Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Montenegro introduces "eco tax" on tourist cars

Montenegro has announced that a tax of 10 euro per car will be collected from motorists entering the country from June 15. The money will supposedly be used for environmental protection. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Tourism is quoted as saying "we hope that tourists will use alternative means of transport, like trains, buses or airplanes". Airplanes? That doesn't sound very eco-friendly. As for buses and trains - the Ministry's own promotional website has hardly any information about public transport, reliable bus timetables are almost impossible to find, and the trains are infamous for delays. If some of the money collected from foreign drivers was invested in tackling those deficiencies, perhaps public transport would become a more attractive alternative.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Balkans in the travel pages - Spring 2008

If you are searching for inspiration for a trip in summer 2008, perhaps one of the articles about the Balkans published recently in the English-language press will help you make a decision.

Albania made one of its rare appearances in the travel pages in March. In an article called "Once and future glories" in the Telegraph, Jeremy Seal focuses on the country's archaeological attractions, from the well-known (by Albanian standards) ruins of Butrint to less visited sites such as Byliss and Hadrianapolis. Albania's infrastructural shortcomings get several mentions, but overall the tone is positive. In "The ups and downs of Albanian tourism" the Southeast European Times also notes that tourism in Albania is being held back by the undeveloped infrastructure. The authorities are making all the right noises about developing a broad range of tourism rather than simply building bigger coastal resorts.

Bosnia, like Albania, sometimes struggles to convince outsiders of its merits as a tourist destination - and especially to persuade visitors to go anywhere other than Sarajevo and Mostar. In "Peace dividend: unspoiled hiking in the Balkans", the New York Times looks at so-called adventure tourism, following a group of American hikers on a guided tour through the Bosnian
mountains. At a price of US$3,000 for a 10 day tour (airfare not included), there doesn't seem to be much danger that these organised trips will lead to the Bosnian landscape being swamped by mass tourism.

Bulgaria doesn't seem to be getting a lot of a attention at the moment, perhaps because its tourism boom has been rather too closely linked to property investments that don't look too appealing in the current economic climate. I've already mentioned the Guardian article "I am starting to love this dirty town" in an earlier post. It's worth keeping an eye on the series "Across the Map of Bulgaria" published by Radio Bulgaria, which often focuses on less well-known aspects of Bulgarian tourism. Recent topics include wine tourism and the monasteries of the Central Balkan mountains.

Croatia continues to feature in many travel articles, many of which are interchangeable and not worth specific mention. The Guardian goes a little way beyond the usual destinations in choosing the "Top 10 Croatian islands" - in fact they go almost half way to Italy in recommending Palagruza as the best island for extreme isolation. Their other choices include Murter for learning to sail, Pag for partying, and Bol for water sports.

Romania is represented by two articles about Transylvania published in different newspapers on the same day. The Times concentrates on the region's Hungarian heritage in "The perfect budget eco break?", concluding that Transylvania is an ideal location for a family holiday. Meanwhile the Guardian looks at the Saxon (German-speaking) influences to be found in "the villages
where time has stood still
". In an earlier post I remarked that it is apparently compulsory for British newspapers to refer to Prince Charles when writing about Transylvania; apparently this decree is still in force, and both articles duly comply. A less rural side of Romania, which I am fairly sure would be less appealing to the Prince of Wales, is featured in the Observer's guide to an "Instant Weekend in Bucharest".

The staging of the 2008 Eurovision song contest in Belgrade prompted a couple of articles about Serbia. The Independent aims for the city break tourist with "48 hours in Belgrade". The Telegraph also concentrates on Belgrade in "Serbia: a side we haven't seen", but ventures out of the city as far as the Vojvodina region. To prove that there is cultural life after
the Eurovision, the TravelConnect website lists a range of musical and theatrical events taking place in Serbia in summer 2008.

Finally, the Independent covers two of Southeast Europe's largest cities, Athens and Istanbul.

Macedonia drops visa requirement for Australian visitors

The Government of the Republic of Macedonia has announced that Australian citizens will no longer require visas to enter the country. This decision means that Australians, like citizens of the EU, the USA, and Canada, can now travel visa-free throughout the Balkans (except in Turkey, where visas are available on entry).

Monday, May 19, 2008

New In Your Pocket guides: Ljubljana and Belgrade

Three new cities in Southeast Europe have recently joined the ever-expanding line-up of In Your Pocket city guides: Belgrade, Ljubljana, and Athens.

In fact one of them is not exactly new: many years ago IYP published a guide to Belgrade, on which I relied during my first visit to the city - at that time it was almost the only source of English-language information about Serbia. That turned out to be a once-off edition at the time, so it's great to see IYP giving Belgrade another go.

The Ljubljana and Athens guides really are brand-new ventures. All three guides are available online as free downloadable PDF files.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

New edition of Albania guidebook

Bradt Guides have just published the third edition of their guide to Albania. Like the first two editions it is written by Gillian Gloyer.

One of my few quibbles with the otherwise excellent earlier editions related to the way the chapters were organised based on the (then reasonable) assumption that travellers to Albania would be visiting on short trips from neighbouring countries. So I'm pleased to see that the new edition has been reorganised, with chapters that will be more coherent for the increasing number of travellers treating Albania as a destination in its own right. Naturally I'm also pleased that several of my photos (the ones shown below) have been included in the colour section!