Top 10 Places to Visit on the Balkans
Hidden Secrets Lie Inside
Balkan Peninsula or just the Balkans, as it is more popular, covers the territory of southeastern Europe. The region took its name from the Balkan Mountains which run through the center of Bulgaria to Serbia. The name "Balkan" itself has a Turkish origin and means "a chain of wooded mountains"! The countries in the Balkan Peninsula are rich in greenery and beautiful nature. They offer excellent conditions for both winter and summer vacations. Having rich historical past this countries can offer you a great number of well preserved tourist attractions. Here you can see ancient fortresses, hidden deep in the forests monasteries, typical medieval villages and for those who love nature - great caves and high peaks. People from the Balkans are world famous for their hospitality. They are always glad to meet guests and you will have the pleasure to learn more about these remarkable places while enjoy the local cuisine. If you want to spend your vacation while exploring the beauties, which the Balkan countries can offer you, here is a list with the most popular tourist attractions which you shouldn't miss.
this is one of the holy places on the Balkan Peninsula, and it will leave you breathless. Located in Thessaly, the central part of Greece, Meteora comprises a complex of more than 100 monasteries literally perched on the top of high rocks. A narrow road leads to the monasteries. While reaching the most popular of them, you will have the pleasure to see several unforgettable panorama views of the whole complex. Nowadays, there are several monasteries still active. Probably the most visited of them is The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron. It is the biggest of the Meteorite monasteries. The church 'Katholikon', honored to the 'Transfiguration' was erected in the middle of 14th c. and 1387/88 and decorated in 1483 and 1552. The old monastery is used as a museum, nowadays. The women are not allowed to enter the monasteries with short skirts or shorts and even long trousers. For this reason you will be met at the entrance by a monastery' representative who will give you a long skirt which you have to put on. Taking photos inside the museum are also forbidden. Once you manage to climb the hundreds of steps leading to the monastery, you will be able to see some amazing views of the other monasteries, as well as the small villages of Kastraki and Kalmbaka nested in the valley in front of the monastery complex. The Holy Monastery of Varlaam is the second, after the Great Meteoro, big in size monastery. The church, honoured to the three Bishops, is in the Athonite type (cross-in-square with dome and choirs), with spacious esonarthex (lite) surrounted by dome as well. It was built in 1541/42 and decorated in 1548, while the esonarthex was decorated in 1566. The Holy Monastery of St. Stephan is one more, great masterpiece which you have to visit. The small single-nave church of St. Stephen was built in the middle of 16th and decorated in 1545 or a little later. The 'Katholikon', honoured to St. Charalambos, was built in the Athonite type, in 1798. The old refectory of the convent is used as a museum nowadays. Other interesting for a visit monasteries are those of Holy Trinity, St. Nicolas Anapausas and Roussanpu. The other survived monasteries are not open to public.
Views From Meteora - Video
Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
Rila Monastery is one of the symbols of Bulgaria. It lies deep in Rila Mountains at 1147 meters above the sea level. Its surroundings, as well as its size and well preserved interior and exterior make it the most visited of the monasteries in Bulgaria. This monastery is believed to be founded by a hermit called Ivan of Rila. He lived in 10th century in a cave located half hour walking distance from the monastery. The monastery itself is considered to have been built by his scholars, who came to the place to be taught by him. The monastery has enjoyed great respect and privileges ever since it was established. For instance, all the Bulgarian tzars from Ivan Assen II to the fall of Bulgaria under Ottoman rule at the time of Ivan Shishman made generous donations to the monastery. The present-day look of the monastery dates back to the 19th century. The residential buildings, which form a closed irregular quadrangle, started in 1816. In the middle of the inner courtyard rises the oldest building of the complex - an impressive stone tower, built by the local feudal Sebastocrator Hrelyu in 1334 - 1335. A small church, which is just a few years younger, stands next to the tower. The entire complex is quite impressive for its size. The 4-floor residential part consists of no less than 300 monks' cells, 4 chapels, an abbot's room, a kitchen, a library and guestrooms for donors. The kitchen is particularly interesting for its really huge cooking vessels. The exterior of the monastery is no less intriguing for its high and severe stone walls (reaching 4 floors and even more at some places) cut through by small windows - reminding of a military fort rather than a monastery. Once in the complex, it is worth visiting the monastery's museum, which hosts a unique work of art, namely The Raphael's Cross. The cross is made of a whole piece of wood (81cm x 43cm) and is named after its creator. The monk used fine chisels, small knives and magnifying lens to carve 104 religious scenes and 650 small figures into the cross. The cross was finished in 1802 after the monk worked on it for no less than 12 years, losing his sight upon completion. The monastery was declared a national historical monument in 1976, while in 1983 it was inscribed in UNESCO's list of world heritage.
Did You Know?
Rila Monastery became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Read more at the official UNESCO website
Rila Monastery - A short and very informative video about Rila Monastery
Should Monasteries Be Open to Public?
No, a monastery is sacred place where you can find solitude and peace, not for tourists!
Ohrid, Republic of Macedonia
Ohrid is an amazing town located in the southwestern part of Macedonia. A place with rich history and heritage, it was made a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1980. Nestled between high mountains up to 2,800 m and Lake Ohrid, it is not only a place of historic significance but also of outstanding natural beauty. Ohrid can be regarded as the jewel in Macedonia's crown. Historical researches showed that this town is one of the oldest inhabited places in Europe. Aside of the lake, Ohrid is most famous for its ancient churches, basilicas, and monasteries where Saints Kliment and Naum, who were students of Cyril and Methodus, with the help of king Boris I wrote their teachings and formulated the Cyrillic alphabet in Bulgaria, later used in most Slavonic countries. (Macedonia wasn't established by that time.) Most of these churches charge an entry which for tourists is normally double what locals pay, but it is still worth it. It is a good idea to cover up when entering a church, but most locals will understand the inconveniences involved during a hot Macedonian Summer. There is also a wonderful ancient walled fortress at the top of the city. If you are fan of religious tourism, you can visit the churches of St. Sophia, St. Bogorodica Perivlepta, St, John Kaneo church and St. Pantalejmon church. Some other of the most popular attractions are the Old Bazaar, Mesokastro settlement and Ohrid Fortifications. Enjoy the Ohrid traditional architecture and spend a few hours at the majestic beaches. No visit to this fascinating city is complete without a boat trip. There are numerous companies providing this service and during the trip, you may see some of the most beautiful views of your life, which Ohrid Lake can offer you. Spend the night in the numerous cozy restaurants spread around the town and taste the delicious local fish specialities. If you want to feel the spirit of this charming town you can visit it during the period of Ohrid Summer Festival. It is one of the largest and most important music and drama festivals in Macedonia and it is held each year from July 12 to August 20. Each year, in the second half of July, Ohrid is home to Ohrid Swimming Marathon. The swimming elite throughout the world gathers in there and, starting from the monastery St. Naum, they swim along the Lakeshore to the town harbour, approximately a 30-km route. The Balkan Folklore Festival is one more popular event in the town and there are represented numerous original songs and dances from folk culture for more than 30 years. About 1,200 ensembles with 42,000 members have taken part in the festival.
Mount Athos, Greece
Mount Athos is situated in the entire third, eastern and most beautiful peninsula of Halkidiki, called the peninsula of Athos. It is the only place in Greece that is completely dedicated to prayer and worship of God. For this reason, it is called the Holy Mount. The Holy Mount is about 50 Km in length, 8 to 12 Km in width and it covers an area of about 350 square kilometers. The natural beauty of the peninsula is extraordinary. The highest point of Mount Athos is like a huge cone, reaching 2033 meters in height. It's a naked, treeless crest that seems to lance the sky and its slopes are fully covered by ancient evergreens. All these help to create an area of incomparable natural beauty. This area is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries and forms an autonomous state under Greek sovereignty. Only monks are allowed to live on Athos and the current population numbers around 1,400. All the monasteries are active. The most popular of them are Great Lavra Monastery, Vatopedi, Iviron, Hilandar, Dionysiou, Koutloumousiou, Pantokrator and Xiropotamou. There are also 12 sketes, smaller communities of monks. Among them are Kafsokalyvia, Lakkoskete, New Skete and Prodromos. Mount Athos as a monastic community was formally founded in 963, when the monk Athanasios established the monastery of Great Lavra, which is still the largest and most prominent of the 20 monasteries. It enjoyed the protection of the emperors of the Byzantine Empire during the following centuries and its wealth and possessions grew considerably. In modern times, Mount Athos monasteries have repeatedly been struck by wildfires, including in August 1990 and in March 2004. Due to the secluded locations of the monasteries and the unavailability of suitable firefighting gear, the damages inflicted by these fires are often considerable. The only way to get to this holy place is by boat. Visits to the peninsula are possible for men who aren't monks or even Greek Orthodox, but they need special permission in advance. Cruises around the peninsula are available to all, providing both men and women a glimpse into the secluded life of the monks of Mount Athos.
Dracula's Castle, Romania
Is there anyone, who hasn't heard about the world famous vampire Dracula Graph? The most interesting is that this person really existed and lived in his own castle in Romania a long time ago. Dracula Castle is located near Bran, in the immediate vicinity of Brasov. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Romania. Taking major place in numerous legends this fortress is connected to the name of the legendary character of Bram Stoker' Dracula. There is, however, no evidence that Stoker knew anything about this castle, which has only tangential associations with Vlad III, voivode of Wallachia, the putative inspiration for Dracula. The history of the castle started in 1212 when Teutonic Knights built the wooden castle of Dietrichstein as a fortified position in the Burzenland. The first documented mentioning of Bran Castle is the act issued by Louis I of Hungary. on November 19, 1377, when he gave the Saxons of Kronstadt the privilege to build the stone citadel on their own expense and labor force. The castle was first used in 1378 in defense against the Ottoman Empire and later became a customs post on the mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia. Vlad III besieged Bran on at least one occasion, taking the castle briefly in 1459 during a punitive incursion into the Burzenland. From 1920 the castle became a royal residence within the Kingdom of Romania. It was the principal home of Queen Maria and is decorated largely with artifacts from her time, including traditional furniture and tapestries that she collected to highlight Romanian crafts and skills. Nowadays, the castle is turned into a museum dedicated to the history of the surrounding area and the history and memory of Queen Marie and her family. There is acknowledgment in the castle of the tangential association with Vlad III upon whom the fictional character Dracula is loosely based.
Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful cities located on the Adriatic Sea. It is the most popular summer resort in Croatia, possessing some of the best beaches in Europe. Besides amazing coastline with well maintained beaches and turquoise sea waters, this city will fascinate you also with plenty of sunny days and numerous tourist attractions. In 1979 the Dubrovnik joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Its patron saint is Saint Blaise, whose statues can be seen everywhere around the city. One of the largest and most beautiful churches is named after this saint. The city boasts of many old buildings, such as the Aboretum Tresteno, which is the oldest arboretum in the world, dating back before 1492. Dubrovnik is also a home to the third oldest pharmacy in the world. It dates back to 1317 and it is the only one still operating. It is located at Little Brothers Monastery. The city of Dubrovnik with its cobblestone streets and red-tiled roofs makes an amazing sightseeing destination for visitors from all walks of life. Steeped in a rich and fascinating history, Dubrovnik is brimming with attractions. Start off at the picturesque old port where the turquoise waters of the Adriatic lap gently at the surrounding rocks where the 13th century walls tower above and the boats bob gently in the harbor, where shops, restaurants, cafÃ©s and bars will keep visitors whiling away the hours in the some of the most breathtaking scenery. Head to the historic Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the Stradun, the biggest, longest and widest street in Dubrovnik, which dates back to the 13th century is a major focal point, as is Onofrio's Fountain while the Franciscan Monastery boasts one of the most beautiful Romanesque cloisters in Dalmatia. For those who want to get out and admire the view of Dubrovnik from the sea, take a day trip by boat to the nearby islands of Mljet or Elafiti, while the secluded beaches, vineyards, olive groves and quaint towns adorn the island of Korcula, Dubrovnik's most popular outlying island.
Value City Breaks: The Best Cities to Visit
Deals and special offers are making city breaks even more affordable these days. Going a nice trip over the weekend doesn’t necessary have to mean spending a lot of money along the way. There are also cities famous for being budget-friendly. We are going to discuss these city break destinations in this article.
Budapest is still one of the most affordable holiday destination to visit. Excluding the special offers and deals available today, you can visit Budapest for two days and spend less than Â£300; take discounts and special offers into considerations, and the cost of going on a Budapest city break can be lowered by as much as 80%.
For a more romantic and exciting city break experience, Madrid is the perfect city to visit. Compared to Barcelona, Madrid is much more affordable. You will be amazed by the gorgeous museums, interesting attractions and the lively nightlife Madrid has to offer, plus you don’t have to spend a lot of money to visit this marvelous city.
Originally known for its historic roots and strong artistic ambiance, Berlin is now famous for being one of the most affordable city break destinations in the world. You will have the best time enjoying the wonders of Berlin while keeping the cost of the trip as affordable as possible.
Nis, Republic of Serbia
Located on the bank of the Nisava River, Nis is the administrative, industrial and cultural center of the Nisava District and the third largest city in Serbia. Nis is one of the oldest cities in the Balkans, and the city has some unique attractions to offer to the tourists. The Nis fortress was built by the Turks in the middle of the 17th century, in the site of an ancient Roman fortified camp at the Nisava riverbank. The Nis fortress had a seven-sided basis, with five bastions, also with a mosque, sections of the hamam and weapons dumb, which is today transformed into an exhibition gallery. Mediana is an important archaeological site, the remains of a 6th century Roman settlement, located near Nis. Here used to stand the imperial residence, with palaces, baths and villas. The central villa has an impressive floor mosaic. The Skull tower (Cele Kula) is one of the strangest and most horrific monuments of Turkish rule in Serbia. The tower was built in 1809, after the battle between Serbs and Turks at Cegar near Nis, from the sculls of the Serbs killed in the battle. Besides there attractions Nis will fascinate you also with its charming architecture and calm atmosphere. A great pleasure is to stay in the evening at some of the cozy restaurants and cafes located across the river and just stare at the water. Don't forget that Nis is in the center of Balkan Peninsula, and there is no better place to taste the favor of Balkan mentality. Have a dinner at traditional Serbian restaurant with live music. Taste the typical Serbian dishes including meat balls with chopped onion, beef burgers, sausages, pork chops, grilled meat and many more. Take part in dances and have the most enjoyable days in your life.
Istanbul has a lot of names. Some people call it "City of Contrasts", others "Queen of the Cities". No matter how you decide to call it, be sure that once there you will be fascinated by the whole atmosphere. This metropolitan city is home to more than 13 millions of people and the first impression of your will be that the whole city is rushing to somewhere. Plenty of airlines have regular lines from / to Istnabul, which is the reason for really good travel flight fares.Istanbul can offer you numerous opportunities for entertainment. If you are tired of shopping in the hundreds of malls around the city, you can make a sightseeing tour or enjoy the tasty food in the numerous restaurants. Being a Muslim country, Istanbul is home to some of the most beautiful mosques in the world. You can see their lovely minarets from all parts of the city. The most important of them is St. Sophia. Beautifully decorated you can see it set in among beautiful fountains in the heart of the Historical Center of Istanbul. Blue Mosque is one more favorite for the tourists visiting Istanbul Site. This mosque differs from the others by the blue colors of its domes. It is also open to public and you can enjoy the beautiful carpets and chandeliers of its interior. Istanbul was also a place where the most significant rulers of Turkey have resided. For this reason, here you can find amazing palaces and the two of particular interests are those of Topkapi and Dolmabahce Saray. They are beautifully decorated with a lot of rich furniture, heavy carpets and amazing gardens having a lot of greenery and numerous fountains. Istanbul is also a place where you can find the largest in the world covered market. Grand Bazaar covers more than 58 shopping streets and over 4,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and half a million visitors daily. Spice Market is one more popular place for the tourists. Here you can find great variety of spices from all parts of the world. As you may know Istanbul extends both on the European and on the Asian sides of Bosphorus. Both pars are connected by 2 bridges. The most famous of them of course is the Bosphorus Bridge. It is 1,510 m long and 39 m wide. Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge is the other bridge that connects the both parts of Istanbul. It is also known as the second Bosphorus Bridge. A wonderful idea is to make a boat trip around the Bosphorus. Besides the beautiful views of the European and Asian part of the city, you can also see the richest houses in Istanbul located across the both sides of the channel. They have amazing architecture and often a private harbor for their owners' yachts can be seen. For the perfect finish of your day in the colorful city in Istanbul, you can visit some of the popular belly dance shows which most of the night clubs in Istanbul offer. Enjoy the graceful bodies of the dancers while have a delicious dinner with the Turkish delicacy.
Balkans Travel - History, Culture and Sightseeings
And a few tips as well
Today the Balkans are preferred travel destination mostly because of its nature. The climate and the relief together make the lands attractive for everyone. It is warm enough during the summer to swim in the warm waters of Mediterranee and the Black Sea and cold enough in the winter to grab a snowboard or ski and hit any of the many mountain tracks. Large green forests cover the mountain slopes with endless crop fields in between. Wonderful views, beautiful waterfalls, magnificent cliff structures, lakes, rivers and canyons in addition to the countless sandy beaches - there is a little of everything.
There is much more to this side of the world than beach resorts and cheap alcohol. It is sad when I think about how recent geo-political processes caused this region to remain unpopular as a travel destination to people interested in historical and cultural travel. Lets start by saying that according to latest studies men first came to Europe from Africa trough the Balkan Peninsula. Here are the earliest signs of human activity in Europe. Ancient Greece is well known to be the cradle of civilization in Europe and its influence on European and American culture, art, philosophy, ethics and science is still present. The heritage of the Greek, Roman and Macedonian empires can be found everywhere, especially within the borders of Greece and Turkey. The oldest gold in the world was discovered in Bulgaria near the city of Varna - the jewelry is estimated to be more than 7000 year old and is kept in the Archaeological Museum of Varna.
Hear the magical music of Bulgaria!
Peles Castle, Romania
Located in Sinaia, 44 km away from Brasov, this castle is regarded as one of the most beautiful in Europe. This place was one of the most popular residences for the Romanian monarchs and most of them lived here until their death. One of them was King Carol I, who died here in 1914. The building of the beautiful castle started in 1873 under the direct order of Viennese architect Wilhem Doderer and was continued in 1876 by his assistant, Johann Schultz de Lemberg. During 1877-1879 the construction of the castle was stopped for a while because of the war. That's why the castle was inaugurated only on October 7, 1883. The location where the castle was built was chosen by the German prince Carol I de Hohenzollern, who was to become a king and it draws its name from the neighboring brooks which passes through the courtyard. Besides the main building, several other smaller buildings were added later the main construction. These were The Guard's Chambers, The Economat Building, The Foisor Hunting House, The Royal Stables, and the Electrical Power Plant, as well as The Sipot Villa. This villa later became a working place for the architect Karel Liman, who would supervise the building of Pelisor, which was the future residence of King Ferdinand and Queen Mary of Romania, and also King's Ferdinand Vila in the Royal Sheepfold Meadow. The castle was built in wood, stone, bricks and marble and comprises more than 160 rooms. The representative style used is German Renaissance, but one can easily discover elements belonging to the Italian Renaissance, Gothic, German Baroque and French Rococo style. Peles is surrounded by seven terraces decorated with stone-made-wells, ornamental vases and Carara marble. The architects used an abundance of wooden decoration, both for the exterior and for the interior of the castle, which confers a very special quality to the building. Quite outstanding are the Big Armory Room, the small Armory Room, the Florentine Room, the Reception Room, where paintings and wooden sculptures depicting 16 castles of the Hohenzollerns are exhibited, the Moresque Room, The French Room, the Turkish Room, the Council Room, the Concert Room as well as the Imperial Suite. Almost adjacent to Peles Castle is Pelisor or "Little Peles". King Ferdinand, who succeeded Carol I, intended to use Peles Castle as a summer residence. Supposedly he found Peles too big and overwhelming, so he commissioned the smaller, art-nouveau style, Pelisor Castle. Pelisor's 70 rooms feature a unique collection of turn-of-the century Viennese furniture and Tiffany and Lalique glassware.
The Seven Rila Lakes
Despite the fact that Bulgaria has plenty of beautiful scenery Rila Lakes are probably one of its most attractive places. These are a group of lakes with glacial origin and they take place in northwestern part of Rila Mountains. Rila lakes are the most visited group of lakes in Bulgaria. Located at an altitude between 2100 and 2500 meters above the sea level, they can offer you some of the most amazing views, which you have ever seen. Each one of the lakes has its own name connected with its most characteristic feature. The highest one is called Sylzata (meaning Tear). It received its name due to its clear waters, which allow visibility in depth. The second highest has the name Okoto or The Eye in English. It was named The Eye after its oval form in a shape of an eye. This lake is also the deepest cirque lake in Bulgaria with a depth of 37.5 meters. Babreka or The Kidney is one more attractive lake. It is the lake with the steepest shores of the entire group. Located at an altitude of 2282 meters above the sea level it is 28 meters at its depth. The forth lake has the name Bliznaka / The Twin. It is the largest and the longest one in the lake chain. Its shape can be described as one lake nearly split in two. The fifth lake bears the name Trilistnika (The Three-Lobed Lake). It has an irregular shape and steep banks and is found at 2216 meters above sea level. The sixth lake is named Ribno Lake/ Fish Lake. It is the shallowest of the lakes at 2.5 meters. The 7 Lakes Lodge is located at its most Northern bank. The last, seventh lake is called Dolno Ezero/The Low Lake because it is position. It is the lowest located lake located at an altitude of 2095 meters above the sea level. It depth is only 11 meters. The lakes freeze around October and melt in June. The ice cover can be up to two meters thick. In summer they get their water from the melting snow-drifts on the mountain screes and peaks. The Seven Rila lakes attract the most visitors in the summer months, August in particular.
Pleasure at its finest
Giving a Spa Break as a Gift
If you've got someone who you need to buy a gift for, but you can't think of what they might want, a spa break gift card might be the perfect solution. Whether they have already been to a spa and you know they will enjoy it, or it is something they've never done before, this can be the perfect gift for anyone. Essentially you're giving them the gift of pleasure and relaxation, and that's something that everyone could use a little more of.
First Time Spa Break
When considering whether or not to give someone who has never been to the spa a gift card or not there are really only a few things to think about. First, why haven't they already gone to a spa? Most people who haven't yet taken a spa break report that it is because they don't want to spend the money on themselves or that they don't know what happens at the spa. If you believe this is the case for the person your shopping for then a gift card is a perfect present.
They can enjoy a day at the spa without costing them a dime, and since they won't be spending their own money most people will feel free to try out services that they normally wouldn't. This is a great opportunity for them to try new things and get a lot of enjoyment added to their life.
Spa Break Veterans
If the person you're shopping for has already been to the spa in the past then you know this is a great gift for them. They can pamper themselves and relax their stress away without costing them a dime. Just about everyone will appreciate the gift of relaxation and pleasure, and this is the ideal way to give it to them.