Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: The allure of the Istrian peninsula in the far north-west

 

Q. I am working in Croatia in early May. Then I have two weeks off. I'd like to stay in the region - but I feel I have already seen everything in Croatia. So I am thinking: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgrade in Serbia, going into Romania and flying out of Bucharest. Any must-sees in this area, and also best mode of transport?

Brad Allemand

A. You will have travelled widely to have seen everything in Croatia. The country is almost three times the size of, yes, Wales. It has a fascinating capital, Zagreb, and two great Adriatic cities in the shape of Dubrovnik and Split. Dozens of islands sit prettily offshore.

In addition, the Istrian peninsula in the far north-west is always alluring, while in the north-east little-visited Slavonia (not to be confused with Slovenia, or for that matter Slovakia) is decorated with Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture. May is the ideal time to be there, before the heat and crowds of high summer arrive.

If you are still keen to explore beyond Croatia, then Bosnia-Herzegovina - around which Croatia wraps - is the obvious place to start. It is scenically beautiful, but scarred with recent history - particularly in Mostar. The historic bridge has been rebuilt after its destruction in the civil war that tore apart Yugoslavia.

Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, is similarly a place of recent tragedy, having suffered a siege of almost four years. It is also going through a renaissance; the Holiday Inn, one of the most visible symbols of the brutal Serb siege upon the city, is now one of the smartest places to stay in town.

It is a day's journey from here to Belgrade, but the capital of Serbia is surprisingly rich in culture - and also gratifyingly inexpensive, with good hotels and meals cheaper than in any other European capital.

You could fly back from Belgrade. But to add one more country to your trip, Romania is certainly worth exploring - particularly the towns and villages of Transylvania. They were once home to a large Saxon community, and are now being revived by tourism - assisted by none other than Prince Charles. See bit.ly/RoyalRom for more details.

Some trains still run in the Balkans, particularly in Romania (where they are the cheapest in Europe), but mostly the bus is the default option.

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