When we go on holiday here ourselves, we look for a ramble through the landscapes and life of the Balkans. We never want to rush our walks or visits, and we're not fond of checklists – no 'tick, tick, tick' and then drive on.
Instead, whilst we're not experts in everything, we take the time for a proper look at every animal, plant or archaeological site that crosses our path.
So no stone is left unturned; whether it’s sheltering a Balkan green lizard from the sun or it’s part of a 4,000 year old ruin.
And along the way, we'll want to hear the stories and latest news from our friends who work here, whether they be shepherds, fishermen, park rangers or scientists. Sometimes they join us for a walk, sometimes we join them for dinner.
Egyptian vultures, Byzantine wall paintings or organic beekeeping - each day should bring us new experiences, ready for friendly conversation over long lunches and under a warm sun. Maybe with a spot of wine along the way...
... and that, in a nutshell, is the recipe for our tours.
Chris and Richard Mounsey - Balkan Tracks
From Leeds to the Balkans - a father and son team
I (and 'I' here is Chris) first came to Prespa as a volunteer in 2005 and later joined an environmental NGO, the Society for the Protection of Prespa, assisting their policy and legal team with projects in Albania, Greece and North Macedonia. In what now seems a previous life, I used to be a lawyer in London, so it wasn't a completely random career move from the smog to the crisp mountain air; more a change in direction and quality of life.
Chris and his first Greek car - Prespa 2005
As a family of keen walkers, childhood holidays were in the British Lake District - where my parents, Richard and Denise, spend much of their free time. They often visited Prespa and we travelled around the lakes and Southern Balkans.
Chris's first 'Wainwright' - Castle Crag, Lake District
What struck them on their rambles in the national parks of the Balkans was that no one else was there. Some walks they didn't even see a shepherd. And they certainly never had problems parking their car - Balkan national parks are so infrequently visited there don't even have car parks.
A Mounsey family walk
After a few years of answering my Dad's questions on the social, economic and political reasons as to why these remote mountains had no local companies running nature and culture tours, Dad said to me one walk, "as your mum and I have retired... why don't we set something up here? Keep our minds active."
It was a grand idea.
I said yes on the basis we wouldn't just do walking holidays. We'd want to show visitors the whole past, present and future of the place.
And that we could set it up, do all the admin stuff, but we had to involve as many local folks, parks, NGOs and companies as possible.
The company's vision had to be:
for people here to first benefit from the tours, and then see that the region's
natural and cultural heritage is worth showing off and looking after.
That agreed on, we started off with Prespa and Ohrid before adding other little-visited areas in the Rhodope, Kerkini, Zagori and Lesvos.
And we'd love for you to come join us,
Christopher Mounsey - Managing Director
Chris and Richard, with dogs - Agh. Achillios, Prespa
For our tour leaders, we've got a small team of local ecologists. Many of them work in the field as ornithologists and mammologists – monitoring large carnivores, designing management plans for nature reserves or whole conservation projects for species like the Egyptian vulture. They're also well versed in the history of the region and how the rise and fall of empires relate to nature.
We asked them to invite their friends (or find new friends!) amongst the farmers, fishers, beekeepers, shepherds, chefs, archaeologists, park rangers and anyone else who's got a story and would like to take us to their farm, join us on a walk or invite us into their homes.
some of Europe's rarest
plants and animals live here
The Iron Curtain is now a Green Belt of nature & traditional ways of life...
And few seem to know about it Discover Europe's Unexplored Nature
The critically endangered Balkan lynx,
Bears, wolves, chamois, wildcat,
Dalmatian pelicans, Pygmy cormorants, Over 2,500 plants... orchids... irises...
And man has been here for centuries
as five empires have come and gone
The methods of farmers, animal breeders
and fishermen are also responsible for the creation and management of the region's beautiful forests, meadows and species.
We bring you together with the locals, national park staff and ecologists, who explain how man and nature live side by side.
The Responsible Tourist. Let local producers guide you around their home.
Traditional ways of life are disappearing here too, and rural communities struggle to compete and survive.
Responsible tourism, with conservation at its heart, can give a secondary income to rural communities and, indirectly, help look after these places.