Natural Wonders in the Balkans
The Balkans aren’t necessarily top of the list when you think of natural wonders. But this fantastic little region sure has a lot to offer when it comes to the great outdoors. Sweeping mountain ranges, pristine waterfalls, secluded hiking areas and picture-perfect lakes can be found around every corner. So where should a nature-lover head to in the Balkans?
With the help of some fellow bloggers we put together this list of the best natural attractions in the Balkans. So start planning your Balkans itinerary and make sure you leave room for some of these stunners!
Lake Bled, Slovenia
by Emily of Wander-Lush
Lake Bled in Slovenia is one of the most iconic natural wonders in the Balkan region. Sitting at the base of the picturesque Julian Alps close to the Austrian border, Bled can easily be visited on a day trip from Ljubljana by bus, or by car from neighboring Austria, Croatia or Italy. It’s worth spending a few nights, however, to savor the rejuvenating mountain air and try some of the many outdoor activities the area has to offer. There are chalets and guesthouses around the lake’s perimeter and in the nearby village of Bled, which makes a great base for your stay.
You can get a fantastic view of Lake Bled and the tiny island that sits at its centre by climbing up to Bled Castle. For even better panoramas, follow one of the hiking trails into the hills. The Mala Osojnica viewpoint on the lake’s western side is particularly popular. It’s quite steep in parts, so make sure you have suitable footwear.
Charter a Pletna, a traditional timber boat, for a paddle on the lake and to visit the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria on the island. Canyoning, rafting and kayaking on the Sava River and in the nearby Bohinj Valley is a short drive away. In summer, you can swim in the lake, and in winter, skiing, snowboarding and shoeshoeing is available in nearby Vogel. If the lake is frozen over, you can also try ice skating.
Bled is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts but there are alternative activities available as well. A wine tasting at one of the local bars is a must-do for vino lovers, and you can find some excellent Slovenian cuisine at the many home-style restaurants around the lake. Be sure to try a slice of Kremsnita, or Bled Cream Cake, a perfectly portioned square of pastry and fluffy vanilla cream.
Vintgar Gorge, Slovenia
By Ali of Ali’s Adventures
Lake Bled is one of the most popular places to visit in Slovenia, and with good reason. But there’s more to it than just the lake. Not too far away is a gorgeous area called Vintgar Gorge where you can go for a hike and enjoy the scenery.
To really enjoy the beautiful nature of this region of Slovenia, I highly recommend carving out a few hours to hike here. The trail follows a small river through the gorge, alternating between wooden pathways and rocky dirt paths. At some points the gorge is narrow, while at others it widens and lets the sun shine down. Once you get to the end of the trail, there are some pretty waterfalls to admire while resting from your hike.
From start to finish, the Vintgar Gorge hike is about a mile long, but you’ll need to double that to make your way back to the starting point. You can get to the beginning of the trail from the main town of Lake Bled by local bus, but the bus only picks up and drops off at the beginning of the trail. Make sure you know the bus schedule ahead of time so you don’t have to wait in the parking lot for too long.
Krka National Park, Croatia
by Alexander of Gourmand Trotter
Krka National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Croatia, featuring several stunning waterfalls and lush nature. What makes it stand out is the fact that it’s easy to access from the coastal towns of Croatia, such as Zadar and Split. Furthermore, visitors are allowed to go for a swim here, which makes it a great place to visit in the hot summer months.
It’s a family-friendly destination and the national park can be accessed by car or boat, depending on which area you want to visit. Most common is to take the boat from Skradin to the main waterfall area, but it’s also possible to go for a longer boat ride and visit some smaller islands.
Pansion Skelin is a great accommodation nearby Krka National Park, just 4 km away. The drive from Split is about 1.5 hours by car, but there are also guided tours where transport is included. Parking is available at several places near the place where the boat departs from Skradin.
It costs 150 kunas to enter the national park during high season, and 110 kunas during middle season, and 30 kunas if you come here during the winter. The most popular time to visit is during the summer months of July and August, and if you want to avoid the crowds, try to visit Krka during the weekdays or in the shoulder season from May-June or September/October
Rila Mountains, Bulgaria
by Roshni of The Wanderlust Within
One of the most overlooked mountain ranges in Europe, the Rila mountains can be appreciated by hikers, spa goddesses and culture vultures. The mountains extend over 2400 square kms and are only 70km from the capital, Sofia. The Rila mountains are also home to some of the Balkan’s highest peaks including Mount Musala (2,925m) and Mount Vihren (2914m). The spectacular landscape is characterized by sunken valleys, granite peaks, alpine meadows, and nearly 200 glacial lakes.
The mountains are connected by hiking trails and mountain huts (usually only open in summer and autumn). This makes multi day hikes easier, though camping is allowed throughout the mountain range. The treks include steep ascents so a good level of fitness is required, and time of year should be considered as during winter time, the Rila mountains will almost certainly be subzero, and covered in snow. For hikers (and non-hikers!) there are numerous natural hot springs in the region, which are great for relaxing tired legs.
The area also caters for history and culture lovers, as the iconic Rila Monastery is set within the forests. Rila Monastery is a 10th century Orthodox Church which is famous for its colourful architecture and unique fortress like exterior. The best place to stay is Borovets, which serves a ski resort in winter and a base for hiking during summer.