Sunday, April 27, 2008

Easyjet brings Croatia closer to the West Country

Yesterday was the first day of operation for Easyjet's new route from Bristol to Split on the Croatian coast. There will be two flights weekly over the summer period.

Last month also saw Easyjet launch two new routes from London Gatwick to Corfu and Thessaloniki. As well as being of obvious interest to travellers visiting Greece, both towns make good starting points for further exploration of the Balkans. Corfu is just a short ferry ride from Albania's Ionian coast, while Thessaloniki has connections to Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria. In particular, given the lack of direct flights from the UK to Skopje, a flight to Thessaloniki follwed by a train trip is a plausible alternative way of getting to the Republic of Macedonia.

Airlines are good at making a fuss about new destinations but tend to be much less forthcoming about publicising abandoned routes. According to In Your Pocket, May will see the last flights on Easyjet's London-Bucharest route. The route began less than a year ago but apparently has been dropped due to "lack of interest". Or perhaps the inhabitants of Bucharest didn't fancy joining the list of popular Eastern European stag party destinations?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cover star debut

Bradt guides recently published the third edition of their guide to Montenegro. It's good to see that Bradt are continuing to keep their strong line-up of Balkan guides up to date. I also have to admit to a more personal reason for welcoming this edition: it is the first guidebook to feature one of my photos on the front cover.

New editions of the guides to Slovenia and Albania are also due from Bradt in the next few months, and will also include some of my pictures, this time in the inside colour sections.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Southeast Europe, motorbiking paradise?

Travel writers listing their top 10 European destinations often overlook the Balkans. Whether the specific theme is the best hotels, favourite hikes, or top spas, the focus tends to be on Western Europe with a couple of places in Central Europe thrown in to give the appearance of balance. So it's good to see Southeast Europe being given in its due in Mike Carter's article in the Guardian, "Europe's top 10 motorbiking roads". The region account for three of his top 10 - four if you count Asian Turkey.

Mike is sufficiently enthusiastic about Romania's Transfagarasan Highway to cover it in a separate, longer article. He describes the road across the Carpathians from Sibiu to Curtea de Arges as "quite simply, one of the greatest buttock-clenching, white-knuckle biking roads in the world".

Also making the list is the route from Bar on the coast of Montenegro to Sarajevo in Bosnia. This inland route passes through Durmitor National Park, where the road becomes a "gravel track, threading its way across a vast treeless, boulder-strewn plateau".


The final Balkan entry is a road well worth following in a bus or car if you don't have a bike: Albania's Ionian Coast road from Saranda to Vlora. The climax comes with the Llogaraja Pass, "taking you from sea level to over 1,000 metres in just a few ear-popping minutes for the best view of the Ionian you'll ever see".

Ionian Coast roadIonian Coast

Bulgaria's Black Sea in the off season

A recent UK survey named Bulgaria as the best value destination for Britons looking for a cheap break abroad. The Guardian marks the occasion with an article about a visit to the Black Sea coast in the off season. Not surprisingly, a lot of tourist facilities in Varna and the nearby resorts are closed. That does tend to happen in off-season seaside resorts. At least it gives the writer time to rightly appreciate the wonderfully tomato-ey taste of Bulgarian tomatoes.

The article suggests that "with the Euro stronger by the day, the Bulgarian lev looks ever more appealing". As the Bulgarian lev has held its value at about 1.96 to the Euro for many years, this doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. Dodgy economics aside, it's true that that basic costs in Bulgaria remain low by European standards.

Cathedral of the Assumption, Varna
Cathedral of the Assumption, Varna