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Before taking my first solo adventure to Europe, I spent hours online reading reviews of all the options and felt torn on whether to go it alone or go with a tour company. I ended up deciding on Intrepid and opted for an area I didn’t know much at all about, the Balkans!
Thanks to a 30-day sabbatical from work, I was able to book the 15 day Balkan Adventure with Intrepid. The tour started in Budapest, Hungary and included stops in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia.
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I arrived in Budapest a day before the tour started, so I had time to go exploring on my own. The Szechenyi Baths were a highlight for me, as were the many cool Ruins Bars there. I stayed at the Maverick City Lodge Hostel and would highly recommend it. Safe, clean and trendy. I took a food tour of the city with an offshoot of Intrepid, called Urban Adventures, and got to try a bunch of delicious things, most notably the famous Hungarian goulash!
The next day our group met up in our hotel and had dinner together to start to get to know each other. We had a fun mix of Australians, Brits, an Indian girl, an American, and our Croatian guide, Filip. As a welcome gift, Intrepid gave us all a reusable shopping bag as a gift – they place a large emphasis on sustainability and respect of local cultures, which is a large reason that I chose their company.
After Budapest, we headed to Osijek, Croatia which happened to be the hometown of our tour guide. We traveled with the locals as much as possible, so we got to ride on trains as well as buses and go shopping in local markets, allowing for plenty of interaction with locals and not much with tourists (yay). Filip showed us the points of interest like his hometown of Osijek and we stayed at the lovely Maksimilian guesthouse. We got to visit the Lipizzaner stallions and a family farm, which were both special in their own way.
From Osijek, we headed on to Novi Sad where we started to see the devastation from the war-torn parts of this region. Each day consisted of a structured activity along with other optional activities, along with free time. We would all have breakfast and dinner together most days, but lunches could be on your own.
Next up was Belgrade, Serbia, the city notorious for its party boats! It’s also the location of the Nikola Tesla museum, which I found quite interesting! Belgrade was a beautiful city and we had a lively local guide who showed us around the city.
Sarajevo was our next city, where we stayed at a pension (guesthouse). Our first night there, we enjoyed learning how to cook a traditional Bosnian meal.
Our guide in Sarajevo was Muhamed with Sarajevo Urban Adventures. Energetic and hilarious, he also taught us so much history as he was just a child when the wars were going on in Bosnia and gave us a first-hand account of what it was like. After Sarajevo, we headed on to Mostar and the famous bridge where we got to see a few brave guys make the long jump into the water below!
Kotor, Montenegro was next on our itinerary. I had no knowledge of Montenegro before this trip, but the long journey through the mountains to get there was well worth it. It has an untouched feel to it as you’re surrounded on all sides by its natural beauty. A highlight for me was jumping into the Bay of Kotor and realizing quickly how salty it was. They compared it to the Dead Sea because you could almost float without any effort. So peaceful and relaxing!
Our final destination on the tour was Dubrovnik, Croatia. Its beautiful blue waters have an allure similar to Italy, and you may know it for being a filming location for Game of Thrones. We had the misfortune of arriving on a day when there were torrential rains, so we didn’t get to enjoy much of the city before the tour ended. Thankfully I had planned an extra day on my own after the tour, so I did get to explore Dubrovnik in the sunshine the next day. From there I took a ferry over to Bari, Italy and flew home from Rome since it was a much cheaper flight than departing from Croatia.
All in all, I loved my experience with Intrepid and look forward to going on another trip with them someday. They provide the perfect balance of group time and free time to explore on your own. All of Intrepid’s tours are purposely kept small so they don’t have a “touristy” feel and you’re able to have plenty of interaction both with your guides and your fellow travelers. We were all good friends by the end of the trip and were sad to have to say goodbye.
A few other things to note about Intrepid and this tour in particular, in case you’re interested in booking:
- The age range for their tours tends to be in the 30’s and up, and with it being an Australian based company, you’ll be sure to have fun without having an overt party vibe.
- The Balkans are vastly underrated and should be on everyone’s bucket list. The cities on the tour are extremely affordable (minus Dubrovnik), and there is so much to learn from their history – it’s a true beauty from ashes story.