Still relatively free from mass tourism, the Balkans not only offer a rich cultural experience, but they also boast mile upon mile of unspoiled cycle trails, from undulating routes in immense national parks to weaving lakeside roads. There’s also plenty to see off the bike as well, including sleepy villages punctuated by Byzantine churches, Ottoman streets, and adorned mosques. Take a look at some of our favourite places in the Balkans to explore by bike in 2022.
The UNESCO Town of Ohrid, North Macedonia
On our Cycle the Balkans adventure, we visit the historic town of Ohrid. Teetering on the shores of Lake Ohrid between the Macedonian mountains, the town is made up of meandering cobblestone streets, ancient churches and the medieval hilltop castle. From the castle, the views across the lake and Ohrid town are simply stunning. You can also take a boat trip over the glassy waters or sample the local seafood at one of the restaurants lining the promenade.
At three million years old and 300m deep, Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest and deepest lakes in Europe and is to thank for the town’s UNESCO status. Home to more than 200 endemic species, the lake preserves a diverse and unique ecosystem.
Owing to the Mediterranean climate, the best months for cycling in Ohrid are May, June, September and October when the heat isn’t overbearing and there’s little rainfall. Between 18th and 22nd June 2022, the International Folk Dance and Music Festival takes place in Ohrid – a musical celebration performed by artists from around the world.
Mavrovo National Park, North Macedonia
Spanning over 73,000 hectares, Mavrova National Park is a vast natural treasure and home to Mt Korab, Macedonia’s highest mountain. From the soaring peaks and the deep echoing caves to the thundering waterfalls and the glacial Lake Lokuv, this wildly beautiful scenery is swathed in Mijak culture. The diversity of the landscape makes for an exhilarating ride with rugged singletrack trails and unpaved roads that wind between pine forests, lush pastures, lofty peaks and the beautiful Radika River.
The national park teems with flora and fauna and being home to several endemic plant species, 82 protected animal species and 140 species of birds, there’s plenty to look out for. Among the most notable of the animals are the wild cat, the bear, the wild goat and the lynx.
May to October is a great time to cycle in Mavrova National Park on our Cycle the Balkans trip when it’s warm and dry and the native flora is in full bloom. On 12th July each year, the Galicka Svadba (Galicnik wedding) is held in the park and is a vibrant event of local customs and rituals with song, dance and Galicnik costumes. And this year’s 2022 event is set to be more colourful than ever.
Tara Canyon, Montenegro
Plunging to depths of 1,300m in Durmitor National Park, Tara Canyon is Europe’s deepest river gorge and home to magnificent animals such as grey wolves, brown bears, the golden eagle, wildcats and peregrine falcons. At the base of the canyon is the dazzling Tara River whose turquoise waters snake below dramatic escarpments. Tara Bridge is a spectacular piece of engineering with an interesting history and is a must-see when cycling along the canyon.
To experience the dramatic scenery in all its glory, May to September is one of the best times to cycle along Tara Canyon when it’s dry and warm and the hillsides are dressed in rich greenery.
The Historic City of Prizren, Kosovo
Lying beneath the gaze of the Sharra mountains with the Lumbardhi River running through its heart, Prizren is the understated jewel in Kosovo’s crown. This charming capital is a melodic mixture of culture, nature and history with Ottoman and Byzantine architecture taking centre stage. The citadel ruins cling to the hilltop and look down on the old town with its colourful mosques where you can uncover the city’s past. From the frescoes of the UNESCO Church of Our Lady of Ljevis to the intricately adorned Sinan Pasha Mosque, there are so many wonderful sites to explore, not to mention the hearty and rustic cuisine to try out in the restaurants.
Throughout the year there are several festivals held in Prizren with June being the most popular month for events such as the NGOM Fest of pop and alternative music, The Bridge of Art Festival, and the 40 Bunar Fest where people race along the River Lumbardhi in a tyre!
Durmitor National Park, Montenegro
With plummeting canyons, glacial lakes and huge limestone peaks that command your attention, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Durmitor National Park is a giant outdoor playground for cyclists and nature lovers. As well as boasting dramatic scenery with diverse and rugged cycling trails, Durmitor is a well-preserved paradise that plays host to over 13,00 species of flora, approximately 50 types of mammals and 163 bird species. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a European wildcat, wolf or brown bear on our Cycle the Balkans trip.
Because of the off-road tracks and steady ascents around the park, it’s best to cycle here during the dry season between May and October with May, September and October being the slightly cooler months.
With so many events and festivals planned for the Balkans in 2022, why not make this the year you explore its stunning landscapes and scratch beneath the surface to uncover its unique culture and history? Find out more about our Cycle the Balkans trip, here.