Our next adventure takes place in the Balkans. We were very curious about this part of Europe since we've not been here before. After 4 weeks of cycling throughout the Balkans, we can say we were positively surprised. If we can describe the Balkans in one word it would be: hospitable. The people were very friendly, the food was very good, and you good literally charge your E-bike everwhere!
About the Balkans
The Balkan is Europe’s easternmost peninsula. Although, there is not universal agreement on the region’s components. The Balkans are usually characterized as comprising Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia—with all or part of each of those countries located within the peninsula. Portions of Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and, Turkey are also located within the geographic region.
The ride in the Balkans has been simply amazing, from the crystal clear blue waters on the Adriatic Coast in Croatia to the more rural areas in Albania. There are great opportunities to go offroad quickly and to meet and have a chat with locals. When going more and more deeply into the Balkans, you can really experience, entering a new culture.
Slovenia - Entering Slovenia from Austria felt like some kind of time-traveling. The border crossing between the countries was a mountain with a long tunnel. At one moment you are in Austria drinking schnapps and eating schnitzel. A few seconds later, cycling through a tunnel and you are in Slovenia. A country with a completely different language, foods, and habits. For us, this was such a special moment to experience on our E-bikes.
Croatia - After the amazing scenery in Slovenia, it was time for Croatia. This tourist hot-spot was different from all the other Balkans countries we’ve visited. The tourism causes extreme high prices, busy roads, and less hospitable locals. Even in mid-April, campers and motorcyclist try to overtake you with full-throttle on the dangerous coastal roads. But there is a reason Croatia is so crowded, all of the 600 kilometers, we cycled along the coast were beautiful. Mountainous hairpin roads contrasting against the bright blue sea, it was amazing.
Beware! Although the coastal roads are very, very beautiful, they are far from peaceful and it is recommended to watch out and keep your helmet on at all times!
Bosnia & Herzegovina – Unfortunately, we’ve only passed this country in the blink of an eye. We passed at the crossing in Neum on the Adriatic Coast.
Montenegro - Crossing into Montenegro was a pleasant surprise, after the busy roads of Croatia. Just across the border, the mountains become greener and the people friendlier. But also the roads became worse and the number of stray dogs multiplied within kilometers. Montenegro is a great cycling country with many quiet rural roads and helpful locals. A very challenging, but rewarding route is the short 8.5 kilometer stretch with around 30 hairpins called the ‘’Kotor Serpentine’’, giving you great views over the complete Bay of Kotor.
Albania – After enjoying the green nature of Montenegro it was time even rougher and greener nature, but also much more traffic on the road and tons of garbage besides it. Despite this, many people smiled, waved, honked happily while passing by, it was a very different experience after the road-rage we saw in Croatia. The locals we met, were also good with the stray dogs and give them tons of food. Also, Huub & Liska had some luck, many times when we ate at some local restaurant, they got some left-over food from the kitchen. Many Albanians we met were very friendly and hospitable, amazing nature and very good food. The area surrounding Lake Ohrid is simply stunning and offers excellent cycling along quiet scenic roads. We really loved Albania, this is a must-bike country and we will definitely visit it again!
Greece – We cycled Greece in just a flash, less than 100 kilometers and only one night before we crossed into Macedonia. We cycled along the Lake of Kastoria which is very nice with a rich Greek culture. It is very interesting that in the only 100 kilometers we’ve cycled in Greece, we could really notice a culture difference.
Macedonia – After the culture difference in Greece, we went back into the Balkans. In Macedonia, we had a very good opportunity to test our E-bikes, because we chose to cycle a very offroad route, full of mud, boulders, rocks, and rivers. We loved the challenge and I think our E-bikes did also!
Kosovo – In Kosovo, the roads become busier again, here we met with more busy highway and very steep mountain passes. There are no cycling roads here, but the traffic is generally respectful and passes you with lots of space. Cycling through Kosovo was kind of an adventure to us since the country was relatively unknown for us.
Serbia – Since we couldn't enter Serbia from Kosovo, we had to make a detour into Macedonia again. After the mountains in Kosovo & Macedonia, it was nice to enter Serbia, which was flatter and with very smooth roads. We could cycle great distances here, with over 120 kilometers a day.
Traveling by E-bikes
Traveling with E-bikes has been very easy in the Balkans, from the touristy Adriatic Coast up to rural Kosovo. Everywhere we went, restaurants, coffee bars, hostels and even locals allowed us to charge our E-bikes for free.
Due to the great variety of nature throughout the Balkans, we had to chance to put our E-bikes to the test even more. After the cold and snowy roads in Germany and Austria, it was time for intense heat, mud and rocky roads for our E-bikes.
What to Ride
Cycling around Bled - Slovenia
Lake Bled is a must-bike destination in Slovenia. This Alpine lake with the only island in Slovenia has been a world-renowned paradise for centuries, impressing visitors with its natural beauty, wealth of legend, and special powers to restore well-being. Cycle, explore and experience a piece of village life in Bled. Visit the scattered villages around the center of Bled, where a rustic life is still alive. Visit Lake Kreda, a lake with a hellish blue color and Vintgar Gorge, this extraordinary gorge with its turqouise water.
Distance: 33 kilometers | Elevation gain/loss: 111 meters | Level: Easy | Duration: 1-2 hours
The Serpentine Pass - Montenegro
This curvy and mountainous road has a total length of 38 kilometers. Located between the cities of Kotor and Cetinje, this pass is a favorite among motorcycles and cyclists. A very challenging part is the short 8.5 kilometer stretch with around 30 hairpins called the ‘’Kotor Serpentine’’.
If you check a map you can see the serpentine twists and turns, showing it is not something exaggerated. If you ever go to Montenegro, this is a highlight and the adventure is definitely worth it. The road with over 900 meters of elevation gain, gives an amazing view over the Bay of Kotor and afterward will lead you through a beautiful Valley.
Distance: 41 kilometers | Elevation gain/loss: 1132 meters | Level: Medium | Duration: 3+ hours
Lake Ohrid – Albania or Macedonia
Cycle around the beautiful of Lake Ohrid which is an UNESCO World Heritage since 1979. The lake straddles the mountainous border between southwestern Macedonia and eastern Albania. It is one of Europe's deepest and oldest lakes, preserving a unique aquatic ecosystem that is of worldwide importance, with more than 200 endemic species. Beautiful towns situated at the lakeside are Pogradec in Albania, along with Ohrid and Struga in Macedonia.
Distance: 95 kilometers | Elevation gain/loss: 330 meters | Level: Easy | Duration: 4+ hours
The old road – Macedonia
Ready for some adventure? Then the old road called the ‘’R1312’’ between the city of Prilep and Veles, is a must-bike! This centuries-old road, made of boulders, rocks, and sand is a very tough, but rewarding alternative to the common used asphalts roads. The road starts with a steep climb, but finishes with one of the most beautiful descend we’ve ever had! You will cycle through the remote nature of Macedonia, you will see shepherds with their herd, wild animals like foxes and deer and an amazing view over the countryside!
Distance: 65 kilometers | Elevation gain/loss: 914 meters | Level: Hard | Duration: 4+ hours
Interested in cycling one of the trails? Check out the routes here!
What to Eat & Drink
Besides beautiful nature and hospitable people, the Balkans have one more expertise and that is food. The Balkan countries have been for almost 500 years a part of the Ottoman Empire, which had a major impact on the Balkan food which is still seen today.
The influence is visible in every country, the menu’s of the local restaurants look rather similar. Burek, Cevapi, Ajvar, and Raki are all found throughout the Balkans. There are some variations which are slightly different, but the basics remain the same.
Cevapi is a grilled dish of minced meat, a type of skinless sausage, found traditionally in the Balkan countries. They are usually served of 5–10 pieces on a plate or in a flatbread (lepinje or somun), often with chopped onions, sour cream, kajmak, ajvar, feta cheese, minced red pepper, and salt.
A food that can be found everywhere in any bakery is the ‘’Burek’’. It is a pastry created out of phyllo dough, that is stuffed with either meat, cheese, spinach, tomatoes or potatoes. Burek is baked in an oven and usually eaten with a cup of yogurt on the side. The shape of the Burek may change throughout the Balkans, from pizza-shaped pie filled with layers to a long and rolled version coiled up into a circle.
Ajvar is a pepper-based condiment made principally from red bell peppers and oil. Homemade ajvar is made of roasted or cooked peppers. Depending on the capsaicin content in bell peppers and the amount of added chili peppers, it can be sweet (traditional), piquant (the most common), or very hot (ljutenica). Ajvar can be consumed as a bread spread or as a side dish.
Rakia or Rakija is the collective term for fruit brandy popular in the Balkans. The alcohol content of rakia is normally 40 %, but home-produced rakia can be stronger (typically 50%). Commonly made from easily found fruit such as pears and plums, this strongly flavored brandy may also have herbs or honey.
Everywhere you go the Balkans you will see coffee bars. Lined up in the narrow streets and alleys in every town and village. Strong Turkish coffee or an Italian espresso is the only coffee available, and it is served in tiny porcelain cups which contain about two swallows. Sometimes Desserts are available, but no other food.
Many people sit all day long with one cup of coffee in the bar if desired. No one ever tries to hurry or rush you away. And people do sit for hours visiting or just as often by themselves. People read, work on computers or visit with friends. It is definitely worth visiting one of the many bars, to recharge yourself and of course your E-bike battery 😉
Did you know the Turkish Coffee is called after the name of the country? In Albania, you have Albanian Coffee and in Serbia, you have Serbian Coffee, but at the end, they are all the same.