The longer I traveled the more I craved small towns and villages over the hustle and bustle of big cities. Aside from mobs of tourists, at some point (notably in Paris at the Louvre) I found myself seeing the world through six Ipads and a selfie stick, and at that point I decided I wanted get away and seek out beautiful towns off the beaten path on my journey through Europe. Here is a list of my favorites in no particular order:
1. Berat, Albania
Located 4 hours south of Tirana via bus at the cost of 4 euro, this Unesco world heritage city boasts a beautiful old town and Berat castle on top of the hill. I spent only one night in this little town but I could have easily spent much, much more. There were a couple good hostels in town. I chose the Berat Backpackers hostel for 10 euro a night. It had a terrace upon which you could sit and view the city while you enjoyed the house made Rakia that had been distilled that day.
2. Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Located 4 1/2 hours east of Sofia via bus at a cost of 12 Lev ($7 USD) this beautiful small town has an amazing Tsarevets fortress and a awesome location on hill tops surrounded by rivers. I spent one night at the Hostel Mostel (the only hostel) for 14 Lev ($8 USD). It has a cool atmosphere and they offer a free dinner and breakfast and although the meals are light, they’re still free! For a small town there is a surprising amount to see. It has a interesting art scene…everywhere you look there is something artsy. Whether it was graffiti, stencils or forks intertwined in a tree there was always something to look at.
3. Hallstatt, Austria
Located 3 hours East of Salzburg, you can get there via bus 150 to Bad Ischl then train to Hallstatt and then ferry across the lake at a cost of 17.50 Euro (bus 10.60, train 4.30, ferry 2.50). This picturesque old salt mining town is perched in the Austrian mountains on Hallstätter See, a beautiful lake with a beach area so you can take a dip. I did not stay in this town (there are no hostels) but I did meet a guy who was staying in a room above a pizza place. This town is a tourist destination especially with the Chinese since a Chinese mining company spent a whopping 900 million dollars on building an exact replica in China in 2012. Soon as the tour buses leave, this place becomes a very quiet town. I could have stayed here a couple nights easily. The old salt mine can be visited and on the tour they deck you out in a mining suit and there is a wooden slide you can ride to get to the bottom (a fun alternative to the steps). Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time for it. Hiking trails can be found all over the surrounding mountains and are guaranteed to provide stunning views of the Hallstatt and the surrounding areas.
4. Kotor, Montenegro
Kotor is becoming more and more of a destination on cruise lines, however they leave port at night and when they do, Kotor becomes a very quiet and peaceful town. Located 2 and half hours west of Podgorcia via bus at a cost of 5 euro this coastal city is beach accessible (via walk or short bus ride) and has a very cool walled-in old city with a crumbling fortress at the top of the hill that a friend and I camped in one night. I stayed two nights, one in Old Town Hostel for 12 euro and the other in my tent in the fortress. There is a lot of stuff to see in Kotor and surrounding towns. One very popular party destination in Montenegro is Budva, located a short bus ride away and Sveti Stefan a stunningly beautiful private island located just a bit further. (see pic below)
Located 3 hours from Dubrovnik via bus at a cost of 115 HRK ($17USD), this beautiful city has a medieval bridge Stari Most, Bosnia’s most recognizable landmark. For over 350 years people have jumped off of it into the Neretva river, a tradition preformed by young men entering adulthood. The height of the bridge ranges from 20-23 meters (65-72ft), depending on the water level. For 21.50 Bosnian Marks ($12USD) I was able to spend one night at Hostel Majdas, enjoying free breakfast/coffee/tea and a cat that loves popcorn. Yes…I said popcorn. Though I only stayed here one night I absolutely fell in love with the old city with its beautiful cobble stone streets and its direct connection to the Croat-Bosniak war. If that isn’t enough reason to visit, there is a statue of Bruce Lee in the main park. (see pic below)
Near by there are a few things you can see. Pocitelj is a cool medieval fortified city located south of Mostar. Kravice waterfall is a beautiful waterfall around which you can take a dip (located 40km south of Mostar) and Blagaj is an awesome 15th century monastery built on a natural spring out of a mountain that turns into the Buna river. There are a couple of restaurants there that allow you to enjoy a beautiful view of the monastery while refueling. After your meal you can hike the mountain to the fortress at the top, providing a great view of the valley and surrounding areas. Be sure to check the bus schedule before you hike to the fortress and don’t miss the last bus back to Mostar like we did. (Blagaj pic below)