just planning out a journey to Greece overland and fishing for ideas for the journey out and back for nice trips which would join up climbing areas or areas of interest! We are thinking about heading out via Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia on to Greece. However I really fancy to drive down the east coast of Italy and get the ferry over from there....
basically I'm fishing for ideas and experiences!
Sounds like you’re going to have an awesome trip where ever you end up going! What time of year do you plan to be in these countries?
Personally I’m a massive fan of the Balkans area, I could go on about it for ages!
Obviously Germany and Austria will have amazing climbing area and they’re pretty well documented so I won’t go into much detail but some of my other recommendations are:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina (my favourite place) for both climbing, culture and the people. It also has a very good guidebook Areas for sport climbing: Kameni Most, Pecka (like a mini margalef although it’s pretty sharp!), Kanjon Tijesno for single and multi pitch … the list could go on!
- North Macedonia - Prilep for the bouldering, Demir Kapija for the sport climbing / multi pitch which is pretty near the Greek border, and there’s also Mavrovo cave which is amazing but it was completely soaked when we were there in the Spring.
- Croatia has some really good climbing but there will be a lot of tourists and if you’re in a van it’s more difficult to find park ups etc
You will definitely be rewarded by going a bit further of the beaten path, and I was surprised at how good the climbing was!
We’ve written a few articles about the climbing in the countries you have mentioned that might be useful for you if you’re wanting an overview of what to expect / some photos / recommendations (thecragjournal.com)
Please feel free to message me for any more info or a chat about these areas
Depends if you are road tripping or just driving to Greece. Most of either way are just dull if you are just going there at a reasonable speed and the ferry is the better choice, if you are talking about spending a week or more one way then things are different. The east coast of Italy is thoroughly uninteresting but gets the job done, the other motorway south then cut across to Ancona is far more scenic and exciting but further and slower.
> - Bosnia and Herzegovina (my favourite place) for both climbing, culture and the people. It also has a very good guidebook Areas for sport climbing: Kameni Most, Pecka (like a mini margalef although it’s pretty sharp!), Kanjon Tijesno for single and multi pitch … the list could go on!
Sounds great, is the rock high quality? I know nothing about Bosnia as a climbing destination…
To the OP: Puglia is a great part of Italy and lovely in a low key way. Can’t say about the rest of the east coast of the country and perhaps you get the ferry before the heel anyhow?
The usual ferry route is from Ancona, the alternative just in Puglia is from Bari which is another 5hrs drive, I've done both and would need to find a good reason to repeat the Bari route. I've driven from Greece maybe twelve times, half of them to the UK and used all the routes. The Balkan route is looong and fundamentally boring but it depends if it's a road trip (i.e. 10 days or so diverting to Paklenica and so on) or basically just driving through. For someone who's never done either and has time than down through the Balkans then back up through Italy is probably the best bet.
Bosnia is full of neo-Nazis with a poor attitude to ethnic cleansing, war criminals and peace in Europe. Best avoided as a pariah state. There is fortunately a transit corridor imposed (and controlled) by the EU which allows one to go through to Montenegro, Albania or Kosovo to Greece.
We can’t do the ferry route that most folk do because we have two dogs- it means you have to get a cabin on the ferry and it makes it about £1000 each way!!!!!
Im considering the Bari route because the ferry is shorter and cheaper and I could sit with the dogs on the deck.
At the moment I’m thinking down through Germany and onto Serbia and that general direction to Greece and back home via Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. But I’m so deep into the rabbit hole now I can’t make any decision!!
Or maybe just there and back via Croatia and Albania as they wouldn’t count to our shengen time leaving a bit more time in Greece
we’ve got time to make the trip there part of the adventure. So thinking about taking it over a week there and then stopping at places that aren’t Shengen on the way back……
Oh - also on the dog ferry situation - There are dog kennels on the Greek ferries but all I’ve heard is horrible stories. I couldn’t risk traumatising the dogs with that on the way out. They’re rescue street dogs and have had a hard enough time - throwing them into the kennels on the greek ferry just wouldn’t work at all!
if we didn’t have dogs I’d defo be going for the Ancona ferry option!
Methinks you should toughen your dogs up a bit, I've put mine in the kennels often enough on the ferries and alternatively you go on the dog deck and sleep there. If you are ever involved in an accident and taken to hospital or don't have the right paperwork crossing the border, they are operated on or anything similar your dogs are going in a kennel anyway so time to start training them.
> Methinks you should toughen your dogs up a bit, I've put mine in the kennels often enough on the ferries and alternatively you go on the dog deck and sleep there. If you are ever involved in an accident and taken to hospital or don't have the right paperwork crossing the border, they are operated on or anything similar your dogs are going in a kennel anyway so time to start training them.
What a horribly uncompassionate and unwarranted reply.
It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s sad Bosnia is so neglected, because of its fairly distant history, because it has so much to offer.
It has pocked rock in Pecka like Margalef but super sharp because there is no polish!
It has single and multi pitch and sport in the Tijesno, where Ondra put up the first 9a in BiH.
In the south there are tufa crags and super cool limestone fins of rock and awesome bouldering area too.
Mountains crags at 1,900 m elevation on limestone runnels and there’s probably lots of trad opportunities too.
Also, importantly, they have some very driven and dedicated local climbers who have put a lot of hard work into developing lots of great venues and produced an excellent guidebook
Honestly the list could go on!
I rode my motorcycle back from Athens, ferry to Brindisi, via Pompeii, ferry from N of Rome to S Sardinia, N to ferry to Corsica, across Corsica, ferry to France, across S France via Carcassonne to Andorra then to Santander on the S side of the Pyrenees. It wasn’t a climbing trip, but I passed lots of crags.
> Bosnia is full of neo-Nazis with a poor attitude to ethnic cleansing, war criminals and peace in Europe. Best avoided as a pariah state. There is fortunately a transit corridor imposed (and controlled) by the EU which allows one to go through to Montenegro, Albania or Kosovo to Greece.
When exactly were you there? About 20 years ago?
I've been to Bosnia, Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo in the last 2 years and they were all amazing places to visit with great people. Nobody "controlled" where we drove at all, even during covid.
Off to Montenegro in 3 weeks for some mountain walking and really looking forward to it.
I'm with NinaC.
I did this last December, ferry to the Netherlands and then driving down Netherland, Belgium, France, across the alps into Italy and then across Italy to Ancona, then ferry to Igoumenitsa where I screwed up because I searched for Ancona - Patras but for some reason it returned the Igoumenitsa ferry and I booked without checking properly.
I had a lot of plans for places I wanted to stop off at on the way but one way and another covid screwed up all of them and it just ended up being a very long and boring drive. Assuming covid remains a functionally past issue, you should have a lot better time of it than I did.
Make sure you have chains with you if you are crossing the alps any time later on in the year.
If you mainly just want to get to Greece, there is also the option of putting your van on a ferry from England to Greece directly and flying out yourself to pick it up. I got a quote for that about a year ago and it wasn't much more expensive than fuel and ferry tickets for driving (but I didn't include the plane ticket cost).
I've not driven through the Balkans any further than Slovenia and Croatia.
Doing the Balkans south trip to Greece very shortly.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Would love to share/copy any juicy info nuggets if you have them. I think it will be early September when we head off (starting from Finland) so I can let you know how it goes.
I can put some info from the email I sent to Emily on here, I don’t really know what’s useful or not. Also feel free to email me if you want any info or have any questions I might be able to answer.
It's not that they can't go in any kennel, I'd put them on the Spanish ferry kennel (because I've used that before and know that they are safe and not too bad for the dogs) but everything I've read about the Greek ferry kennel sounds horrific ( broken doors on the kennels, that they're right by the engine and it's really loud for the 24 hour crossing, they're exposed to the elements and that you can't go to check on your dogs.... and it goes on). I'm interested to know if your experience is different.
And to get a cabin with the dogs in is 1000 each way which is just too much money to spend on crossing that distance.
They're rescue dogs who have already had a traumatic life - why on earth would I then choose to add to their trauma when there are loads of alternative options. I'm already working hard with our newest addition to un-do all the previous horrific life experiences he has gone through, if I risk it and booked the ferry with dog kennels and they're as bad as they're reported to be he would just get very, very stressed out and be a nightmare for the rest of the trip. Or I'd end up spending the whole 24 hours sitting outside on the deck with him - not ideal in winter!
I think I need to get him to a point where he feels safe and calm in day to day situations before I move on to "toughen him up".
I've done Greece-Germany and back five times by ferry and once by air with dogs, sometimes I booked camping on board ( before they got fussy about the registration of the vehicle but twice with my (street rescue) dog and once with someone elses dog and it's owner. By air one sedates the dog anyway, that one was a labrador cross so no the brightest bulb to start with so just lay down in it's air-freight box and slept like usual.
My Greek street dog just decided things would get better sometime and accepted the ferry kennel was better than some of it's previous experiences. My friend with her (rescue) dog wanted to keep it company by sleeping near it but gave that idea up in the middle of the night and the dog survived.
At least in my day with Superfast and Anek the dog deck is the absolute top of the ship and the kennels are well sheltered behind the superstructure and you can use the deck to sleep, walk the dog/have a dump or whatever and it was all washed down early every morning. It is however noisy as the exhaust stack is the air intake for the engine room so the fans make a fair racket. You could always visit the dog.
Rescue dogs can be difficult and unfortunately a lot of "trainers" or "therapists" are playing on the sensibilities of the owners, my wife had one before we got married who screwed the dog up even further. The next trainer had the right idea, the only way a dog can trust you implicitly is if it accepts you are the pack leader. Then you can then put it in a strange environment like a car-ferry kennel and it knows you will return and life will be great again and there is no trauma. Give it it's normal blanket for the scent and if required some tranquilisers and the job's done.
> Bosnia is full of neo-Nazis with a poor attitude to ethnic cleansing,
Oddly enough I experienced the same in Germany, which was a surprise. Gangs of them hanging around the main transit points in Oberhausen and Duisburg.
I've done the drive down via Venice - Patras which is the easiest drive but a very long ferry!
Drove home via Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia, serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. It was the middle of summer so it was more of a general roadtrip than climbing specific trip. Obviously you could spend weeks in any one of these places, so it'd be good to have an idea of how long you're looking to travel for etc.
Also It's worth knowing there are no rules that can't be bent in Greece, so if you need anything specific on the ferry you'll find away around it.
I’ll dig around in your blog too.
I’m particularly looking for easy access to single pitch sport along the route from Finland south to Greece.
Accommodation tips and good overnight crag parking spots very welcome. We will be mixing hotel/BnB as required, with nights in the van I think.
We did Salzburg Split Omis Dubrovnik Montenegro Albania Ioannina Meteora Athens way back in 2005. We used up 2,5 weeks with some climbing (Omis, Meteora) and lots of sightseeing. The croatian coast will be devoid of tourists that time of the year - You could easily spend half a year on your war down considering how much climbing and sights there are.
> If you own a dog you should prepare it and yourself for things you might not particularly like, one is doing the dog no favours otherwise.
Not sure it really works like that! It hasn't with mine anyway whenever I've had to put him in ferry kennels (often in the bowels of the ship, ear-defenders essential for the engines and car alarms) which I do when there are no other options he just panics barks and throws himself at the cage door the whole trip usually ending up drenched from snout to tail in his own filth. No sign of him 'toughening up' in a decade of occasional necessary trips below deck, quite the opposite really so wherever possible I avoid traumatising him. Last time he had to travel below deck because of covid rule changes the purser took pity, called me about him on the tannoy (I assumed he'd died) and found him space because she was so concerned about him, it's horrible.
I'm not the wrap them in cotton wool sort, I'm just realistic about what a damaged old dog can actually learn by being traumatised.
Hope you find the blog useful. There’s so many areas to recommend it is difficult to know where to start! i guess it depends which countries will you be driving through on your way to Greece?
Off the top of my head for single pitch stop offs:
Serbia - Jelašnička is just outside of Niš which is on the main route through Serbia, loads of opportunities for parking in the valley
Bulgaria - Prohodna cave (eyes of god) and Vratsa which are approximately 2 hrs north of Sofia
Bosnia - loads if you’re willing the de tour through the country. My favourite area I think it Pecka as it’s in a beautiful location (although I guess it’ll be quite a detour) you can park at the top of the crag in a field in the middle of nowhere. In the south there’s Blagaj climbing area which has limestone fins and a tufa crag. This is one of the more popular areas as tourists make day trips to see the dervish monastery / quick de tour from Croatia
North Macedonia - Like I said before there’s Demir Kapija which is on the way to Greece
Loads of climbing locations in Croatia, Albania and Montenegro too!
We drove Italy > Slovenia > Croatia > Bosnia > Montenegro > Albania > Greece last year.
We didn't climb in Bosnia or Albania, but climbed everywhere else. We got the ferry back from Greece to Italy, which was IMO a much better option and I wouldn't drive through the Balkans again.
We were stopped by corrupt police in Bosnia and had to pay a bribe to continue. We had major hassle at all borders from leaving Croatia in the south to arriving in Greece and had border police expecting more bribes. Generally felt pretty hostile until we were in Greece.
Climbing-wise, Paklenica was ok in Croatia but very touristy, DWS at Split was ok but not amazing. The sport climbing at Podgorica in Montenegro was pretty good. We climbed at Meteora in Greece which was fantastic. Then at Leonidio which is great. Greece was a lovely country to spend time in.
I'd definitely drive back to Greece, but I would 100% take the ferry from Italy.
Just my experience. I am sure many folks have had different experiences.
Hope that is useful.
I'll address the question of dogs and ferries since I live on Kalymnos and have to do the return trip every year to see my parents. I've tried all the Italy options and the best one is Brindisi to/from Igoumenitsa. The reason being is that you can chill on deck with your dog and meet some other dogs doing same, it's about 9 hours. They actually don't have kennels on that one. The Italian ferries are frankly crap for dogs. The so-called kennels on the Ancona ferry are beside a noisy engine and are filthy. Like you say, the cost of a pet kennel is prohibitive. My dog is a rescue too, and they just don't need that kind of stress.
The drive from Igoumenitsa through Greece is lovely, Ionnina, Metsovo, Meteora. Take your time if you can, hiking and climbing along the way.
On the Italian side Lecce is nice and Basilicata is interesting for a stop on the way to Napoli. After that it's all pure indulgence
The Greek ferries are great, I've taken 13 rescues with crates on the bluestar ferry with no problems. They're much more helpful and tolerant of dogs and the kennels are much better than the Italian ones.
Final tip, register for your ferry loyalty cards, minoan for the Italy crossing and bluestar for the Greek side. 20-25% off and some special offers. Vehicle surcharge has shot up this past year with fuel prices going bonkers.
If you have any recommendations that would be very welcome indeed, thanks. Our van is minimalist and sleeping in it will be for emergency use only. Feel free to email me if you prefer on email@example.com
They asked for €200 and we settled on €50 (I am from Yorkshire. I think I could have got them down to €30 but my wife was concerned I was going to get shot...) - however being pulled over in the middle of nowhere by armed 'police' demanding money - rather than the actual monetary loss - is the part I was most concerned about.
We had a great trip, culturally interesting, but I personally didn't enjoy the borders or Bosnia or Albania.
This is the first negative experience I’ve hear - though I have heard there can be “fees” for crossing borders.
I laughed at “I’m from Yorkshire “. I’m also from Yorkshire. And I’m asking more about how much you paid than the safety side of things haha!
it’s not putting me off - but I’m preparing myself for more of an adventure that the last few pootles round Spain!!!