Avoid the football: Head to the Balkans this summer

by Ellen Curham

Sunny BulgariaFor some people, the summer of 2016 only means one thing and that’s football. Starting in June, the 2016 UEFA European Championship will hit our screens and there are few places where you won’t hear any mention of this. Fortunately, if you’re not a football fan, these places happen to be awesome.

This year if you want to avoid everything Euro 2016, why not head to the Balkans? Some of the most beautiful countries in Europe have failed to qualify for the games this year, making them a winner for certain vacationers. For some incredible football-free spots to check out this June and July, look to Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Montenegro.

Slovenia: Picture-perfect Lake Bled

Beautiful Lake BledVisiting Lake Bled in Slovenia feels like stepping into a fairy-tale. The reflective glacial water surrounded by the stunning Julian Alps makes for one of the most postcard-worthy holidays in Europe. A popular stop on the InterRail circuit, Lake Bled is also only 35km from Ljubljana International Airport, making it an ideal long weekend getaway. It boasts beautiful beaches, an impressive medieval castle and a picturesque island in the middle.

While you’re there, visit the quaint Bled Island and its handful of gorgeous buildings including a baroque-style church. You can also go kayaking, river-rafting, hiking or take a hot air balloon ride.

Where to stay? Hostel Vila Viktoriaja is only 50m from the lake which you can see from its gorgeous gardens.

Serbia: A music festival in a fort

Amazing atmosphere at Exit FestivalEach year, the Serbian town of Novi Sad hosts Exit, the world-renowned, award-winning music festival. Taking place from 7-10 of July, football will be the last thing on your mind when you can see acts like The Prodigy, Ellie Goulding, Wiz Khalifa and Jackmaster in one place. Oh, and did we mention it’s held in a fort?! You don’t even have to leave the festival grounds in order to take in some historically-important architecture.

Exit is one of the highest-rated festivals in Europe and amazingly good value for some top acts. It’s been so successful that Exit by the Sea has been set up in Budva in Montenegro featuring some of the best dance artists around.

Where to stay? We’d recommend booking a hostel as soon as you buy your festival ticket as they can fill up fast. Hostel Podbara and Hostel & Cafe Bar Rookies are both favourites with festival revellers.

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Where history and culture combine

Where WWI began in SarajevoFew places in Europe can beat the rustic beauty of Bosnia & Herzegovina. And as well as the remarkable landscape, the country has a rich history as a result of the former Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. Tragically, much evidence of this was destroyed in the civil war that took place here in the 1990s but the country has put a huge amount of effort into restoration, especially in the capital Sarajevo and the medieval city of Mostar.

Sarajevo is seen as the cultural centre of the Balkans and along with a plethora of museums, galleries and religious architecture, you’ll find endless options for trendy bars and restaurants. Meanwhile, Mostar, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is home to the Stari Most, a world-famous stone bridge, reconstructed after the original 16th-century structure was deliberately targeted in the war.

Where to stay? Balkan Han Hostel is located in the heart of downtown Sarajevo so you won’t miss out on any of the action. Meanwhile, Hostel Nina in Mostar offers an unrivalled view of the city’s main attraction, the Stari Most, from its bar.

Bulgaria: A hiker’s paradise

Stunning Veliko TarnovoIn the last decade or so, Bulgaria has developed the reputation of being little more than a cheap sun holiday; however, there’s so much more to this impressive country than that. Bulgaria is in fact one of Europe’s best-kept hiking secrets.

The country is home to seven mountain ranges featuring a mix of terrains, wildlife and attractions. There are thousands of kilometres of snow-white peaks, green forests and blue lakes to admire and explore in the Balking, Rila and Pirin ranges, to name but a few. If you want to get outdoors and experience nature instead of sitting in front of a TV, then head to Bulgaria this summer for some of the best trails on the continent.

Where to stay? Check out the ancient city of Veliko Tarnovo which is surrounded by amazing hikes with options for all levels of ability. Hostel Mostel is one of its best-rated properties.

Montenegro: The jewel of the Balkans

Get your feet wet in BudvaThis coastal Balkan country offers a Mediterranean climate at a fraction of the price making it an increasingly popular destination for young travellers. The Budva Riviera region hosts miles of crystal clear beaches and is the most popular with tourists. When you’re not swimming in the Adriatic Sea or taking in the temperatures which can get as high as the mid-30s, you can dine on some delicious local food or sip cocktails in a swanky beach bar.

For affordable luxury and warm hospitality, Montenegro is the place to be this summer. Get there before everyone else discovers this hidden gem.

Where to stay? Freedom Hostel Budva is only steps from the beach and offers a fun atmosphere for travellers.

 

 

Thanks to Dennis Jarvis, Mikko Lindstedt, Rudolf Getel, Marcel Oosterwijk and Martijn.Munneke for use of their great images under the Creative Commons license.

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