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An expert in travel to Central and Eastern Europe shares his must-do experiences in five Balkan republics

Travel to the Balkan region is looking way up since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, notes Greg Tepper, president of tour agency Exeter International. Flight connections are good and getting better for Croatia and Slovenia, and visa restrictions are minimal. Montenegro, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina were slower to rebuild after the war, but they have opened their borders. The best way to get around, he says, is to hire a car and driver. And before you go, be sure to read our feature story about one traveler's experience hiking through the region

Croatia has reemerged as a big-time vacation destination. Visitors can enjoy a well-developed travel industry, an improved highway system, a balance of luxurious hotels and homey accommodations, and a national cuisine similar to Italy’s, with excellent wine and fresh seafood. Dubrovnik teems in the summer, so get off the beaten path and head to the sea. Visit such off-the-radar islands as Brac, Vis, and Mljet.

Add Serbia to a Balkan itinerary to get a vivd picture of the region’s past—at the crossroads of the Ottoman, Hapsburg, and Russian empires—and an enticing glimpse of its future. Belgrade, the capital, is a lively, ever-changing city, buzzing with nightclubs and cocktail bars, film festivals, and sports events. Not far from Novi Sad, the second largest city, is Čenej, a settlement where traditional farms remain unchanged from the 17th century.

With every passing year, more fans gravitate to Slovenia, a small country on the northwest border of Croatia. For skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and rafting, active travelers should visit the Julian Alps, home to Lake Bled and Mount Triglav (the nation’s highest peak), as well as the Kamnik-Savinja Alps and the Karavanke and Pohorje mountain ranges.

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Tiny Montenegro, thanks largely to foreign investment, now offers some superb accommodations on the western coast, including the Aman Sveti Stefan and the Regent Porto Montenegro. The capital, Podgorica, and the former royal capital, Cetinje, are the cultural centers, but the country offers great variety in its landscape—from tall mountain peaks and a low coastal plain to the fjord-studded Bay of Kotor—and a unique, hybrid cuisine influenced by Italy, Croatia, Hungary, and the eastern Mediterranean.

This mountainous, heavily forested Balkan state was the physical center of Yugoslavia. It is a microcosm of the former federation’s geography, its wildly varying climate (from warm-and-dry Mediterranean to cold-and-continental alpine), and its demographics (one of the most ethnically mixed of all of the former republics).Bosnians are famous for their sense for humor, and because the country has yet to find its place on the wish lists of travelers to southeastern Europe, it’s easy to engage in unadulterated local cultural experiences such as the complicated process of preparing robust, foamy Bosnian coffee.

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