Dense forests and steep canyons with old-timer vehicles, meaning five days of racing, exploring and adventure through stunning landscapes in four countries—not always in the same order. Introducing The Great Balkan Rally!
Petrol Head culture, motorbikes, classic vehicles and Balkan atmosphere: it’s probably only the latter that really resonates with me. Since I have never driven a car or a motorbike on an adventure through Eastern European cities, I approached the topic from a safe distance. However, the enthusiastic attitude of János Benjámin Vértes and Levente Trellay drew me in very quickly. We got a taste of the backstory of The Great Balkan Rally in GoBeyond’s office space overlooking the Danube.
It is common practice on the organized trips of GoBeyond (formerly known as Beyond the Standard travel agency) that their announced extreme tours are destinations that they have tried and tested in detail, and it is no different with The Great Balkan Rally. János and Levente were asked about their latest joint project just before their test trip. This is not the first time for the two creators to jointly start organizing and conducting an adventure tour. “We both have similar interests, and we both like to slide on the snow: I ski and Levi goes snowboarding. We like to do all this off-track, freeriding. This is a genre worth practicing in a community, not alone, so it is both safer and more fun,” János began the story.
János was, by the way, the managing director of the former Kolor, which was in the Gozsdu Courtyard in Budapest. Not far from the place at that time, the TELEP also moved to Madách Square, of which Levente was one of the co-founders, so everything slowly started to come together. After he turned travel management into a full-time profession and founded the GoBeyond thematic travel agency with his wife, the idea of organizing a motorbike tour to the Himalayas soon began to take shape. “I wanted our motorcycling journey to be marked by some kind of motorcycling organization or community. I like to ride, but I never really considered myself a biker, but Levi is, and it was around the time when he started the Iron and Wind biker community. 2016 was our first trip like this, and at the time it seemed like a business like The Great Balkan Rally is now. Taking twelve people to the Himalayas to ride on the world’s highest motorbike road proved to be the most extreme, most complex challenge: it was here that we had to work most closely with people of different cultures, which has never been done before. It was risky, but it went very well, and Levi has been taking part in some of our tours ever since,” János told me.
As with the Himalayan trip, they said they would also like to reach out to international communities for this tour. Another special feature of The Great Balkan Rally is that you can apply for a five-day trip in old-timer (produced before the 1990s) or custom-built vehicles. But let’s talk about the route first. “Veteran competitions have a long tradition in Western Europe. I myself attended a few of these events, and I often thought about how good it would be to create something similar, whether it was a motorcycle or a car race. It was already in my mind at the time that Budapest had very good qualities to serve as the starting point for such a scenario. Austria, Switzerland or Italy can often be among our destinations, so why not explore this area instead,” said Levente. Thus, according to the itinerary, the participants can head to Villány, famous for its wines, from where they can admire the landscapes of the Balkans, going through the main destinations such as the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo in the Dinaric Alps, Kolašin, Montenegro’s largest ski area, and the Gulf of Kotor on the south-east coast of the Adriatic Sea. As Levente pointed out, “the Balkans is a place in Europe that can still be explored”. He added: “The Balkans’ infrastructure cannot always keep up with the rapid pace of globalization, so you can often find very good services in unexpected and strange places. This contrast can be very exciting for the average European”.
The planned route is already fascinating in itself. In addition, one of the basic philosophies of GoBeyond is to organize quality trips where the participants don’t wonder why they didn’t go alone. As Janó emphasized, community building is an important part of their journey, which is also emphasized in the case of The Great Balkan Rally: now they are trying to reach a new audience—the veteran vehicle enthusiasts. So, as a layman, I also asked myself why a classic car or motorbike could be interesting. “These vehicles have a much stronger connection with people than their modern counterparts. The latter are a much simpler way of getting from A to B. The cars of the old days still have something new in them, so there is a lot more sculpture or art in them. Somewhere, I think it is a strong motivating factor for many people to own such a design object and then share it with others as part of an event. These events are a bit like going to an interactive museum,” said Levente, who also has some interesting pieces in his collection. The creators also drew my attention to the fact that, although it may not seem like it at first glance, closeness to nature and the old-timer car culture have a lot in common. “Think about it, for example, if there is a car manufactured in the seventies, whose owner has been trying to maintain and preserve it ever since, it is actually a form of green and environmentally conscious existence,” Levente said.
Since The Great Balkan Rally is not only about discovering venues, but also about a race, I was also interested in what a traditional old-timer car race actually looks like. “In classic races, it’s not about how fast you get from A to B: it’s not about speed. There are several types of competitions, but essentially you have to complete a given section of the route in a predetermined time interval: it’s not about pace, but about getting your arrival time as close as possible to the time limit,” said Levente. With a not hidden aim to bring an innovative approach to the culture of veteran car racing, János added that feedback has shown that it is no longer so exciting to see how good the drivers’ sense of time is.
“In our case, you can’t compete against the clock, like in a real car race, because we go on public roads, but we would also like to add to the experience from a competition point of view. We are creating a combination of a general veteran race and an adventure tour, attended by people with similar attitudes, while getting to know a beautiful landscape with some historical background,” he emphasized.
Adventure tours also mean that, in addition to the fact that applicants can participate in various authentic programs at each destination, the whole event is a game or, as they put it, an “adventure story”. Since this will be a surprise for the competitors, they didn’t want to go into this aspect of the concept any further.
“We’re basically creating a story in which you can put your bike or car,” added Levente.
A professional jury decides on the admission of the vehicles: among the members is Péter Guld, a prominent figure in car and motorsports journalism, who completes his reports with his own photos, and Adrián Bernáth, who won the title of the best journalist with his team at the London motorcycle film festival, ahead of Top Gear, who competed in the same category. “It’s important for us that the final car palette is exciting, like when you choose objects for a museum,” said Levente, who also strengthens the judges’ team.
And what would the masterminds suggest if we were to take part in an old-timer car race for the first time? “If I could give you one piece of advice, I would say that everyone should let go of their imagination and invent their own creative outfit that suits their car—surrender themselves to this story so that these four or five days are not just an ordinary car tour,” Levente replied.
You can apply for The Great Balkan Rally at this link, the tournament will start between 5 and 11 September. Since the aim is to create an initiative that will put Hungary on the international map of old-timer cars and motorcycles, it is expected that The Great Balkan Rally will continue with new locations and bases in the future.
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