MOSTAR BRIDGE, KOCA YUSUF, THE RIVER DANUBE, ALACA MOSQUE, PRIZRENLI SUZI, PLEVNE, DELIORMAN, DALMATIA, BOSNIAN BEUREK, ROSEWATER SYRUP, TRILECE, SEVDALINKA… THE LIST GOES ON AND ON, SO HERE IT IS: A TRAVEL GUIDE TO THE BALKANS.
Home to resorts like Dubrovnik, Budva, Sveti Stefan Island, Neum and Durres, the Adriatic Coast spans six Balkan countries. The Dalmatian coast between Croatia and Montenegro is dotted with thousands of islands. And Kotor, one of the world’s 20 most beautiful bays, is a treasure of the region.
THE WHITE TOWER
Characterized by Greek novelist Despine Pandazis as Istanbul’s daughter and Izmir’s sister, the White Tower of Thessaloniki symbolizes the city. The Ataturk House, Hamza Bey Mosque, and Alaca İmaret Mosque and Market are among its must-see’s. Those keen to extend their travels in Greece can take the Athens-Kavala-Xanthi-Komotini-Alexandropolis route.
Ada Ciganlija in the Sava River brings the pleasures of the sea to Belgrade. This island abounding with golf courses is just a hop, skip and a jump from the historic city center. If you’ve already seen Bayraklı Mosque, Belgrade Tower, Damat Ali Paşa’s Tomb, Sokullu Fountain and the Istanbul Gate, we have another suggestion: a trip to Sremski Karlovci to the music of Shaban Bayramovich, a leading figure in Balkan music. This is also the town where the Treaty of Carlowitz between the Ottomans and the Holy League was signed in 1699.
ETHEM BEY MOSQUE
Rising on Skanderbeg Square in the Albanian capital, Tirana, Ethem Bey is the apple of the city’s eye. The clock tower, museum and opera house are also not far from this mosque, construction of which began in 1789.
Hidden deep in the Carpathians, the storybook land of Romania invites travelers to make new discoveries. The route from Bucharest, known for its rich museums, to Transylvania leads straight into the heart of the Balkans. Plus, you can extend your trip to Constanta on the Black Sea coast and Silistre, where Sultan Abdulmejid built the Mejidiye Redoubt.
One of the first places that pops to mind at any mention of the Balkans, Mostar Bridge was built at the behest of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Destroyed in the brutal war of the 1990’s, it rose again with support from Turkey. A year after the 24-meter-high bridge was reopened in 2004, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. After Mostar, you can visit the nearby Ottoman village of Pochitel and Blagay Dervish Lodge.
Macedonia’s leading center of tourism, Ohri lies on the shores of the lake for which it is named. Dubbed the “Safranbolu of the Balkans”, the city and its lake have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Also on the lake, the oldest and deepest lake in the Balkans, is the town of Bitola, or Manastır as it was known in the Ottoman era. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk attended the Military High School in this city, which produced the Manaki Brothers, the first filmmakers in the Balkans and in the Ottoman Empire.
We are now in the capital of Kosovo, Europe’s youngest country smack dab in the middle of the Balkans. A number of Ottoman-era mosques, clock towers and houses still stand here in all their glory. And the tomb of Sultan Murad I, who was killed at the Battle of Kosovo Field, is on the road to Mitrovica about six kilometers outside the city. Not only that but Prizren, which is reminiscent of an Anatolian town, and the village of Sushitsa, attached to the town of Ipek (modern day Peja), ancestral home of poet Mehmet Akif Ersoy, who penned the words to Turkey’s national anthem, are also in Kosovo.
A genre of highly emotional music peculiar to the Balkans, sevdalinka arose among the Ottoman minstrel poets (âşık) to express the pain of unrequited love. Spreading rapidly, it became much loved throughout the Balkans. Some prominent figures in this genre, which is usually performed by a soloist with a small band consisting of an accordion, a flute and a clarinet, are Safet Isovic, Ilijaz Delic and Esma Redzepova.
OTTOMAN POOL WITH FOUNTAIN
An historic shadervan or pool with fountain stands at the entrance to the Başçarşı (Main Market), aka the Turkish quarter, in the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital of Sarajevo. The area around the market, where artisans practice their professions today as in the past, calls to mind an old Anatolian town with its tile-roofed Ottoman houses.
Skopje, birthplace of Yahya Kemal Beyatlı, one of the most prominent figures in Turkish literature, is the capital of Macedonia. After seeing the classic touristic sights here like the Old Market, the Stone Bridge and the Clock Tower, you can head for the neighboring city of Tetovo. Monuments like the picturesque Alaca Mosque and Harabati Baba Dervish Lodge are located in this city, which was called Kalkandelen in the Ottoman era.
The 54th Thessaloniki Film Festival, November 1 to 10; Prishtina Jazz Festival, November 2 to 6 and 11; the 17th Sarajevo International Jazz Festival, November 5 to 10; Ljubljana International Film Festival, November 6 to 17; and Skopje European Cinedays, November 15 to 25.
3 BOOKS, 3 FILMS
Some pre-Balkan travel recommendations: BOOKS: Mostari (Gündüz Vassaf). Dervish and Death (Mesa Selimovic), The Bridge on the Drina (Ivo Andric). CINEMA: Before the Rain (Milcho Manchevski), Gadjo Dilo (Tony Gatlif), No Man’s Land (Danis Tanovic).
Using the spa resort Bled, just 45 minutes by car from the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, as your base, explore the nearby mountain villages. Kobla near Lake Bohinj, Vogel and the country’s ski center, Kransjska Gora, deserve to be on your list.
Vitosha Boulevard in Sofia is one of the Balkans’ most prestigious shopping malls. And the city’s important buildings are all within walking distance. Bulgaria’s rising star, Bansko Ski Center, is about two hours from the capital by car. Filibe, Haskovo and Kircaali are reminiscent of Anatolian towns in their cuisine, costumes and folk dances.
Staples include Bosnian beurek, rosewater syrup, şopska shepherd’s salad with cheese, trileçe cake, ajvar red pepper sauce, Dalmatian-style seafood, Gostivar ice cream and green bean casserole with pickles and meatballs.
Turkish Airlines has turnaround flights from Istanbul to Ljubljana, Belgrade, Tirana, Constanta, Sofia, Kishinev, Bucharest and Podgorica at fares starting from 99 euros roundtrip. For more information: