Exploring the Balkans with Collette: Our First Guided Land Tour

Top reasons to take a Collette guided tour

2022 was a great year of travel for the TWS duo and a highlight was our first organized guided land tour, Taste of the Balkans with Collette Travel. For years, we had a preconceived idea that guided travel wouldn’t offer the kinds of itineraries, activities, and immersive experiences we like most when we travel. We’re so glad that Collette has shown us that is not the case — at least when traveling with Collette! In fact, we were absolutely delighted by our experience.

Local guide in Zagreb, Croatia leading a small group through the city

Local guide leading our group in Zagreb

Should you consider a Collette guided tour?

We knew that Collette, in business for over 100 years, had a reputation for its high quality tours, and that is exactly what we found to be true. These are our top reasons to say “yes” to their Small Group Explorations based on our Taste of the Balkans tour.

Small Group Explorations tours

Collette offers organized and custom tours across a range of tour styles including classic, small group, solo, private, cruises, and specialized. The tours are also identified by activity levels (1 – 5) to help travelers find the right option to meet their expectations and abilities.

Our tour, Taste of the Balkans, is in the Small Group Explorations category (generally about 14 – 25 guests per tour) and is rated by Collette as having an activity level of 3 which is for the “on-the-go traveler”. That’s perfect for us as we like having busy days, being physically active, doing a lot of walking, and we can easily climb hills and stairs.

Well-designed itineraries

Collette tour designers create destination-focused experiences which are enhanced by top-notch tour managers and local guides who provide expert guidance on the included and optional tours. Our tour had a rich blend of activities and experiences that highlighted nature, scenic locations, culture, traditions, history, food and wine.

Bay of Kotor viewed from the mountains above the city -- Montenegro

Beautiful vista of the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro

Planning decisions made easy by Collette

As much fun as it can be to work out all the details of an upcoming trip (and Mr. TWS thinks of me as an expert at it), it’s quite a treat to put the bulk of the decision-making and logistics planning to people you can trust like Collette who have the knowledge, resources, and expert local connections already in place.

Architecture of Zagreb, traditional Bosnian rice dish, Plitvice Lakes, coppersmith at work, Tunnel of Hope Museum

Architecture of Zagreb, traditional Bosnian dish, Plitvice Lakes, coppersmith in Sarajevo, Tunnel of Hope in Sarajevo

Perfectly paced tours

Our itinerary was designed to move along at just the right pace. We spent two to three nights in most locations, one night each at Plitvice Lakes and Zagreb (our departure city), and felt that it was an appropriate amount of time in each location to experience the highlights and capture the essence of the place. We never felt rushed or that we spent too much time somewhere.

Dedicated tour manager and local experts

Our tour manager, Djukan Djukanovic, was wonderful — he is passionate about the Balkans, knowledgeable about the region’s history, organized, friendly, and fun.

Collette "Taste of the Balkans" tour manager, Djukan Djukanovic at Lake Bled, Slovenia

Djukan at Lake Bled, Slovenia

As we traveled, he provided commentary with important information, pointed out places of historical significance or natural  interest, and shared cultural aspects about our destinations. He also facilitated fun and interesting banter among the guests.

Djukan Djukanovic, Collette Balkans tour manager talking to group about traditional restaurant and food of Montenegro

Djukan explaining the traditional food and wine of Montenegro

Djukan had a great sense of humor and was a lot of fun to travel with as you might expect from the photo below of him hugging the bear at Plitvice National Park.

Collette "Taste of the Balkans" tour manager, Djukan Djukanovic hugging the bear at Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Djukan hugging the bear at Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Each day there was an included tour with a local guide. Mr. TWS and I agreed that every guide we experienced was well chosen and contributed immensely to our appreciation of and what we learned from each local tour. The guides were also very willing to give recommendations for restaurants and other things to do while we were in their city.

With local guide in Kotor, Montenegro

With local guide in Kotor, Montenegro

Special and immersive experiences

Collette’s tour designers are key in arranging immersive experiences that we might not have known about or would have been difficult to schedule on our own. The activities (mostly included, some optional) were matched to the region we were in and enabled us to really appreciate the diversity of people, culture, food, and wine of the Balkans.

A few of the most memorable of these were a visit to the Lipica Stud Farm in Slovenia (where the famous Lippizan horses are bred and trained), a home-hosted meal and entertainment with a famous Sevdah composer and singer in Sarajevo, truffle hunting in the Istria region of Croatia, and a drive to a remote village in Bosnia for lunch and meeting the locals.

Collette tour manager, Djukan Djukanovic, talking to local woman in Lukomir, Bosnia

Djukan introducing us to a local woman in Lukomir, Bosnia

Excursion tip: We’ve always recommended that travelers consider optional excursions on cruise travel and we now extend this recommendation to land tours as well since they will generally be more immersive and exclusive experiences.

Language and cultural tips

I love being in a place where I hear the local language all around me and I try to learn some helpful phrases. But it can be challenging beyond my fairly decent French and snippets of Italian, Spanish, and German, etc. that I’ve learned. Since we had not ventured to these countries in the former Yugoslavia before, it was reassuring to be traveling with a tour manager and guides who were from the region. Besides being our personal translator, Djukan taught us some basic language and cultural tips to give us confidence going out on our own.

Destination-specific accommodations

The accommodations arranged by Collette were in part selected for their relevance to the destination. It seemed to us they were ideal choices that were convenient for our activities and since they reflected the essence of each destination, they were also quite varied.

Historic Hotel Cattaro in Kotor, Montenegro

Historic Hotel Cattaro in Kotor, Montenegro

For example, we stayed in a historic hotel on a square in the old city of Kotor, Montenego; a unique winery and hotel in the wine country of Motovun, Croatia; a seaside resort on the Adriatic coast of Dubrovnik; a lodge in the woods near Plitvice Lakes National Park; and a modern high-rise in the vibrant city of Ljubljana.

Mr. Traveling with Sweeney at Hotel More in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Mr. TWS relaxing on the waterfront at Hotel More in Dubrovnik

Terrace of Roxanich Hotel in Motovun, Croatia with views of the Istrian countryside

Terrace of Roxanich Hotel in Motovun, Croatia with views of the Istrian vineyards and countryside

Grand Plaza Hotel Ljubljana, a stylish modern high rise hotel

Settling in at Grand Plaza Hotel Ljubljana, a stylish modern high rise hotel

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride

Mr. TWS and I love road trips in North America and we are both quite comfortable driving in Europe — particularly in France, Greece, Italy, and Ireland. But it was great to leave the driving to the professionals on this tour. We thought we might miss the in-the-moment decisions of traveling on our own, but found that any concern was outweighed by the hassle-free aspect of guided travel.

Catherine Sweeney boarding coach on Collette Explorations small group tour in Croatia

Boarding the coach for a day of exploration

The large coaches used for travel between destinations and some excursions are very comfortable with plenty of room to spread out, and lots of visibility through the large windows. Small vans were used for some trips such as the drive to the remote Bosnian village and in the city of Sarajevo to the home-hosted dinner. Our drivers were professional, courteous, and extremely skilled at navigating any kind of terrain, roads, and city streets. They were also adept at handling unforeseen circumstances, as you can see in the photo below taken on the highway in Bosnia when we came across a large herd of sheep.

Sheep being herded through traffic somewhere on the highway in Bosnia

Many, many sheep being herded on the highway in Bosnia

In Montenegro, we also had the fun experience of traveling from the landmark site of Our Lady of the Rock in the Bay of Kotor to the city of Kotor by boat, all arranged for us by Collette, of course.

Traveling by small boat from Perast (and Our Lady of the Rock) to Kotor, Montenegro

Traveling by small boat from Perast (and Our Lady of the Rock) to Kotor, Montenegro

Another plus to keep in mind is that unlike train travel (another form of travel that we love and have done extensively throughout Europe) where luggage can be a concern,  our bags were always handled for us the coach drivers and hotel staff — from our arrival at the airport the first day, between the hotel rooms and the coach at each destination, and finally to the airport for the return home.

Time on your own

The Taste of the Balkans tour (and other Small Group Explorations tours) allows a very good amount of free time to explore on your own, which is a big plus for us. We got to stroll around the city centers, stop for meals or drinks at places that caught our attention, and enjoy whatever other activities we wanted to do to go a little deeper beyond the included tours.

Free time on a Collette Balkans tour -- wine and dine in Sarajevo; walk the city walls of Motovun, Croatia; cable car ride in Dubrovnik; private boat ride on the Adriatic around Lokrum Island, Dubrovnik

Wining and dining in Sarajevo; walking the city walls of Motovun; cable car ride in Dubrovnik; boat ride on the Adriatic

Some of our favorite free time activities were exploring the old city centers and walking the ancient walls of Dubrovnik, Kotor, and Motovun; taking a private boat ride in the bay of Dubrovnik; hanging out with the locals in a beautiful city park in Zagreb; shopping in Sarajevo and Ljubljana; riding the cable cars in Sarajevo and Dubrovnik; and romantic meals alone with Mr. TWS and lively meals with other guests.

Traveling with Sweeney duo at dinner in Kotor, Montenegro

Dinner on the waterfront in Kotor, Montenegro with Mr. TWS

There is also plenty of time for shopping if you like buying souvenirs or gifts that are reflective of the destination.

Shopping on free time on Collette Balkans tour: lace ornaments in Ljubljana, signature heart souvenir in Zagreb, shopping area of Mostar

Shopping during free time: lace ornaments in Ljubljana, heart-shaped cookie souvenir in Zagreb, shopping area of Mostar

People with like interests

I think that these tours can have equal appeal to solo travelers, couples, families, or groups of friends. Our group included two women who were traveling alone. I know they felt comfortable on their own and hanging out with other guests, including the two of us. There’s no pressure to socialize although there’s a definite feeling of camaraderie in the comfortable environment maintained by the tour manager.

Local guide and tour group at Plitvice Lakes in Croatia

Local guide (on the left) and a few members of our tour group at Plitvice Lakes

Although you can’t pick who the other members of your group will be, you can be pretty sure that others who choose a particular tour have similar interests — that’s why they chose the tour! Also, guests can feel very comfortable in keeping to themselves or spending time with other guests — some who might end up being new friends.

Would we consider taking another Collette Small Group Explorations tour? Absolutely! 

Thank you, Collette, for the opportunity to experience the Balkans as your guests on this great tour. 

PIN it for later!

Top reasons to take a Collette guided tour based on our experience on the Taste of the Balkans tour through Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Slovenia.

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Exploring the Balkans with Collette: Our First Guided Land Tour

  1. Pamela Dittmer McKuen

    A detailed post about your Balkans adventure with great photography. I’ve looked at the Collette catalogs for many years, but I’ve never done a tour with them. Your “real-person” recap convinces me they do a fine, upscale job, which is just what I look for.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Thanks. I’m glad that our personal experience has brought a Collette tour to life for you. Exactly what I wanted to do.

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