Back to Basics: Farming in the Balkans

On a soggy Thursday morning train ride, I began to think about how dependent on technology we’ve become. I couldn’t fathom how people spent their time before the invention screens. Looking around the carriage I attempted to make eye contact  with other passengers, a futile attempt to break the well-rehearsed urban solitude of London. Rows of people played on their phones, themselves surrounded by more people playing tapping away at screens and keyboards. What would life be like without constant distraction? No screens. No radio. No electricity. There was only one way to find out…

Albania was once the North Korea of Europe – her borders: closed, food shortages: rife, penalties for those caught trying to escape: severe. But that was 20 years ago, and a lot can change in two decades. A lot.

The Southern European country is fast becoming an Adriatic clone of Benidorm. England has the white cliffs of Dover, Albania has the white sea-front high rises of Sarande. The EU hopeful is a popular hotspot for playful Russians to relax – clambering over one another to display their moderate wealth, splashing around in crystal clear waters by sandy beaches, cocktail in hand.

But for every Martini shaken there is a family living to the most basic of standards. Albania is very much a two-sided coin. In flash tourist resorts streets are lined with fashionable 4×4‘s, they sit uncomfortably next to rural farming villages where the passing of the daily bus to town is a monumental event. What better place to go ‘back to basics’.

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I stepped back in time with the Hoxha family – they’ve worked the same patch of land for more years than anyone cares to remember. The cultivation of figs, olives and a brood of chickens is their main source of income.

I’m told during the “troubled years” when all the country’s farmers worked for the state as a collective for a ‘Greater Albania’, things were even harder than they are now. Families scraped by on what produce they were allowed to keep, the rest of their food was trucked away to the capital Tirana. In a spooky tip toward a Suzanne Collins novel the districts fed the capital – and decades on it still shows. Tirana is like any other developing city with its busy streets and hectic traffic. The countryside is an altogether different game.

The corrugated iron roof of the Hoxha’s home jars against the towering mountains behind bordering the disputed region of Kosovo. The family of seven live without electric, water is collected twice a day from a well in the garden, and the toilet – you guessed it – is a hole in the ground. It’s basic but comfortable-ish. What money they do have is made from hosting backpackers on a quest to find themselves far from their widescreen TVs and double beds.

It’s a sobering sight to see three generations of the same family ploughing the land by hand – their Ox died several years back, the poor jobs market means they haven’t got the money to replace him. 

Ardi, the middle of three children, is an ambitious 23-year-old. He’s spending the summer at home after studying English in Bucharest, and is keen to be my guide for the few days I’ll be spending with his family. He says it’s to practice his English, but I get the feeling it’s more to do with not having to work the fields under the searing Mediterranean sun. Apart from work, there isn’t a great deal to do here. The Hoxha’s – like most rural Albanians – have no access to the internet, no television and trying to tune a radio here would need an ariel reaching far into the sky. They live a life in the modern world,  suspended from its pleasures by mountains and fields.

“It’s hard work here, but it’s the way we do things. It’s the way they’ve always been done, and I think it’s going to take a lot to change that” Ardi told me.

I watch as his grandmother lifts an overfilled basket of olives from the ground and pours them into a rusty wheelbarrow.

Grandmother Hoxha

“My family have been here for generations. I don’t want to stay here but my brothers do. We’re very proud as a people, you’re Albanian first, and everything else comes after that. We’re too proud to change our way of life, even if it makes things easier.”

Inside the house, there are six rooms. The kitchen lacks even a sniffle of ‘wow factor’ – a time-worn Italian-esque wood-burner blasts out heat and smoke into the room (I’d later try and fail to make toast on this). Three bedrooms lead away from a modest living room, its main feature: shabby looking chairs surrounding a wooden table. The only thing reminding me of home is the ‘junk room’ – a fad that seems to consume most families – I found it slightly reassuring to know that even this family, one of the poorest in the valley, have some ramshackle bikes and a rusty bucket to clutter their home.

The first night with the Hoxha’s was an eye-opening experience. It got dark much quicker than I’d anticipated – by 7pm we were sat in total darkness, the birds had stopped tweeting, I missed social media myself.

To the sound of wild dogs howling we chatted by the light of the warm fire, not a bar of phone signal for 20 miles. We played music on homemade instruments and exchanged stories about our various travels. I learnt how to swear in Albanian from Ardi’s Grandmother – for a woman in her later 70’s she had a vocabulary to be enviable of.

It must have been around 9pm when the Raki, a spirit made from crushed grape skins, was opened. There is no disagreeing that Albanians give the best hospitality in the Balkans: several shots of the acrid, bitter spirit sealed this in my mind.

The next few days and nights were spent ploughing fields by hand – turns out I’m a dab hand at this – trimming olive bushes and spending time talking to one another using my muddied Albanian. Here older people don’t speak a great deal of English; during the Cold War allegiances swung between Communist USSR and China. You’re more likely to find a 70-year-old with basic Mandarin than you are one with English on their side.

I often found myself having the worst of all modern day panics – where is my phone? Has it been stolen? Have I lost it? I padded around in my pockets – longing for the validation of Facebook, feeling desperate to wile away the hours staring vacantly at events happening thousands of miles way. I soon realised I’d agreed to spend part of my summer living a primitive existence, in the middle of nowhere in a country most people associate with Mafia henchmen. I got back to my ploughing. Manual ploughing. Damn, I missed my phone.

Later than night Ardi walked with me up the mountain, (really a glorified hill), behind the house, he wouldn’t tell me why he just said I should follow him. He didn’t take a torch – and it was normal for him to do without.

He knows these hills like the back of his hand – think Maria Von Trapp but without the guitar, and with a 30 a day cigarette habit. As we reached the top in total darkness he told me to turn around. Miles and miles ahead of us a sea of lights twinkled like a thousand tea lights glistening on a tabletop.

“That’s Shkodre there, and over that hill next to it is Montenegro where they have everything.” He was right. Having visited Montenegro a few days earlier its seen the benefit of years of investment. It has more in common with the USA than its southern neighbour. The country shone golden in the night sky, hundreds of bulbs blocking out the night twinkles of the sky.

“What a shame,” I thought, “what a shame.”

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That night I reflected on the experience. I’d spent four days with no connection to the outside world, but the Earth hadn’t stopped spinning. I hadn’t spoken to anyone apart from those I shared close quarters with. Wars continued to rage, the political situation in Chechnya continued to perplex, and life went on. It was relaxing, refreshing. I got to know people around me better, experienced where I was, found out more about rural life than I ever could have done with an iPhone in my hand.

But it wasn’t until I got back to nine to five working I realised this. My life is filled with phones, computers, tablets, screens, screens and more screens. But unexpectedly it was the toaster which brought me the greatest joy – I didn’t have to play with an open fire to get some crunchy bread,  and that came as a great relief.

Looking back at those short few days in the wilderness makes me long to replicate a more simple life in suburbia, however impractical. Urban life in England is a far stretch from that of a rural Balkan farmer. The attraction of the simple life has a boundless draw, but so do the comforts of a modern, western lifestyle. That aside, one day I’d like to go back and live an all-together more simple life, there may even be an App help with. 

12 Armchair Trips You Can Take Without Leaving Your Living Room

The value of the British Pound is at its lowest level since the 1980’s, and there’s a lot of uncertainty about the future of freedom of movement. If “God Save the Queen” is your national anthem then now really isn’t the time to be planning a trip abroad. But wanderlust doesn’t cease with the ebb and flow of the economy. Quench your thirst for adventure with these inspiring views from across Europe. All from the comfort of your living room.

Kolgrafavegur, Iceland

Volcanoes. Wooden houses. Snow. Iceland is an adventurer’s dream.

The most northern European country is home to around 300,000 people – more people live in Wakefield than on this North Atlantic island. At the western edge of the Nordic outpost is Kolgrafavegur, sat on a peninsular jutting  out into the ocean. Nicknamed the “Gateway to Hell”, Iceland is home to more than 130 fiery volcanoes. This is Mother Nature’s testing laboratory. It may be no coincidence it’s one of the least densely population nations in the world meaning the island nation is perfect for getting off the beaten track.

Wrynose Pass, Cumbria, England

A single-track road steeps its way up the side of the Duddon valley to reach the summit of Wrynose Pass, an ancient trade route which is also the meeting point of the historic counties of Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire. Long before county boundaries were established the route was an important link to the coast for Roman Centuries – it’s Cumbria’s version of the Silk Road. Tourists flock to this route in summer in an attempt to get underpowered hire cars to the top, a sight in itself. On a good day you can see across the Duddon and Langdale valleys, on a typically Cumbrian day you’ll be lucky to see your hand in front of your face – Wrynose Pass is in the Lake District, one of the wettest parts of the UK.

Telemark county, Norway

In 1965 Anthony Mann directed the Boxing Day classic – the Heroes of Telemark. Recorded on location in Norway, the film recounts how the scenic county of Telemark was once the home to Axis operations to produce heavy water for atomic bombs. Fortunately, good won over evil and the valley is now a peaceful oasis around a 3-hour drive from the cosmopolitan capital, Oslo. The stunning scenery is the result of millions of years of glacial erosion, and not a great deal has changed since then. Typically Scandinavian engineering feats have linked several of Telemarks lakes to create one of the world’s most scenic canal trips.

Hill of Crosses, Šiauliai, Lithuania

It’s said 100,000 memorials sit atop of the Hill of Crosses, a place of pilgrimage in Lithuania. For generations, it has been a symbol of the country’s pride in its identity. After WW2, when the Soviets occupied the country, the demolition of the crosses took place, and plan to dam the valley was formed, but never put into action. Relatives of those who have died  place crosses here to remember their dead, leading to a surge of symbolic memorials during the occupation by the Kremlin. You can find the Hill of Crosses near the city of Šiauliai in northern Lithuania. Or just have a wander around on Google Street View, the area has been extensively photographed.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark

From behind sash-windows in colourfully painted townhouses those lucky enough to live on Nyhaven look out on one of Europe’s most picturesque views. Historic wooden boats also call this canal home, as well as hip locals and visiting artists. It’s one of the Danish capital’s most popular spots to eat, drink, relax, and people watch. In summer it’s a great place to dangle your feet above the clear blue waters with a beer, or in winter to sip a hot chocolate and gaze at the twinkling lights through the winter mist. Or just sit on your sofa and click around with your mouse…

Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Nestled in the heart of the city, on one of the Stockholm archipelago’s 14 islands, Gamla Stan is Swedish for ‘old town’. Before 1980 this idyllic area of the Swedish capital was rather charmingly known as “staden mellan broarna” or ‘the town between the bridges’. An entanglement of streets encloses the home of the Swedish Royal Family, hearty restaurants and boutique stores selling the finest Scandi goods. By day it’s a tourist mecca, by night it’s a relaxing retreat from beating pulse of Stockholm’s more commercial districts. The views are good from the ground, but by far the most commanding viewpoint is from the free-to-visit Katarina Elevator, a short stroll away.

Cruise on the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey

Dividing the European and Asian parts of Turkey the Bosphorus is one of the continent’s busiest shipping routes. Istanbul, a booming city of 14 million people, sits on its shores. The thoroughfare has only been surpassed by two bridges and one newly built underground railway, the Marmaray, connecting to two sides of Turkey’s biggest city. Boats are king here, Google Streetview has knows that.

Crovie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Crouched at the bottom of a steep cliff since the Scottish land clearances Crovie has to be the most beautiful village in Scotland. Its unique location, on a east-facing bay, means it has some of the country’s most magnificent sunsets. There are few places where you can open your front door and be right on the beach. This is one of them. The village is on a ledge so narrow that cars have to be left at one end, wheelbarrows are then used to transport food, drink, firewood and small children to the holiday cottages along the sea front. When a strong easterly blows in there is no finer, or windier, place to snuggle down by a roaring fire with a good book and a glass of wine.

Parga, Greece

I first visited Parga on a day trip as part of a family holiday in the early 2000’s. The next year we returned, armed with inflatables, for a week. Parga embraces the chic Mediterranean feel we all love of an exotic seaside resort. In recent years the town has smartened up, fresh linen tables line the sea front serving locally caught seafood and local wines. Small boats leave the port heading for outlying islands where the way of life hasn’t changed in centuries. On the edge of its natural harbour is a small monastic island, to which boats ply their way across the calm waters by candlelight on summer nights , giving passage to travellers looking to explore the olive groves and gaze at the vivid frescos inside its historic church.

Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic

A traditional tourist halt, but charming nonetheless, the bridge construction was begun in 1357, and completed in the 15th century. Since then it’s been an important rite of passage across the glistening Vltava river, which cuts a course through the heart of Czech capital. Once an important link between the Old Town and the imposing castle on top of the hill, the bridge is a now swamped by tourists keen to get the best selfie. Google seem to have pulled off a bit of a coup by pitching up before the tourists arrived, capturing the bridge in all her splendour and virtually deserted. On a more tasty note, the best brownie shop in Prague, if not Eastern Europe, is a short stroll away. Lunch at Bakeshop is not to be missed.

Lake Bled, Bled, Slovenia

Bled has it all. A castle on an island, crystal clear waters, leafy banks, but best of all Bled cake. Arguably not actually a cake, more a coronary-inducing stack of puff pastry and cream, the dessert was invented to entice tourists to the lake’s shores. The village is around an hour from the throbbing capital Ljubljana, with its crisscrossing bridges and salmon-pink buildings. The lake is a manageable cycle, taking around an hour and a half to complete a circuit. However, Google has put in the hard work for you, you can just drag yourself along using your mouse. (But seriously, this place is worth visiting.)

Summit of Snowdon, Wales

The crown of Wales. Sitting at 1,085m above sea level, the views from Snowdon are magnificent. The mountain, the highest in Wales, is said to be where Sir Edmund Hilary did his training before summiting Everest in 1953. The Snowdon Mountain Railway climbs the steep incline from Llanberis, at the foot of the mountain, to the top and then back again in around 2.5 hours. The views on a clear day are splendid, offering vistas across North Wales and out to the Irish sea.

A Weekend in the City: Belfast

“Ireland? Cool, so are you gonna go to the Temple Bar?” one of my housemates said,   shortly after I’d mentioned I was heading across the Irish sea for the weekend. “Belfast? Why are you going to Belfast? Isn’t it really dangerous there?” quickly followed after I explained the actual destination of my trip.

The honest reason I was going – I cannot resist a cheap flight. A tenner each way? Sure, drinks on me!

I try to make myself sound vaguely interesting by claiming I’m trying to visit every country in Europe. I’d hardly say visiting a place which conjures images of riot vans and peace walls was top of my bucket list, but like swallowing a painkiller to be rid of a hangover, it had to be done.

Getting There

I flew from Gatwick, which most of the time would be great, but strikes on Southern rail mean the direct trains from my home city to the airport are about as reliable as sunny weather on a bank holiday weekend. This meant a trip via central London. Forking out £35.50 for a return ticket on the ‘Gatwick Express’ was never going to happen. Finding myself in the middle of the capital, I made my way to London Bridge and opted for the much cheaper Thameslink service. For an extra 15 minutes on the train I saved £26. Plus I got to see sunny Croydon as we trundled slowly above its suburbs.

Any budget traveler knows Ryanair is the holy grail when it comes to finding cheap flights. Ireland’s best export (in my mind) has been the precursor to many of my adventures. It flies four times a day to Belfast International and fares are ridiculously cheap. I booked my flights a mere six days before takeoff, costing £9.99 each way.  After an hour of over zealous flight attendants reminding me for the umpteenth time that I could buy Calvin Klein aftershave, Coca Cola lip balms and microwaved lasagne from them, I found myself on the sodden tarmac at Belfast International airport. It’s a rather grand name for such a small place. 20 miles from the city centre and with about a dozen flights a day to destinations outside the UK, it’s a bit like calling your Gran’s house “Chateau Nan” to make it seem a bit posher. But sometimes more is less.

The catch is the airport is closer to Antrim than Belfast and you have to take the bus into the city centre. £10.50 for a return seemed a bit pricey given I’d paid less than that to get there, but it was a case of pay up or thumb my way down M2 in the pouring rain. 45 minutes and a bag of Wotsits later, I found myself at Great Victoria Street transport interchange trying to find my way toward a place to stay for the night.

The Sleeping Part

I thought I’d left the days of sharing a dorm with seven strangers behind me when I turned 24, but it turns out Belfast is pretty expensive place to find a cheap hotel room at short notice.

“If you’re going to go budget, go budget in style” I thought.

There aren’t many places better to do so than Vagabonds Hostel. Set in a well-converted Georgian townhouse near the Botanic gardens and Queens University, the hostel is a great place to meet other people. There’s a good kitchen (no oven though), a really comfy living area where people gather in the evenings to exchange tales from their adventures and plenty of showers, never to be looked down upon. The stuff of hostel bed and butter really. I liked this place. It was handy for the city but handy to get out of the it, and they threw in breakfast too – bread and butter (and jam). It cost £30 for two nights in an 8 bed dorm at Vagabonds.

The Exploring Part

I made a ‘shopping list’ of places I wanted to go in Northern Ireland, sadly it was like doing a Christmas food shop the day before payday. I wanted to do everything and time was totally against me. Unfortunately had a grand total of 41 hours in Northern Ireland and somewhere in that I had to cram in eating, sleeping and attempting to be a functioning sociable adult. Fortunately, Northern Ireland has a reasonably good and reliable transport network, one that puts most places in the country (or state, or province – whatever you want to call it) within a few hours reach of its biggest city. The Translink app was my best friend for the weekend. Imagine a world where buses and trains worked together in harmony; that’s Northern Ireland. More on this in my Giant’s Causeway article (coming soon!)

Peace Lines

Growing up I remember Northern Ireland was always in the headlines. ‘The Troubles’ dominated the front pages of the 90’s, the impact can still be seen across Belfast. The city was divided between Unionists and Republicans, living in close quarters. One of the government’s solutions was build a huge wall between them.

Cupar Way doesn’t have an overwhelmingly friendly feel to it. The Peace Lines built here in 1969 still stand today, towering above terraced houses and families on their way to work and school. At eight meters high, half a mile long and covered with graffiti, it has become one of the city’s top tourist attractions. Conflict tourism is a big market in Belfast; black cabs are happy to give you a tour of the flash points of ‘The Troubles’, I saw a coach of excited tourists unload for selfies and to dab their name in ink on over the wall’s paint. But for people who live either side of the walls it’s a reminder of the past, and the problems facing Northern Ireland today. Turn right and you’ll find yourself in a Republican area, you could be walking The Mall on Coronation day, Union Jacks flying above your head. Surreal.

What makes it all the more surreal is that Cupar Way is within a few minutes walk of the cosmopolitan city centre, yet still a visible reminder of the division in Northern Ireland.

Belfast’s Beautiful Buildings

I loved Belfast for its architecture. It’s a real mix of styles. Queens University is spectacular and reminded me of sunny August days exploring Oxford. On a quiet Saturday morning it was a good place to have a wonder without there being a soul in sight. It’s also right next to the Botanic gardens, which aren’t quite as amazing but do have an ornate greenhouse which I felt was worthy of a photo. I would have gone inside but I’m scared of plants with big leaves so I decided to stay in the park next door. Safety first.

By night I checked out the City Hall. It’s well lit up after dark (and personally I thought it looked better then than it did during daylight.) Bittles Bar is fodder for Instagram addicts, perched between a busy dual carriageway and a modern shopping centre it stands out like a sore thumb. Best part, it cost me nothing to see these things. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Perfect.

The Titanic Quarter

Millions of pounds is being poured into Belfast’s docklands area. The last few years have seen a huge redevelopment, led by the opening of the landmark Titanic museum. Built on the slipway the ill-fated ship was launched from, it’s worth visiting to see the building itself. It costs £17 to get into the museum and during winter it’s only open from 10am to 5pm, so it didn’t fit into my schedule, but I’m glad I went along, if only to see the closed sign and walk along the slipway pretending I was Rose.

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Another cool quirk of the area is “The Big Fish”, which is quite literally what it says on the tin. The 10 metre long sculpture has been crafted from ceramic tiles, each one having a different story about the city printed on them.

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Don’t miss

Crumlin Road gaol was the highlight of my trip. Known as ‘The Crum’ it housed suffragettes, IRA members and murderers. The Victorian prison is a maze of cells, corridors and staircases. It was my first (and hopefully last) visit to a prison, but something I’ve always wanted to do. Hearing the stories of how convicts were kept in solitary confinement, sentenced to hard labour, and for some, hanged, was hard hitting. It costs £9 to get into the prison, it was the only attraction I paid to go in during my time in Belfast but it was worth the money. During our hour and a half tour our guide told us a detailed and fascinating version of the building’s history. I won’t give too much away but it is well worth a visit. Interesting fact: prison doors across the UK are based on a design produced at the ‘The Crum’ in the 1980s to stop break outs. If you ever find yourself at Her Majesty’s pleasure then you’ve got the cell dwellers of Crumlin Road to thank, or berate.

What it cost

I tried to keep the cost of this trip under £80 and that was an easy challenge. Belfast isn’t an expensive city and it’s perfectly reasonable to expect to walk everywhere as it’s so compact. I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything even though I didn’t get to do everything I had planned. The beauty of this place is that its past is so intertwined with its present, every turn you take you’re walking through a place where history has been made. You could easily swap a trip to Giant’s Causeway for one to the Titanic museum and keep the costs and time frames the same.

Flights – Ryanair fly from London Gatwick to Belfast International four times a day. My tickets cost me £9.99 each way. I took hand luggage only and didn’t upgrade my seat.

Airport transfers – It cost £10.50 for a return ticket on the bus to Belfast city centre. I’d recommend the Translink app to plan journeys – it’s free and super effective.

Accommodation – It cost £30 for two nights in an 8 bed dorm at Vagabonds. I booked through Hostelworld.

Attractions – Crumlin Road gaol do tours everyday from 10am. It cost me £9 to get in and its well worth that. You can book on their website and save 50p off the cost of your tour. If the Titanic museum takes your fancy, prices vary depending which day you go on, check their website.  I spent a day at Giant’s Causeway during my trip, you can read about that soon!

Food – Belfast, like every British city, has the line up you’d expect from a major British high street. Cheap food options are plentiful, it’s worth checking out St. George’s Market for cheap food and a good cultural experience.

Look past what you’ve seen in the media. Belfast is a great city. Northern Ireland is a fantastic place. And it’s ripe and welcoming to tourists looking for adventure. Safety wise? I felt as safe there as I would on my own street in the south of England.

All prices and information correct at the time of writing. January 2016.

8 Lessons I’ve Learnt Backpacking

After 32 countries, more than 9 months on the move and countless budget flights, hostels and sleeper trains: I’ve discovered more than few tricks of the savvy traveller. Some will save you money, others will save you time, but they’re lessons worth knowing before setting out on a trip.

1. Don’t queue for security

Lines at airport security are known to be nothing less than horrendous. I’ve spent more than an hour waiting to pass through body scanners and past the x-ray machines. Doing so is a waste of time. Airports don’t want you to miss your flight, it means more hassle for them and their staff. Wait for the departure boards to say boarding, then head to security. Generally planes start loading 30 minutes before takeoff. When you get to security make a member of staff aware you’re there, you’ll be ushered through while everyone else stands and waits, fiddling with plastic bags and passports.

2. Fly to a less popular airport, it can be considerably cheaper

In Summer 2015 I wanted to go to Albania. Like all my trips, it was a last minute thing. My dates were right in the middle of the summer holidays when flights are at their most expensive. British Airways fly direct to the capital Tirana, but being the only airline to go direct from the UK they have a monopoly over the route. Instead of fork out hundreds of pounds, I flew to Ohrid in Macedonia. Wizz Air fly from Luton airport once a day, return flights cost £23. I then took a bus to Albania, its capital city is just two hours away from Ohrid and a pleasant ride along a newly built motorway through the mountains. Yes, it took a little longer but I had an extra £200 for my trip.

3. Fly budget

For trips to the continent budget airlines are the same as national carriers like BA. Get over the budget air shame and do it. It’s two hour of your life. Ryanair do flights as cheap as £4 each way, just take your own food and entertainment. Use Fare Finders on airline websites, you’ll find the best fares that other people aren’t finding and get inspiration to go to places you normally wouldn’t have thought of visiting.

4. Your hand baggage isn’t weighed

I have never had my hand baggage weighed. Regular flyers will have noticed airlines are more concerned about whether your bags will fit in the overhead lockers than how much they weigh. Limits vary between airlines on how much you can take with you as hand baggage, most will give you a 15kg allowance. Pack well, you can fit everything you need for a week (or two) into a small bag and should never have to pay for hold luggage. If you regularly fly from the same airport, buy something at duty free before you board and keep the bag. If you can’t fit everything in one bag you can put it in the carrier bag and it’ll look like a purchase you made at the airport.

5. Be a chatty Cathy

Talk to EVERYONE, you’ll be surprised how far it can take you.I once had dinner with the family of the winner of the Montenegrin version of X Factor after meeting him in a shared taxi. Being friendly and talkative can bring about some amazing experiences. I always make an effort to get to know the hostel owners and staff. Free beers and better rooms are common, plus you make some great friends.

6. Avoid airport ‘express’ services

They are a rip off. End of. There is always a cheaper way to get to the airport. Recently I flew from Gatwick. Forking out £35.50 for a return ticket on the ‘Gatwick Express’ ticket from London Victoria was never going to happen. Finding myself in the middle of the capital, I made my way to London Bridge and opted for the much cheaper Thameslink service. For an extra 15 minutes on the train I saved £26. Plus I got to see sunny Croydon as we trundled slowly above its suburbs.

7. There’s an app for that

On my phone I have no less than 23 airline, public transport and accommodation apps;  they are invaluable. The best for finding cheap flights is Kiwi. If you’re not sure where you want to go it’ll show you the cheapest flights to everywhere from all airports within a 250km radius of your location.

DBahn is the best for trains on mainland Europe. The app is run by Germany’s train operator and is ridiculously efficient. It will only show you prices for journeys starting in Germany, but is useful for looking up times for journeys outside it. The app shows you who operates the trains so you can go and book the tickets yourself. It covers most countries in Europe.

8. You don’t need all that stuff

The biggest mistake most people make is taking everything they own. You don’t need that much stuff and it makes you so much less flexible when you have a huge bag. I always aim to take enough clothes to see me through four days.I never stay anywhere much longer than that so nobody sees you wear the same outfit twice, and it’s enough time to be able to wash clothes and get them dried again. When it comes to clothes make sure each item goes with at least two other items you’re taking – if it doesn’t leave it at home. It’s often cheaper to buy clothes abroad so always leave some room. About half of my wardrobe is made up of clothes I bought in Serbia during the summer for half the price of what they would have been in the UK.

17 Instagram Posts That’ll Make You Want to Visit Albania

Locked between dramatic mountain faces and azure blue seas; it’s nothing short of a miracle that Albania hasn’t made it onto the mainstream tourist trail yet. “Shqipëria” to the locals, it’s known to its natives as the land of the eagles, a moniker adopted from folklore tales passed down from generation to generation. They tell of how a young Albanian saved an eaglet from certain death at the fangs of a venomous snake. And it’s that willingness to do things for others that sum up the spirit of the country.

Albanians are known for their hospitality, kindness, and affinity for knocking back glasses of homemade raki. The days of communist dictatorship are a distant memory for all but a few. Albania is looking ahead to a brighter future. There is no better time to visit than now.

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Berat

Tucked between the Tomorr mountain (which locals claim to be the resting body of a fallen giant) and the Osum river, Berat is the jewel in the crown of Albania. Home to 60,000 people, many of whom tell tales of being forced to work in the munitions tunnels carved by the Communist government into nearby hills. It’s a town of two halves – the winding medieval white-washed streets cut a course on the right bank of the river, while an altogether more modern settlement is the hub of the town on the left bank.

High above the town lies its castle – a fortress built to protect the town and her inhabitants from Byzantine raiders. Once it was a front line of wars between powerful empires vying for control. Now a slippery marble paved road keeps all but the most determined flip-flop clad tourists from reaching the top.

Consecutive invasions of Berat have left the town with a mixture of architecture. The Turks brought their influence, as did the Communists. An interesting mishmash of styles pleasing to the eye, and the camera.

Where to stay: Ex-pat Scotti has been running ‘Berat Backpackers’ since 2009. It’s the stuff of backpacker dreams; Cuni the rather aloof cat, a legend in the hostel world helps to secure that.  The 250 year old home offers more than comfortable lodging, and excellent social vibes. Comfy corner sofas, incredible views across the town, good home cooking, and cheap beers are all part of the charm.

Doubles and dorms are available from £8 (€10,  US$11) a night. Worth the furgon ride! Book here

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Valbona National Park

Misty mountains and alpine streams dominate in this untouched corner of europe’s unexplored country. The traditional way of life is slowly changing in the steep-sided valleys. Farmers are turning their hand to hosting trekkers looking for adventure.

The region borders Kosovo, territory fiercely claimed by both Serbs and ethnic Albanians. It’s home to wild dog,  wolves, and some say bears. But don’t let this put you off. The mountains offer fantastic trekking, climbing and camping.

The day-long trek from Valbona to Theth is not to be missed. Sitting more than 2,000 metres above sea level means weather fronts blow in and leave in a matter of hours. It’s not uncommon for there to be mysterious mist lingering in the morning then crystal clear skies in the afternoon

Albania is becoming a stoic pinpoint on the map for travellers from around the globe. New roads are being built, hotels are under construction, and the country is planning to build a second airport, at Kukës – development which’ll make getting to northern Albania much easier, and visiting a more attractive prospect.

Where to stay: Traditional but comfortable lodging is available at home stays throughout the valley. Albania’s reputation for good hospitality earns its name in Valbona.  But by far the most popular place to kip is Quku i Valbonës. Halfway up the valley the family run business has great food, the most comfortable beds, or a place to camp if that’s your thing. The showers are great too!

Beds start from £20 (€25,  US$28) a night. Book here

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The “not to be missed” Lake Koman ferry

A ride along Lake Koman is only comparable to a trip on the Norwegian fjords. Bottle green trees meet the waters edge along the breathtaking route.  The landlocked lake through the ‘accursed mountains’ is actually a hydro-electric damn, but also forms part of an ancient route from Kosovo to Albania. The rickety ferry stutters into life several times a day, passing which scenery has to be seen to be believed.

A photographers dream, the landscape could have been plucked from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mountains tower above the lake as it weaves its way to Fierza. It’s a route used by tourists and locals alike – meaning it’s a great chance to practice pigeon Albanian (or sit back, have a beer and take in the views).

Lake Koman is the most scenic route to travel to the Valbona National Park from Shkodër. It has been described as “one of the world’s great boat trips”.

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Himarë

This sleepy fishing village on facing out toward the Ionian Sea remains relatively untouched by Aussie backpackers flaunting flip-flops and tales of far-flung lands. Seafood restaurants line the seafront enjoying unspoilt views over the town’s beach.

Less than half an hour’s stroll away from the Xhiro is ‘Albania’s Ibiza’ – Jala. Toned men and bikini-clad women descend on the beach to drink at its bars, swim in crystal clear waters and ‘be seen’ during the summer month. It’s a world away from the serenity of the surrounding villages.

Reminders of Albania’s communist dictatorship past are ever present.  On a clear day the Greek island of Corfu is visible – too visible for those once in Tirana’s corridors of power awaiting an imminent invasion which never came. The now defunct fortifications line the roads leading between the coastal towns and villages.

For a truly undiscovered experience take the coastal route between Vlora and Himarë. Google Maps directs tourists away from the twisting mountain roads as they descend down from Mount Çika, but the hairpins bends are a thrill for any driver (but maybe not so much for passengers!)

The original hermit kingdom was not always as open and welcoming as it is today. As recently as the 1980’s tourists required a chaperone to visit, were prevent from mingling with locals, and were only allowed to see what the government wanted them to see. Nowadays the fortifications are used as bars, storehouses, or have fallen into disrepair.

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Tirana – the capital city

Probably Europe’s weirdest capital city. At first glance Tirana doesn’t have a huge amount to offer a wondering soul, but its quirkiness makes it worth at least a day stop-off. The International Center of Culture (or the Pyramid of Tirana) tops the Albania’s list of the weird and wonderful. Opened in October 1988 was intended to be a museum to Enver Hoxha – the leader of Albania’s communist cult. The pyramid new sits empty and derelict. It’s an ad hoc climbing frame for plucky locals and tourists hoping to get that “perfect selfie”.

Tirana of the centre of Albanian life. Smartly dressed men and women weave their way between the chaotic traffic like in any other European capital. It’s the home of the country’s nightlife, especially the Blokku area, a section of town formerly reserved for the country’s elite.

 

Where to stay: Unlike most places in Albania, there is a good choice of places to sleep. Backpackers flock to Trip’n’Hostel – only a stone’s throw from the central Skanderbeg Square. Good showers, tasty breakfast, and a relaxing garden make this a great place to exchange backpacking stories with other travellers.

Beds start from £8 (€10,  US$11) a night. Book here

Albania is a fast-changing country, its mystique and wonder could be all but gone in a few years. What are you waiting for?

Reasons You Need to Add Warsaw to Your Travel Bucketlist

What is impressive about Warsaw is, despite its most recent history, it hasn’t lost even an ounce of its culture and identity. The city’s streets are strikingly modern;  glass buildings tower above picturesque parks, trams whizz between hectic traffic and yet turn a corner and you’ll find yourself discovering traditional food in squares that have barely changed since their first sods were dug.

Top Tips

  • Check out the Old Town for culture, charming squares and history.
  • The best food is served to the locals, don’t be afraid to try out backstreet eateries.
  • Budget more Zloty than you think you’ll need, Warsaw has a lot to offer and you’ll want a taste of it all.

Like most capital cities, Warsaw is a sprawling modern metropolis. It is defined by communist era boulevards, glass buildings and colourful squares.

The Old Town is the most picturesque area of the city, laid out in phases since the 12th century. The main market square, built in the 13th century, is home to colourful townhouses and has a fascinating history of hosting key moments in Poland’s past. Nowadays it’s home to fine restaurants and gift shops. In the area, it’s worth checking out the Historical Museum of Warsaw and the Royal Palace.  There’s also a great Italian restaurant just off the main square. Known as Rucola, dishes start at £5 ($7) for a main and it’s a great stop for a leisurely lunch.

old-town

The towering city streets are impressive (and totally not what most Western travellers associate with Poland). London has the City, Warsaw has Emilii Plater street. It’s home to a cluster of impressive modernist structures that are a visual reminder of how Poland’s economy is changing and growing. The tallest of these towers is the Communist era ‘Palace of Culture and Science’ rising to 237metres. Close in its shadow are the Warsaw Spire and Warsaw Trade Tower standing at 220m and 208m respectively.

Warsaw was nominated as one of Europe’s greenest cities, in a bid to hold the title for 2018. It’s true that it has some fantastic parks that offer a quick getaway from the hectic streets. When the snow falls, the park at Królewska offers splendid scenic adventures. There are even some ducks that call it home.  Come snow or shine, it’s a good place to stop by on your way to the Old Town.

It’s home to Poland’s tallest building. Built in the mid-50’s by the Communist regime, the 231m Palace of Science and Culture sets the standard for height in Poland.  On clear day it’s worth taking the lift to the 30th floor to take in the views of the city. The building was gifted to the Polish people and takes inspiration from the Empire State Building.

The food is a fusion of local and international cuisine. Make sure you spend an evening at low-key Banjaluka on Grenadierów for a mix of Polish and Balkan cuisine. Raki, shopska, cevapi and live music – what could possibly go wrong…? The friendly and attentive staff speak excellent English and are keen to recommend items from the menu if you’re not sure.

Tip: get one of the bar stools near the stage, the local bands that play here are phenomenal and put on a real show.

Warsaw

It has some of the best hostels in Europe. After a day of exploring, bed down at ultra-cool Chillout Hostel. A stone’s throw from the main sights, the hostel is situated in a renovated tenement house near Central station. It has quirky staircases, cosy dorms and a charming area to relax with fellow travellers and share stories. You can save a few Zloty on accommodation, Warsaw ranks cheaply for a place to stay, beds start from £6 ($8).

8 Cheap Things to Do in the World’s 8th Most Expensive City: Copenhagen

The dazzling Danish capital and home of Carlsberg; Copenhagen is to weekend trippers what Smørrebrød is to sandwich lovers. Our Scandinavian neighbours are known for several things: breakfast pastries, longboat invasions, simply designed goods, innovative food, and a more relaxed pace of life.

The canals, townhouses and cobbled streets of Copenhagen are a living and breathing ‘how to guide’ for a perfect Nordic existence. Seeing the best of the city is easily achievable in one weekend. Business Insider recently ranked Copenhagen as the world’s 8th most expensive city to live in, but it doesn’t have to cost the Earth to see it.

1. Start with the Rosenborg Castle

Start with the Rosenborg Castle

Slap bang in the centre of Copenhagen and known locally as Rosenborg Slot; the castle was originally built as a summer home for the Danish Royal family. Over the years has been expanded many times to become one of Copenhagen’s most memorable buildings. Created in the Dutch Renaissance style, the castle has been used as the official home of the Royal family two times.

Inside is a maze of quirky rooms home to the ornate wares of Denmark’s first family. The areas open to tourists span three floors and serve as a good guide to how Denmark became one of Europe’s most powerful states. It’s worth setting aside a good two and a half hours to cover the whole castle. On a warm summer’s day, the grounds are one of the most popular places for Danes to take a break.

Rosenborg is where Denmark’s Crown jewels are housed and there couldn’t be a more fitting home. The regal red stone walls and towering spires are an imposing yet enticing sight from ‘Kongens Have’ — or the Kings Garden — the oldest royal garden in the country. Within the basement of the castle is an enormous collection of the Danish crown’s insignia — a collection of artefacts which make the castle worth a visit in their own right.

Surrounding Rosenborg is a network of buildings established to provide a place for those who serviced the castle to work, eat, and sleep. Changing seasons bring the turn of emerald leaves to shades auburn and hazel, contrasting beautifully against the white brushed wooden window frames. If you don’t fancy going inside the castle then it’s worth seeing the gardens, especially in summer when events and music concerts are held within the castle’s grounds.

Getting there and getting in: Rosenborg Castle is in the centre of Copenhagen and an easy walk from the central railway station or main shopping streets. Adult tickets start from 105 DKK (£11.) The castle is open most days but times vary so it’s worth checking its website. Nearest Metro: Get off at Nørreport and walk for around 5 minutes for the quickest route to the castle.

2. Frederik’s Church

Frederik’s Church proves that not all city centres are created equal. Copenhagen does most things pretty spectacularly but it really excels when it comes to beautiful buildings. If you’re walking between Rosenborg Castle and Christiansborg – the seat of the Danish parliament – then you’ll no doubt stumble across the towering dome of Frederik’s Church. Crowned by the largest dome in Scandinavia – it has a span of 31m – you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica; a building which is said to have inspired its design.

Unsurprisingly it’s a popular spot for glamorous Danes to tie-the-knot, and it’s easy to see why; the striking church sits on a peaceful cobbled square near Copenhagen’s glistening waterfront. Make sure you don’t miss the view from the top of the dome – tours are available at 1pm and 3pm on weekdays in the summer months and at the same times on weekends for the rest of the year.

Getting there and getting in: If you’re starting at Rosenborg Castle then you’re about a 10-15 minute walk away, less if you’re on two wheels. There is an entry fee to get in: 35 DKK (£4), but the dome is best viewed from the elegant square it sits on. Nearest Metro: Kongens Nytorv is at the bottom of the square on which the church sits.

3. The Royal Library

The Royal Library

The Royal Library is an institution of two vastly contrasting halves. That’s because Copenhagen’s cathedral of literature is housed across two buildings, with a glimmering glass walkway connecting them. On one side of a busy city road is a decadent and historic reading room where Dane’s study literature forming the foundation of their Kingdom. Adjacent is the gloriously modern and beautifully designed main building known as ‘the Black Diamond’. Here 50ft glass windows look out over Copenhagen’s waterfront and heels clack quietly along polished wooden floors.

Unless you’re fluent in Danish then the words within the books resting on dark wooden shelves won’t be of much interest. That aside the library is host to almost every piece of Danish literature to be published and includes the first book published in the language, dating back to 1482.

Crossing from the original building into the new extension is could be described as like travelling in a time-tunnel of Danish architecture. The library’s modern extension was completed in just before the turn of the millennium and owes its name to the polished Italian granite that clads its exterior. But it’s the atrium which is the real spectacle to be marvelled at. Explorers can find the best views from the top floor of the building. Looking down at academics, students and bibliophiles probably isn’t enough to stop vertigo, but for a few short seconds, it’s worth peering over the parapet into the vast space below.

Crossing the harbour offers the best views of ‘the black diamond’, especially at night when it’s lit up with a luminous tangerine glow. Such thought was put into its design that it has the appearance of floating just above the water level. If you really feel like pushing the boat out (literally) you can take a tour through the harbour on one of the boats which helped make Copenhagen such an important city. You’ll find them along the quayside.

Getting there and getting in: Who pays to go into a library? Nobody, that’s who. This cathedral of design and literature won’t cost you krone to get in. However you are meant to be studying to go into the reading rooms (but if you don’t tell then I won’t either). As always opening hours vary throughout the year, it’s worth checking them on the library’s website. There is a good coffee shop and place to store your bag for a small fee too. Nearest metro: Christianshavn St. or Kongens Nytorv are both equidistant at around a 10-minute stroll from the library.

4. Get lost in the winding streets of the old city

Despite being one of Europe’s most influential cities it isn’t hard to find a near-deserted street in Copenhagen. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city’s beating shopping mile – Strøget – Dutch style townhouses tower above cobbled streets and resting bikes. Rainbow painted houses are the bread and butter of Copenhagen and are seen nowhere better than on Magstræde just south of the main commercial centre.

On Magstræde and Snarestræde, the oldest streets in the city, the original cobbles take the tread of locals on their way to bars, shops, and work. The area is the home of Denmark’s culture, indeed it houses the government’s ministry dedicated to it.

Getting there and getting in: It’s completely free to look around. The knack is knowing where to go as it’s tucked away. Most hostels will give you a free map to help find your way around the city, but if you stay at Copenhagen Downtown Hostel then you’re right on the doorstep, more on there later. Nearest Metro: Kongens Nytorv is probably the closest, it’s about 15 minutes away.

5. Sip a freshly brewed coffee by Nyhaven

Sip a freshly brewed coffee by Nyhaven

The harbour of Nyhavn is a lot more peaceful now than in days gone by. Dating back to 1681, the quayside once throbbed with the shouts and laughs of traders from around the world, today it’s an altogether more peaceful affair. At the beginning, middle or end of a long day of pavement treading the harbour is the perfect place to take a seat and watch the world go by. The area has strong literary connections: it’s where Hans Christian Anderson lived and wrong some of his most famous works including ‘The Princess and the Pea’ and ‘The Tinderbox’.

If you’re a set-jetter then Nyhaven is certainly worth a visit. It has been used as a location in several films; most recently the Academy Award winning ‘The Danish Girl’ starring Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander. Director Tom Hooper stated the film owes a debt to the city and its “untouched” city centre. Visit in winter for traditional Christmas markets, or in summer for good food from market stalls dotted around the harbour.

Getting there and getting in: Nyhaven is free to visit but do watch the prices in some of the cafes along the harbourside; Nyhaven attracts tourists from around the globe and with that comes people looking to get as much of their hard-earned cash from them as possible. For a decadent hot chocolate try ‘Baresso’ next to the French Embassy at the land end of the harbour. The popular chain of coffee shops is a favourite with Danes for its cheap prices, bold menu, and comfy places to sit (they play some good music too). Nearest Metro: Kongens Nytorv is the nearest at less than three minutes walk away.

6. Climb to the top of Copenhagen’s golden church

Sip a freshly brewed coffee by Nyhaven

The Church of Our Saviour sits on the same island as the bohemian Christiana commune and offers views across the city. The journey up 400 steep wooden then copper steps to the top of the corkscrew spire has been attracting visitors since it was completed in 1752. The views from the top are incredible but aren’t for the faint-hearted.

On a clear day, it’s possible to see the Øresund Bridge which connects the city with the Swedish city of Malmo. If you’re not fortunate to have the sunshine on your side then it’s still worth a trip to look down on the city as if it were a child’s play toy. Toward the top of the spire, the steps narrow to a point where there’s barely enough room to squeeze past people going in the opposite direction. Think skinny!

Top tip: The steps are lined with shiny copper and when they’re wet they’re very slippery. Keep a firm grip of the handrail; the bruises from slipping down a few wet steps last a long time. I speak from experience… Ouch!

7. Drink like a Viking

Denmark’s most famous export, the Vikings, started the country’s reputation for a good pint. It’s a tradition that Danes have continued to embrace. Copenhagen is home to the Carlsberg brewery where hops have been fermented into an impressive range of beverages since 1847. The brewery has a museum in which bottles from all their products produced for different global markets are on show, but the best bit is you get two free drinks included in the entry price.

The brewery still upholds its time-worn traditions; following the same brewery methods it did in more than 150 years ago. Originally, Carlsberg stored its beer and lager in wooden barrels made on site; today the production process takes place in a sanitised factory where metal machines whirr and men in white coats analyse pH levels. The beer tastes the same but it’s hard to say the same amount of love goes into making it as in days gone by.

Getting there and getting in: To get into the brewery costs 95DKK (£10) but the entry price includes the cost of two drinks of your choice. If you use public transport once during your time in Copenhagen then this should be that time. The brewery is located about an hour’s walk outside the city centre in the Vesterbro neighbourhood. It benefits from good public transport connections too.

Nearest Metro: Pick your allegiance as there is two a similar walking distance away. Both Valby and Enghve S-train stations will leave you around a 10-minute trot from an ice cold drink. There’s also a free shuttle bus put on by the brewery, it’ll drop you right at the door, but where is the adventure in that?

8. Eat like a Viking

Copenhagen is the world’s kitchen when it comes to innovative new cuisine. Denmark, like all great European countries, is home to people from around the globe. Bosniak, Turkish, Iranian and Scandinavian cuisine is all one the menu. Despite only having one Michelin Star restaurant Copenhagen is a holy grail for foodies. If you’re on a budget there are plenty of places to choose from.

Lonely Planet highly commends the burgers at Cocks and Cows on Gammel Strand. It says: “energetic staff deliver fresh, made-from-scratch burgers that are generous and insanely good.” The American-style venue combines the best of Danish and US cuisine in a chilled out communal setting. From vegan to gut-busting, prices on the extensive menu start from 95DKK (£10). The salsa-laden ‘BBQ Farmer’ free range pork burger is a steal at 109DKK (£12.50).

When to visit

Tempted? It’s easy to see why. Copenhagen is a solid choice for a weekend jaunt any time of year. But for the best Danish experience make sure you’re there for the biggest party of the year – J-Day. The biggest party of the year happens on the first Friday in November when the local Carlsberg brewery begins to sell its special Christmas beer ‘Julebryg’.

Locals flock to the bars for 9pm when the first pints are sold and promptly drunk to the sound of merry delivery workers singing and throwing fake snow. Dane’s will tell you the brew is the best in the world, in reality, it’s like Carlsberg laced with a hint of liquorice. Legend says that shout it snow on J-Day then Christmas in Denmark has begun. You can get your hands on some pretty cool merchandise too…

Getting there, getting around and getting on.

Ryanair fly from London Luton 5 times a day. Prices starting from as low as £7 each way for the hour long flight. Copenhagen Airport is one of Europe’s busiest airports; a recent makeover has made sure it’s fit for even the chicest travellers. A fast and frequent rail connections will get you to the city centre in less than 20 minutes. You can pick up a 24-hour ticket for 65DKK (£7).

The city has a well-developed transport system including buses, trains, boats, and the local’s favourite: a bicycle. If you’re feeling flash there are plenty of taxis, or you can book an Uber to take you most places in the city. Denmark used the Danish Kroner, a currency which offers a moderately good exchange rate with the British Pound with £10 working out at around 86DKK. Prices are similar to those in London.

6 Reasons Why Kotor Is the Best Place to Visit This Summer

Kotor is, without a doubt, the most beautiful city in Montenegro, if not the Balkans.

Sheltered from the Adriatic winds by a natural harbour, the UNESCO World Heritage Site sits in what is often thought to be the world’s southern-most fjord, but it’s actually a submerged river canyon.

The 500-year-old port dates back to Kotor’s period of Venetian rule and was once an important trading hub — these days it’s a stop-off for cruise ships and backpackers seeking a few days of relaxation and beautiful architecture.

1. The location is unlike any other

Kotor1

Squeezed between imposing mountains and cobalt waters, Kotor couldn’t fit more perfectly into its surroundings. The city walls define its outline, and within lies a maze of marble paved streets with squares made for sipping coffee and watching the world go by.

2. It’s like stepping into a medieval world

Kotor2

Since the city walls were built in the 9th century, not a great deal has changed inside them. Kotor is a living, working, thriving museum to its past. Cruise ships dock alongside the main entrance to the city, bringing with them gaggles of excited explorers. To see the city at its best, get up early and explore the streets before breakfast — it’s more than worth the early alarm.

3. The city has barely outgrown its ancient walls

Kotor3

Terracotta rooftops and glistening marble streets are the calling card of Kotor. Secret squares and tucked away staircases provide opportunities for endless exploring. Akin to most ports along the Adriatic sea, the city has been under control by empires from across the continent — the Venetians, Napoleonic Italy, and the Habsburg Kingdom have all flown their flag on the hill above the city at some point in history.

4. You can feel like a millionaire on any budget

Kotor4

Tourism hasn’t been so kind to all of Montenegro’s resorts. Budva, a few miles to the south, is a playground for the über-wealthy and has turned into a contest of bling.

Kotor has had a lucky escape. The sheltered waters are perfect for mooring luxury yachts, bringing with them the rich and famous — including the Rothschilds. Swanning along the waterfront past the boats and exotic cars is sure to make anyone feel like they’re in a dream.

5. It has one of the best hostels in the region

Kotor5

Imagine waking up and stepping out into twisting streets steeped in history before your first coffee of the day.

Nestled in between the main square and the southern city gate is Old Town Hostel. Stripped back walls and a sociable atmosphere have secured this resting place one of the best Hostel World ratings in Montenegro. Comfy beds and warm hospitality are stones throw from the waterfront and a short trek from the medieval castle which crowns the hill behind the town.

Prices start from £12 per night – booking ahead is highly recommended.

6. The locals are friendly

Kotor6

Kotor has a population of just over 13,000 people and the locals are friendly and accommodating, they recognise the benefits tourism brings to their city. You can be sure of a warm welcome in Montenegrin fjords.

The feline residents are pretty friendly too. Kotor has an art gallery and shop dedicated to cats. It’s so popular Trip Advisor rates it as the 16th best thing to do in the city.

Getting there

Ryanair fly from London Stansted to the Montenegrin capital Podgorica twice a week. Seats start from as low as £25 for the three-hour flight. Kotor is about two hours on a bus through beautiful coastal and mountainous scenery from the capital.

A more expensive but faster option is to fly to Tivat Airport, around 5 miles outside the city. Easyjet offer seasonal flights to Tivat from Manchester and London-Gatwick.