Despite its remarkable beauty and cultural diversity, the Balkan Peninsula remained for a long time a relatively unexplored region of Europe. After Communism disintegrated in Eastern Europe people began flocking to the sunny beaches of the Dalmatian Coast. It didn’t take the world travelers long to discover the area’s abundance of breath-taking coastlines, dazzling landscapes, beautiful architecture and rich history. Soon countries like Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro became Europe’s new hotspots.
Visiting the Balkan countries along the Adriatic Coast has been a dream of ours for a long time and finally this year we managed to make it happen. Our itinerary started in Budapest and included Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. But before starting to elaborate on each of the countries we visited, I want to share with you some tips and useful information regarding the technical aspects of this road trip.
Why Did We Choose to Drive?
Driving in a foreign country may be more stressful than using public transportation but it also has its own advantages. Being able to start your day whenever you want, stopping wherever you see something attractive, not having to worry about missing the train or the bus, are big pluses. Besides, if the weather turns bad you are not stuck in a place waiting for the next train. We decided to rent a car mainly for convenience, but also because my husband likes to drive (and he is really good at it.)
Renting a Car in Budapest
What you will need in your rental car
Driving in the Balkans
Driving in the Balkans may not be as easy and convenient as driving in the USA, but it’s better than you’d expect. For the most part the roads are good, with a lot of rest areas and places where you can pull over if you want to take picture or enjoy the view. The highway system (toll roads) in Slovenia and Croatia are a pleasure to drive, with plenty of road signs, gas stations and food stops along the way.
In Slovenia it is mandatory to have a vignette for driving on motorways. The vignette can be purchased at the border, but you’ll have to be very careful not to miss the border. You may find it hard to believe, but the Slovenian border with Hungary was some little hut next to a gas station. We missed it and 5 miles later we have been stopped by the highway patrol who gave us a very pricey fine.
In Croatia there are toll roads and that’s a little easier. You pick up a ticket as you get on the motorway and pay it as you exit it.
Montenegro as well as Bosnia & Herzegovina on the other hand are decades away from a modern European highway system. The roads leading to the coastal areas are in better condition, but they can be very crowded during the summer months. Couple of that with the aggressive local drivers and you’ll understand why your rental contract doesn’t include insurance for Bosnia and Montenegro. Driving a rental car through these two countries requires also requires an International Driving Permit that can be easily obtained from any AAA branch in the USA ($20 plus the cost of two passport-type photos).
Border Crossing in the Balkans
Border crossing is relatively easy. As far as I can tell, the border patrols in these countries are not in the business of making your life miserable. The amount of time you’ll spend at the border depends on the time of the year you travel to these countries.
We’ve been here in April and it took us only a few minutes to cross. I’m sure however that during the summer months it will take much longer.
Parking in Europe in a nightmare almost everywhere and the Balkans are no exception. The few street spots that you’ll see are always taken and outrageously expensive. Your best bet is to find a garage or a parking lot as close as possible to your hotel. Unfortunately, most old town hotels don’t even have a spot where you can unload your luggage because the area is pedestrian. So if you don’t want to drag your luggage for 2 miles, don’t choose a hotel in the old town.
Getting around the Balkans is not as simple and ‘computerized‘ as in other parts of Europe, where public transportation has very precise schedules and tickets can be purchased online. Nonetheless, if you don’t feel confident to drive in this part of Europe, public transportation remains a good option.
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