images by Aleksander Veljkovic
Could the Balkans offer some of the most picturesque European overland driving? With adventures that start at a towering 2600m, these routes will take you through some unbelievable landscapes with wild camps that overlook some amazing vistas.
The Balkans, or the Balkan Peninsula as it is known,covers an area in eastern and southeastern Europe with a number of borders dividing the region.The area takes its name from the Balkan Mountains which comes from the Turkish word balkan ‘’ a chain of wooded mountains’’ that stretch from the Serbian-Bulgarian border to the Black Sea. The Peninsula is bordered by the Adriatic Sea on the northwest, the Ionian Sea on the southwest, the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea on the south and southeast, and the Black Sea.
The region is a four wheel drivers and wild campers paradise with the peninsula making up a combined area of approximately 470,000km squared or 181,000 square miles, making the area just slightly smaller than Spain.
The region is predominantly mountainous and the climate along the coasts is Mediterranean, the further you go inland the more humid continental it gets in the summer. The humid continental climate is predominant in Bosnia and Herzegovina, northern Croatia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, and northern Montenegro, while in the northern part of the peninsula near the mountains, winters get frosty and snowy with the southern regions offering milder winter temperatures..
We caught up with Alek Veljokovic from Rustika Travel who specialise in adventure travel throughout the Balkans. A relatively new operation having opened in 2011,they provide a complete range of services associated with adventure travel which includes travel consultation, pre-arranged tours, custom packages, accommodation, and all types of transport.
The guys also run a specific 4WD touring service under the Rustika umbrella simply called Serbian Outdoors 4×4 where they provide 4X4 and camping trips in Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece and Macedonia.
In 2015 Alek, a former journalist joined his business partner Nikola, who had previously set up this travel adventure business in 2011. Alek explained that ‘’ever since I was a teenager I loved the great outdoors having served my time as a Mountaineering Guide and later as Mountain Bike Guide, working in the great outdoors has always appealed to me as a career’’. I’ve also worked as a local 4×4 guide for almost ten years before we started our own 4×4 tour operating business”. Four Wheel Drive enthusiast Alek also loves his Jeeps, he presently drives a Grand Cherokee WJ and prior to that he drove a Cherokee XJ.
Rustika Travel have extensive experience in off roading and have taken numerous groups from all over Europe through this rugged terrain over the last number of years.
According to Alek ‘’our Balkan mountains, forests,river valleys and expansive areas of uninhabited wilderness offer some of the best and unrestricted 4WD access in all of Europe’’.
Particularly in Serbia where they have access to relatively unrestricted off road driving that allows participants on tours to experience what it must have been like to be an explorer as they enjoy the freedom of hundreds of kilometers of ever changing wilderness in the South East of Europe.
In the Balkans you will experience camping in some spectacular places deep in the wilds and at various altitudes, from forests to open grassland to the top of mountain ranges and along river beds you will be spoiled for choice.
Alek highlighted that they are very fortunate to have access to over 150.000 km of tracks throughout the Balkans region, with these tracks offering various levels of difficulties to 4WD enthusiasts. As regards wild camping you can pretty much camp anywhere in the Balkans ,’’it’s an oasis of freedom from an overlanders perspective’’. Alek said that they have good relations with many national parks which allows them to also camp in the numerous national parks.
Alek and his team are also big fans of winter 4WD touring and camping where they bring groups on winter tours through the region.
Alek said that ‘’when everybody is leaving the blizzards in the Serbian Carpathians that’s when we are packing up our winter recovery gear and heading towards the snow covered tracks and mountains’’. Popular winter destinations to explore are the Carpathians and the Dinaric Alps with plenty of incredible scenery in between.
You will find an extensive schedule of tours on the Serbian tours website.You can also apply for tailor made tours as an individual or with a group of friends.The website is very informative and presents blogs of trips with some great photographs uploaded that will give you a great insight into what to expect.
Alek also happens to be a great photographer and he certainly captures what these trips are all about in his photographic work.
As regards the tours,Alek and his team are very conscious that a lot of people who own 4WD vehicles use them as daily drivers and may not be interested in tackling hard core terrain.
He said that in his view ‘’ when people first encounter a new team of off-road guides, they often approach with caution, trying to find out if they share the same off-road philosophy as you do’’. And there is a reason for that – there are almost as many approaches to 4X4 travel as there are owners of 4WD vehicles. For some it’s a pure adrenaline rush but others it’s a journey of discovery, where the vehicle is a home on wheels that will take them to the end of the world.
‘‘We are not into modifying vehicles beyond recognition, for us it’s about going on an adventure where we take vehicles to reachable destinations where groups and individuals don’t have to worry about getting their trucks damaged’’. ‘‘We want people to experience remote driving and camp at some incredible places’’.
So what are you waiting for, the Balkans is just waiting to be explored.