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Balkan Express – cycling and skiing Europe's wildest mountains

Balkan Express

Balkan Express – cycling and skiing Europe's wildest mountains

Bike Touring Collection by Balkan Express

41

Tours

200:29 h

1,566 mi

131,675 ft

We – Max and Jochen – are two friends that have already experienced a lot together. Usually, we’re in the mountains and more often than not, we’re on skis. But, in recent years we’ve often combined skiing with cycling. We’ve crossed the Alps from right to left and from top to bottom. Our favourite starting point is our front door and, although we like to claim that we know every nook and cranny, we discover loads of new things every time we set out. Now, it's time to turn the tables – we want to start from far away, with the aim of heading home.

Why go a little further away? We want to get out of our familiar surroundings for a bit. However, we certainly don't want to get on a plane to do it. This is because, just southeast of the Alps, vast mountain regions stretch all the way to Greece. They are, of course, the Balkans. For us, it feels like a big grey area on our map. And that’s exactly why we want to go there.

We want to explore the ‘wildest mountains in Europe’ and gather impressions of how the country and the people in Balkan states are shaped by their mountains. We’ve already heard some exciting and enticing tales from friends and acquaintances, but neither of us has ever been to the lands between Greece and Croatia.

After our start in Thessaloniki, our first destination is already set – Mount Olympus, the mountain of the gods. After that, it’s anyone’s guess; we’ll let the weather and the mountains guide us off to the northwest, off home – the ‘Balkan Express reverse’. This way, we’ll follow the spring, as we want both good snow conditions on the mountain and reasonable temperatures on the bike.

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Balkan Express - Stage #1

    06:51
    42.3 mi
    6.2 mph
    425 ft
    350 ft

    It's hard to believe, but it really begins - with big grins we swing onto our saddles in Greece and let the adventure begin!

    

    After all the hustle and bustle of the last weeks and months, all the planning, postponing and packing, quite a load falls off our shoulders and we happily ride along the Greek

    by Balkan Express

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  • 02:45
    34.4 mi
    12.5 mph
    2,150 ft
    1,450 ft

    "Are the olive trees freezing more than us?" is my first thought when I see the first trees after the warm-up break on the way up to Litochoro. It is exactly 0°C and the rain turns into snow - much more pleasant, I must say.

    by Balkan Express

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  • 01:23
    5.13 mi
    3.7 mph
    1,550 ft
    50 ft

    Ouch, I think we have the wrong tyres.... Our slicks are spinning on the snow, but that doesn't stop us, because our goal is to ski on Mount Olympus in fresh powder.

    by Balkan Express

  • 08:15
    6.86 mi
    0.8 mph
    3,725 ft
    300 ft

    With tired legs we walk step by step towards the hut through a beautiful Greek forest covered in deep snow and look forward to the evening soup and the first turns of the next day.

    by Balkan Express

  • 10:52
    9.59 mi
    0.9 mph
    3,550 ft
    6,975 ft

    What a beautiful sunrise up here with a view of the Mediterranean - we couldn't have imagined a more beautiful first day of skiing. But the wind is not holding back either...

    by Balkan Express

  • 00:19
    5.60 mi
    18.0 mph
    50 ft
    2,000 ft

    It's always fast downhill - sometimes too fast. We lie on the floor laughing. Due to the re-frozen meltwater, one corner was more slippery than expected. Nothing happens - from now on: piano.

    by Balkan Express

  • 05:28
    74.2 mi
    13.6 mph
    3,375 ft
    3,425 ft

    Finally the sun comes out, but it's still too cold for shorts. But today we're going to cover some distance - the first 100 km stage is on the plan, because we can't wait to go skiing again, this time in Northern Macedonia. So a quick trip to the supermarket and on we go...

    by Balkan Express

  • 01:57
    23.9 mi
    12.3 mph
    1,225 ft
    450 ft

    The day begins with drizzle... we could imagine better things. But after the second cappuccino, nothing stops us and we set off for our lunch break at the beautiful Lake Vegoritida. The waitress recommends that we go straight up to the ski area, because fresh snow has fallen...

    by Balkan Express

  • 03:29
    42.7 mi
    12.3 mph
    1,875 ft
    900 ft

    When rain turns to snow and everything is soaked in the meantime, but there are still 50 kilometers to go... Not the easiest day of the trip today, but secretly we enjoy it a little bit ;)

    

    We are also warmly welcomed at the border and get recommendations for catskiing and treeruns - HERE WE GO...

    by Balkan Express

  • 01:05
    6.35 mi
    5.9 mph
    2,100 ft
    100 ft

    Not surprisingly, the whole thing feels like déjà vu: once again we are fighting upwards on a snow-covered mountain road towards Baba Mountains (Pelister).

    by Balkan Express

  • 06:49
    6.00 mi
    0.9 mph
    3,550 ft
    3,650 ft

    Oh yes... Second day of skiing, knee-deep powder in the snow-covered forest and us all alone. What more could you want?

    

    Maybe a warm, local dinner which is waiting for us down in the valley?

    

    Everything is already prepared =)

    by Balkan Express

  • 00:25
    6.35 mi
    15.0 mph
    100 ft
    2,150 ft

    Jochen smiles at me, and rightly so: The skiing today was great and from here it's only downhill towards a warm room and good food.

    by Balkan Express

  • 04:49
    58.0 mi
    12.0 mph
    3,775 ft
    4,350 ft

    The motto of today is not: "Never change a running system". Because of all the luggage, Max's whole bike swings for some inexplicable reason. But this problem gets solved and we pedal on, accompanied by a motivated street dog, in the dark towards Lake Ohrid.

    by Balkan Express

  • 06:44
    73.8 mi
    11.0 mph
    6,425 ft
    4,575 ft

    Sometimes it is anything but easy to make a good plan - in the valley it's cold and windy, by now already dark, the locals tell us about wolves and drunk drivers... but all that doesn't stop us from riding up the valley towards the Kroab mountain range at the border between Albania and North Macedonia

    by Balkan Express

  • 02:31
    26.8 mi
    10.6 mph
    2,775 ft
    5,950 ft

    Unfortunately, we have to abandon our goal of skiing the Mt. Korab, Albania's highest peak. At the top it is below -30°C in the wind. No fun!

    

    The wind doesn't leave us alone on the bikes either, it blows strong and cold directly from the front. At the roadside, we meet familiar faces and are invited to

    by Balkan Express

  • 04:47
    43.6 mi
    9.1 mph
    5,225 ft
    1,300 ft

    After talking to our local contacts, the decision was made: We have to use the highway to cross the border and therefore save ourselves a hefty detour including a lot of altitude.

    

    With the bike on the highway?! Yes... so we start the day pretty nervous. It will turn out to be less wild than expected

    by Balkan Express

  • 06:56
    4.82 mi
    0.7 mph
    3,175 ft
    3,175 ft

    Who doesn't like to wake up in a dream ski touring area with no other skiers around, to look out the window while it is still snowing and the sun slowly breaks through the clouds?!

    

    Wow, what a morning. After a quick breakfast we start with our touring skis and hike through a dreamlike forest. Let's see

    by Balkan Express

  • 06:45
    83.7 mi
    12.4 mph
    5,150 ft
    6,825 ft

    The film crew has now set off and the two of us are on our own. We make it only slowly away from the warm place at the breakfast table, because outside it has -12 ° C and we have to ride only downhill for some time, brrr.... we put on everything we have with us, but our fingers and toes still almost

    by Balkan Express

  • 06:27
    6.12 mi
    0.9 mph
    4,500 ft
    4,550 ft

    Four cameras are running at the same time, while Max enjoys his second descent and comes down screaming of joy - not so easy to document all the action, but we do our best and more importantly... how perfect it is up here.

    

    The sun is shining. Although we started our little ski tour at 11 a.m. after a

    by Balkan Express

  • 10:12
    10.3 mi
    1.0 mph
    5,750 ft
    5,725 ft

    Today we start much earlier - the alarm clock rings at 5 o'clock. A huge packed lunch is waiting for us in the fridge, filling half our backpack. But later we will be happy about the juicy oranges on the summit.

    

    Step by step along the deep-frozen valley, then through narrow bushes meter by meter up. Finally

    by Balkan Express

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    41
  • Distance
    1,566 mi
  • Duration
    200:29 h
  • Elevation
    131,675 ft

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