrow free-flowing valley is fringed with stunning trees of exactly the shade of emerald we mentioned earlier. Then there are glittering beaches to lie on, unique cities to explore and a one-of-a-kind culture to experience. One thing is certain - you won't be bored here.


3. Because the beaches are worth the flight alone

Spectacular stretches of coastline are something of a trademark for Montenegro. The resorts of Budva, Petrovac, Sveti Stefan and Becici attest to this in terms of extraordinary beauty - picture stunning white sand shelving away into a clear-turquoise ocean. Lying here, surrounded by nature and yet catered for by the modern amenities of a modern resort town, you'll feel completely at ease with yourself and the world - which is surely the best feeling a holiday can give you.





Find out more about our range of Montenegro Holidays or book by visiting our Montenegro Holidays page.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Why Hvar is the place to be this Summer


A visit to Hvar this summer will allow you to explore Croatia's best beach life, natural scenery, nightlife and more.


Swathes of pebbly beach edging gently into the sea. Intimate bays with old-fashioned fishing boats bobbing beautifully in the water. Stunning Gothic palaces that dominate picturesque town squares and traffic-free streets. These are just three of the reasons why the Croatian island and its eponymous town are the place to be this summer.


Charming, charismatic and ever beautiful, Hvar is one of those rare destinations that caters for anyone and everyone. It doesn't matter what you're into, you'll be able to find it here. A beautiful climate coupled with stunning beaches and rough and ready coastline satisfies the needs of sun worshippers and tan builders, while azure waters will appease the appetites of those wanting to explore the depths and enjoy a splash around with friends or family. 


But there is history here, too, and you can explore every inch of Hvar Town's unique architecture, which has been impacted upon by the years it spent as the Greek colony of Pharos. Great coastal walking routes make for an excellent experience for those with itchy feet. 

With all this to explore, you'll find yourself frequently at a loss for words during the daytime hours as you wander from one attraction to the next. Contrast is key here - one moment, you might find yourself in a deserted plaza, the next, a busy and bustling market. All of which makes for a diverse holiday experience.


Although the atmosphere is easy-going in the heat of the sun, you can expect things to hot up dramatically as darkness falls. Hvar Town is often credited with having the greatest nightlife on the Adriatic, with the harbour side cafes, bars and restaurants full of chatter and laughter long after midnight. 

 
From the tip of its beach laden coastline to the centre of its tree-filled woodlands that occupies much of inland Hvar, this is a spectacular island paradise that you won't want to miss. Boasting the best of Croatia's nightlife and beaches while offering history and culture, this playground of the rich and famous is definitely the place to be this summer.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Varna - The Sea Capital of Bulgaria

The city of Varna is known as the sea capital of Bulgaria and it is this unofficial title that hints at the reasons that make it a great place to explore while on holiday in the country.

Located in the north east of the nation on the shores of the Black Sea, Varna has all the charm associated with a coastal destination, as well as the historical and cultural attributes of Bulgaria's third largest city.

This means it ticks all the boxes for a family holiday where everyone wants to see and do something different.

Since a town was established on the site in the sixth century, it has acted as a sea port and over the years been in the hands of a number of different empires, including that of Alexander the Great and the Romans. Fascinating monuments from the history of Varna can be found in the Archaeological Museum, including items from the chalcolythic necropolis, which is the oldest golden treasure ever found.

There is no doubt that the city can trace its fortunes to the fact it sits in such a commercially important position. While the sea has played a vital role in Varna's past, it continues to be a focus for those visiting the city to this day. So significant is the coastal influence that the largest park in the town is called the Sea Garden and just below here, the beach and central sea baths can be found.


Built at the beginning of the 20th century to allow those travelling for their health to bath in the waters, this area also includes two quays and a number of restaurants with views of the sea.

Sit and enjoy a meal of freshly caught seafood or opt for something a little more energetic. Surfing, diving, jet skiing and boat trips are all popular activities that holidaymakers like to take advantage of from Varna.


For a unique blend of seaside and city life, book your summer holiday to the northern Black Sea coast now.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Top Five Foods You Must Try In Bulgaria

Here at Balkan Holidays, we believe Bulgarian cuisine is vastly underrated on the global scene. Move over, delicatessens of France and sushi bars of Japan - we think it's high time the eateries and restaurants serving shopska salad and tarator get their turn. Bulgaria has a reputation for having a varied and exciting eating scene that also manages to be very healthy. When it comes to choosing something to drink with your meal, opt for one of Bulgaria's famed wines, which are grown and bottled all over the country and have attained worldwide recognition.

If your taste buds start tingling, locate the nearest establishment selling food and order one of these tasty dishes.

Shopska salad

When it comes to starting your meal, you can't do much better than a well-prepared shopska salad. Bulgaria's legendary policy on using fresh vegetables comes to the forefront here - crisp cucumber slices, juicy tomatoes, crunchy onions and flavoursome peppers are all thrown in with a sprinkling of local cheese. While these are the most common ingredients, they are by no means the only ones you may find, and recipes might also contain parsley, jalapeños, olives and a vinegar-based dressing. Delicious.



As a starter, shopska salad is traditionally consumed with a small cold rakia, which is a popular alcoholic beverage throughout the country. You'll find it is drunk at lunchtime in very small quantities as a workman's pick-me-up. Rakia can be likened to a strong fruit brandy in taste.

Tarator

If you've spent all day in the glorious hot Bulgarian sun working on your tan and feeling a bit dehydrated, there is nothing more refreshing than a serving of tarator. This popular meze (appetizer) is made using yoghurt, cucumber, sunflower or olive oil and walnuts before being seasoned with garlic and dill both of which can be omitted if so desired and is usually served chilled or even with ice. A salad version of tarator is known as Snejanka, also called Dry Tarator is available. Tarator is a popular dish in Bulgaria and can be served as an appetizer or as a side to the main meal.



Kyufte

The smell of kyufte being grilled is enough to get anyone's mouth watering in anticipation. Consisting of a tasty meatball, the Bulgarian variant is typically made from ground beef or pork, or even a mix of the two. During your time in the country, it's worth trying all three meats as you're sure to have an interesting meal that way. Why not ask the waiter for a selection plate of kyufte? Diced onions, various herbs and spices and soaked bread are also used in the mixture, which is then shaped into rough balls before being shallow-fried or grilled. You'll find this is an immensely popular dish that is served in a great many restaurants.

Kyufte might be eaten with a salad or another side dish, or you may find them served in a soup. This is a particularly good way to enjoy them as you get not only the juicy meatball but also a tasty broth.

Mekitsa

The main meal is over; now you're probably wondering what to have for dessert. Don't opt for the usual ice cream or cheesecake while you're in Bulgaria, however. A casual glance down any menu in Bulgaria will probably reveal mekitsa somewhere - it's a much-loved after dinner treat. Consisting of kneaded dough made with yoghurt, it is usually served with jam or cream and sprinkled with icing sugar. White cheese may also feature.

Although it's quite a sweet dish, you might find mekitsa is served for breakfast in some cafés or restaurants. But no matter which meal you choose to have it for, it's well worth a try during your stay in Bulgaria.

Cheverme

Cheverme is less of an actual dish and more of a cooking technique, but we simply couldn't miss it out from this list, it's just such a tradition in Bulgaria. If you go to a restaurant - particularly on days of celebrations or festivals - you may well see a complete animal being roasted on a split within a special dedicated oven. Often, this will be a pig (as dictated by tradition) but it's not uncommon to see a chicken or lamb rotating gently over an open fire.

The cooking process takes between four to seven hours, but this is time usually well-spent as people commonly chat to their friends, family or fellow diners while the meat is cooking. Meat cooked on the cheverme is then sliced up and generally served meshana skara-style, with plates of mixed meat being served to diners with salads and other side dishes. Thanks to traditional cookery methods and the use of various herbs and spices, it always tastes delicious. If you can, seek out a cheverme during your time in Bulgaria as it will give you a very authentic experience of the warm and wonderful dining culture in this incredible country.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Getting to know Croatia's Islands

Croatia's islands are a diverse bunch with fascinating individual nuances and personalities. Like any family, there is contrast aplenty to be found here. From energetic Brac to isolated Lopud, you're in for an absolute treat. You're going to enjoy getting to know this extensive family if you come back more than once, or visit more than just the one island during your stay.

And what a family to behold! There are 1,244 landmasses if you count every little rock and islet, however only around 50 of these are permanently inhabited. Depending on what you want for your holiday, it may well be best to examine what the islands below have to offer before making your choice.

Hvar


If we're continuing the family metaphor, Hvar has always been the unofficial favourite of the holiday crowd. With good reason - it's family orientated and has plenty of activities for the kids, while its major city Hvar Town encompasses a mix of historical fascination and party atmosphere that is rarely found anywhere else. While Stari Grad - the main port - offers a modern setting with plenty of bars and places to chill out after a long day on the beach, the Jelsa and Vrboska neighbourhoods boast a different feel entirely, with their old stone houses and unhurried village atmospheres. Natural beauty is also abound here.


The charismatic coastline is lined with jagged inlets with pebbly coves worn gradually away by the sea, while much of the land is of vibrant colours - emerald, purple, crimson - thanks to the vineyards, lavender plantations and wild flowers that are grown here. Hvar is a treat for everyone and you won't want to leave. Bolshy and outgoing yet simultaneously traditional and historic, it's no wonder she is the unofficial favourite of the Balkan islands.

Brac


If Hvar is the perfect princess of the Croatian Island family, Brac is definitely the wild and excitable little brother. The longest landmass of the bunch, he rarely attracts the glittering crowds that cluster around Hvar. You won't see celebrities sailing into the harbours here. But you will see one notable collection of people: water sports enthusiasts. They come in their droves - the windsurfers, kite surfers, kayakers, scuba divers and snorkelers. Unmistakable in their skimpy Speedos and invariably carrying a board or paddle, these guys and girls relish the reliable winds and excellent sailing conditions provided by Brac's unique island climate. 


Places to check out include Zlatni Rat beach, which is Croatia's most photographed stretch of coastline with its pristine shingly sand edging away into the azure waters, encroached by a triangular mass of emerald trees. It's also a top windsurfing spot.

Mljet


Southern Dalmatia is home to Mljet, an unspoilt paradise that has plenty to offer intrepid travellers. The quiet cousin of the Croatian island family, she often goes completely unnoticed by the press and hordes of tourists. But this is by no means a bad thing. More than 72 per cent of Mljet is made up of wild pine forest, which is why it holds the title of National Park. Where its history is concerned, nothing much has ever happened here, and the main attraction is the island's natural assets. Well worth visiting are the interconnected emerald-green saltwater lakes, which, when coupled with the sharp smell of the encroaching pine forest, delivers the perfect backdrop for any holiday. Mljet’s monastery on the big lake is a must see and provides the perfect day out for those looking to get in touch with nature.


Also, don't forget to check out the beautiful beach of Saplunara - a gentle curve of beach that contrasts well against the green of the forest. Finally, for some jaw-dropping natural architecture, take a 20 minute walk along Babino Polje until you stumble upon Odysseus Cave. Witness what Mother Nature gets up to in her wildest moments, pulling shapes in this egg-shaped shelter that you would not have thought possible. All in all, Mljet may be the quiet cousin of the family, but if you make the effort, she's happy to get to know you.

Lopud


In the Croatian island family metaphor, Lopud is the bookish father shut away in his study all the time. Rarely visited by tourists in comparison to the others, you'll find an altogether more isolated atmosphere here. But it's well worth exploring Lopud's lush environment and charming towns. Not only is there natural beauty in abundance - sweeping forests, spectacular sandy beaches and soaring mountains - but you'll also find a number of historical gems. Archaeological findings date back to ancient times, with many fascinating places to uncover and explore during your time here such as the Franciscan Monastery. 


Since Lopud is a mere stone's throw away from Dubrovnik, it's also worth taking a ferry and exploring the famed walled city of Croatia during your time here. But let's not detract from Lopud's own assets - this is a spectacular island with much to offer and the bay of Sunj is particularly worth taking the time to explore.

Korcula


Finally, we come to Korcula, which is the equivalent of the cheerful elderly grandmother who is more than happy to carry on traditions that everyone else has long abandoned. She's an energetic old soul, though, and the many festivals and age-old religious ceremonies carried out here will likely be the highlight of your trip. Folk music and dances are also very popular - Granny hasn't given into arthritis just yet. Natural harbours and coves pepper the coastline, meaning you can always find a quiet spot, and gastronomically speaking, the many vineyards will please wine lovers. She likes a drop of wine, Granny Korcula does.


All in all, no matter what you're seeking in a holiday, you are sure to find it here. Whether you're looking for an island retreat where you can snuggle down amid spectacular landscape, a good knees-up or a water sports experience, the Croatian Islands provide a wonderful backdrop to any kind of break. They will be as happy to meet you as you are them. Book your holiday to Croatia today with the UK's number one tour operator to Croatia, Balkan Holidays.