Ben is half of the brains behind our operation here at Undiscovered Montenegro (the other half being his other half, Emma).
We caught up with Ben to find out more about his life and travels before UB, why he fell in love with the Balkans… and why some locals call him Branko.
Tell us a little bit about your life, work and travels before coming to the Balkans?
Before making the Balkans my home, I spent 15 years in international publishing in London. It’s safe to say that I prefer the work/life balance I have now! I’ve also been fortunate enough to travel extensively. I’ve visited every continent except Antartica and some of my most memorable destinations are Venezuela (where my mum’s from), Tanzania, Madagascar, Burma and Indonesia.
What was it about Montenegro that just made you want to stay?
I’ve been to some of the world’s most beautiful countries and yet I simply couldn’t believe that such staggering, African-style natural beauty had been hiding on my doorstep just a three-hour flight away. There’s no country I’ve ever been to that has a higher “cool-s**t-per-kilometre” rating!
What’s unique about the Balkans compared to other parts of Europe?
The Balkans has always been the slightly exotic border of where West meets East – it’s a real melting pot of cultures, with a fascinating history that covers a vast area.
What are three of the biggest myths about the Balkans?
- Balkan people are not scary! They are welcoming and loyal
- Likewise, the spectre of war need not hang over the region any longer – we are already a generation past that conflict
- Lastly, Balkan people are NOT lazy – they just have life figured out better than the West does!
Why do some people over there call you Branko?
My real name is slightly rude in their language – it’s a bit like being called “Feck”. My friends on the island of Vis, where we bought a house in the early noughties, told me I needed a less tittersome alternative, so I have a Balkan alias….
What’s your favourite activity in the Balkans?
In my spare time: playing cricket (badly)! It may surprise you to know that there’s a growing cricket scene in the Balkans, with clubs in Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and Montenegro. I first got involved on the island of Vis as a member of the Sir William Hoste Cricket Club and later even got as far as representing my adopted nation of Montenegro in an international game against Estonia!
In my job: wild swimming and kayaking in waterfalls and rivers!
If you could only live off one Balkan food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I have a particular fondness for a Karadordeva Schnitzel (rolled, breaded pork stuffed with cheese and sour cream) but if I had to live on it for the rest of my life my cholesterol level would be off the charts…
If you could live anywhere in the Balkans, where would it be and why?
I’m hopelessly biased, so I’m going to say Lake Skadar because that’s my actual home. It’s beautiful and so well located for side quests to other parts of the region.
Tell us about your passion for sustainable travel practices
Sustainability underpins everything we do at Undiscovered Balkans. Whether it’s supporting pelican conservation using the money we raise through our Book to Give Back scheme or making sure our trips benefit and involve locals, it’s our duty to protect these landscapes and traditions for the future generations.
Do you have any claims to fame?
Other than once having Catherine Zeta-Jones give me her phone number (it was a long time ago!), I bumped into Pierce Brosnan a few years back while out with guests. He was being driven around the Montenegrin countryside as a break from filming and was very polite. We made a point of watching spy thriller “The November Man” when it got released. Sadly, it was rubbish!