A Drive round the Balkans

March 2007

Our route from Milan to Germany via the Balkan countries.

Sat 17th
. 0 miles.

96 miles. At the Eurotunnel.

248 miles. We drove through France and stopped at Aire de Mont de Nizy for a sandwich for lunch.

545 miles. We reached the Swiss border near Pontarlier.

590 miles. At Murten-Morat we drove beside the lake and found the hotels there were rather expensive, but as we drove round the town we noticed an archway leading into the old medieval town, full of old houses and completely surrounded by city walls and watchtowers. We managed to park right in the centre of town and stayed at the Hotel Adler above an Irish bar where we had most refreshing Kilkenny beers.

Sun 18th.

In the morning before breakfast we walked along the city ramparts of Murton-Murat in the chilly morning air and enjoyed views over the roofs of the old town to the lake and mountains beyond.
622 miles. Passing by Gruyère, we saw a sign for a castle on a hill so we went to have a look and it was lovely. The old town has been restored and has a nice cobbled square with cafés around a fountain, and it has picturesque views over alpine valleys surrounded by snow-capped mountains, all incredibly Swiss. It was so pretty we had to stop for an early lunch of smoked meats and Gruyère cheese in the Chalet restaurant just below the castle entrance, overlooking the old town square.

700 miles. Went through the Great Saint Bernard tunnel, cost 18€.

830 miles (1,328 km). Arrived in Milan.

Mon and Tues. Working in Milan.

We stayed in the New York hotel where our room had a balcony overlooking the plaza in front of Central Station, and we had two very nice meals - one was an excellent pizza at the busy and atmospheric Pizza Factory and the other was an enjoyable evening with a group of colleagues at the Pane e Tulipani restaurant just round the corner on Via Filzi.

Tues 20th. 850 miles. We left Milan at 4pm.

1,110 miles. At the Slovenia border, where it was snowing.

1,130 miles. At the Croatia border.

1,162 miles. We found the Jadran hotel just outside Rijeka (not to be confused with the Jadran hotel in the centre of town, or all the other Jadrans - Jadran means Adriatic so just about everything here is called Jadran), but it was 10pm and all the restaurants had closed and it was too late to find a meal, so we settled for a Mars bar and went to bed. High winds were howling.

Wed 21st.

In the morning we discovered that our hotel room had a view of the sea through the trees.

1,360 miles. We visited Primosten, in driving rain. A picturesque town almost on an island in the Adriatic, connected to the mainland by a causeway.
1,381 miles. Arrived at Trogir, with hailstones. A lovely old medieval town with marble-cobbled alleyways between interesting old houses and churches. We dodged from restaurant to café between the torrential downpours, and had two very nice meals at a harbourside restaurant, where the day's catch of fresh fish was plonked on our table for us to choose from, but we had the venison instead.
Then we retired to our hotel, the Vila Sikaa in a nice old house by the harbour, where we had a wonderful view of the old town walls from our room on the top floor.

Thurs 22nd.

Snowy trees
1,435 miles (2,296 km). We arrived at the Bosnia border through mountain passes with snow-draped trees.
Jajce mosque
1,523 miles. Stopped in Jajce. It was not as picturesque as we hoped, but we stopped for lunch of tender steak and chips in the Crystal restaurant in the middle of the old town, where we watched the workmen rebuilding the mosque.

1,626 miles. We stopped in Mostar, a picturesque old town built around gorges with rushing water tumbling under the historic bridges.  We stayed in the Kriva Cuprija (crooked bridge) Motel, a lovely restored house beside one of the rushing streams.
Mostar bridge
We crossed Suleyman the Magnificent's famous bridge, which has been rebuilt exactly in the old style since is was knocked down in the war of 1993.
The old town of Mostar is very pleasant to walk around, although there are still bullet-ridden buildings and new graveyards as reminders of the war.

Fri 23rd.
1,644 miles. We stopped at Pocitelj, a nice old stone-built town on the side of a hill below an old castle.

1,730 miles (2,768 km). Reached the Montenegro border in a snow-covered pass between Trebinje and Nicsic.

1,770m. We stopped at Kotor, another nice old walled town, beside a harbour on 'Europe's most southerly fjord'. Stayed in the Hotel Marija in an old house in the centre of the old town and had a pleasant botttle of wine sitting outside a café on the main square, then a nice meal in a country-style restaurant with a log fire.

Sat 24th.

Sveti Stefan
1,802 miles. Stopped for a photo at Sveti Stefan, another outrageously picturesque red-roofed former town on another almost-island in the Adriatic.  The whole town is now an up-market hotel, although it was closed when we got there because the season has not yet started.

1,856 miles (2,970 km). Crossed the Albania border, followed by a long, slow drive along awful roads with piles of rubbish dumped everywhere.    Lots of houses were painted in hideous shades of green, which must have been the only paint colour available.

1,969 miles. We stopped in Elbasan, a one-street town with a huge ugly factory or steel-works, and stayed in the Grand Hotel, where we had a really good meal washed down with bottle of Montepulciano while we watched the England football team fail to qualify for the European cup on a big screen on the wall..

Sun 25th.

2,010 miles (3,216 km). At the Macedonia border.

Ohrid view
2,030 miles. We arrived in Ohrid, a very pleasant lakeside town, and stayed in Villa Rustika which was up some steep cobbled streets, in a nice bright room with a balcony and wonderful views of the roofs of the old town and the lake, with the dark Albanian hills on the far side.
In the streets of Ohrid old town.
Ohrid lunch
We had an excellent lunch of lake-trout and salad in a lakeside restaurant.
Mon 26th.

2,085 miles (3,336 km). We decided to pop into Greece for lunch and arrived at the Greek border.

2,097 miles. We went to Floriana and had a Greek lunch at a taverna, but it was expensive and not as good as we hoped.

2,118 miles. Back in Macedonia, we went to the old Turkish town in Bitola for a coffee, a walk round and a haircut which cost one pound.

A nut and seed shop in Botola Turkish town.
Blocked road
On the way back we tried to get over the high pass from Lake Prespansko to Lake Ohrid, but it was blocked by snow and we had to go the long way round.

2,199 miles. Back in Ohrid for a nice pizza for dinner in a little restaurant in a square by one of the old churches.

Tue 27th. We started the day with a car wash in Ohrid, full valet service inside and out - great value for two pounds, but of course it didn't stay clean for long.

2,338 miles. Across the Serbia border, our 11th country in 11 days.

2,366 miles. Had a very nice lunch of kebabs and spicy sausages in Vranje (the meal we were expecting in Greece!).  Then a good clear motorway almost all the way across the country.

2,639 miles. We stopped at a motel just before the Croatian border - it was very cold and had carpet on all the walls in a greenish colour that Sheila said you wouldn’t find in a Dulux catalogue, with clashing red radiators and pipes.  The restaurant was cold and not very welcoming so we cracked open the Mars bars again.

Wed 28th.

We had a very good breakfast of smoky bacon and scrambled eggs, huddled over a calor gas heater in the restaurant until it ran out of gas.

2,646 miles. Croatia border.

2,839 miles. Slovenia border.

2,905 miles (4,648 km). We arrived in Ljubljana and found that all the hotels were full because of a football match that evening. The tourist office found us nice accommodation in an apartment in a private house in the suburbs, walking distance from town. We looked around the old town and had an excellent meal at the Sokol restaurant.

Thurs and Fri. While I was working in Ljubljana Sheila walked up to the castle and had a good look round the shops and the market..

Ljubljana city centre.
The Italian-style fountain in the middle of the old town.
Ljubljana market
and the vegetable market.

Fri 30th.

Bled castle
2,944 miles. We arrived in Bled, a resort town north of Ljubljana. Had a nice walk round the lake with views of the castle on a crag looming over it, then some Crni Baron black beers and toasted sandwiches for dinner in a lakeside bar.

Sat 31st.

Bled castle
2,946 miles. We drove up to the castle entrance rather than walk up (we were short of time!).

2,960 miles. Got to the Austria border at a big one-way tunnel - there were road works and traffic was only allowed through one way at a time, we had to wait ten minutes but the queue going the other way was huge..

3,089 miles (4,942 km). Two hours to cross Austria and arrive at the German border.

3,328 miles. We stopped at Rothenburg ab Tauber, one of the picturesque old towns on the Romantischer Strasse, for a coffee and ice cream.

3,502 miles. We stayed in Burg at the Hotel Garni, a very strange hotel which was comfortable but we and the owner’s son seemed to be the only people in the place.  The saving grace was the extremely good Greek meal we had at a bar/restaurant next door.

Sun 1st April. The hotel owners couldn't be bothered to get up to make us breakfast so we left and stopped for a sausage at a petrol station along the way.

3,669 miles (5,870 km). Passed the Dutch border.

3,764 miles. Arrived in Delft and stayed at the lovely Bridges House hotel.  We spent the afternoon in glorious weather visiting a nearby garden centre then a walk by the seaside and dinner at Scheveningen.

Mon 2nd. Working in Rotterdam.

3,982 miles. Back at the Eurotunnel.

4,073 miles (6,516 km). Returned home.

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