The Balkan States are one of Europe’s most enchanting and intriguing areas. From 2 million year old caves that look like prime Indiana Jones stomping ground to magical, serene lakes you half expect a water nymph to emerge out of. From war torn cities sure to set in motion an emotional journey you’re unlikely to forget to ancient walled worlds lifted out the pages of a fantasy novel. From castles built 123 metres up a cliff in the gaping mouth of a cave to Ottaman bridges made from egg whites. From the balmy Adriatic sea to the awe inspiring Dalmatian coast and all the twisty roads in between  – Magellan’s tour of the Balkan States takes you on an adventure overflowing with more history, culture and beautiful scenery than seems possible. 

We ride though many fine countries across our range of exciting tours, but the Balkans Explorer Tour taking in Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia remains unrivalled for diversity and beauty. This really is motorcycling at its finest. With the first tour due to go out in May, it’s time to get your skates on for a guaranteed spot on one of this year’s adventures. Below we’ve got a list of our favourite highlights, so stick the kettle on and read about what you can look forward to seeing on one of the best motorcycling journeys to be found anywhere. 

Dubrovnik 

The magnificent walled city of Dubrovnik is one of the most distinctive cities in the world. The bright stain of terracotta bleeding across the landscape, against the brilliant blue backdrop of the Adriatic ocean is a sight universally recognised from its appearance in popular television shows and films. Inside its ancient walls lies a treasure chest packed full to the brim of mesmerising baroque buildings and cobbled limestone streets. A walk along the city walls and through the pedestrian only old town is sure to transport you into a world that looks lifted out the pages of a fantasy novel, with medieval wandering traders, epic armies and wild mythical creatures. Whether you are visiting Dubrovnik for the first time or the hundreth, its enchanting spell never fails to weave its way into your soul. George Bernard Shaw famously said ‘those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik’, enraptured by its beauty he also described the city as the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’. In 1991, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, Dubrovnik was besieged by Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers for seven months and suffered significant damage from the shellings, however, today, the city thrives and has established itself as one of the top tourist destinations in the Mediterranean. 

We have a rest day in the city and it’s always a firm favourite whether people decide to wander around the ancient old town, chill out on the golden sands surrounding the fortified city, get tipsy and play with inflatables by the pool at the hotel or head out on the bikes for a spectacularly beautiful rideout to Montenegro. 

Postojna Caves and Predjama Castle 

Few sights in Slovenia can rival that of the 2 million year old subterranean paradise that is the Postojna Caves. Stepping into this underground world made up of beautifully carved stalactites and stalagmites, you can’t help imagining Indiana Jones is about to race past you with a massive boulder following hot on his heels or a James Bond baddie is going to ominously materialise and throw you into a shark tank. Over millions of years the Pivka River has sculpted passageways through the caves via an underground tunnel near the entrance to create epic icicle like formations, some of which rise up 16 metres tall. Despite stretching some 24 km in length, only 5 km of the cave is accessible to visitors – 3.2 km of this is covered by an electric train, the only one of its kind to run through a karst cave. The remainder of the caverns are explored by foot where at the end you get to see the human fish, believed to be the offspring of a dragon, who once lived in the caves. Postojna Caves are among some of the most biologically diverse caves in the world seeing 150 species living in the mysterious underground world. 

Nothing demonstrates an impenetrable fortification quite like the imposing Predjama Castle. Perched 123 metres up a cliff in the wide open mouth of a cave, the awe inspiring castle is one of the most dramatic in Europe. Standing for over 800 years, it is the largest and only completely preserved cave castle in the world. Although constructed in the 13th century, it wasn’t until the 15th century that the architectural masterpiece saw its most notorious owner in the shape of Erasmus of Lueg, a robber-baron who, like Robin Hood, stole from the rich and gave to the poor. There are many legends surrounding Erasmus, but it is widely believed that during the war between the Hungarians and Austrians, he hid away up in his fortress while continuing to partake in his daring plundering expeditions, courtesy of a secret passage that led out from behind the rock walls. In 1484, the Austrian army lay siege to Predjama castle, but unsurprisingly due to its ideal position, it proved impregnable. In a premature show of mockery, Erasmus laughed at his attackers, even going as far as showering them with fresh cherries in a bid to prove his very comfortable position. Unfortunately for Erasmus, the Austrians would retaliate and ultimately have the last laugh when they launched a cannonball at the castle while he sat on the toilet, killing him. A very undignified ending, even for this particular scamp. 

Both the caves and castle can be visited in the morning before riding to Plitvice Lakes on the stunning Dalmatian coast road. Unfortunately there’s not enough time to visit both, but that just means you’ll have to come back again!  

The E65, D23, D52 National Park Route

The roads in northern Croatia are among the best in the world. Spectacularly beautiful, some of the best scenery in the country can be discovered on these windy ribbons of tarmac. Armed with hairpins, open fast curves, good road surface and zero traffic, the National Park route to Plitvice Lakes can’t be missed for bikers discovering this area. Starting on the E65, the sun kissed Adriatic provides a vivid backdrop that’s almost hallucinogenic in its mix of greens and blues. Riding the sweeping bends as they snake their way through little towns bristling with sidewalk cafes and seafood restaurants you arrive in Senj, where the terrain and road changes dramatically. From hugging the coast you are thrust inland on the D23, where a series of tight hairpins and speedy open stretches take you up into the hills, until the road forks and the hills turn to woodlands. The D52 then takes you through vast moorlands as the descent towards Plitvice Lakes National Park begins.  

Magellan follow this route as we leave Postojna and head to Plitvice Lakes for a two night stay…… 

Plitvice Lakes 

Nestled in the Dinarides karst region of central Croatia, lies the heavily forested Plitvice Lakes National Park. The mountains of limestone and dolomite rock that rise up from the forest floor form one of the most impressive karst landscapes in the world and have created one of Croatia’s most beautiful and popular sights – Plitvice Lakes. The system of 16 impossibly clear lakes, naturally split across 12 upper levels and 4 lower levels, cascade over dams of limestone into each other via 90 epic waterfalls – creating the magnificent centrepiece for one of Croatia’s oldest and largest national parks. The pools have been shaped by natural phenomena over centuries as runoff water from the mountains works its way through the limestone and dolomite rock. Imbued with minerals that create varying shades of green, blue and grey, the lakes change dimension by a centimeter or so each year due to the constantly evolving natural barriers between them, thus creating an ever changing, growing and reducing landscape. This tranquil eden in amongst the trees can’t help but conjure up the feeling you’ve crossed the threshold into a magical world. With more than a million visitors recorded a year, Plitvice lakes are one of the most visited tourist attractions in Croatia. 

While the park covers an area of 300 square kilometres, the lakes themselves only span over a distance of 8 kilometres and are navigated via a series of wooden boardwalks which snake through the beautiful ecosystem. Magellan spend two nights near the national park, with a whole day dedicated to wandering around the lakes. To walk around the entire site takes around 6 hours, but you can easily shave time off by taking advantage of the boats and busses. For a mere £30 you gain entry into the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which also covers all transport once inside. While the lakes are bursting at the seams with tourists, they really can’t be missed, they are a spectacular phenomenon and one of the top highlights of visiting this area of Croatia. 

Sarajevo 

Surrounded by the Dinaric Alps, Sarajevo, the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the most fascinating and heart breaking stops on the Balkans Explorer Tour. Behind the beautiful veil of forested mountains, long valleys and intriguing architecture – in this city where east meets west –  lies a long, dark history overflowing with violence and despair. During the 20th century, two brutal events that would set in motion years of destruction for the country began when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife were killed during a state visit, serving as the catalyst for the first world war in 1914. Later, in the 1990s Sarajevo would go on to experience the longest siege in modern European history when the Bosnian War for independence resulted in the massacre of 11,541 people, 1,500 of whom were children. During the worst moments in the city’s history children as young as three months were targeted by snipers. The battle scars of the 4 year siege that catapulted Sarajevo into the world’s sights are still evident in its bombed out buildings and memorials filled with red resin, where mortar shells landed and killed people, called the Sarajevo Roses. A visit to this city is sure to invoke a mixed range of emotions, but in the last 25 years Sarajevo has healed itself with an irrepressible spirit and become known for its religious and cultural diversity, vibrant street life, markets, moorish medieval architecture and culinary delights of stews, minced meat, pastries and walnut cream filled apples – all of which can’t be missed. 

Magellan spend a day in the city where Neno, a survivor of the siege, walks us to the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed, the old market with the Sarajevo Roses and the Jewish cemetery where snipers were positioned shooting into the town. The importance of this walking tour is undeniable, particularly given how recently some of the events occurred, but it’s definitely a sombre reminder of man’s brutality. 

Mostar Bridge 

A treasure of Ottoman architecture, the Stari Most (translation – Old Bridge) forms an important and impressive arc over the Neretva River. Although little is known about the original construction of the bridge, its thought to have been made from mortar mixed with egg whites. Charged under pain of death to build a bridge of such extraordinary dimensions – Mimar Hayruddin, an Ottaman architect and civil engineer, began construction in 1557. In 1566, nine long years later the bridge was completed and it was the moment of truth for Hayruddin, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent had vowed to execute him if his bridge collapsed, after several attempts of the build had been made previously and failed. On the day the bridge supports were removed, Hayruddin was digging his grave when he learned the bridge had survived. Upon its completion the Stari Most was the widest man-made arch in the world, it would go on to stand for 429 years under Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rule and survive two world wars. The bridge connected Muslim communities in the east with Christian communities in the west and became a symbol for the multi-ethnicity of Bosnia. 

During the brutal civil war Stari Most was shelled 60 times before being fired upon with tanks and on the 9th of November 1993 this incredible representation of shared cultural heritage and a peaceful co-existence crumbled into the Neretva river. After the war, work began on rebuilding the bridge and the decision was made to build it as similar as possible to the original. With the use of Ottoman construction techniques and stones retrieved by divers from the river – Stari Most reopened on the 23rd of July 2004. 

Magellan stops for lunch near the bridge, where you can walk up and over it, go downstream for fantastic views looking back at it or if the wicked heat is proving too much, throw yourself off it! Jumping from the bridge is somewhat of a tradition and one of the main attractions in Mostar, it’s not unusual to see jumpers waiting around for donations to throw themselves into the cold water below. 

‘Back in the day to day routine in the UK it seems like a dream when I think back to my tour, the best scenery, food and roads I have ever experienced on a motorcycle. If I ever had any fears or problems I knew I could come to you at any time and you would bend over backwards to help.’ 

Will H

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