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With Adriatic islands and craggy limestone peaks steeped in history and culture, this fascinating part of Europe is crying out to be rediscovered. It's time to heed the call and head out for a walking holiday in the Balkans, says Neil Pedoe

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You can't avoid it: everyone, everywhere is talking about the resurgence of Balkan tourism. Okay, we're doing it too - guilty as charged - but after countries in the region saw double digit tourism growth figures in 2015, (Croatia 10% and Montenegro 20%) this year, the region has soared to the top of travellers' wish lists.

The first out of the blocks after the terrible conflicts of the 1990s, were Croatia and Slovenia. Perhaps this owed much to their pedigrees as tourist destinations established from the 60s through to the 80s; Slovenia with its enviable winter skiing and hiking in the limestone peaks of the Julian Alps, and Croatia with its 1,185 islands in the sparkling Adriatic.

But now, after a decade of stability in the region as a whole these hotspots are being joined on UK travellers' bucket lists by Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, and especially Montenegro, as the new territories of European travel.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that it's taken so long for the Balkans to make it back onto our travel radar. After all, geographically speaking, the region is practically on our doorstep - just across the Adriatic sea from Italy and this side of Greece.

With ever-more budget flights to most of the major cities, it's never been easier or cheaper to get there either - with those harbingers of explosive tourist growth Easyjet and Ryanair both announcing ever more flights. There's even now an Easyjet flight from Manchester to Montenegro's glitzy port town of Tivat.


Where to walk in the Balkans

But where do you start? The range of landscapes, culture, cuisine, and historic sites is astounding, with walkers especially spoilt for choice in a region that was named for being mountainous.

From the top down, in the far north, hugging the eastern Julian Alps is the mountainous country of Slovenia, with its baroque capital city of Ljubljana, Venetian Gothic architecture in Piran and the iconic Lake Bled. To see just how spectacular the hiking is in this limestone-peaked country, see our hut-to-hut hiking adventure on page 70 of the latest issue of On Foot Traveller.

Inland, landlocked Serbia is a walker's paradise. Here you'll find spectacular walking, with the vineyards, monasteries and forests of Fruska Gora National Park just 80km from the former Yugoslavian capital of Belgrade. Further east is the mighty Djerdap Gorge, and south, near the Kosovan border, are the high-altitude hiking routes of Kopaonik National Park on the 'roof of Serbia'.

In Croatia few venture beyond the ancient city walls of red-roofed Dubrovnik, or out of sight of the Adriatic, where the country's hundreds of islands and sun-blessed rocky coastline entice travellers to linger. But head inland, and you'll discover hiking gems that take in wonders like the glistening lakes and rambling, iridescent waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Less than half the size of Northern Ireland, Montenegro might be tiny but it is perfectly formed for exploring on foot. From the ancient red-roofed medieval towns on azure inlets along its coastline, to the 18 glacial lakes and 48 2,000m plus peaks in the soaring Durmitor National Park, and the Tara river canyon.

Only declaring its independence in 2008, Kosovo, along with neighbouring Albania and Macedonia, is still finding its feet, but all three of these deeply historic and spectacularly scenic countries are being united by one thing: hiking trails.

These include the 192km Peaks of the Balkans hiking trail, which winds through the remote, so-called 'Accursed Mountains'. More recently this trail has been linked with others across the length of the Balkans, from Slovenia to Albania to create the epic 1,000 mile-long Via Dinarica. Crossing borders, uniting a fractured region from top to bottom, this long distance trail is not just an amazing new walk to be explored, with four tour operators from four countries (VMD Adventure Travel in Croatia, Green Visions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Black Mountain in Montenegro and Outdoor Albania), it illustrates how the Balkans as a region is working together to entice more adventurous, active travellers, and I, for one am finding it difficult to resist.

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