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Across the Western Balkans on a mountain bike. That part of the continent where Europe is still unique and therefore unmistakable. Off the roads, away from the traffic, over remote highlands to small cities full of intense history. Timberline to Adriatic sea. Bosnian coffee to Albanian Espresso. And of course (lots of) dirt roads and (some) singletracks & mule paths. That’s our brand new “Trans Balkan” adventure, developed and made possible by a Dutch-Swiss-Austrian team living in the Balkans. Welcome to Europe`s most adventurous corner.
From gravel to singletrack to an old railway tunnel, from 6000ft to sea level – we take all of it under our wheels
BOSNIA (Days 1-5):
Day 1 Travel & arrival to Sarajevo, Bosnia
Welcome to Sarajevo, the fascinating entrance door to the Balkans. Pickup from the airport. We get to know our local guides, build together with our bikes, and after a first “Sarajevsko”-beer or Bosnian coffee we cycle from the outskirt to the city centre – over some first modern cycling lanes as well as along some bullet-ridden houses from the painful past.
Dinner we get served by a former Hilton chef who made her dream come true and opened her own restaurant – very lucky us.
Day 2 With our bikes on the bob run of Olympics 84`
We roll our bikes through the old town before a modern cable car brings us to “Trebevic”, the nearest mountain to Sarajevo. This was one of the venues for the winter Olympics 1984, and nearly 40 years later we ride our bikes through the original bob run of that time (approx. 1500ft long and easy / suitable for everyone). Fully sprayed with Graffiti, little grass growing over it – but in a safe condition and ready for a very cool experience! Further elements of this day are green forests with sweet singletracks, various ruins and maybe even a group of wild horses. “Outdoor-city Sarajevo”. Afternoon time for yourself or for a visit to the Ottoman-era historic city centre. Dinner & second night in Sarajevo (Hotel “Hecco Deluxe”).
Day 3 Cycling to Bosnia’s most isolated mountain village
The morning starts with a short visit to the war-tunnel-museum under Sarajevo’s airport and a 45min transfer into the mountains. In a sleepy ski resort, we prepare our bikes, maybe drink another coffee: And now let’s get out of here! ;-) Cause it just gets nicer, while we ascend with our bikes through beech forests and into a high plain with stunning views and panoramas. If good weather & for those who have the energy we also climb the optional, 6500ft high Bjelasnica mountain – the view pays off. Picnic-lunch on the high plain, and after a long ride through these plains, we reach the arguably most beautiful and for the sure highest elevated village of Bosnia: “Lukomir”, with its typical sheet metal roofs, manual work done on the potato fields and charming old grandmas in their traditional costume. Accommodation in a simple, authentic guesthouse.
Day 4 The no-mans-land of the „Bogomils“ - and a long downhill
It's a chilly morning in our mountain village, but with some sun or some physical movement, we are soon back in action. Today it’s once again these wide, nearly moon-like high plains through which we bike. Practically no villages or people, but instead a feeling of solitude and from time to time also a „Stecci“, these monumental medieval tombstones of the Bogomils (more about them we explain you on-site). Picnic in the green grass, then a long downhill over many kilometers, lots of altitude and winding roads down to the valley of the river Neretva. At the end of this day in pure nature, we lean back and let us be driven – one hour, to the famous town of Mostar. Dinner & night in Mostar.
Day 5 This bridge you shall pass
Today we take it easy in terms of biking – but then, of course, it always needs to be a little bit ;-). During the morning we take some time for Mostar with its famous bridge and old town – a worthwhile visit with a good local guide. A van transfer then takes us to Bosnian hinterland, where after lunch we follow the “Ciro trail”, an old railway line specifically converted into a (simple) cycling route. Relaxed we bike through wine yards - today is all about pleasure. Dinner & accommodation („Hotel Platani“) in the attractive small town of Trebinje, not far from the border to Montenegro – the next destination of our Trans-Balkan adventure.
MONTENEGRO (Days 6-8):
Day 6 Imperial-Royal and the Bay of Kotor
In the morning short transfer over the border to Montenegro, the “black mountains”. Once in the country we get on our bike and climb the first “imperial-royal” (meaning Austro-Hungarian) of our tour: Impressive cobble-stone mountain roads full of curves and retaining walls, built 150 years ago with tremendous physical effort. For canons, troops – and emperor. Many years later we are all alone out here – at most some birds circling above us. Once at the highest point we get rewarded by a long downhill, complete with optional Singletrack-Switchback (Level S2) down into the bay of Kotor. A Fjord like Norway – but we are at the Adriatic sea. Great & late fish lunch directly at the waterfront, and after that a gentle roll-out along the bay to Kotor.
Day 7 The fortress trail above Kotor
We wake up in the old town of Kotor, this famous medieval city with its massive walls. Until some years ago this place was overrun by cruise ships, but today it's just perfect for our visit. After breakfast, we hit the trail for a cool circuit tour before sleeping another night in Kotor (this allows us to make this day also a rest- or walking day for those who choose so). We bike up a hill above the bay with spectacular views (and some juicy climbs…), after a picnic visits an underground fortress from Austro-Hungarian times, and then slam our bikes over 40+ switchbacks (most of them singletracks!) back down to the bay of Kotor. With happy faces, we drink a cold beer in the deckchair. Dinner & second night in Kotor (“Hotel Marija”).
Day 8 The old railway line and the black hole
In the morning 1.5h van transfer along the coastline of Montenegro – an attractive journey – to Bar. In “Stari Bar, so the “old Bar” starts today tour which brings us over the coastal mountains and into Montenegro hinterland. We are following an old narrow-gauge railway line, today partly asphalted (but with no traffic) and another part gravel. Always with a very pleasant incline, so no, we won`t be gasping like old steam engines. On the highest point of the track we ride through a 2000ft long summit tunnel – we use our headlamps or at least mobile phones, and play with the echo of a tunnel entirely to ourselves.
Late lunch including some wine & “Raki” tasting at a local farmer – fortunately, after that, there are only a few easy kilometres left to our final destination… ;-) Overnight at the pleasant village of Virpazar on lake Shkodra – and that lake will also follow us tomorrow into Albania.
ALBANIA (Days 9-11):
Day 9 Time travelling through Albania
For entering into the last country of our Trans-Balkan – Albania - we use our bikes as fully-loaded “luggage mules” and walk them over the (official) border crossing. Left and right of us big lorries, in front of us another adventure. Once inside Albania we leave our luggage to the transport van, get off the road, and bike into this previously totally isolated and therefore even today very unique country. Soon we find ourselves in end-of-the-world mountain hamlets, where life seems to be untouched for a hundred years. We ride some great singletracks in a fairy-tale-like chestnut forest, enjoy a traditional lunch, and in the afternoon bike over open fields to the regional town of Shkodra. There we have dinner & spend the night in a remarkable hotel (“Tradita”).
Day 10 With the trail-builders of Tirana
We`re coming back again to modern life – but not without a last adventure in our pockets. Morning transfer to the capital Tirana. At the hotel, we grab our bikes and get safely guided through fascinating traffic chaos and to the city limits. Here it’s immediate nature and the great mountains surrounding Tirana – a huge outdoor playground. Since short, there`s now also a local trail-building scene in town, and the guys show us their best singletracks directly looming above the city. “Hot stuff”!
Evening farewell dinner with the group & big cheers to a bunch of lasting memories – all across the Western Balkans.
Day 11 Last day (Sunday)
Transfer to the airport & travel home from Tirana
NOTE: Rental bikes upon request, but in general for this tour, we ask you to bring your own bike (and then your bike bag/case/box will be transported by us from Sarajevo to Tirana).
The difficulty level of described tour: Fitness – 2 (on a scale with 4 as maximum): mountain bike-tour with daily stretches of average 40km and cumulative climbs of 800m/2600ft, equaling approx. 4-5h pure daily saddle time. Some days also more, for details see the program. An “average” sporty constitution should be sufficient for this tour. To be considered is that also spring & autumn here can bring temperatures up to 30 degrees, and that will require some additional energy.
Technical difficulty level - 2 (on a scale with 4 as maximum): With mainly dirt roads/gravel this tour is technically not very difficult, however, some of these natural roads are rough and therefore demand at least good concentration and reaction. Besides that, the tour contains also approx. 10% (of pretty cool) singletracks from S1 to S2 on the single-track scale. If necessary these singletracks can mostly also be left out / bypassed. Tour not suitable for first-time mountain bikers / no previous off-road experience.
Type of tour/surface: A very diverse journey with all kinds of surfaces, but broken down it's approx. 43% natural roads (from relatively easy gravel to bigger-stones roman paths), 44% asphalt (practically always small roads with no or very little traffic) and approx. 11% singletracks (Old mule trails with zigzags, hiking trails in forests, shepherd trails). Experienced riders could also enjoy this tour on a hardtail, but a full suspension makes it more comfortable & easier. NOT suited for a gravel bike, the terrain is too rough for that.
Safety: We see CrossCountry / tour mountain biking as relatively safe, also in these Balkan countries where emergency services and medical care are not fully up to Western European standards (actually in the capital cities they are quite good). Just as important is prevention, and together with our tour partners in each country we are ready: Careful planning of the routes and of downhills, and guides which always carry extensive first aid kits and have them according to training. On the side of our guests, valid accident insurance with international coverage and the signature of a liability disclaimer before the tour is mandatory.
Entry: With valid (and that at least for some further months more) passport