Posts Tagged ‘description’


Our focus countries – part 6

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Last, but not least, we end our tour presenting our focus countries this week with the Asia group: Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. A short description of their specific features can be found below, but in the Wiki section you can look for more detailed information covering various aspects. Bangladesh is located in South Asia and it is bordered by India, Burma and the Bay of Bengal. The capital and largest city is Dhaka. If you ever wanted to experience the living reality of the idiom “when it rains, it pours”, Bangladesh is the place to be. During the yearly south-Asian monsoon, almost all the water collected by the Himalayas in Nepal, north/northeast India and Bhutan transits through Bangladesh on its journey to the Bay of Bengal, depositing life-giving minerals to the soil all along the Ganges Delta, the largest one in the world. While most of the country lies at or just above sea level, the flat landscape gives way to low undulating hills in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the hilly regions of Sylhet, some of which climb to 1,000 m above sea level. Visits to this area offer an experience of the true diversity that Bangladesh possesses, both geographically and culturally. In terms of forest cover, Bangladesh’s natural places are sadly few and far between. While the world’s largest mangrove forest at Sundarban remains protected, many of Bangladesh’s other national parks have not fared so well. Thankfully, with increasing stability and economic development, conservation programmes are finally starting to get off the ground. Finally, the region’s last major significant geographical feature is a massive 120 krn-long strip of beach lining tile internal eastern coastline of Bangladesh, said to be the longest natural beach in the world. Starting at Cox’s Bazaar, the white sand stretches all the way down to the Teknaf Peninsula, poking up again briefly at the coral reef island of St Martin’s. As the 7th largest country in the world, India stands apart from the rest of Asia, marked off as it is by mountains and the sea, which give the country a distinct geographical entity. Bounded by the snow-covered Great Himalayas in the north, it stretches southwards to the tropical rain forests and at the Tropic of Cancer, tapers off into the Indian Ocean between the Bay of Bengal on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west. The capital city is New Delhi, while neighbouring countries are Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. India has achieved all-round socio-economic progress during the last 64 years of its Independence. It has become self-sufficient in agricultural production and is now one of the top industrialized countries in the world. India is one of the oldest civilizations with a kaleidoscopic variety and rich cultural heritage. The country has metamorphosised into one of the most sought after destinations for travel, much due to the presence of several renowned world heritage sites, and an inherent spiritualistic force, which pulls enthusiastic travellers towards it from all over the world. The country is a pictorial of landscapes, opulent historical sites and royal cities, golden beaches, lofty mountain ranges along the Ghats, lush greenery, tropical rain forests, colourful people, rich cultures and festivities. Nepal lies in the south of Asia and it is bounded on the north by the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China and on the east, south and west by several Indian states. The capital city is Kathmandu. Nepal is a land of extreme contrasts in climate and geography. It has a unique topography ranging from lowlands with sub-tropical jungles to arctic conditions in the Himalayan highlands. Within a mere 150 kilometres the land rises from near sea level in the south to over 8000 meters in the north. This, together with the monsoon rainfall along the south facing slopes, has resulted in compacting virtually all climate zones found on planet Earth. As a result, Nepal has been endowed with a great diversity of life-zones providing a home for a large variety of plants, birds and animals. To many visitors, the Himalayan Kingdom conjures up the images of snow-capped mountains and rolling green hills. Indeed, out of ten world’s tallest mountains, eight stand in Nepal. But the country has much more to offer than just the high breathtaking Himalayas. A small country, Nepal is diverse geographically as well as ethnically with more than 61 ethnic groups and 70 spoken languages. The visitor will find rich cultures and vibrant traditions, exquisite temples and monuments as well as fast flowing rivers and tropical jungles teeming with wildlife, making your trip an unforgettable experience. It is the only Hindu Kingdom in the world. However, all the people from different races and religions live in harmony and there is an ideal blending of Hinduism and Buddhism. Pakistan lies in Asia, strategically placed at the crossroads of Middle East, South and Central Asia. The country borders Iran, India, Afghanistan, China and the Arabian Sea. The capital city is Islamabad. The landscape of Pakistan ranges from lofty mountains in the north, the Karakoram, the Hindukush and the Himalayas, through dissected plateaus to the rich alluvial plains of the Punjab, where the Indus River flows south to the Arabian Sea. Then it follows the desolate barrenness of Balochistan and the hot dry deserts of Sindh blending into miles and miles of golden beaches of Mekran coast. Amidst towering snow-clad peaks with heights varying from 1000 m to over 8000 meter, the valleys of Gilgit, Hunza and Skardu recall Shangri-La. The cultural patterns in this region are as interesting as its topography. The people with typical costumes, folk dances, music and sports like polo and buzkashi provide the traveller an unforgettable experience. Modern Pakistanis are a blend of their Harappan, Indo-Aryan, Indo-Iranian, Saka, Parthian, Kushan, White Hun, Afghan, Arab, Turkic, and Mughal heritage. Waves of invaders and migrants settled down in Pakistan throughout the centuries, influencing the locals and being absorbed among them. Thus the region encompassed by modern-day Pakistan is home to the oldest Asian civilization and one of the oldest in the world, the Indus Valley Civilization.   Sources: Image source:

Our focus countries – part 5

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The presentation of our focus countries has reached its fifth part, this week moving eastwards and concentrating on the ex-soviet republics Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia. The brief depiction outlined below can be completed by more detailed information found in the Wiki section of the website. Armenia is situated at a cultural, historical, and religious intersection and located at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, in the southern Transcaucasus. Armenia shares borders with Georgia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran. Located southwest of the capital Yerevan, in present day Turkey, Mount Ararat dominates the national landscape, psyche and character, as an ominous reminder to its glorious past. The Ararat plain is divided by the Araks River and occupies the south-western part of Armenia. Armenia’s landscapes offer boundless beauty. Seven main landscape types are represented across the different altitudinal zones of Armenia, ranging from desert and steppe to woodland and alpine zones, featuring high mountain peaks, fertile valleys, picturesque land formations, basalt columns, rock sculptures, scenic canyons and waterfalls. More than 200 rivers and streams traverse Armenia, with steep falls, rapids and swift currents. In addition, there are over 200 therapeutic mineral springs, with different properties. Azerbaijan is situated on the western coast of the Caspian Sea, in the eastern part of the South Caucasus. The northern frontier of the country with Russia (Dagestan) stretches from the coast of the Caspian Sea to the Greater Caucasus Mountains; the north-western boundary with Georgia is formed by complicated configuration of mountains; the boundary with the Islamic Republic of Iran to south runs alongside the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and the river Araz to the Caspian coast with its humid subtropical climate. Azerbaijan is further bordered by Turkey to the southwest and by Armenia to the west. The capital city is Baku. Azerbaijan is a region with unique geographical, climatic and geopolitical characteristics. The present Republic of Azerbaijan has rather small territory but it is possible to encounter here 9 of 11 basic climate zones existing. There are vast steppes and high mountain ranges with the tops attracting climbers and those interested in wild nature. In Azerbaijan one can also meet plenty of curative, mineral and thermal waters, mud and oil for medical treatment. The protected areas occupy 2.4% from the total territory of the country and cover all basic climatic landscapes in Azerbaijan. Belarus is situated in the centre of Europe, bordering on Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Ukraine. The capital is the city of Minsk. Although a landlocked country, Belarus is the land of more than 10 thousand lakes and 20 thousand rivers. Forests take one third of the territory and are considered the national wealth, while swamps account for 13% of it and are of significant climatic and hydrologic importance. The Belarusian marshlands are called “the lungs of Europe”, since they produce an enormous amount of oxygen. Besides, they serve as nesting places for rare species of birds and as a natural habitat for rare plants. The National Park “Belovezhskaya Pushcha” is inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage. Throughout many centuries of history, the Belarusian people created its unique and original culture and continue to celebrate today traditional folk customs and rites harmoniously interlaced with Christian traditions. Georgia is located in the Caucasus region at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Georgia shares borders with Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. The capital city is Tbilisi. Remarkable for its landscape diversity, from mountains to desert, from snow to palm trees, Georgia ranks among the world’s wonderlands. Within its borders one can find 5000 m peaks; glaciers, alpine meadows; sub-tropical coastline, high desert, semi-desert, fertile alluvial valleys, wetlands and huge swathes of virgin forest. From the shores of the Black Sea to the soaring peaks of the Caucasus – from rich Wine Country in the east to Cave cities, to the spa town of Borjomi and cultural delights of Tbilisi, Georgia’s natural beauty is the stuff of legend. Georgia has the dubious distinction of being one of the most invaded nations on earth. As a nation at the crossroads of Europe and Asia as well as Christianity and Islam Georgia has long been marked by war. To protect against invaders an elaborate system of watchtowers alerted the people to an attack (many of which still exist) and precious religious icons and relics would disappear into caves and hidden mountain fortresses. Villages in the most remote mountain valleys would escape the invaders attention entirely, thus some of the oldest and most superlative Frescoes are found in the highlands. The Republic of Kazakhstan is located in the central part of the Eurasian continent, at an equal distance from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It borders on Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea. The capital city is Astana. Being the world’s 9th largest country and located in the centre of Eurasia, Kazakhstan is also the largest landlocked country in the world. These resulted in a specific climate and a peculiar natural system of the country, which seems to absorb the brightest examples of landscape of both continents. In addition, complicated history of Kazakh people and constant interaction of nomadic lifestyle with settled people in South Kazakhstani ancient cities, have lead to a unique and authentic culture of Kazakhstan. In order to preserve the rich world of plants and wildlife, a network of national parks and nature reserves were established in the country. The most famous ones are Aksu Zhabagly Nature Reserve, which is a habitat for the snow leopard; Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve famous for its pink flamingos; Altyn Emel and Katon-Karagay National Parks. Russia is the largest country of the world, covering 11.5% of its territory. It extends from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Japan Sea in the east and it comprises 11 time zones. Russia has 14 neighbours: Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, North Korea, Norway, Poland, and Ukraine. The capital city is Moscow. Another very important administrative and cultural centre is Saint Petersburg, often referred to as the second capital. There are over 1000 towns and cities in Russia. Russia enjoys a vast territory, rich historic and cultural heritage and wild nature in many of its regions. The size and diversity of landscapes make it anything but a dull country. From sea resorts at the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea and the forests of the Central Russia to the foothills of the Caucasus, Siberian taiga and the Far East one has plenty of things to discover. Russia’s rich history bears the traces of Vikings, ancient Slavs, Mongols and Tatars, Scythians, Swedish, Greeks and other peoples. Grand princes, monarchs and emperors adjoined and lost lands and peoples. Democratic and authoritarian rulers replacing one another, built palaces, established museums, left mausoleums and grand multi-storey buildings, powerful power plants, but also camps for the repressed. Ukraine is located in Eastern Europe and shares its borders with Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus and Russia. It is partially bounded by two bodies of water – most notably, the Black Sea. Kiev is the capital of Ukraine and the largest city, followed by Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Odessa. One of the most famous cites in Ukraine is Yalta where the historic Yalta Conference was held in 1945. Ukraine has a strong artistic and cultural heritage and offers travellers many choices of attractions and destinations to explore such as castles, palaces, ancient cathedrals, and stunningly beautiful national parks and reserves. Recently, eco-tourists have been finding Ukraine to be an inspiration in the effort to protect wetlands, coastal regions, and majestic mountains. With three types of areas under protection, Ukraine is home to biospheres like the Shats’kyi National Park, ecological reserves for fauna such as National Park Podil’ski Tovtry, and the Cape Mart’yan Reserve which also protects shoreline and aquatic ecosystems.   Sources: Image source:
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Our focus countries – part 4

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As we carry on with the presentation of our focus countries, we have now reached the Mediterranean region. In the spotlight today we have small islands like Cyprus and Malta, history-full countries like Egypt, Greece and Israel and also the bridge-country between Europe and Asia, Turkey. Besides the info below, more interesting data and facts are available in the Wiki section. Cyprus is a small island, situated in the north-eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 75 km south of Turkey, 105 km west of Syria, 380 km north of Egypt and 380 km east of Rhodes. Cyprus gained its independence from British colonial rule in 1960. In 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus and occupied 36,2% of its sovereign territory. The ceasefire line runs right across the island and cuts through the heart of the capital Nicosia, dividing the city and the country. The natural wealth of the island is the result of the changes of nature through time, and particularly ground and climate conditions, the adjacency with three continents, the long-lasting isolation as an island, as well as the effect of the human factor. The Cypriot variety of landscapes, such as mountains (the Pentadaktylos and the Troodos massif), fertile plains (Mesaoria), valleys, cliffs, gorges, caves, steep coasts, as well as the local climatic variety, helped in the creation of abundant biotopes. Cyprus is at a crossroads of civilizations and a bridge between cultures. It has been conquered by many powers at various periods and has managed to assimilate various cultural influences. Dispersed throughout its territory are historic and religious monuments of varying styles, themes and philosophies. Egypt is located in the northeast corner of the African continent, on the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by the Red Sea, Palestine, Israel, Libya and Sudan. The main features in Egypt’s geography are the Nile Valley and Delta, the Eastern Desert, the Western Desert and the Sinai Peninsula. 5000 years of civilization contributed to the cultural heritage of today’s Egypt. The country’s history is a sequence of invasions, eras or glory, battles and victories. Most people who think of Egypt think of antiquities and certainly it is a prime location to see the great heritage from the ancient world, including the Pyramids and wonderful temples. Yet Egypt also offers a wonderful mix of nature and desert, the peaceful experience of the Red Sea or the Sinai coasts or the excitement and culture of the capital Cairo. Greece is located in south-eastern Europe, on the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula; it lies at the meeting point of three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa. Greece borders on Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Albania and Turkey; to the West it is washed by the Ionian Sea; to the South by the Mediterranean Sea and to the East by the Aegean Sea. 80% of the country consists of mountains or hills, making Greece one of the most mountainous countries of Europe and around 6.000 islands and islets, most of them grouped in clusters, constitute the unique Greek archipelago. Crete, Rhodes, Corfu and the Cyclades are some of the best known islands and tourist destinations. The Greek civilization is one of the oldest and most famous in the world. Arts such as architecture, sculpture, pottery, weaving, music, jewellery making and painting have a long tradition in Greece, while folk culture, rich in music, dances, poetry and theatre, is part of Greeks’ everyday life. The Greek traditional heritage and their accomplishments in arts and technology from the Prehistoric Era to modern times remain a constant touristic attraction. Today’s visitors to Greece have the opportunity to trace the “fingerprints” of Greek history in the hundreds of archaeological sites, as well as in the archaeological museums and collections that are scattered throughout the country. Israel is located in Southwest Asia between the Mediterranean and the deserts of Syria and Arabia. The country borders with the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon (some territories such as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are still disputed by Israel). Although small in territory, Israel’s landscape and climate are varied, and its dense population lives next to a wealth of plants and wildlife, as well as many natural attractions. The country is divided into three main regions: the coastal plain, the mountain region, and the Jordan Valley Rift. The traveller to Israel walks through history: from windswept crusader castles to ports where seamen, pilgrims and famous travellers spent some time and then moved on; from desert landscapes that were home to nomad tribes, half forgotten armies and merchants in camel caravans, to sheikhs’ tombs with whitened domes, silent monasteries and ancient synagogues decorated with colourful mosaics. The State of Israel was created in the Land of Israel which was promised to the People of Israel according to Jewish tradition. The meeting place of three continents and two seas, the country is a skein of cultures, customs and traditions, a country that was home to many people, cultures and changing religions. The Maltese archipelago lies virtually at the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, with Malta 93 km south of Sicily and 288 km north of Africa. The archipelago consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. Malta is the largest one and the cultural, commercial and administrative centre. Gozo is the second largest island and is more rural, characterised by fishing, tourism, crafts and agriculture, while Comino is largely uninhabited. The capital city of Malta is Valetta. With superbly sunny weather, expansive beaches and 7,000 years of intriguing history, there is a great deal to see and do. Captivating places of interest are easily reachable within a small space – the world famous Hypogeum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Ghadira wetland, prehistoric temples and grand palaces are but a few. The narrow meandering streets of Malta’s towns and villages are crowded with Renaissance cathedrals and Baroque palaces. As the countryside is dotted with the oldest known human structures in the world, the Islands have rightly been described as an open-air museum. Turkey is a vast peninsula, linking Asia to Europe through the Sea of Marmara and the Straits of Istanbul and Çanakkale. Turkey neighbours on Bulgaria, Greece, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Georgia, as well as the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean Sea. The capital city is Ankara. The country’s shores are laced with beaches, bays, coves, ports, islands and peninsulas. Turkey is blessed with majestic mountains and valleys, lakes, rivers, waterfalls and grottoes. At the same time, it is also rich in hot springs, as well as healing waters and muds. Due to its diverse geography, one can experience four different climates in any one day. Turkey is, above anything else, a huge open-air museum, a repository of all the civilizations nurtured by the soils of Anatolia. The huge amount of historical and archaeological wealth seems more appropriate for an entire continent than a single country. Turkey has 10 properties inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.   Sources: Photo credits: Livia Minca, taken at Istanbul, Turkey
Picture 138

Our focus countries – part 3

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The introduction of our focus countries has reached its third act. This week we will share some information about Bulgaria, Hungary, Moldova, Poland and Romania. As usual, you can find details regarding many interesting aspects from these countries in the Wiki section of our website. Bulgaria is located in Southeast Europe, in the northeast part of the Balkan Peninsula. It is a European, Balkan, Black Sea and Danube country. Bulgaria shares its borders with Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey and the Black Sea. The capital city is Sofia. The natural landscape is diverse, consisting of lowlands, plains, foothills and plateaus, river valleys and mountains of varying elevations. Three national parks have been established in the country: Pirin National Park (a UNESCO natural heritage site), Rila National Park, and the Central Balkans National Park. There are also 11 nature reserves. Bulgarians have developed their culture and enriched it over the millennia, and they preserve it and continue to develop it to the present day. Rose picking is just one of the many Bulgarian traditions that are kept and cherished by locals. The Rose is the symbol of Bulgaria. Hungary is a landlocked country located in Central Europe, bordered by Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. The capital is Budapest, a Danube city. Hungarians speak a language and form a culture unlike any other in the region: this distinctiveness has been both a source of pride and an obstacle for more than 1100 years. This is the country: where 2000 year old Roman ruins and 400 year old Turkish monuments can be found side by side; where Central Europe’s largest fresh water lake – Balaton – is located, providing natural paradise for its visitors; where hundreds of therapeutic mineral springs gush up from the depths; where one of the most famous wines originates: the Tokaj wine. The Republic of Moldova lies in the central part of Europe in the north-eastern Balkans. On the North, East and South Moldova is surrounded by Ukraine, and on the West it is separated from Romania by the Prut River. The capital of Moldova is Chisinau. Although it has a small area, the Republic of Moldova has an unusual diversity of landscape and unique geological monuments of European and world value. Moldova’s agricultural and picturesque countryside offers great opportunities for nature lovers, while the rich cultural heritage invites tourists to discover its treasures. Over centuries Moldova has gained rich traditions of growing grapes and wine production. There are 142 wineries in the Republic of Moldova and visitors can enjoy this experience by exploring the underground cellars and towns, the wine storage facilities, the wine processing factories and of course, tasting the final product. The best known wineries are Cricova, Milestii Mici and Purcari. Poland is located in Central Europe. It is bordered by Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and the Baltic Sea. Its capital and the largest city is Warsaw and it is located upon the longest Polish river, the Vistula. Poland’s landscape is very diverse. The Carpathian and the Sudety Mountains stretch in the south, lowlands and uplands occupy the central part of the country, while the northern part of Poland, comprising Pomeranian and Masurian Lakelands, is gently undulating, relatively well forested and covered by hundreds of lakes. Still further to the north are the sandy beaches of the Baltic Sea coast. Thus Poland’s natural environment offers a real medley of varied attractions: incredible rocks, rare plants and animals, shifting sand dunes and extensive bogs and marshes. National Parks cover a mere 1% of Poland’s territory. Attractions include bison observing, the shifting sand dunes or the tree beneath which King Jagiello once rested. Poland has also a rich cultural heritage which breaths through its old towns, castles and palaces, including 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Romania is situated in the south-eastern part of Central Europe and shares borders with Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Republic of Moldova and the Black Sea. Romania’s territory features splendid mountains, beautiful rolling hills, fertile plains and numerous rivers and lakes. The Carpathian Mountains traverse the country, bordered on both sides by foothills and finally the great plains of the outer rim. Forests cover over one quarter of the country and the fauna is one of the richest in Europe including bears, lynx, chamois and wolves. The legendary Danube River ends its eight-country journey at the Black Sea, after forming one of the largest and most biodiverse wetlands in the world, the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Danube Delta. Romania is a dynamic country rich in history, art and scenic beauty. Visitors attractions range from the Danube River and its Delta to beautiful, intact medieval towns in Transylvania, like the Sighisoara citadel; from the vibrant capital Bucharest to the Black Sea resorts; from breathtaking Carpathian Mountains to the world’s famous painted monasteries in Bucovina or to a centuries-old village in Maramures.   Sources: Photo credits: Livia Minca, taken at Retezat National Park, Romania
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Our focus countries – part 2

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We continue this week the presentation of our focus countries, now moving towards the Balkan region. The protagonists this time are Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, FYRO Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. A brief description of their specific features can be found below, but more detailed information pertaining to many different topics is available in the Wiki section. Nestled in between Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro, and across the Adriatic from Italy, Albania boasts blue and turquoise seas, beautiful beaches, snow peaked mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests. Albanian history and culture is fascinating. Butrint, one of the world’s archaeological wonders – and a UNESCO World Heritage site – in the south of Albania provides a glimpse of Mediterranean civilization from the Bronze Age through the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman periods. Home of both Mother Theresa and the great 15th Century hero Skanderbeg, Albania today is quickly evolving in a myriad of directions. Bosnia and Herzegovina is situated at the heart of the Balkan Peninsula in southeast Europe. It borders on Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and the Adriatic Sea. The capital city is Sarajevo. Bosnia and Herzegovina encompasses both Mediterranean and Alpine climates, landscapes and henceforth some of the richest flora and fauna found in Europe. Here eastern and western civilizations met, sometimes clashed, but more often enriched and reinforced each other throughout its long and fascinating history. From the beauty of the mountains’ various landscape (like the Sutjeska National Park) to the calm of the Adriatic Sea (at the Neum seaside resort), from citadels and castles (like the one in Travnik) to peaceful monasteries, this small country has many things to enchant those who pay a visit. Croatia is located in the heart of Europe on the beautiful Adriatic Sea coast, bordering Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. The capital city is Zagreb. Some of the best-known resort towns along the Dalmatian coast are Dubrovnik, Split, Porec and Trogir, all of them listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Northern Adriatic resort of Opatija, known for its long tradition in hospitality, was a popular destination among European nobility. Croatia is a country of more than 1,185 islands, islets and reefs, of which only 67 are inhabited. The largest ones are Krk and Cres. Almost 9% of the country is protected as part of a national park or preserve. Out of eight national parks, seven are situated directly in or very near to the sea. The eighth one and also the best known national park in Croatia, Plitvice Lakes, is also listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Macedonia lies in the centre of the Balkan Peninsula, in between Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. The small and beautiful country offers its visitors a unique blend of natural wonders, traditions and culture. The scenic landscape of its valleys, forested hills, mountains and numerous lakes (of which the tectonic Ohrid and Prespa lakes are the best known) is attracting more and more tourists each year. The Republic of Macedonia is also a treasury of culture and art and home to a large number of historical monuments, icons, monasteries, archaeological sites, mosques, old books and other artefacts. Kosovo is situated in the centre of south-eastern Europe, in the central Balkans. It shares borders with Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro. Prishtina is the capital city. After the 1999 Kosovo War, the UN Security Council passed UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which placed Kosovo under transitional UN administration (UNMIK). In February 2008 the Republic of Kosovo declared its independence and over the following days, a number of states announced their recognition, despite protests by Russia and others in the UN. As of February 2012, 88 UN states recognise the independence of Kosovo. Kosovo represents a treasury of ethnic and religious heritages from various historical periods resulting in a mosaic of cultures. These heritages were influenced by a variety of historical, social, economic and religious circumstances. The entire artistic value as a heritage belongs to various styles, as Albanians and other peoples were inhabitants of this region. Montenegro is a southern European and Mediterranean country and lies on the Balkan Peninsula. With only 411 km of state borders, Montenegro opens towards Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania Croatia and the Adriatic Sea. The capital city is Podgorica. Numerous civilizations were drawn to both the fertile plains and the coastal zone of Montenegro. Each of them left their mark of existence. On a small territory, colonnades and aqueducts of antique civilizations join minarets and Turkish spas, while the remains of the Ottoman Empire meet the medieval Christian architecture and painting. The natural setting enchants by its beauty, mild beaches, clear lakes, fast rivers, and gorgeous mountains. Given the small size one can literally wake up along the beautiful Adriatic coast, have lunch on the banks of Skadar Lake, and enjoy an evening walk in the Montenegrin mountains. Serbia has connected West with East for centuries – a land in which civilisations, cultures, faiths, climates and landscapes meet and mingle. It is located in the centre of the Balkan Peninsula, bordering on Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The capital is Belgrade, a Danube city. From the agricultural regions of the Pannonian Plain in the north, across the fertile river valleys and orchard-covered hills of Šumadija, the landscape of Serbia continues southward, gradually giving way to beautiful mountains rich in canyons, gorges and caves, rivers, lakes as well as well-preserved forests. The cultural and historical heritage of Serbia begins with prehistoric archaeological sites and its legacy from classical antiquity. Perhaps its greatest riches, though, are in the many mediaeval Serbian churches and monasteries, some of which are included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Statistically, the most-visited tourist destinations are the cities of Belgrade and Novi Sad, the mountains of Kopaonik and Zlatibor and the spa towns of Vrnjačka Banja and Sokobanja.   Sources:,20 Photo credits: Livia Minca, taken at Budva, Montenegro