Kosovo: The Situation on the Ground: Europe’s newest country (it only declared independence in 2008) hasn’t exactly been a mainstay on the tourist trail. A site both of violent conflict and political tension between ethnic Serbs and Albanian Kosovars throughout the 1980s and 90s, culminating in the Kosovo War of 1998-89, Kosovo spent almost a decade as a UN protectorate. Today, however, the newly independent Kosovo is one of Europe’s most exciting—and economical—adventure travel destinations.
Why Go Now: While much has been written about the thriving café culture of Pristina, Kosovo’s relentlessly bohemian, if aesthetically dreary, capital, Kosovo’s real draw is in the country’s south. The medieval city of Prizren—a castle-topped hill town of Ottoman hammams and 14th-century basilicas—is a perfect base from which to hike (or ski) in Kosovo’s Šar Mountains, or to simply wander the city’s forested riverside behind the fortress hill. Well-preserved, without the sterility of renovated “old towns” in Balkan neighbors like Sarajevo, Prizren’s easily walkable historic district is a labyrinth of terra-cotta roofs, minarets, and red-umbrella-roofed cafés.
Don’t Miss: Negotiate—if you don’t speak Albanian, many younger Kosovars speak some English and older generations in the region speak at least a smattering of German—for a vertiginous hourlong taxi ride (about $20) from Prizren into Brod, an overgrown village of stone houses (and a single bakery) in the heart of the Šar Mountains. The heartland of the equestrian Gorani people (the village is said to have more horses than cars), Brod may not have much in the way of hotels (a taciturn old man named Biligap, discoverable by asking around, rents his somewhat dusty second home to travelers at $20 a bed), but somewhat impetuous horses (and guides, which are highly recommended) are easy to rent. The hiking and riding trails around Brod vary by the season from wildly green to crisply golden.
If roughing it doesn’t appeal, the incongruous chalet-style Hotel Arxhena is a 40-minute walk or a 10-minute drive into the mountains. It offers a resort-style experience, complete with access to ski slopes from $43, and an inexplicable flock of live garden peacocks.
Practical Tip: While off-grid hiking remains one of Kosovo’s most powerful draws, be careful not to wander too far afield. Like much of the Balkans, Kosovo’s wilderness is still home to some extant—and active—war-era land mines, particularly along the Kosovo-Albania border. Don’t head off marked paths alone.