The Balkans are literally the land of honey and blood, named by Turks who netted the peninsula – from Slovenia to Albania – into the Ottoman Empire, where it remained ensnared for five centuries until 1912. In Turkish, “bal” is honey, “kan” is blood. And as they learned, the riches are sweet, but come at a price.
This summer, I spent a couple of weeks on a tour with Intrepid Travel, from the Albanian capital of Tirana through to Kosovo and on to Macedonia, before returning back to Albania.
It was my first time in the western Balkans, though I’ve skirted around the region, in Greece, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria, at different times of my travelling life.
So some things were familiar – using bears as novelty drawcards at restaurants, the Cyrillic alphabet – but there was plenty of new ground – seeing little red-roofed villages, the symbol of Middle Europe, clustered around a mosque, instead of a church, or the sheer beauty of the Accursed Mountains.
Beautiful and blissfully ignored by the mass tourism that pervades such European cities as Barcelona or Paris, I almost don’t want to share them, to preserve their purity.