Wild Balkans

The Balkan Peninsula is notorious for being one of the great battlegrounds of history. And yet, it possesses another side unknown to many, where ancient forests and vast wetlands harbor pristine wilderness, and sheer cliff walls and desolate plateaus preserve a seemingly unchanged past. Surveying these striking and stark landscapes, one might think they’ve ventured into the Middle-earth of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

Indeed the Balkan Peninsula is home to a variety of regions that border on mythical. In Croatia’s Kopacki Rit Wetlands, land mines keep people away, but enable native wildlife to thrive. Further south, Montenegro’s Tara River carves through Europe’s longest and deepest canyon, and neighboring forests provide refuge to rare animals such as the Balkan Lynx. To the east, millions of birds flock to the Danube Delta to feast on swarms of mosquitoes. And at the west of the Balkans is Skadar Lake, a remarkable landscape of peaks and water.

This is a journey to a world seemingly forgotten by time. This is the wild Balkans.

Wild Balkans premieres Sunday, January 31, 2010 (check local listings).

Photo: Rita Schlamberger, ©ORF/Science Vision

  • brian

    I can’t wait till this episode! I really like this part of Europe! Is it gonna be like “Land Of The Falling Lakes”, and is Plitvice Lakes gonna be featured? I was a little dissapointed to find out that there’s gonna be people in it, but I’ll watch it anyways! Hopefuly there won’t be too many of them!

  • Barbel Tate

    I am looking forward to seeing this because I often go to visit friends in the Balkan Sea (Ost See)
    The Island “Ruegen” is my destination and I love it there. The architecture is mostly Swedish and very unique. Thank you for showing this little know area of Germany.

  • brian

    The Balkans! Not the Baltic! The Balkans is former Yugoslavia!

  • Mike


  • bily

    I cant weit. I wos born in Balkan (serbia)

  • Annette Coleman

    I will be tuning in! Looks so dramatic.

  • Kristijan

    Looking forward to see Kopacki Rit, even though may not be geographically on the “Balkans”.

    Once I came across information that some German (something) few centuries ago called Balkans today’s Serbia and Bulgaria, after Balkan mountain. With time and start of 20th century Balkan politically grew with shift of power to those who left land mines in Kopacki rit less then 20 years ago and now Balkan is Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and European part of Turkey.
    Former YU is something that lasted 72 years too long. Everything existed before that “cancer” and will exist from now on for those who 20 years ago successfully defended their, for thousands of years homelands in most beautiful part of “central and south” Europe.

    Heard that Tara is very beautiful too.

  • Franky

    Have to say it is very naive to present Balkans although no one said where Balkan really starts and ends. As it has been said above, with that approach, Balkan includes all mentioned countries, so as well Croatia and more than 1000 islands of Croatian Adriatic Sea. Hmmm…. Although with so many wildness probable majority of people from North Europe as well as other parts of the Workld think that in the “ Balkan” there is no electricity and everything is crowded with cannibals. Generally for commenting wars we all should know history.
    I like the comments above about Kopacki rit which is beautiful National park of Croatia but even more beautiful National park is Plitvice lakes, also in Croatia. Or check National park Kornati for instance….

  • Danko

    Not to get political or arguementative, but Croatia is not the Balkans and never was, Croatia borders the Balkans and was in a political “marriage” with some of its Balkan neighbors, but never “Balkan” in outlook or mentailty. Croatia is central European and was always western in culture and outlook, but unfortunately tagged like its neighbors to the east and south.
    I have been to Plitvice, which is amazing and seen documentaries on Croatian TV about Kopackii rit, this looks to be a good program.

  • sonja

    i must say that i am very proud and happy that Finally, at least for Once, Balkans are not discussed in context of wars… but as the preview says, it Is a land notorious for all of its wars.. so lets just enjoy all that wonderful nature, and leave the politics out of it.. thank you. :)

  • Lily Aronofsky

    How wonderful. These forests appear lush and healthy and the animals do too! Thanks for this.

  • Joseph

    SO looking forward to this! And i love the choice of music for this spot. Just perfect! :)

  • Peter Milosheff

    Nobody seems to mention a word on the origin of the name. Unfortunately, this is a Turkish word. It means mountain. The Balkan Mountain (the Mountain Mountain), or Stara Planina, Old Mountain in Bulgarian, is the mountain ridge that separates Bulgaria into two fairly equal parts, Northern & Southern. Anyway, I wonder whether any part of this documentary is shot in Bulgaria and look forward to seeing it. And yes, I am a Bulgarian.

  • angela

    Please, keep it hidden!!!! Pretty soon will become the new “territory” for hunting.Just like it happened in Romania, in the Carpathian Mountains…. after the Revolution…

  • Dave

    This should be as good as “Land of the Falling Lakes” was! This is sure to be one of my all-time favorites too.

  • Pablo Sepulveda Rosso

    I think some people are confusing the Balkan witth the Baltic, the Balkans is in Eastern Europe between Europe and Asia, and the Baltic is in the northwest Europe to the left of russia. anyway both are beautiful. Dont miss this episode.

  • Gabi

    Done very well, and Coates voice is just…captivating.

  • 4Nature

    I was stunnwd while listening to the narrators voice, knowing it could only be that of Ronald Coleman, much beloved and admired English actor, who has long since passed away. Mr. Coates is either a grand reincarnation or related in some magical way. What an honor to be considered in the same breath for his voice as Mr. Coleman. Remarkable. The entire program is amazing.Thanks.

  • Aleks

    A beautiful program, and a great follow-up to Land of the Falling Lakes. I hope it will be released on DVD also. Brings back many memories of my travels through Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Bosnia & Croatia.

  • snezana

    Balkan Peninsula – is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe. The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains, which run through the centre of Bulgaria into eastern Serbia. The Balkan Peninsula can be defined as an area of southeastern Europe surrounded by water on three sides: the Adriatic Sea to the west, the Mediterranean Sea (including the Ionian and Aegean seas) to the south and the Black Sea to the east. Its northern boundary is often given as the Danube, Sava and Kupa rivers. “Balkan” comes from a Turkish word meaning “a chain of wooded mountains”. The ancient Greek name for the Balkan Peninsula was the “Peninsula of Haemus” (Χερσόνησος τοῦ Αἵμου, Chersónēsos tou Haímou). Above was taken from “www.wikipedia.org” – it is quite accurate. I hope this might help to those people who are not very familiar with geography. Balkane, Balkane, Balkane moj, budi mi silan i dobro mi stoj.


  • Hugh Sansom

    Beautiful cinematography. Very interesting. But I don’t particularly like the pseudo-gravitas of the narrator. Like Pierce Brosnan in Blue Planet, he strives for an air of depth he personally lacks. I get the impression that nature programming on PBS has been trying for a while to recapture the sterling narration of David Attenborough, but that came in no small measure from his exceptional knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject. In other words, he was a natural.

    Worse, worse, worse, this episode is hideously written. PBS has joined the common madness of having to tie everything in to pop-culture. So here the hook is “The Lord of the Rings” — an ongoing comparison to the Middle Earth of Tolkien’s imagination. Tolkien had a real inspiration — Wales in the British Isles. The film in turn had New Zealand — digitally enhanced. We do not need syrupy garbage writing comparing the Balkans to Middle Earth. It is condescending and just plain foolish.

    If PBS can’t or won’t afford decent writing and narration, let Oxford Scientific Films and the BBC do it write with Attenborough — or at least someone who can bring some personal enthusiasm.

  • Jean SmilingCoyote

    This show was beautiful and educational, but disappointing in these ways: 1)there was no contemporary map showing where all these places are. I still haven’t found such on this website. 2)the usual common name of the family Mustelidae is “weasel family,” not “marten family” as script claimed. 3)Wikipedia articles about geographic influences on Tolkien’s Middle Earth include parts of the British Isles and Switzerland; there appears to be no basis for the fanciful comparisons with Balkan places. 4)there is no enumeration of the large native WILD mammals which wolves and vultures evolved to eat. While wolves will eat smaller prey, they prefer big game – what are they seeking in the Balkans? Those ancient royal hunting grounds in the Balkans weren’t set aside because of the rabbits there. As for vultures dwindling due to fewer livestock carcasses, I’m sure they evolved to depend on carcasses of native wild big game: but this show didn’t mention any species. I know that intense domestication of the European ecosystem for thousands of years has included extermination of many native big game in many areas. How has this affected the region in the show? Please explain.

  • Susan

    I found this episode very interesting. It touched just a little on many subjects and by doing so encouraged me to learn more on my own. I appreciate this kind of programing and hope to see more of the same. This is a very interesting region that I knew nothing about. Thank you for introducing one more remarkable place to me.

  • Michael

    Beautiful. It always seems like there is a deficiency of European nature programs.

    The Tolkien-linked narration is just plain strange. You’ve shown attention to making the wording pop and resonate with the audience, but surely there are other ways to do this without…being so silly. I doubt throwing in a cheap reference to an otherwise condescending script will gain any audience in the long run. And if people notice this sort of thing repeatedly, it will irritate. I’d say there is innovation here, but you might want to reconsider things in a more sober mood. And of course most of this production was wonderful.

  • Stasia

    It was stunning. Though a Tolkien fan, I was a bit put off by the attempted parallels. But the filmwork was just STUNNING. Will be ordering…

  • jenny

    The Balkans, what a beautifull planet we have………..AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Gary P.

    I’m in awe after watching the final scenes of this film. The Starling formations are one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Who cares about Tolkien references? This was great Television. Get over it!

  • Brian

    I liked it, but didnt show to many animals! Mostly birds! And it didnt show the olm! It didnt show Serbia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Albania, Greece! Didnt show Plitvice Lakes! So ya, I liked it, but it showed a lot of birds! Would like to have at least seen some more of Lynx, Wolves, and Bears! Goo episode though!

  • Brian

    I also like how they mixed some history in with it!

  • Corin

    hi im 13 and this episode has inspired me so much that when i get older i want to move there i think the place was called dubrovia but it was amazing and the landscape really did look like a mythical place of elves dwarves and orcs personally i love the idea that maybe mythical things once lived and if so i bet many elves lived in the balkins

    thank you for inspiring me so much love this programming

  • John Alaimo

    A well written and superbly photographed documentary with, thankfully, no talking heads. A story told by exquisite narration that keep one’s attention due to a narrator where one doesn’t miss a single word and with inflection that draws one into the tale. A first class job of editing kept the story moving beautifully. Tolkien would have been proud to be associated with this production.

  • Ross White

    Here on Canada’s west coast the introduced starling populations are disliked for notorious invasions of nests among other egually obnoxious habits. They are the definiton of ‘invasive’ as a species. To see them flock as gauze whisped by an elegant breath, and undulate in endless shapes, left my mouth agape for the minutes they occupied my screeen. I am shamed and humbled, regarding yet another miracle of nature through a transformed attitude. I was blind but now I see.

  • Arto

    Growing up in a family of Macedonian parents who migrated to the USA in the 1920’s,we were exposed to many stories about the regions flora and fauna . I was lucky enough to have made the trip from Germany to the area of Kastoia by automobile and was awed by the scenery along the way.I did not happen to see the animals and birds as shown in the film,but heard a lot of strories as told to us by my parents .Thanks PBS,this was terrific.

  • daniel

    excellent, excellent program – especially since i come from that part of the world – JUST amazing!!!

  • bulgarica

    U better go to high school … this is not true!
    To: brian, who said: “The Balkans! Not the Baltic! The Balkans is former Yugoslavia” ?!?!?
    O’k – Western Balkans – Yes, but NOT BALKANS …
    Check out:
    BALKANS: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balkans


  • Sergiu

    Living in US for a few months and watching the documentary right now on PBS. I’m from Romania and this animals and pieces of unspoiled nature remind me of home. Don’ t be absorbed by hate and treasure what you have. The cultures of the Balkans are just as wild and beautiful and unspoiled as the nature.
    Think about it:
    - The ancient Greeks
    - The wild Thracians, Illyrians, Getae, Scythians and Dacians
    - The wars with Persia and the Peloponesian Wars
    - The world conquest of Macedon, Hellenism and the wars of the Diadochi
    - The Roman conquest which forms a new people: the latin Vlachs and Romanians
    - The Migrations: Heruli, Marcomani, Gepids, Goths, Huns, Avars, Bulgars, Slavs, Magyars, Cumans and Gypsies
    - The Byzantine Empire and Greek Orthodoxy that will remain the main religion in Balkans, the wars of Byzantines with the Avars, Bulgars, Persians and Arabs
    - The first feudal states in Europe: the kingdoms of Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary, and the smaller principalities of Croatia, Transylvania, Wallachia, Moldavia
    - The Crusades, the battles between Empires: Austro-Hungarian Habsburgs, Ottomans and Russians, Renaissance, Reform and Humanism in the West, Islam in the East
    - National independence and emancipation of the Balkan countries, nation building, ethnic cleansing, 1st World War, the dissolution of Empires, ethnic cleansing, the advent of Ideologies, 2nd World War and decades of Communism, the fall of Communism, more ethnic cleansing, EU integration
    .. so many events
    .. and each left its mark on the people and land
    Few places in the world have such a rich history, languages and customs, so much contrast and communion.
    Stop fighting and start sharing, these lands are not a gift to us, we are the gift of these lands!

  • kafka

    Corin,Dubrovia it’s actually called Dobrogea(the northern romanian side) and from all of the places showed this is the most populated and also the most mixed.
    I’m disappointed they missed the Carpathians and the Western Plain of Transilvania.Tolkien was a bad addition for me since no fantasy took place in the Balkans just endless wars,it looked like they tried to “sweeten” the history part.

  • kljuc

    The program was beautiful in its cinematography and in other spectacular aspects in it.
    However, the fact that Serbia was not once mention is either a propos, biased or ignorance of the areas that comprise The Balkans, Serbia been a most important geographical part of The Balkans.

  • JR

    Loved the cinematography and the subject matter and the use of Massive Attack in the preview. Some of the best Nature episodes are on areas of the world that are completely ignored by other programs (Drakensberg, Andes Mountains) or animals that are never given much air time (Hummingbirds, Snow Leopards). So this episode would seem to fit right into that niche.

    However, the constant comparisons to Tolkien were over the top. It felt like a good 10 minutes of this episode were wasted on that horrible CGI map with the narrator going on and on about Tolkien. Did someone really think that portion added to the program or was there not enough usable footage for a 50 minute program? The actual footage shown was excellent and what I’ve come to expect from Nature. But the writing was atrocious.

  • brian

    I had to watch the repeat at 5!

  • Christie Abraham

    I thought The Wild Balkans was marvelous. It was so beautiful and I loved the way your tied Tolkien’s middle earth into the theme of the program. The scenery was gorgeous. This is one that I will definitely watch again. The landscape was so magnificent that you feel at peace in your soul. Thank you PSB and Nature, as always.

  • Movingforward

    Can we please leave out all of the self-hating and political comments?! Besides, many are simplistic, disjointed, and really make no sense. My parents are originally from Montenegro. We have Muslims, Serbians, and Albanians in our family and love every one of them. Not everyone from the former Yugoslavia is at “war.” I myself am a Montenegrin Biologist and I loved this episode! Take it from someone who has been to every place on this globe practically (yes, I am very lucky), the Balkans are truly an extraordinary place and thankfully a well kept secret. This is a national heritage that needs to be guarded and conserved. The wild Balkans episode was indeed marvelous!

  • Christopher

    Have to agree a bit with Movingforward. This was a beautifully done documentary about the unscathed nature that inhabits yes a politically disturb area. The LOTR references makes it even more viewable. Im shocked however more havent commented on such a beautiful yet dangerous land that was exceptionally documented. Great job Nature! “The wild Balkans episode was indeed marvelous!” I agree. My second favorite which fell a wee bit short of the Druids of Yellowstone.

  • John

    Beautiful cinematography, but the constant correlating of the Balkans to The Lord of the Rings was initially obnoxious and eventually comical. It was so forced! “Some would say this is where the River Elves would live, if this was Middle Earth.” Huh? Who would say that? Please don’t take this approach with future episodes.

  • Santa

    They missed whole point of visiting Balkan – they were avoid shooting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, probably because they were afraid of mines. What a shame. Also they forgot norther Albanian Alps.

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  • Max

    As a learning tool this was fine and the parallel served its purpose. I will remember this in a useful and pleasing way and that is what matters. Thanks and keep it up!

  • wildfreak

    Attention! There are lots of tame animals in the film: for instance the wolves or the lynx. The filmmakers just pick them up from a trainer and make the imagined sequences with them – even often in different locations! Too bad… PBS should not broadcast wildlife films with fake “wild animals”….

  • milfman

    The LOTR references were really lame. Visuals were beautiful, writing sucked. Couldnt finish it. If you watch it, mute it, and listen to music.

  • seeker

    Does anyone have more information on the monastery on the lake that was briefly featured? The one with a solitary monk living there? I am fascinated by hermit monks -and the 14th century monastery.

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  • Adam

    A general note,
    since we are talking about Balkan, we have to understand the importance “saying names properly”
    there was a reference of “Skadar lake”
    there is no such thing as Skadar lake ( I am Familiar with the term, but it is an insult to the indigenous population calling a part of their land in deformed way), maybe you meant, if you meant Lake of Shkodra.

  • Dana

    One more reference to Middle Earth or Elves or Tolkien and I’m changing the channel. I don’t care how wonderful the cinematography is, the narration and writing of this is puerile to the point of imbecility.

  • Orysia

    Who wrote the narrative? Really inane. Why compare to Tolkien’s writing? Betw. his Norse-style “language” and the SLAVIC names of the places here — big difference. Weird.

    Then, medvid/medved is not a “nickname” for brown bear, it is the common name for bear in many Slavic languages. Medved/vedmed, medvid/vedmid.

    The photography is beautiful, but the commentary is really bad. Don’t know if I want to hear the rest.

  • Steve R

    Lovely show. I have visited the Balkins many times in the last 10 years: predominately Serbia. But also Croatia (what a beautiful coast) , Bosnia, Montenagro (amazing mountains and gorges) and northern Greece.
    tourists who only go to southern Greece and Athens are missing the local culture and native people. Not to mention it is very inexpensive and uncrowded compared to the generic south.
    The few people you see in this show you can find anywhere out in the countryside. They live very much like a thousand years ago relying on the land and each other.Oxen carts, orchards and natural crops.
    Each time I visit visit Serbia, I am in awe at the variety of landscapes and people of this evolving country.
    Despite our stupid american news reports, most people want to leave behind the nationalist/religious bias of the past and join the modern world .But I digress: I agree with many of the comments above:
    this show while beautiful, it is over heavy with birds, skips serbia, lacks a map which ALL amercians could use,
    and wish they dropped the Tolkien references.
    None the less a lovely show with a long delayed attention to the Balkins. thank you

  • Mark

    It’s amazing that so many people feel the need to be so negative about a very interesting program. Was it perfect? Probably not, as humans don’t create perfection. It was certainly better, as in more informative and entertaining, than the vast majority of programs on t.v. today.

  • Donna Campbell

    I was watching this episode a few nights ago. I heard the name “Titlich”, or something like that. It was located between 2 mountains I think. My grandfather was born there. I’ve been trying to find information about it for years but don’t have the correct spelling so I’ve had no success. I grabbed a pen and paper when I heard the name but couldn’t write the spelling down quick enough. I didn’t hear what they said about it because I grabbed my computer and was trying to find info on it.
    If anyone knows anything about this place I would very much like to learn more about it. Thank you in advance. I’ll check back every few days.

  • Mark Kramer

    It’s a mystery that the producers of this episode felt the necessity to make the references to Tolkein’s Middle Earth. Was the point to somehow frame this beautiful but little known area with reference to an imaginary but well known one? The places shown were beautiful on their own account and needed nothing else to support them. By the end of the film the constant references to Middle Earth became a joke and a distraction from what could otherwise been a fine program about the Balkins. What a shame to have spoiled it so unnecessarily.

  • Marina

    Donna Campbell, probably it’s too late by now, but still, in case you haven’t received an answer – I believe you mean the plain of Tikves (pronounced Tikvesh) in Macedonia.
    In my opinion, the “Tolkien references” were fun. I really enjoyed them even if unable to see the point. Why be so negative?

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