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Former Yugoslavia Is A 'Painfully Gorgeous' Vacation Spot

Bring up the former Yugoslavia in conversation, and most people won’t picture sunshine, beautiful seaside towns and great food. But KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley says that’s exactly what you’ll find.

“The Adriatic (Sea) and the rocky coastline that goes from the top, by Trieste, all the way south to Dubrovnik, is so breathtaking it’s painfully gorgeous,” Brumley said.

Just keep in mind: This is not a grand tour of the capitals of Europe. Heading to the former Yugoslavia is about getting away.

“It’s not really about the big cities,” Brumley said. “It’s about these little seaside jewels, the food, the wine, and the culture.”

Your Itinerary

Start in Venice. Yes, Venice. The one in Italy. And not just because it’s easier to get to than Dubrovnik (although British Airways will go there, too).

“It’s right on the border,” Brumley said. “The Venetian empire ruled much of the Adriatic coast forever, so as you cut down through the coast and go all the way down through Slovenia and south along the Adriatic through the Dalmatian Islands to Dubrovnik, all the way to Montenegro, you’re going to find beautiful little Venetian towns.”

From Venice, go north through the Julian Alps and hitLake Bled in Slovenia. There’s an island in the middle of the lake and some beautiful hotels along the shore.

“You’ll feel like you’re more in Austria, even though you’re in the old Yugoslavia,” Brumley said. “The number one yodeling band on the planet is Slovenian. They claim they’ve sold more records than the Beatles.”

When you’ve had your fill of yodeling (this might happen sooner for some than for others), head south into Croatia. Spend a night or two inOpatija, which can be home base to explorethe Istrian Coast.

Done? We'll wait.

OK, good. Now, keep heading south, to the famously scenic Dalmatian Islands. Brumley's favorite place here is Hvar (say: Huh-VAR), an island community just two hours by ferry from the city of Split.

“It’s one of those places where the entire Mediterranean meets,” Brumley said. “You’ll have a glass of wine, some fresh calamari, and look at these beautiful sailboats coming in from Turkey, coming in from Greece, coming in from Spain. It’s a melting pot.”

Hvar also claims Europe’s oldest still-operating public theater.

“People who know about this secret place want to keep it a secret,” Brumley said.

Finish up in Dubrovnik, which Brumley considers one of the greatest cities in all of Europe.

From here you can take day trips into Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. In the town of Mostar (Bosnia, Herzegovina) enjoy the true blending of East and West. The old Ottoman town and its bridge are stunning, and also a U.N. World Heritage Site. You'll hear the Muslim call to prayer and the sound of church bells ringing out for Roman Catholic and Orthodox followers alike.

“There’s no place in Europe like this,” he said. “This is where the Ottoman Empire met the Venetians met the Hapsburgs. It’s the melting pot.”

Getting There

Deltatakes you to Venice via Amsterdam. EasyJet and British Airways can fly you to Dubrovnik (in which case, reverse our itinerary and you'll be just fine.


Matthew Brumley is the founder of Earthbound Expeditions, which organizes group travel to destinations around the world for various clients, including KPLU. "Going Places" explores all aspects of getting from Point A to Point B, what to do once there, and in between. 

We want to hear from you! Tell us what you think about this trip -- especially if you've been to the region -- or suggest new ideas for us to discuss. You can comment below.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.