Touring the Balkans – part 1

13 Jul

The plan – Visit the three Balkan countries I hadn’t really done before: Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia. Also re-visit Kotor in Montenegro, which was shrouded in rain and fog when I passed through on the RTW trip and couldn’t see. Then enjoy the Croatian coast road that I knew to be fantastic from the RTW trip, and return via my favourite roads in Switzerland.

Total distance covered: 4330 miles, in 10 days, through France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and France.

See all the photos in Flickr by clicking the image below:

Balkans Bike Tour 2016

Or keep reading and click on an image to see full size.

Day 0 – Sheffield to Folkestone – 225 miles
An easy start after work

Day 1 – Folkestone to Salzburg – 700 miles
A very long day. In heavy rain through France, Germany and Austria. And stopping for fuel every 170 miles….





Very welcome beer in Austria after a day of rain and motorways

Day 2 – Salzburg to Beograd – 530 miles
My journey to Belgrade – England, traffic. France, rain. Germany, rain. Austria, rain. Slovenia, rain. Croatia, join the EU queue at the border. 10 cars instead of the 100 cars in the “all passports” queue. Last chance for that little luxury! Serbia, 2 hour queue at the border where I once queued for 6 hours in the Porsche. But this time, I’m on a bike so I sneak to the front and I’m away! Good job too. The rain has been replaced with 30 degree sun, the bike’s fan is bust and it overheats and cuts out when I stop moving. Later than planned, and very tired, I reach Beograd and get a nice upgrade at the Raddisson, which has a fake beach out front for a mojito and France v Iceland on the big screen. (Not going quite the way I’d hoped so far) Tomorrow, I’ll find out if they’ll let me into Kosovo…


Serbian border queue as I nipped to the front


Raddisson Blu Belgrade

Day 3 – Beograd to Prishtina – 325 miles
Chasing a Bulgarian 911 from Beograd at 170mph was the most interesting part of the trip down to the Macedonian border, where I was ripped off EUR50 for insurancce, just for the hundred miles to get to the Kosovo border. I’d expected entering Kosovo to be the hard part, but it was remarkably simple and the insurance charge was only EUR10. Much more civilised. Prishtina was unexpectedly nice and modern and normal, with only the pre-fabricated and hastily installed replacement road bridges (with signs showing a special speed limit for tanks) revealing the relatively quite recent Serbian military activity. The statue of Bill Clinton at the end of Bill Clinton Boulevard shows how the Kosovans feel about the US and UK’s military and political involvement in the Balkans. A rare success story.

Prishtina from the hotel roof terrace




Day 4 – Prishtina to Kotor – 250 miles
The joy and pain of biking the Balkans.

French rain? Lose. Drying gloves with hotel hairdryers? Win. Balkan 34 degree heat? Win. Bike that overheats and cuts out? Lose. Long queues at borders? Lose. Sneaking straight to the front cos your on a bike? Win. Chasing a Bulgarian 911 at 170mph from Beograd towards Macedonia? Win. Remembering you have luggage on the back of the bike and it’s only rated for 90mph? Lose. Long motorway stretches to get to the interesting bits? Lose. The interesting bits, like the incredible mountain roads from Pristina to Kotor in Montenegro? Win win win win win!!!!!!

Overlooking Kotor bay


Amazing mountain roads all to myself








Totally unexpected riding pleasure on breathtaking roads north out of Kosovo and into Montenegro. Totally empty roads all to myself. Technical hairpin climbs up the border post, fast perfectly surfaced sweeping runs over the mountains. Stunning views, perfect weather, no traffic. Glorious. Finally arriving in the mountains overlooking Kotor, and this time I get to see the incredible landscape I missed on my first visit, and enjoy the old town instead of moving on to escape the rain.



Walls of Kotor old town




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