EuroTribe

your guide to Europe off the beaten path

Category: Nature & Outdoors

5 Excellent Cycle Routes In France

France is one of those countries that is ideal for cycling tours, primarily thanks to the extraordinary scenery, delicious food and growing network of long distance cycle routes. This makes…

France is one of those countries that is ideal for cycling tours, primarily thanks to the extraordinary scenery, delicious food and growing network of long distance cycle routes. This makes France one of the biggest markets for cycle tourism in Europe and the world. Thousands of people, especially British families take holidays to France each year for no reason other than to lap up the amazing cycling opportunities on offer. Although with the size of the country and its abundance of stunning towns, cities and resorts, choosing the right route may turn into a difficult quest.

Here are five excellent cycle routes in France that deserve to be considered;

Voies Vertes

The first thing to remember is that just as long as you head in the direction of France’s famed Voies Vertes, aka the Greenways, you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice with over 2,600km of wholly family-safe cycling paths and tracks. As such, you can take a look at the resort you were thinking of going to, locate the nearest Voies Vertes (the full map can be found online) and take the bikes out for a day you’ll never forget.

Loire à Vélo

Don’t be put off by the fact that the Loire à Vélo project measures in at 800km in total cycle path length – nobody’s saying you need to cycle the whole thing! A full two-thirds of the pathways between Saint-Brévin and Cuffy run right next to the stunning River Loire, making it the perfect choice for those wishing to take in the majesty of a few famous buildings and all manner of glorious little villages along the way.

Le Bais de Somme

For those with a taste for all-things nature and for the perfect excuse to stop along the way and soak up the sun on the sand, there’s an amazing network of cycle routes at Le Bais de Somme which go through gorgeous grasslands, mudflats and right through to stunning sand dunes – all with a beautiful view out to the sea along the whole route. It is a bit on the hilly side in some places, but the good news is that your bikes at least travel 100% free of charge on the local railway – great for when those little legs have just about had enough for the day!

Voies Vertes Trans

Close to the border with Belgium, this beautiful area of greenery boasts an 85km stretch of the Voies Vertes and is, at least in an official capacity, certified as easy. From Givet to Charleville-Mezieres, you’ll be treated to a dreamy backdrop and stumble across pretty little regions apparently forgotten by time as the rest of us know it. Again, there’s a train service that runs the whole of the route, so no worries if you can’t handle the full length of it.

Piste du Canal L’Ourcq

Last but not least, it’s one thing to get out and about across France’s gorgeous countryside on the bikes, but what about those with a taste for cosmopolitan city living? Here’s your answer – the Piste du Canal L’Ourcq stretches from the lovely greenery of Claye-Souilly right through to Parc de la Villette in Paris.

No Comments on 5 Excellent Cycle Routes In France

Bar To Belgrade By Train – The Most Scenic Eastern European Train Ride

Everyone has heard about the Bergen railway, Flam railway and Glacier Express, but what about the Eastern Europe and its railway routes? One route that definitely deserves attention is the…

Everyone has heard about the Bergen railway, Flam railway and Glacier Express, but what about the Eastern Europe and its railway routes? One route that definitely deserves attention is the one from Bar to Belgrade, which connects the Montenegrin coast with the capital of Serbia.

Not only does this route include breathtaking mountain scenery but also the crossing of 254 tunnels and 435 bridges of which the most impressive one is Mala Rijeka viaduct- the world’s highest railway viaduct.

Here are some basic facts;

Fares and timetable

For fares and timetable click here. You’ll need to enter the stations and the date first to get the prices.

Duration

17 hours, 550 km

The train leaves Bar at 5pm and arrives in Belgrade next morning at 10am.

When to go

Summer

Points of interest

Montenegro: Lake Skadar, the highest railway viaduct at Mala Rijeka, Moraca valley

Serbia: Kumanica monastery, Lim river, Zlatibor, Belgrade

I have traveled this route in August 2014 and it was one of the most unforgettable experiences. You might want to make a reservation a day or two earlier because 3-berth compartments may be taken really fast. I’ve bought a ticket in 6-berth compartment and went to the platform. There was a column of people, many of which with children, who were moving from car to car without knowing in which one to enter. The whole mess lasted about 20-30 minutes, after which the train whistled and finally moved.

Bar train station

Bar train station

Belgrade Bar by train

6-berth compartment

Belgrade Bar by train 2

I got a bed on top which involved climbing the ladder, and there we were… a Serb, Macedonian, an Englishman and Russian in a small 6-berth compartment which was a bit claustrophobic. The temperature was high but the refreshment came almost immediately after the departure of the train. Getting a supply of food and drinks is recommended because there’s no restaurant in the train. There are a couple of restaurants and shops near the train station where you can buy things.

You may wonder why it takes 17 hours for 550 km of travel? It’s even more bizarre that in 2014 it takes 17 hours while in 1975 it just took 7 hours to reach Bar from Belgrade. Welcome to the Balkans! However, there is a reason for this. During the nineties, this railway suffered from underfunding which has resulted in the railway deteriorating. Also, this line has been the target of NATO bombing in 1999, when parts of the tracks were seriously damaged.

As soon as the train passed the tunnel Sozina which is the longest one on this route (6 km), majority of people left their compartments and stood by the windows enjoying the beautiful scenery. A train passes by lake Skadar which is splendid, before arriving in the Montenegrin capital to pick up the passengers. The most impressive moments of the journey were crossing the viaduct Mala Rijeka, as well as passing through the canyon of Moraca river.

Belgrade Bar by train 3 - Lake Skadar

Lake Skadar

Belgrade Bar by train 4

Leaving Podgorica

Belgrade Bar by train 5

Belgrade Bar by train 6

Belgrade Bar by train 7

Mala Rijeka viaduct

The passage is full of students who are talking about the exams that await them, older people who debate about politics and crying children, but they all have something in common – not taking their eyes off the beautiful landscape. I had the opportunity to meet a few Polish girls in a train, who have shared their cherry vodka with me and my friend, and made this journey even more interesting. Cherry vodka, the wind blowing your hair and amazing scenery… what else can you wish for?

Belgrade Bar by train 8

Belgrade Bar by train 9

Belgrade Bar by train 10

Belgrade Bar by train 11

 After 175 km the train arrives at the border with Serbia, more precisely, at the border crossing Bijelo Polje. By then it’s already dark outside and everybody is back in their compartments for the passport check. Majority of people decided to sleep or have a rest, while outside there were just people who were having a smoke. Traveling through the Serbian countryside and seeing the moon shining down on isolated homes is also an unforgettable experience.

The next morning, the passage was again full of people with their heads out of the window, anxiously awaiting to see a symbol of Belgrade – Avala Tower, and to arrive in the capital.

Belgrade Bar by train 13

Slowly approaching Belgrade

Belgrade Bar by train 14

Abandoned train cars

Belgrade Bar by train 15

Final destination – Belgrade

Have you ever traveled this route before? Is there a train ride that you will never forget? Feel free to comment below.

12 Comments on Bar To Belgrade By Train – The Most Scenic Eastern European Train Ride

A journey to Albania – The Land of Bunkers, Mercedes Cars and Undiscovered Nature

A journey to Albania- With only 178,000 overnight stays in 2013, Albania is one of the least visited and least known countries in Europe. It’s really rare to hear anything…

A journey to Albania- With only 178,000 overnight stays in 2013, Albania is one of the least visited and least known countries in Europe. It’s really rare to hear anything about it on TV and the country is usually surrounded by mystery and prejudices.  It used to be isolated for very long periods of time which made it unique in comparison to many other European countries. However, Albania is waking up and it’s trying to attract more tourists with its interesting and specific tourist offer.

As I was always really curious about alternative destinations (just like my friend Luke from United Kingdom) we decided to give a chance to Albania. We bought bus tickets in Belgrade and took off to Prishtina where we arrived seven hours later.  A bus station in Prishtina is at the end of the Bill Clinton Boulevard where buses leave often to Tirana.

We decided to go  through Prishtina thanks to the new and modern highway which makes the journey faster than going through Macedonia. This highway looks seriously great and on the way to Tirana we passed through a six kilometer tunnel. The northern part of Albania was a real surprise as the nature here is beautiful.

traveling to Tirana

the northern Albanian landscape

traveling to Tirana 2

traveling to Tirana 3

traveling to Tirana 4

At some point a bus stopped for a toilet break, and although squat toilets are no more the norm you will find them in many places outside of Tirana. There’s no running water so you have to use a bucket full of water to flush 🙂  You’ll find them in many cafes and restaurants by the roads. Bring wet wipes so you can clean hands as many places don’t even have a soap.

Another thing you will notice when traveling around the country is that 80% of the cars are Mercedes-Benz. It really is an interesting phenomenon and Albania has the highest percentage of Mercedes per capita. I’ll point you to an interesting article made by the New York Times “In Poor Albania, Mercedes Rules Road“.

You will also notice the large numbers of bunkers that are spread throughout the country. Leaving Warsaw Pact, Albania constructed 700,000 bunkers as a form of defense against the enemy. You’ll spot the bunkers on the mountains, at the beaches, in the cities and well, almost everywhere. Most of them were built in the period from 1950 to 1985. They are extremely hard to destroy or move, so the only thing locals could do was decorate them in different colours.

Bunker in Tirana

Bunker in Tirana

We arrived to Tirana at the evening and immediately headed to our hostel. We stayed in Tirana Backpacker Hostel which has a great green garden. Hostel can accommodate 54 people but it was full when we arrived so we stayed in their newly built private cabins (28 EUR). You can search for accommodation in Tirana via HotelsCombined or Booking.

Tirana Backpacker Hostel

Tirana Backpacker Hostel

Tirana Backpacker Hostel

Garden of the hostel

Tirana Backpacker Hostel

Entrance to the garden

The evening ended with me trying to explore the gastronomic side of Tirana. Once in Albania you should try byrek which comes in many forms and can be filled with meat, spinach, cheese etc. Turkish kebab and meat balls are also very popular and you will find them everywhere.

Next morning we took off to discover the city and got familiar with Tirana’s crazy and noisy side- its traffic. You should be careful when walking at the night because some streets are full of holes and some are even missing manhole covers.

Tirana streets

Missing manhole cover

Tirana city center

Tirana International Hotel and Mercedes Benz of course 🙂

Tirana Opera

The National Opera

Tirana architecture

Architecture in Tirana is a mix of Italian, Ottoman and Communist styles.

Piramida Tirana

Pyramid of Tirana

One of the most famous landmarks in Tirana is its pyramid. It was a museum of Enver Hoxha in the past, while today it’s being used as a broadcasting center. It’s very popular among the locals (especially kids) who actually climb all the way to the top of the pyramid.

Pyramid of Tirana

Pyramid was also a venue of a disco club called The Mummy.

Pyramid of Tirana 2

Love Freedom.

Tirana park

Tirana neighborhood

Tirana neighborhood

After Tirana, our next destination was Shkodra which is the fourth largest city in the country. As Tirana doesn’t have a bus station you need to look for a place where furgons (mini buses) stop. This is of course a challenge, so I recommend getting a taxi to take you to the right departure point. The schedule is not always accurate, because the drivers sometimes wait until furgon gets full. In Albania everyone travels with furgon which can accommodate 9 to 12 passengers. It’s the quickest and the cheapest way to travel around the country. The one we got into was full and the ride was a total adventure. For instance, we got stopped by the police and afterwards a driver stopped a furgon so he could go buy a watermelon.

Once we got to Shkodra we tried to communicate with the driver and explain him that we’d like him to take us to the border with Montenegro which turned out to be a sign language conversation. Nobody in the furgon could speak English and the only thing we got was “Parlare Italiano“?. This is no surprise as in 1991 about 20,000 Albanians went to Brindisi from Vlore as refugees, but eventually they were given an opportunity to stay in Italy.

Shkodra is an interesting place. The surrounding area is beautiful as Prokletije mountains can be seen in the back and the largest lake in the Balkans is located here. Walk along the main pedestrian street  and definitely don’t miss seing Rozafa fortress. It’s one of the most beautiful landmarks in Albania and the views from the top are beautiful.

Unless you don’t plan a road trip I suggest going to Albania by plane. AirSerbia is starting flights to Tirana from September 23rd which will connect this city with other European cities through its hub in Belgrade.

Although there are many prejudices surrounding Albania, number one problem is safety on the roads. New York Times included Albania in their “Top 52 places to go in 2014”, and although the country needs investors in order to improve its touristic offer and infrastructure, it’s definitely a place to go if you are lover of alternative tourism and if you wanna visit this place before it gets exploited by mass tourism. Next time I’d definetely like to explore the Ionian coast.

10 Comments on A journey to Albania – The Land of Bunkers, Mercedes Cars and Undiscovered Nature

Škocjan Caves – A Must See in Slovenia

Slovenia is a country that is known for its karst terrain and which has more than 7,000 caves. Although Postojna cave is the biggest and the most popular one, these…

Slovenia is a country that is known for its karst terrain and which has more than 7,000 caves. Although Postojna cave is the biggest and the most popular one, these caves are less touristy and therefore more pleasant to visit.

Škocjan Caves consist of seven caves in total and they are part of UNESCO’s list of natural and cultural world heritage sites since 1986.

These caves were inhabited since prehistoric times, while the first explorations of the area commenced in the 19th century. The underground canyon in the caves is the largest of its kind in the world.

The only way to visit the caves is through tours which are led by professional guides of the park and which last an hour and a half. The constant temperature inside is 12 degrees so bring a light jacket or sweater. Photos are not allowed because the ecosystem could be disturbed.

You will see many beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, but the most impressive part of the tour was walking down the stairs and reaching the bridge which is located above the Reka river, some 45 meters above. This of course gives you the feeling, as if you were in Indiana Jones movies.

Škocjan caves

The bridge above Reka river (Photo: Flickr/sitomon under CC)

While this may seem scary, the trails are safe and not too physically challenging as you’ll have to walk around 1.5 km. But be sure to wear comfortable shoes because surface can be slippery.

Exiting the cave, you will be able to see the view of the underground canyon of the Reka River, where you can take photos.

Skocjan caves 2

Skocjan Caves 3

Skocjan Caves 4

Skocjan Caves 6

At the end of the tour, the elevator takes you back to the top, but if you have time I suggest you to visit surrounding villages Škocjan and Betanja, which are part of Škocjan Educational Trail. This should also last about an hour and a half but the nature is really beautiful so it’s worth it. The Škocjan Caves are home to an incredible amount of flora and fauna: 250 varieties of plants and 15 different types of bats.

Skocjan Caves Betanja

If you have the time I suggest staying here overnight and exploring the amazing nature of this area.

Prices for tours are as follows;

Adults                 16.00 €
Senior citizens      12.00 €
Students             12.00 €
Children               7.50 €

 To learn more about this place visit the official website of the park.

5 Comments on Škocjan Caves – A Must See in Slovenia

A Day At The Princes’ Islands

If it happens that you have some spare time in Istanbul, a great day escape is to the Princes’ Islands or Red Islands in the sea of Marmara. Istanbullus usually…

If it happens that you have some spare time in Istanbul, a great day escape is to the Princes’ Islands or Red Islands in the sea of Marmara. Istanbullus usually refer to them only as ‘The Islands’ since they are the only islands around the city.

‘The Islands’ are actually the chain of nine islands, with Büyükada and Heybeliada being the largest ones. In the past the islands were mostly populated by Greek, Jewish and Armenian communities while today Turkish population dominates.

Princes' Islands, Istanbul

On the way to the Princes’ Islands

It’s a totally different place comparing to Istanbul. The first thing you will realize is that there are no cars on the islands and the only way to explore them or to get from point A to point B is either by bicycle, horse-drawn carriage or by walking, which makes it quite peaceful comparing to Istanbul’s center. Bicycles are available for rent in many shops.

Büyükada, Princes' Islands

Street works in Büyükada

The islands are totally different during Summer and Winter season. Busy at Summer especially during the weekend, and empty during Winter. A lot of houses at the islands are actually holiday homes whose owners come to visit them during weekends.

Büyükada

Beautiful white homes

The largest island Büyükada is beautiful with its villas, but its most famous landmark is the Greek monastery of St. George. The monastery’s site is on a steep hill but once you are on the top you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful panorama of Istanbul and the surroundings.

Horse-drawn carriage on the Princes' Islands

Horse-drawn carriage on the Princes’ Islands

Princes' Islands, Istanbul

A great way to discover the islands is by bicycle

Princes' Islands Istanbul

A ghost town in Winter

Beware of dog!

Beware of dog!

the houses on the island of Büyükada

One of the houses on the island of Büyükada

 

How to get to the Princes’ Islands?

Ferries depart from Bostancı, Kartal and Maltepe on the Asian side and from Kabataş on the European side. To check the timetables and the fares visit ido.com.tr

*Tip* Don’t forget to check departure times of ships back to the city, since they are less frequent after the night falls.

The ferry port of Büyükada

The ferry port of Büyükada

Why should you visit the Princes’ Islands?

Silence and picnic. If you need a short escape from the hubbub of the city this is the place to go.

If you choose to stay overnight here it’s probably good to book something in Büyükada in advance.



Booking.com

2 Comments on A Day At The Princes’ Islands

Spare time in Belgrade? Go to Avala mountain

Avala mountain is located 16 km from the capital city of Serbia, Belgrade, and it has a reputation of being a popular day or even weekend getaway from busy city…

Avala mountain is located 16 km from the capital city of Serbia, Belgrade, and it has a reputation of being a popular day or even weekend getaway from busy city life. Avala is inviting especially for its walks which allow people to relax in nature.

With a height of 511 meters, Avala fits within the ‘Mountain range’, no pun intended. In the middle ages it was famous for the Avala Town, which was later conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Today the areas surrounding Avala are not heavily populated, although the mountain’s location is very close to Belgrade’s city boundaries.

Avala mountain Belgrade

Avala is one of the protected green areas of Belgrade and it has more than 600 plant species living on the mountain. Many species are  protected by law due to their natural rarities, with 21 of the 67 bird species considered rare in Serbia.

Avala tower

Besides being famous as a traditional weekend and picnic resort, other attractions on the mountain include the newly built Avala Tower which is the tallest tower in Serbia and the Balkans region. Originally it was a telecommunication tower destroyed by the NATO bombing in 1999, with the new tower officially opened in 2010. The tower has a viewing platform on top with the beautiful view overlooking Belgrade, Vojvodina and Šumadija.

View from Avala tower

View from the tower!

One of the most famous monuments located on Avala is the “Monument to the Unknown Hero” which is a protected monument by the country.

Monument to the Unknown Hero

Monument to the Unknown Hero

For those who love sport activities besides walking, can indulge in activities including orienteering, climbing, mountain biking and running.

And if your hunger gets the best of you, on the top of the Mountain there’s a hotel with the restaurant “Avala”, dedicated to serving delicious meals.

1 Comment on Spare time in Belgrade? Go to Avala mountain

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search