Weather: Western Balkans and vicinity

The western Balkans are a laboratory for weather extremes. Conditions can vary in striking fashion across small distances from coast to nearby peak, even from valley to valley. The Dinaric ridge runs parallel to the Adriatic Sea across western Serbia and north along the border between Croatia and Bosnia/Herzegovina. Mediterranean lows slam moisture against the Dinaric Alps, especially in the winter, and the result is one of Europe's wettest climates. Some spots along the western slopes get over 4000m/157in of rain and melted snow in a typical year. Coastal towns get less, but many exceed 1000m/39in. However, the sogginess of winter on the Adriatic isn't as unrelenting as it is on the Norway coast. Plenty of in-between days are bright and sunny with mild afternoons, and a gusty bora may bring chilly air from eastern Europe. The coast warms up in spring but doesn't really dry out until June. Mid-summer can be blazingly sunny and quite muggy. Inland valleys can scorch – Mostar, on the Neretva River, is among Europe's hottest towns – but a light northerly breeze (the maestro) helps cool the coast. Expect a shower or storm every week or so until the deluges of October arrive. The northern lowlands of Serbia and Bosnia/Herzegovina, along with the bulk of Croatia, are more akin to central Europe in their climate. Rainfall amounts decrease toward the east, and winters are cloudy even in the drier regions. In mid-winter, fohn breezes may flow northward across the Alps and warm the lowlands above 10°C/50°F, or cold air may funnel through the Carpathians toward Belgrade on a kosava wind. Summer temperatures can soar well above the comfortable norms for several days in a row. With sea breezes blocked by the coastal mountains, the heat can feel stifling until a shower or thunderstorm brings relief.

Although it borders on the Mediterranean (just barely), Slovenia has a climate strongly coloured by the hues of central Europe. The Karst highlands serve as a barrier that keeps the full effects of the sea limited to the sliver of Slovenian coast fronting the Gulf of Trieste. Although this region is largely sunny and on the mild side, winter rains are especially heavy; when continental air does invade, it's often through a round of howling bora winds (here called the burja) that can gust over 160kph/100mph. Higher altitudes of the north and west are mild in summer, but prone to be quite wintry. Early in the summer, the Mediterranean's presence is felt across the country with frequent, thundery downpours every third day or so between spells of fine weather. The storms taper off in September, replaced later in the autumn by off-and-on chilly showers. The average winter temperatures across eastern Slovenia aren't vastly different from those in Hungary, but warm spells visit more readily. It's a bit drier and hotter in summer and colder in winter across the lowlands of the far east.

Albania has a classically warm Mediterranean climate. If you double the annual rainfall of Rome but leave the temperatures as they stand, you have a close approximation of the weather along Albania's west-facing coastal lowlands. From November through mid-spring, about half of any stretch of days is likely to be wet, although there's a good number of sunny, dry, mild days in the mix as well. Summers tend to be quite warm and humid along the coast, with light etesian winds from the north easing the swelter. Temperatures are typically a bit higher as you move inland. Perhaps once a week or so, a batch of showers or thunderstorms will skirt across Albania and into adjoining Macedonia, where the climate is more central-European: drier, with chilly, cloudy winters (although summers are just as warm as in western Albania). Some of the terrain in both countries is high enough for substantial snow and sharp cold in wintertime. September offers a pleasant window between Albania's summer heat and winter rains.