We were going to visit San Marino, so we decided to spend a couple of days in nearby Rimini.
Rimini is a riviera with sandy beaches overlooked by cool modernist hotels.
The Old Town is beautiful and includes a good collection of Roman and Medieval landmarks. It is also the birthplace of Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini.
For lunch we visited Bar Lento, a cool cafe serving delicious vegan snacks and drinks (lunch for two including tip for 18.50€).
Rimini is definitely a good place to visit and relax for a couple of days!
San Marino was one of the few European countries we hadn’t visited yet, so we decided to check in out in January.
It is located high up in the mountains, giving it amazing views over the region. Unfortunately when we visited the place was right in the middle of the clouds, and we couldn’t even see further than a few metres ahead.
We spent a few hours exploring the narrow roads and visiting the main towers, even without being able to see much.
For lunch, we stopped at Laminona, which serves piadinas and offered a few vegan options.
San Marino is picturesque and I’m sure we would have enjoyed it more on a sunny day!
Go: We flew to Bologna, where you can get semi-frequent buses from the airport to Rimini. You can reach San Marino from Rimini taking a regular bus which departs just outside the train station (return for 10€ per person). The trip takes 50 minutes each way.
I decided to go to Rome for Christmas to eat yummy food and enjoy some of the sites. Rome is an easy place to visit, as you can pretty much just walk anywhere and stumble upon ancient Roman monuments and great gelato spots.
Trevi Fountain: I wanted to visit the Trevi Fountain which recently reopened after a huge restoration. I knew it was going to be busy, so I arrived early and beat the selfie crowds – definitely worth it.
Colosseum: I’d been to the Colosseum before, but not for many years, so decided to visit again. As expected the place gets packed, so the best option is to buy tickets at the nearby Roman forum and arrive early (tickets for €12). The place is huge and impressive as you’d expect.
Maxxi: this modern art museum is a great place to spend a few hours, as it’s full of interesting displays. It is a bit far from the city centre (but only a few stops on the tram) which means that not many tourists are around (tickets for €12).
Testaccio: I heard about this neighbourhood in this Instagram account. It’s away from the centre, so you can join the locals at the pretty piazza Testaccio to enjoy the winter sun, where kids in scooters play around. There is also a cool local market. Stop for potato pizza at Forno Assoluto (a generous slice for €3.65) and try the yummy desserts at Pasticceria Barberini (two small desserts and a cappuccino for €3.60). It’s a great area to get a few for local Rome.
Christmas Day: when I was deciding where to go for my Christmas trip, I did plenty of research and was reassured that in Rome most places are only shut on Christmas day itself. In fact, in the most popular areas there are plenty of restaurants and shops open, as there are always plenty of tourists around. A good plan is to stick to the beaten path.
Stay: I stayed at Exe in Monti. The area is super convenient, located within walking distance of most sites. Monti itself is a nice area, with plenty of nice restaurants and cafes in each of the little backstreets.
We visited Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania over eight days, meaning that we only had one or two days in each place. This was enough to see the highlights, but it also meant lots of travelling around.
It’s tricky to find information about buses online, but TripAdvisor forums had the best information.
Bus tickets can’t be booked in advance online, but we had no problem getting them on the day. Distances are short, but trips often take longer than expected because of the hilly terrain. Drivers can be mavericks – overtaking dangerously on a turn is commonplace.
Taxis are also available and not super expensive, although we didn’t use them.
Everything was significantly cheaper than in the UK – even in popular places you never pay more than 10€ for a meal including drinks.
Kosovo uses the Euro, Macedonia has the Denar and Albania uses the Lek. Lek and Denars can only be exchanged in the country, but we had no issues with that.
We did some research in advance, but it was easy enough to find veggie options and ask for vegan versions by removing some ingredients. Most people speak English enough to understand simple instructions like ‘no cheese’.
Yummy salads are available everywhere, as are pizzas. Portions are always generous. Fruit and veg are usually very fresh and delicious – as is the local wine.
Drinks aren’t always listed on the menu, but most places will serve the usual drinks (including plenty of coffee options).
We arrived in Tirana tired from a long bus journey, but the city was quickly appealing. Interesting architecture, busy cafes and loads of interesting places quickly piqued our interest.
Tirana’s town centre is pretty and easily covered on foot. Stop at one of the many cafes, or join the locals at the Great Park of Tirana. We were lucky to stay around Blloku, a cool neighbourhood full of nice bars, which is the hotspot for Tirana’s nightlife.
Bunk’art2: a museum set in a bunker with displays about Albania’s recent history. Worth a visit. Tickets for 500 Lek.
Salt: we went to Salt because they had some vegan options on the menu, but this place was just perfect. Located on a street full of cool bars and restaurants, Salt is a stunning place with great service and delicious food. Lunch for two including drinks and tip for 2,500 Lek. Highly recommended!
Brauhaus: a local brewery where you can have a beer right next to the brewery tanks. Two beers and tip for 320 Lek.
Spaghetti Western: one of the many places around Blloku, serving Tex-Mex food. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 1,500 Lek.
Charl’s: a large bar with a cool decor. Beers for 350 Lek.
HOW TO DO IT:
Go: we took the bus from Ohrid. The journey takes 5h30 and buses leave at 9am, but they are usually late. Tickets cost 700 MKD. The bus journey does a massive detour, so a taxi for €60 is probably a better option, as it would take half the time. There are flights from London too.
Stay: we stayed at Hotel Hermes which is a comfortable hotel in a great location. Efficient service and yummy breakfast.
We took the bus from Prizren and headed to Macedonia, where we arrived at the capital.
Skopje is a monumental city, full of statues and landmarks. You can explore the grand squares and walk by the river to get some photos.
Old Bazaar: the old part of Skopje is a great place to wander around. The narrow roads and local shops are a nice contrast to the newer part of the city.
Star Grad Brewery: this popular bar is a great place to try some local beer and nibbles (with lots of veggie options). Lunch for two with plenty of beers for 1,000 MKD.
Kolektiv: this is another place serving local beers (from the same brewery). It’s a cool bar at Alexander the Great Square. Drinks and snacks for two including tip for 1,100 MKD.
HOW TO DO IT:
Go: we took the bus from Prizren at 9am which took 3h30. Tickets are bought on the bus and cost 9€.
Money: you can change money around town and conveniently at the bus station, always with good rates. Macedonia is not as cheap as its neighbour Kosovo, but it’s still much cheaper than London.
Ohrid is the highlight of any trip to Macedonia. Lake Ohrid is massive, and mountains create the impressive backdrop. The town is small, hilly and pretty.
You can spend the day leisurely exploring the narrow streets and stopping for breaks at the many cafes and restaurants.
Ohrid Old Town is full of houses in traditional architecture and plenty of places to get a good view of the lake. There are many Orthodox churches, and St John Theologian has the most picturesque setting by the lake.
Via Sacra Pizzeria: a popular place in a great location where you can try delicious Macedonian wine. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 1,200 MKD.
Dr Falafel: this is a cheap but friendly place serving a range of veggie falafel dishes. A big plate of falafel, hummus and salad plus a drink for 200 MKD.
HOW TO DO IT:
Go: Buses leave hourly from Skopje station, and tickets can be booked in advance at the station. The trip takes 3h30 and tickets cost 500 MKD.
Stay: We stayed at Villa Kale, which had a great location and great views over the lake.