Journey with O.A.T. to the countries of Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia—southeastern Europe’s multicultural lands of forgotten beauty. United as Yugoslavia after World War I, these diverse countries at the crossroads of Eastern and Western cultures have co-existed peacefully for centuries—yet have been at the center of intermittent hostilities from the Middle Ages to the late 20th century. Discover the fascinating heritage of the Balkans while witnessing stunning coastal scenery, exploring ancient walled cities, and experiencing the pride and resilience of the people of these re-emerging nations in the heart of the Balkans. Delve into the many facets of Croatia, from the elegant walled city of Dubrovnik to the seaside resorts dotted with Roman ruins along the Istrian Peninsula. In Bosnia & Herzegovina, discover Sarajevo’s long history of multicultural tolerance—and explore the ancient town of Mostar, whose elegantly restored Ottoman-era bridge stands as a metaphor for reconciliation. In tiny Montenegro, witness bare mountains plunging into the sea at the Bay of Kotor; and journey inland to Slovenia, a forest-clad country of emerald meadows, clear lakes, and the towering peaks of the Julian Alps. Immerse yourself in the history, natural beauty, and diverse cultures of the Balkans as you witness the transformation of a region that is rapidly reestablishing its rightful position among the world’s great travel destinations.
4 nights from only $945
O.A.T. welcomes you to Albania, one of the last undiscovered pockets of Europe, where progress is balanced against a storied past. Discover hillside castles and a colorful modern capital still throwing off the yoke of communist dictatorship. It’s a rare opportunity to step into both present and past as you explore this welcoming land.View Extension Itinerary
Fly overnight from the U.S. to Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Today, arrive in Dubrovnik, Croatia. After you are met and transferred to your hotel, you'll enjoy an orientation walk and a Welcome Drink with your fellow travelers and Trip Leader. You'll also meet those who traveled on our optional Tirana, Albania extension. We'll enjoy dinner together this evening.
After breakfast, we'll take a city bus to the gates of Dubrovnik's Old Town, Croatia's crowning jewel. Situated on a rocky spur at the country's southernmost tip, Dubrovnik is renowned for its medieval walls and historic monuments. Today, Dubrovnik's character reflects its storied past as an independent city-state that rivaled Venice. Also known by its Latin name, Ragusa, this was a fortress city that served as the base for a fleet of ships that carried trade between much of Europe and the Middle East. The city-state's period of autonomy extended from 1358 to 1808 and endowed it with a wealth of historic architecture.
In spite of heavy damage sustained during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the city has regained its former splendor with the help of UNESCO (OAT contributed to the restoration of Dubrovnik's main promenade, the Placa, through a donation from Grand Circle Foundation). Our walking tour includes visits to the fortified town center, where we'll see the 15th-century Rector's Palace and an early 14th-century Franciscan Monastery that is home to one of Europe's oldest pharmacies. Our tour also features an opportunity to join an elective hike atop the city's ancient ramparts (a little over a mile in length), where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the rooftops of Old Town and out into the blue Adriatic.
Lunch is on your own and your afternoon is free for independent exploration. You may wish to remain in Old Town and spend more time along the Placa (also called Stradun), return to your hotel; or use your all-day bus pass to explore another part of the city.
Later, we'll gather together for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, we journey south for a full-day excursion to Montenegro, a small country that is home to vast natural beauty—from rugged alpine mountains to a scenic coastline dotted with historic cities. Montenegro's history is unique in this region in that it managed to avoid being conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the 1300s, when they took control of the rest of the Balkans for the next four centuries. Our first stop is Perast, an ancient village along the Bay of Kotor that is rich in Venetian architecture and historic stone churches. After a brief tour of the village, we'll board a small boat to visit the Baroque Our Lady of the Rocks shrine on a man-made islet. According to legend, the islet was formed by local fishermen who, after seeing the Virgin Mary in the reef, began dropping stones on the spot each time they sailed by. The shrine now contains 68 paintings by local 17th-century artist Tripo Kokolja, while its greatest treasure is the icon of Our Lady of the Rock, painted by the Dubrovnik artist Lovro Marinov Dobricevic.
Afterward, we'll continue by boat farther south to Kotor, a wonderfully preserved medieval walled town situated at the head of southern Europe's deepest natural bay. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kotor's Stari Grad, or Old Town, is filled with ancient churches and former aristocratic mansions that line narrow, cobbled streets. After a guided tour of Kotor and free time for lunch on your own, you may join an elective hike that climbs up a steep, rocky trail (part of the city's medieval walls) to the Church of Our Lady of Remedy. Built early in the 16th century, the old stone structure perched on a mountain slope offers splendid views of the red roofs of Kotor and out across the enchanting bay. Then, we return to Dubrovnik, arriving in late afternoon.
Dinner is on your own this evening.
After breakfast, we'll journey north and inland to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina. Along the way, we'll stop at the ancient town of Mostar. Established by the Ottoman Turks in the late 15th century, Mostar became a place where the cultures of the Middle East and Western Europe mingled, blending influences from the mainland and the Adriatic Sea. Mostar is named for the former watchtower keepers (mostari in Bosnian) of its historic bridge. A masterpiece of Ottoman Turkish architecture, the graceful 16th-century bridge has long spanned the Neretva River, whose emerald waters divided the town into Muslim and Croat sections. Destroyed in 1993 during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, the bridge and Mostar's historic city center were restored in 2004 and are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bridge also represents a powerful symbol of reconciliation and continued peace for the region.
During our time in Mostar, we'll enjoy an included lunch of traditional Bosnian fare at a local restaurant before we continue on to Sarajevo, arriving late this afternoon. Enjoy time to relax and settle into your room, then gather for an included dinner together at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, we'll embark on a walking tour of Sarajevo. Founded by the Ottomans in the 15th century, Sarajevo flourished as a multicultural haven for Muslims, Serbs, Croats, Turks, Jews, and others for hundreds of years. By the late 17th century, Sarajevo was considered the most important city in the Balkans after Istanbul, and it is said to be the only city in the world where prayer calls can be heard simultaneously from mosques, synagogues, and churches. After hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics, Sarajevo, this once-shining example of ethnic diversity, descended into chaos during the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s. Although Bosnian Serb artillery pounded the city during a three-and-a-half-year siege—the longest in the history of modern warfare—most of Sarajevo has since been rebuilt, and the city is rapidly reclaiming its spirit of religious tolerance.
In Bascarsija, or Old Town, we'll see shining examples of the city's Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian influences, including a 16th-century mosque complex that is considered one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture in the Balkans. Here, we'll walk through an old alleyway where copper-smiths still ply their trade and enjoy a taste of local snacks. We'll also explore Ferhadija, the Austrian quarter, along with the historic Latin Bridge—site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that set the spark for World War I.
Then, you'll have the afternoon free to explore on your own, perhaps to visit the picturesque Turkish bazaar, or just to mingle with the locals.
Dinner is on your own this evening.
After breakfast, we focus on Sarajevo’s more recent past, including the events that occurred following the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1992. More than 10,000 people were killed during a three-and-a-half year siege of the city by Bosnian Serbs, shelling from hills above the city. We’ll visit the famous Sarajevo Tunnel (also called the Tunnel of Hope), a vast underground passage dug in 1993 to ferry people out and bring supplies into the beleaguered city.
After lunch on your own, your afternoon is at leisure. Later this evening, we'll gather for an enlightening discussion on the region's present and past before delving into contemporary life in Bosnia as we split up to visit the homes of some local families. We'll sit down to dinner with our hosts, and experience a taste of genuine Bosnian hospitality.
After breakfast, we journey overland to Slavonia, enjoying lunch en route. Slavonia is the easternmost province of Croatia, bounded by the Drava, Sava, and Danube rivers. Despite its history as part of a Roman province, Slavonia (as its name suggests) has been a Slavic state for more than 13 centuries. In 1745, Slavonia was declared a semi-autonomous kingdom, belonging to both the Kingdom of Croatia and the Kingdom of Hungary. Slavonia and Croatia merged in 1868 and became part of Yugoslavia in 1918. When Croatia declared its independence in 1991, a struggle for Slavonia ensued between Croatia and Serbia—which wasn't too surprising. Slavonia's fertile agricultural lands, rich hunting grounds, and robust wine industry make it Croatia's “breadbasket.” In contrast to the rugged Croatian coastline, you are sure to notice that the terrain in this region is very flat, which prompts local Croatians to joke that “the highest mountain is a cabbage.”
Our destination here is Karanac, a charming rural village outside Slavonia's largest city, Osijek. Upon our arrival in this tranquil agricultural region, we’ll experience local life by joining a village family for dinner in their home.
After breakfast, we'll witness everyday life in the village of Karanac. We’ll begin by spending some time with students at a local school (when in session)—or another site supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation.
Then, we’ll learn more about local agriculture with a visit to a wine cellar. As we’ll discover, vines have been cultivated in Croatia’s Slavonia region for more than a millennia, and today, its white wines (especially its graševina) have grown quite popular.
Once we’ve worked up an appetite, we’ll walk to a local restaurant to enjoy the region’s hearty cuisine—perhaps including Čobanac, or Slavonian shepherd stew, traditionally prepared over an open fire with three types of meat.
After our day experiencing village life, we’ll leave the past behind us and journey overland to Zagreb, Croatia’s modern capital. Upon our arrival, we’ll enjoy dinner together at our hotel.
Today we'll discover Zagreb, a city of about 800,000 people that has been Croatia's capital, intermittently, since 1557. After breakfast, we'll set off on a walking tour of Zagreb's modern Donji Grad, or Lower Town, whose well-designed street grid was laid out in the 19th century. This area is home to many of Zagreb's civic and historic monuments. Then, we ride a funicular (the shortest in Europe) to view the medieval monuments in the city's Gornji Grad, or Upper Town. In this older part of the city, two medieval settlements, Gradec and Kaptol, developed between the eleventh and 14th centuries on neighboring hilltops divided by a brook. Fortified by ramparts and moats, the two rival towns fought over the centuries—the nearby street called Krvavi Most, or Bridge of Blood, is a vivid testament to the historic rivalry.
In contemporary times, Gradec and Kaptol form two of the districts that make up Zagreb's hilly and picturesque Upper Town. Among the highlights of Upper Town are the tall twin spires of the Cathedral of St. Stephen, an ancient church dedicated to the Assumption. The cathedral's beautiful neo-Gothic façade was added after an earthquake in 1880 destroyed its dome and bell tower. Our tour concludes with a visit to Dolac Market, a bustling collection of open-air stalls located across from the cathedral near the 14th-century Church of St. Mary. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure in Zagreb.
Lunch and dinner are on your own today.
Today, we'll travel north of Zagreb to explore some of the quaint villages of Zagorje, an idyllic region of winding country roads, natural springs, and unspoiled green hills. Our first stop is the old village of Kumrovec, a unique open-air museum focusing on traditional ways of life a century ago—and renowned as the birthplace of Marshal Tito, president of the former Yugoslavia. After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll visit the city of Zaprešić—sometimes called the “northwest gate to Zagreb County” due to its strategic position. Here, we’ll explore Lužnica, an 18th-century Baroque manor that now houses the Spiritual-Educational Center Mary’s Court. We’ll learn how the center—run by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul—strives to assist surrounding communities before returning to our hotel Zagreb.
This evening, dinner is on your own.
After breakfast, we begin an overland transfer to Opatija. En route, we’ll stop to explore Croatia’s magnificent Plitvice Lakes, a 114-square-mile national park that has, at its heart, 16 turquoise lakes linked by a series of waterfalls and cascades. Bears and wolves call this region home, along with deer, boar, foxes, and more than 120 different species of birds, including hawks, wild ducks, and herons. This natural wonder has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The lake system is divided into the upper and lower lakes, with about 440 feet of elevation between them. We’ll take a walking tour along some of the wooden footbridges of the lower lakes.
Afterwards, we’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before we continue to Opatija.
Located in the Kvarner Gulf that separates Dalmatia from Istria, Opatija is a seaside resort town situated in a heart-shaped peninsula just south of Trieste, Italy. Surrounded by landscaped parks and lush gardens dotted with grand villas with elegant facades, Opatija's history as a Mediterranean resort destination for wealthy European aristocrats, dignitaries, and artists stretches back to 1844.
We'll have an included dinner at a local restaurant this evening.
Today is at leisure in Opatija, or you may wish to join our optional Hill Towns of Istria tour featuring some of the hilltop villages and towns that surround the region. The tour includes a visit to Motovun, one of the region’s 136 medieval hill towns; a typical Istrian lunch; and a visit to a family-run rakija distillery in the town of Buzet. Travelers not choosing our optional tour may wish to relax in Opatija or stroll along a section of the famous Lungomare, a 7.5-mile-long waterfront promenade linking Opatija with Lovran, another small resort town dotted with aristocratic villas and manicured gardens.
Dinner is on your own this evening.
After breakfast, we begin our overland transfer to Ljubljana. We'll observe a sharp contrast to the scenery as we journey inland into Slovenia, a delightful forest-clad country of emerald meadows, alpine villages, and soaring mountain peaks. This Slavic nation was the first to claim independence and break away from the Yugoslav federation, and it largely escaped involvement in the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Along the way, we'll stop for a visit to Postojna Cave, a twelve-mile-long underground labyrinth in eastern Slovenia that is considered one of the finest karst limestone formations in the world. On your train ride and walk through the cave, view a diverse collection of tunnels, sculpted galleries, stalactites and stalagmites, chambers, and cave-dwelling olms—sightless, snake-like amphibians that can only be seen here.
Shortly after our included lunch at Postojna, we'll arrive at Slovenia's charming capital of Ljubljana, a thriving university town. A walking tour of Ljubljana will highlight the quaint bridges spanning the gently flowing Ljubljanica River, and the narrow streets of its café-lined Old Town. Most of the city's buildings, parks, and monuments (and all of the bridges spanning the city center) were designed by innovative local architect Joze Plecnik.
Dinner is on your own this evening.
You can further explore Ljubljana on your own today or join our optional full-day excursion to Lake Bled (subject to local weather conditions). The picturesque resort area of Lake Bled features a 17th-century church perched on an islet in the middle of the lake and an 800-year-old castle clinging to a rocky cliff, all against a backdrop of the majestic Julian Alps. Your optional tour includes a ride on the emerald lake by pletna boat, the locals' version of a gondola, to reach the island church, and lunch.
Those not taking our optional tour can discover the charms of Ljubljana. Much of this city of about 300,000 was rebuilt after an 1895 earthquake, and it has a unique architectural style that has integrated surviving historic structures with more modern designs. The work of Joze Plecnik, a 20th-century architect and Ljubljana native, is particularly remarkable for the way it incorporates Roman, Medieval, Baroque, and Habsburg elements. A number of buildings that survived the earthquake still stand in the historic part of town, Old Ljubljana. Lunch is on your own.
Dinner is also on your own this evening.
After breakfast, the day is free to explore Ljubljana on your own. There are many pleasant cafés here, and you may want to try one as you enjoy today's lunch on your own.
Later this evening, rejoin your group for a Farewell Drink and then celebrate your journey during a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, depart to the airport for your return flight home. Or, begin your post-trip extension to Budapest, Hungary.
4 nights from only $695
Spend four days in Budapest, the charming Hungarian capital along both shores of the Danube—where history and modernity are seamlessly woven as one. Gaze at the city’s skyline from Fisherman’s Bastion, delight in the medieval monuments of Castle Hill, and enjoy your stay in one of the world’s most beautiful capitals.View Extension Itinerary