Belgrade, Serbia City Walls - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Balkan Trilogy Founder’s Tour 2020

Sail down the beautiful rivers
Sail down the beautiful rivers

Travel to the Western Balkans with Greg. We will see the highlights of this politically complex and culturally fascinating region.

Belgrade has always been at the crossroads of empires and played a central role in history: Ottoman to the East, Austro-Hungarian to the West, Russian to the North. These varied empires have left their mark, which is what makes Belgrade a fascinating and vibrant capital with bustling streets filled with varied architecture–from Austro-Hungarian grandeur, to eye-catching Modernism, Brutalism, and Art Nouveau–museums, galleries, restaurants, and nightlife.

Sarajevo is truly a melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures. Founded in the 15th century by the Ottoman Turks, and given to the Habsburg Empire in 1878, Bosnia became an outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a result, the city has two distinct parts: one Ottoman and one European. Although settlement on this site existed since prehistoric times, the modern city arose as an Ottoman stronghold in the 15th century. In 1914, it was here that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie were assassinated, an event which sparked World War I. Seventy years later it became the host city of the 1984 Winter Olympics. More recently, Sarajevo underwent the longest siege in modern military history during the Bosnian war.

Mostar and its famous landmark, the Old Bridge, were destroyed in the last Bosnian War but then were completely restored. Mostar is the capital of Herzegovina and has a very charming Old Town located on the banks of the Neretva River and numerous examples of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian architecture.

We end in Dubrovnik, described as paradise on earth by George Bernard Shaw and famously christened the “Pearl of the Adriatic” by Lord Byron. This historic UNESCO World Heritage site has influences ranging from Venetian and Spanish to Roman and Genoese.

Departure Date: April 24 - May 3, 2020

Download a PDF version of the itinerary here.

Please note that this trip is more physically demanding than many tours. There is a considerable amount of walking and standing involved throughout the program. You must be able to climb and descend stairs easily without assistance and walk over uneven and cobblestoned areas. Often, we will visit multiple museums a day, with one to two hours or more in each museum where we will be standing and walking through the collections. Unfortunately, if you use a wheelchair, we will not be able to accommodate you on this tour due to the limited access of ramps and elevators in museums, hotels, and other sights. If you use a cane or other assistance for walking or are not able to walk long distances, our Founder's tours may not be the best fit for you. We kindly ask that you consider your physical abilities with regards to the itinerary for this program, as the itinerary cannot be amended to accommodate any physical limitations.

Day 1
Arrival | Arrival

Individual arrivals into Belgrade. Your private driver will greet you outside of customs for your private transfer to the Square 9 Hotel.

Our journey begins in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. The city lies on the confluence of two powerful rivers, the Sava and the Danube. The site of the city was settled in the 3rd century BC by the Celts before becoming a Roman settlement. The Slavic name Beligrad (literally meaning White City) was first recorded in 878 AD. Belgrade first became the capital of the Serbian Kingdom in the 13th century, and the Ottoman Turks ruled from the 14th century to the mid-19th century. After World War I, it was the capital of Yugoslavia from 1918 until 2006. 

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience: Private Boat Tour on the Sava & Danube Rivers

We will meet in the lobby at 5:30PM and will enjoy a boat tour along the Sava and Danube rivers prior to dinner at one of Belgrade’s best restaurants in the charming district of Zemun.

Exeter Services: Airport Transfers; Private Boat Tour; Dinner

Hotel: Square 9 Hotel

Day 2
Belgrade | Belgrade

This morning, we will journey through some of the more recent history of the city, starting with a visit to the temple of Saint Sava. Built in 1825, this Serbian Orthodox cathedral is the largest Orthodox Church in use in the world and one of the symbols of Belgrade.

Later we will enjoy a visit to the Royal Palace complex. There are two palaces: the Royal Palace, built in the Serbian-Byzantium style in the 1920s, and the White Palace, built a decade later. The Royal Palace is unique as it is the residence of the Royal Family HRH Crown Price Alexander and Princess Katherine. During the Socialist period both palaces were closed to visitors and were used by Tito to entertain visiting dignitaries.

Before lunch we will visit the Museum of Yugoslavia, which is the best place to learn about Josip Broz Tito’s rule and the history of Yugoslavia under his leadership. The museum is on the grounds of Tito’s main Belgrade residence where he wanted to be buried and includes his mausoleum.

Lunch will be in Kalemegdan Park, close to the Belgrade Fortress which was strategically built at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. The oldest historical center of Belgrade, dating back to the 1st century, the fortress is one of the most beautiful natural lookouts in the city and consists of an Upper and a Lower town.

After lunch we will visit the fortress and have a walking tour of the Old Town (Stari Grad) which features some fine examples of neo-Renaissance (the School of Fine Arts), Art Nouveau (the Academy of Arts and Sciences), and neo-Baroque (the Krsmanovic House) architecture.

The remainder of the evening is at leisure.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 Hours); Vehicle & Driver (6 Hours); Lunch

Hotel: Square 9 Hotel

Day 3
Belgrade – Kovačica – Belgrade | Belgrade – Kovačica – Belgrade

This morning we will drive to Kovačica, 35 miles from Belgrade. This area of the countryside has been a Slovakian enclave since 1802. Today we will meet some of the artists at the Gallery of Naïve Arts. The gallery was established in 1955 by self-taught artists, 18 of which remain. They are all in their late 70s and 80s and still paint prolifically. Today their main purpose is to pass down and preserve the tradition of Naïve painting to the next generation.

Later, we will visit the workshop of a master violin maker and restorer. Jan’s son and granddaughter both have learned this artisanal skill, and it is wonderful to hear their story.

We will then have a casual lunch in a charming, local country restaurant before returning to the city center.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience: Curator Led Tour of the National Museum

Later this afternoon we will have a curator-led tour at the National Museum. Housed over three floors of a neoclassical former bank building on Republic Square, the museum has a 400,000-piece collection. The museum was closed for 15 years and has just re-opened. The first floor covers prehistory and classical antiquity, as well as an abundance of Roman material (18 emperors, including Constantine the Great, were born in what is now Serbia). The second floor has a collection of Byzantine Serbian exhibits, and the top floor is devoted to paintings with a focus on Yugoslav and European art.  The Impressionist collection is impressive, with works by Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Cézanne.

The remainder of the evening is at leisure.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide (8 Hours); Lunch; Evening Transfers

Hotel: Square 9 Hotel

Day 4
Belgrade – Sarajevo | Belgrade – Sarajevo

This morning, we will check-out of our hotel and depart for Sarajevo. Prior to departure, we will have a curator-led tour of the Museum of Contemporary Art. This stunning modernist building, located in Usce Park in New Belgrade, contains more than 8,000 works. It was first opened in 1965. The building consists of six jutting concrete cubes that seem to float on top of glass walls. Inside, the five-story space is filled with light. The collection includes important Yugoslav works from the 20th and 21st century

We will then transfer to the airport for our short flight to Sarajevo with Air Serbia at 1:50PM, arriving in Sarajevo at 2:45PM, where we will transfer to the Swissotel Sarajevo which offers panoramic views of the city.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience: Private After-Hours Tour of City Hall

After some time to rest and freshen up, we will meet at 6PM to transfer to the the magnificent city hall, Vijećnica, which was built under Habsburg rule in the Moorish style, for a private after-hours tour. The building was destroyed during the Balkan War and has been completely restored. We will then have a traditional Bosnian dinner to officially welcome us to the city!

Exeter Services: Guide in Belgrade & Sarajevo; Airport Transfers; Dinner; Evening Transfers

Hotel: Swissotel Sarajevo

Day 5
Sarajevo | Sarajevo

This morning we will meet our guide to start our exploration of the city.

The compact Old Town makes for an easy and enjoyable exploration on foot, and the Ferhadija pedestrian street is lined with architectural monuments, cafes, and shops. We will also see the Moraca Han, a caravanserai which once provided accommodations, meals, storage, and stables for merchants and travelers. It has now been renovated and houses a courtyard surrounded by several restaurants, cafes, and shops. It is also mainly along the Ferhadija Street that you will notice some of the Sarajevo roses: marks of mortar shell explosions on the pavements, many of which have been filled in with red paint or resin and accompanied by plaques with the names of the victims of the particular explosion.

We will stroll along the Miljacka River and see the bridges built during Ottoman times. One of these, the elegant stone Latin Bridge, is where the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip shot and killed Franz Ferdinand and his wife. Nowadays, a plaque commemorates the place of the assassination, and a small museum stands on the northern bank of the river.

Later, we will also visit the Jewish Museum, housed in the oldest synagogue in the region, before some free time for lunch and exploration of the old town independently.

After lunch we will visit Svrzo’s House, a typical home from 18th century Ottoman times.

Later this afternoon we will visit the National Museum, which is close to our hotel and where the highlight is the Sarajevo Haggadah.

This evening is at your leisure.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 Hours); Vehicle & Driver (4 Hours)

Hotel: Swissotel Sarajevo

Day 6
Sarajevo | Sarajevo
Exeter International Extraordinary Experience: Private Pre-Opening tour of the War Childhood Museum

This morning we will have a special pre-opening visit to the extraordinary War Childhood Museum, recipient of the 2018 Council of Europe Museum Prize. The museum came into being after its founder, a child during the conflict, asked other children that survived the war to explain what the war meant to them. It is a powerful, nuanced, and very moving experience that will be impossible to forget. 

We will then transfer to the Sarajevo cable car for a ride to the mountains for some panoramic views of the city.

Lunch today will be at a wonderful local restaurant with superb views of the city. 

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience: Private Sevdalinka Performance

As a finale, we will visit the Bosniak Institute. Founded by a wealthy Bosnian intellectual who lived in exile for many years, the institute is partly located in a renovated hammam and serves as a fascinating museum of Bosniak culture and art. We will enjoy a private tour of the institute and have a performance of traditional Bosnian Sevdalinka music.

This evening will be at leisure.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide (8 Hours); Lunch

Hotel: Swissotel Sarajevo

Day 7
Sarajevo – Mostar – Dubrovnik | Sarajevo – Mostar – Dubrovnik

This morning we will check out and drive to Dubrovnik via Mostar, the unofficial capital of Herzegovina, which is situated on the Neretva River and is the fifth-largest city in the country. It also has a micro-climate and is usually significantly warmer than Sarajevo!

Mostar was named after its famous UNESCO-protected Old Bridge (Stari Most) and the towers on its sides, known as the ‘bridge keepers’ (mostari). Before its destruction during the Bosnian war in 1993, people from around the world used to come to see the 500-year-old bridge, a trend which now continues after it was rebuilt in 2004 and again connects the banks of the Neretva River.

Upon arrival, our guide will meet us, and we will enjoy an overview walking tour of Mostar’s Old Town. Walking along the Old Bridge, we will enter Mostar’s cobbled Ottoman Quarter, which still houses the shops of many local artists and craftsmen, as well as beautiful 16th-century mosques, museums, and cafes. It is believed that before the Ottomans occupied this region in the 15th century, Mostar was only a small settlement with a suspension bridge over the river.

A late lunch will be arranged before we continue our journey on to Dubrovnik, where we will check in to the Excelsior Hotel for an evening at leisure.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide (8 Hours); Lunch

Hotel: Excelsior

Day 8
Dubrovnik | Dubrovnik

This morning, our guide will meet us for an overview walking tour of the historic center of Dubrovnik, which is a UNESCO Heritage site. After a short stroll from our hotel, we will start at the Ploce Gate (East Gate), one of the two extremities of the walled city. As we descend the stone steps of the fortification, we will see the old Harbor Front of the city overlooking the Adriatic and the islands off the coast. As we continue, we will come to Dubrovnik’s Main Square of the Loggia Loza, situated at the eastern extremity of the Stradun, which runs through the walled city from East to West. The square is at the heart of Dubrovnik and is surrounded by its most important buildings.

We will step into the Rector’s Palace. The Rector was the highest authority in the city and his palace now houses the Museum of Dubrovnik. Over 15,000 works are on display documenting the economic and cultural history of the city. Next door to the Rector’s Palace is the ancient town hall, which today houses the National Theater of Dubrovnik.

Today we will also see the Dubrovnik Cathedral and its treasury, famous for its ancient relics including a fragment of the ‘true cross’ on which it is believed that Jesus was crucified. The treasury also houses a collection of gold and silver artifacts and sacred objects. It is believed that the English King Richard the Lionheart was shipwrecked nearby on his return from the Third Crusade, so he built the original cathedral on this spot to thank God for his salvation. This old Romanesque cathedral was unfortunately destroyed in an earthquake four centuries later and the current cathedral was erected in the Roman Baroque style.

After our tour, you will have some free time to explore on your own.

This evening at 6PM, we will depart the hotel for a one-hour private boat tour of the bay of Dubrovnik to view the town from another perspective.

The remainder of this evening is at your leisure.

Exeter Services: Guide (4 Hours); Private Boat Tour Guide; Port Transfers

Hotel: Excelsior

Day 9
Dubrovnik | Dubrovnik
Exeter International Extraordinary Experience: Private Oyster Tasting

This morning, we will depart Dubrovnik at around 11AM for the Peljesac peninsula, which, similar to other coastal settlements, was first colonized by the Greeks, later by the Romans and Byzantines, and in the Middle Ages often changed hands between the Venetian and Ragusan Republics. The peninsula is known for its fine vineyards and the best oysters in Dalmatia, farmed in the town of Ston.

Upon arrival in Ston, we will enjoy a 45-minute private boat tour to the oyster banks and see how these rare oysters and mussels are being cultivated in the region. We will then join the oyster farmer on his private island for a picnic lunch hosted by his family. We’ll have an oyster tasting and a light lunch of local specialties, along with local wine. 

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience: Private Wine Tasting

After lunch we will continue to the Milos winery for a wine tasting. This family winery has 15 hectares of vineyards in the finest locations on the Peljesac peninsula. The vineyards have been planted on sandy soil formed on the dolomite rocks. Frano Milos produces 5 different wines: quality red Plavac Mali, premium red Stagnum, rosé, semi-sweet, and sweet wine, all made of Plavac mali grapes. The Milos family grows their grapes 100% organically. They don't use any pesticides or other chemicals.

We will return to Dubrovnik at approximately 4:30PM.

At 7:30PM we will meet in the lobby of the Excelsior for the short walk to the Villa Orsula for farewell dinner.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide (8 Hours); Lunch; Farewell Dinner

Hotel: Excelsior

Day 10
Departure | Departure

Individual departure transfers for your onward flights.

Exeter Services: Airport Transfer

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