The Real Deal: Thirteen nights' accommodations, guided tours, and local transportation, from $1,692 per person—including taxes.
When: Depart Saturdays, Apr. 12, 2008-July 11, 2009.
The fine print: The $1,692 price includes a local payment of €300 ($442) due to your tour leader on the day of your arrival. Taxes, sightseeing tours, select admission fees, the services of an English-speaking tour guide, and local transportation by train, bus, and boat are included. Based on shared accommodations; no single supplement. Expect to pay about €350 ($516) for meals. The maximum group size is 12 people. Airfare is not included. When booking, refer to the tour code WSK. Travel insurance is mandatory and can be purchased through Travel Insurance Select or InterMedical Insurance for anywhere from 4 to 20 percent of the cost of the trip, depending on age and the type of insurance and the level of protection you purchase. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability.
Contact: Intrepid Travel, 800/970-7299, intrepidtravel.com.
Why it's a deal: The $1,692 package price breaks down to about $130 a day, and it includes accommodations in five countries, guided tours, admissions fees, the services of an English-speaking tour guide, and local transportation by train, boat and bus. Intrepid gets discounted group rates at rustic local hotels that are likely to be cheaper than what you'd pay if you were to book independently. Plus, there's also the convenience of having all the trip elements arranged for you, which is especially helpful in areas of Europe where English speakers are less likely to be found.
Trip details: The Balkan Adventure package includes 13 nights' accommodations divided between Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Croatia.
You begin in Budapest, where you'll stay overnight at a centrally located hotel chosen by Intrepid. You'll be able to check into the hotel any time after 2 p.m., but try to schedule your international flight to arrive in time for the orientation meeting at 6 p.m. Group leaders will go over some technicalities, including insurance details, and collect your local payment of €300.
Rest up before you leave, because you'll only have the day you arrive for exploring Budapest, whose sites include St. Stephen's Basilica, history-rich Heroes' Square, the castle district, and, of course, the Danube River, which splits the city between Buda and Pest. Optional activities include a soak in one of the city's famed thermal baths ($12), entry and transportation to the Statue Park ($5), a bike ride ($10), and a pub crawl ($29). Or if you'd like to learn about the country's Communist past, take the Hammer and Sickle tour. It includes an exhibition of relics and artifacts from the period, admission and tour of the Statute Park and bus transportation ($38).
On the following day, you'll take a six-hour scenic train ride to Novi Sad, the capital of the Vojvodina province in northern Serbia, where you'll stay for the next two nights. Novi Sad, sometimes called the Athens of Serbia, has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, but some architectural gems from the Austro-Hungarian period have survived. Your guide will take you on a 90-minute walking tour of the city, culminating in a visit to Petrovaradin Fortress, a Roman fortress with panoramic views that's now an arts center.
Next, you'll take the train for the roughly 90-minute ride to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and one of the oldest cities in Europe. (The name Belgrade or, as locals would say, Beograd, means "White Fortress" in Serbian.) You'll spend two days exploring this city, parts of which were targeted by NATO missiles in 1999 during the regional conflict with Kosovo.
After an afternoon walking tour, you'll head down to Skadarska Street in Belgrade's bohemian quarter. You'll also have a full day to explore Belgrade on your own. There's plenty to keep you busy, such as shopping along Knez Mihajlova Street, browsing the markets near Hram Svetog Save, and visiting the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral.
A seven-hour bus ride through the hilly countryside will bring you to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in a picturesque valley. While it was battered during Serbia's civil war in the early 1990s, the city is well on its way to recovery. You'll find colorful modern structures mixed with historic landmarks dating back to the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, and the occasional Communist-era holdover.
During your three-night stay in Sarajevo, you'll make an excursion to Mostar, named after the 16th-century stone bridge that made international headlines when it was destroyed during the civil war. The bridge has since been rebuilt and is seen as a hopeful symbol of coexistence by the town's Croats and Muslims.
From Bosnia, you'll take another long seven-hour bus ride to Montenegro. First stop: Ostrog Monastery. The 17th-century structure, built into the side of a mountain, has drawn Orthodox Christian pilgrims for centuries. You'll spend the night in a konak (a basic room within the monastery); men and women will sleep in separate rooms.
Then you'll leave the monastery and ride a bus for about two hours to Budva, on the Montenegrin coast. After a sightseeing tour of the Old Town (Stari Grad) you'll be free to explore the beaches, cafés, and restaurants, or to climb the town walls for postcard-worthy views of the coast.
After two nights in Budva, you'll be back on the bus for a quick ride to Kotor, about 45 minutes away. The UNESCO World Heritage city is located on the largest southern European fjord, Kotor Bay. You'll hike in the surrounding hills and visit castle ruins.
A three-hour bus ride will bring you to Dubrovnik, Croatia, for the final leg of the trip. While the walled medieval city suffered some damage during the local wars in the early 90s, its tiled roofs and stone buildings remain largely unharmed. The orientation walk with your tour guide will cover the city's major attractions. Aside from its beaches and surrounding islands, Dubrovnik is also known for its historic landmarks, such as the Onofrio Fountain, the Franciscan Monastery and museum, the clock tower, and the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Accommodations in Dubrovnik will be as authentic as they get, as you'll be staying overnight in a private house or apartment; these typically have two or three rooms and a shared bathroom. Check-out is 10 a.m. (Note: Intrepid Travel works with a network of hotels and hostels throughout the Balkans, and at press time the company was still finalizing the precise properties for this trip.)
Getting there: According to a recent Kayak search, the lowest multicity round-trip fares arriving in Budapest and departing from Dubrovnik in mid-April are: $887 from Chicago (multiple carriers), $890 from New York (multiple carriers), $952 from L.A. (multiple carriers), $1,064 from Seattle (multiple carriers), $1,104 from Houston (multiple carriers) and $1,187 from Miami (multiple carriers).