The Ultimate 3-Week Balkan Road Trip Along the Adriatic Coast

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If you’re looking for an unforgettable adventure, why not embark on a 3-week Balkan road trip along the Adriatic Coast? This itinerary includes 25 destinations, all of which have been carefully selected by me. Having driven this exact route and seen almost all these places between 2020 and 2021, I can confidently say that this trip is one for the books.

What’s more, this Balkans road trip is a budget-friendly option compared to other road trips in Europe. So if you’re looking to experience breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture without breaking the bank, this is the trip for you!

From the stunning scenery of Istria to the beautiful beaches of southern Albania, and everything in between, this itinerary is sure to satisfy your wanderlust. So, pack your bags, grab your passport, and let’s explore the Adriatic Coast on a 3-week road trip through the Balkans!

Best Time for a Balkan Road Trip

Deciding on the best time for a road trip through the Balkans can be a little tricky, as the weather and crowds can vary depending on the season. Generally, the best time to embark on this 3-week adventure is in the late spring, summer, or early autumn.

Late spring, from May to June, is an excellent time to visit as the temperatures are warm but not too hot, and the crowds are thinner. During this time, you can enjoy the beauty of the Adriatic coastline, the lush greenery of the region, and the crystal-clear waters of the sea.The Beautiful Plitvice Waterfalls in Autumn.

Summer, from July to August, is the peak tourist season in the Balkans, which means the crowds will be larger, and accommodation prices may be higher. However, the weather is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying the many outdoor activities available in the region.

If you prefer cooler temperatures, September and early October are the best months to visit. The crowds will thin out as the summer season comes to a close, and the autumn foliage will be in full bloom. You can enjoy the crisp air, stunning scenery, and the beauty of the changing seasons.

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How to Travel

If you’re not traveling in your own car, renting a vehicle is the best option as it gives you the freedom to move around as you wish. There are plenty of car rental companies to choose from in the major cities, and the rates are reasonable.

If you want to save time and money and support a good cause, I highly recommend checking out my car rental section where you will find search widgets from Giving Getaway partners Rentalcars.com and Economy Bookings. From each successful booking, I earn a commission of which I donate 50% to charity.

One thing to consider is the fees for crossing borders between countries. Make sure to check with your car rental company about the fees and necessary documentation before embarking on your trip. You’ll be traveling through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Albania, so it’s important to have all the required paperwork in order.

Driving in the Balkans can be an adventure in itself, with winding roads and mountainous terrain. It’s important to drive cautiously and be aware of your surroundings. It’s also worth noting that gas prices can vary from country to country, so be sure to fill up your tank before crossing borders to avoid any surprises.



Where to Start

If you’re planning to embark on this epic road trip, the starting point will depend on where you’re coming from and how you plan to travel. If you’re renting a car, you may want to start in one of the major cities or capitals of the countries in the region, such as Zagreb, Ljubljana, or Tirana.

It’s important to note that this itinerary spans 21 days, so be sure to plan accordingly for additional travel time getting to and from the starting point. No matter where you begin, get ready for an unforgettable journey through some of the most beautiful and scenic areas of the Balkans!

Piran (1 Day)

If you follow this itinerary, then your adventure begins in the charming town of Piran, a hidden gem on the Adriatic coast.

Piran’s Old Town is a maze of narrow streets and alleys that lead you to the main square, Tartini Square. This is the perfect spot to take in the stunning views of the Adriatic Sea and watch the sunset over the horizon. You can also climb the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. George for a panoramic view of the town and the sea.Houses Next to Water in the Beautiful Town of Piran on a Three-Week Road Trip Through the Balkans.

Stroll along the waterfront and admire the colorful buildings along the coastline. The town’s Venetian influence is visible in its architecture, and the atmosphere is reminiscent of Italy. You can also take a dip in the clear blue waters or relax on the beach.

In the evening, head to one of the seafood restaurants and enjoy some fresh fish caught that day. Piran’s cuisine is heavily influenced by the sea, and you can taste the freshness in every dish.

And after enjoying a mesmerizing sunset, it’s time to say goodbye to Slovenia and head towards Croatia. For more ideas on how to spend your time in Slovenia, which by the way is one of my favorite countries, be sure to check out my blog post on “How to Spend Three Days in Slovenia.”

Rovinj (½ Day)

Rovinj is a picturesque coastal town located in Istria, a region in western Croatia known for its stunning beaches, medieval hilltop towns, and delicious cuisine.

Spend half a day exploring its narrow cobblestone streets and taking in the stunning views of the Adriatic Sea. Wander through the colorful old town and visit St. Euphemia’s Basilica, the town’s main landmark make sure to climb to the top of the bell tower, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the town and the sea.Rovinj’s Scenic Waterfront With a Church.

If you have time, take a boat ride to one of the nearby islands or beaches for a relaxing afternoon by the crystal-clear waters of the Adriatic. With its stunning scenery and relaxed atmosphere, Rovinj is the perfect place to unwind and soak up the beauty of the Croatian coast.

Pula (½ Day)

Pula is a vibrant city located on the southern tip of the Istrian peninsula. The city’s most famous landmark is the well-preserved Roman amphitheater, also known as the Pula Arena, which dates back to the 1st century AD.

The Pula Arena alone makes the city worth visiting. But fortunately, in addition to the arena, Pula is home to several other historic sites, including the Temple of Augustus, the Arch of the Sergii, and the Forum.The Impressive Pula Amphitheater on a Three-Week Road Trip Through the Balkans.

Soak up the city’s historical significance, and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of Pula’s cafes and restaurants. The next day, you’ll leave the coast and head inland to explore one of the most beautiful destinations that Croatia has to offer.



Plitvice Lakes (1 Day)

Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of my favorite places in Croatia, and it’s not hard to see why. This stunning national park is home to a series of 16 interconnected lakes, each with crystal-clear waters that range from turquoise to deep blue. The lakes are connected by a series of waterfalls and cascades, making for a truly magical landscape that seems almost otherworldly.

The park is located in central Croatia, and therefore not exactly on the Adriatic coast, but it’s worth taking a little detour on your Balkan road trip.

The best way to explore the park is on foot, and there are several different walking routes to choose from, ranging from easy strolls to more challenging hikes. Whichever route you choose, you’ll be captivated by the stunning lakes and waterfalls.The Stunning Plitvice Waterfalls.

If you’re planning to visit the park, I highly recommend getting there early to avoid the crowds. Plitvice Lakes National Park is a popular destination and can get quite busy, especially during peak season in the summer.

Speaking of seasons, each season offers a different experience. In the spring and summer, the park is lush and green with blooming flowers and vibrant foliage, while in the fall, the leaves turn golden and create a stunning contrast against the turquoise lakes.

Regardless of when you visit, Plitvice Lakes National Park is a must-see destination and was one of my personal highlights of the entire road trip!

Zadar (1 Day)

Zadar is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of the Croatian coast. Take a stroll through the city’s old town and explore its ancient Roman ruins, churches, and museums.

Don’t miss out on the unique sound and light show of the famous Sea Organ. The Sea Organ is a unique art installation that is also a musical instrument. It’s made up of a series of steps and tubes that create music when waves crash against them. It’s a beautiful and relaxing spot to visit, especially during sunset.Zadar’s Atmospheric Old Town on a Three-Week Road Trip Through the Balkans.

And if you have time, take a day trip to one of the nearby islands, such as the Kornati Islands or Dugi Otok, where you can enjoy pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, and untouched nature. Whether you’re interested in soaking up the sun on the beach, strolling around the old town, or exploring the city’s rich history, Zadar has something for everyone!

Šibenik / Krka Waterfalls (1 Day)

Šibenik is another charming coastal town that offers a great mix of relaxation and history. You can wander through the winding streets of the old town, marvel at the impressive St. James Cathedral, and enjoy some delicious seafood at the local restaurants.

You won’t need much time in Šibenik, since the old town is quite small. I just spend an evening there, walking along the bay at a slow pace and watching the sun go down, but it was so worth stopping by.The Sea Promenade in the Lovely Town of Sibenik.

Just a short drive away from Šibenik is the stunning Krka National Park, known for its beautiful waterfalls. If you didn’t have time to make the detour to Plitvice National Park, Krka is a great alternative. Or, if you just can’t get enough of waterfalls, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Several hiking trails lead you through the park, and you can even swim in some of the natural pools at the base of the waterfalls. It’s a truly magical experience that shouldn’t be missed on your Balkan road trip adventure.



Split and Trogir (2 Days)

Split is Croatia’s second-largest city and one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Adriatic coast. With its stunning beaches, ancient ruins, and lively atmosphere, it’s easy to see why.

The old town of Split is a great place to start exploring. Here you will find the stunning Diocletian’s Palace, which dates back to the fourth century and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Wander around the narrow streets and take in the beautiful architecture and historic landmarks.

Split’s Ancient Palace Lit up at Night on a Three-Week Road Trip Through the Balkans.

Apart from the palace, Split is also home to some fantastic museums, galleries, and churches. Don’t miss the opportunity to climb up Marjan Hill for stunning panoramic views of the city and the surrounding islands. It is steep with many steps, but it’s worth the climb!

If you have some time to spare, take a short trip to Trogir, a charming little town just 30 minutes away from Split. Trogir’s historic center is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers beautiful architecture and picturesque streets.

Trogir has a more relaxed and laid-back vibe compared to Split, making it the perfect place to take a stroll along the waterfront and enjoy the sea breeze and stunning views. Once there, don’t miss the chance to visit the Cathedral of St. Lawrence, a beautiful example of Romanesque-Gothic architecture!

Mostar (1 Day)

I highly recommend making a quick detour to Mostar, a city located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, just two and a half hours away from Split and Dubrovnik, which will be the next destination on the list.

Mostar is best known for its iconic Old Bridge, which crosses the Neretva River, and its historic center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bridge was destroyed during the Bosnian War in the 1990s but was rebuilt in 2004, and it remains a symbol of the city’s resilience and perseverance.The Iconic Stone Bridge in Mostar.

Mostar offers a fascinating mixture of cultures from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. Its winding cobblestone streets, colorful bazaars, and beautiful mosques might make you feel like you’re in Istanbul, but the city also has a European atmosphere with its charming cafes and stunning architecture.

If you have some extra time, it’s also worth considering a detour to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For more information about Sarajevo, check out Ania’s wonderful guest post “Why You Should Visit Sarajevo”.

Dubrovnik (2 Days)

Dubrovnik is one of Croatia’s most famous destinations and for good reason! This enchanting city is full of history, culture, and natural beauty, making it a must-visit on any Croatian itinerary.

Make sure to walk the Dubrovnik walls, which offer stunning views of the city and the Adriatic Sea. It’s not super cheap, but it’s totally worth it! A Breathtaking View of Dubrovnik From Above on a Three-Week Road Trip Through the Balkans.

Dubrovnik’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with winding streets, charming alleys, and ancient buildings. You can spend hours getting lost in the narrow lanes, discovering hidden shops and cafes, and admiring the city’s unique architecture.

And if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll be thrilled to know that Dubrovnik was used as the filming location for King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms.

You can visit many of the iconic Game of Thrones locations in Dubrovnik, such as the Baroque staircase where Cersei Lannister took her Walk of Shame and the Lovrijenac Fortress, which served as the Red Keep. Even if you’re not a fan, the magnificent architecture and picturesque streets of Dubrovnik are sure to take your breath away.

If you’re looking for a more adventurous way to take in the views, climb the nearby Mount Srd and watch the sunset – it’s an experience you won’t forget.

Cavtat’s Scenic Waterfront With Boats on a Three-Week Road Trip Through the Balkans.

And in case you have some extra time, you should consider making a short trip to Cavtat. This hidden gem is a picturesque town located just 30 minutes away from Dubrovnik. It boasts stunning waterfront views, charming old town streets, and a peaceful atmosphere that makes it the perfect spot for a relaxing half-day trip.

Leaving Croatia behind, it’s time to discover the rugged mountains and stunning coastline of Montenegro. But before you go, be sure to check out Linda’s guest post “Top 7 Places to Visit in Croatia“. Her insider tips and recommendations will help you make the most out of your time in this beautiful country!

Kotor Bay (3 Days)

Kotor Bay is a hidden gem nestled in the stunning landscape of Montenegro. To me, it was the biggest surprise of my travels, and I ended up spending three months exploring this beautiful region.

It’s a place that is incredibly special to me, which is why I wrote an entire blog post about it called “Bay Of Kotor – Europe’s Most Underrated Hidden Gem,” which you can check out if you want to learn more.

The Bay of Kotor is such a special place that it deserves to be explored in smaller sections. So, let’s start with the beautiful town of Kotor.

Herceg Novi

When coming from Dubrovnik, Herceg Novi will be the first city you pass in Montenegro. It’s a vibrant coastal town that has managed to maintain its traditional charm while also embracing modernity.Herceg Novi’s Charming Old Town With a Beautiful Church.

One of my favorite things to do in Herceg Novi always was to stroll along the promenade and soak up the lively atmosphere. You can also visit the nearby Savina Monastery for a peaceful retreat or explore the beautiful parks and historic architecture.

Perast

Perast is a small town located just a short drive away from Kotor. It’s a picturesque place that will transport you back in time with its old-world charm and stunning architecture.The picturesque water promenade in Perast on a Three-Week Road Trip Through the Balkans.

Take a boat trip to visit the nearby islets of St. George and Our Lady of the Rocks, or simply wander the narrow streets and admire the beautiful Baroque buildings.

Kotor

Kotor is one of those towns that make you fall in love with it instantly. Its old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is packed with maze-like alleys and streets, lovely cafes, restaurants, and shops.The Stunning View of Kotor From Its Walls.

If you’re up for a little adventure, climb the historic city walls for a breathtaking view of the bay and its surrounding mountains. Trust me, the view is worth every step! With majestic mountains surrounding the town and pristine waters to match, it’s hard not to get lost in the beauty and charm of Kotor.



Budva (1 Day)

Budva is a popular coastal town in Montenegro, known for its beautiful beaches, historical sites, and lively nightlife. The city is quite big, but the most interesting part is the old town, which is relatively small and only a short walk away from the main promenade.

The old town is surrounded by impressive walls and features narrow streets and small squares filled with restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops. It’s a beautiful area to explore, and there are plenty of photo opportunities with the backdrop of the Adriatic Sea.The Budva Ballerina Statue and Old Town on a Three-Week Road Trip Through the Balkans.

One of the highlights of Budva is its beaches. The most famous is Mogren Beach, which is located just a short walk from the old town. The beach is relatively small but offers crystal-clear water and breathtaking views.

If you need more action, there are also plenty of water sports activities available, including jet skiing and parasailing, making it a popular spot for adventure-seekers.

Lake Skadar (1 Day)

Lake Skadar, also called Lake Shkodër and Lake Shkodra, is the largest lake in the Balkans. Although it spans both Montenegro and Albania, I recommend you explore the Montenegro side of the lake. With crystal-clear waters and verdant greenery all around, it’s the perfect place to relax and take in the beauty of Montenegro’s natural landscape.

Around Lake Skadar, you can find numerous hiking trails, scenic viewpoints, and over 280 bird species, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers.Winding River of Lake Shkadar.

One of the top activities at Lake Skadar is taking a boat ride to explore its crystal-clear waters and surrounding mountains. It’s an unforgettable experience that allows you to appreciate the lake’s beauty from a different perspective.

Another must-do activity is visiting the nearby village of Virpazar. This charming village is a great place to learn more about the local culture, try some traditional food and wine, and see stunning views of the lake.

So, if you’re planning a trip to Montenegro and want to experience its natural beauty, Lake Skadar is definitely worth a visit.

Shkodër (1 Day)

Shkodër is a lively city that is located at the same-named lake in northern Albania. As someone who lived there for two months, I can attest to its unique atmosphere and super friendly people.

One of the highlights of the city is the three religious buildings located side by side: a mosque, a Catholic cathedral, and an Orthodox church, which reflects the country’s diverse cultural and religious heritage.Shkoder’s Grand Mosque on a Three-Week Road Trip Through the Balkans.

In addition to its cultural offerings, Shkodër is also a great starting point for exploring the Albanian countryside. Lake Koman, for example, is a beautiful reservoir surrounded by stunning mountains and is a popular destination for hiking and boating.

A trip to the nearby village of Theth is highly recommended for those seeking a taste of traditional Albanian village life amidst breathtaking mountain scenery. Take a scenic drive or hike to reach this charming village, and be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding valleys and peaks.

If you’re short on time, half a day is enough to explore the city’s main attractions. But if you have more time, I highly recommend spending at least one or two days in the area to explore the natural beauty around Shkodër.



Tirana (1-2 Days)

As you make your way from the Adriatic coast, the bustling capital city of Tirana awaits. Don’t worry about leaving the coast behind, as you’ll return soon enough. Plan to spend at least a day or two in the city to experience the unique energy and charm of the Albanian capital.

Tirana is a city full of surprises. From the colorful buildings and street art to the delicious food and lively nightlife, there’s plenty to do and see. Visit the National Museum of History and the Et’hem Bey Mosque to learn about the country’s past and culture.

Take a stroll in the Grand Park or the trendy Blloku neighborhood, known for its cafes and shops, and check out the iconic Skanderbeg Square. That’s the city’s main square named after Albania’s national hero and featuring a statue of him on horseback at its center.

Tirana’s Skanderbeg Square at Sunset.

One of my favorite highlights of Tirana was visiting the bunker museums. These museums are located in the many bunkers that were built throughout Albania during the Cold War. They now offer a unique and eerie insight into the country’s history.

Another must-see attraction is Mount Dajti. Take the cable car to the top and enjoy the stunning views of the city and the surrounding mountains. Once at the top, you can enjoy a meal with a view or go for a hike in the national park.

For more information and insider tips on exploring Tirana, be sure to check out Ania’s guest post “Tirana – Between Bunkers and Pyramids.”

Berat / Osum Canyon (1-2 Days)

Berat, also known as the “city of a thousand windows”, is a charming town located in central Albania. Although I lived there for a month, you can easily explore the interesting parts of the town in just one morning or afternoon.

Berat itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a rich history and beautiful architecture. Be sure to visit the castle, which sits on a hill overlooking the town and offers stunning panoramic views.The Unique Houses of Berat on a Three-Week Road Trip Through the Balkans.

The town is also known for its Ottoman-era houses, many of which have been converted into guesthouses or restaurants, and its numerous churches and mosques, including the 13th-century Red Mosque and the 18th-century King Mosque.

My highlight of the region, however, is the Osum Canyon. The canyon is a natural wonder that is often overlooked by visitors to Albania, but it’s well worth the 2-hour drive from Berat.

You can hike through the canyon, marvel at the stunning rock formations, and enjoy the beautiful views of the canyon and the surrounding landscape.

Albanian Riviera (1 Day)

As you make your way back to the coast for the grand finale of your 3-week Balkan road trip, be prepared for a truly scenic journey on the SH8 road. This road spans around 120 kilometers (75 miles) and offers breathtaking views of the Albanian Riviera.

Along the way, you’ll come across several beautiful towns and villages that are worth a stop to take in the scenery and the local charm. Two such picturesque places are Dhërmi and Himara. Each has its distinct character and offers a glimpse into the laid-back lifestyle of the Albanian coast.Dhermi Village at Albanian Riviera With Stunning Scenery on a Three-Week Road Trip Through the Balkans.

Between those two places, you will find one true hidden gem – the Gjipe Beach, which is tucked away and requires a bit of hiking to reach. However, it’s well worth the effort, as you’ll be rewarded with crystal-clear waters and stunning surroundings!

Take your time to explore the area and enjoy the stunning views of the sparkling sea and the rocky cliffs. I recommend taking at least one full day to soak up the beauty of the region. 



Sarandë (1 Day)

As you arrive in Sarandë, you’ll have the chance to explore the rich history of the area by visiting Butrint, one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in the Balkans. From the impressive amphitheater to the ancient city walls and stunning mosaics, Butrint is a true marvel.

After exploring Butrint, take the rest of the day to relax and soak in the beauty of Sarandë. You can take a stroll along the promenade and admire the views of the Ionian Sea or explore the charming town center with its colorful buildings and bustling atmosphere.

Ksamil Beach Near Saranda With Crystal-Clear Water.

But the highlight of Sarandë is undoubtedly Ksamil Beach, a hidden gem with crystal-clear waters and white sand that’s perfect for swimming and sunbathing. Spend an afternoon relaxing on the beach or venture to nearby Blue Eye, a natural spring with stunning turquoise waters, for a bit of adventure.

Anything Else?

While this 3-week Balkan road trip itinerary covers some of the most stunning destinations in the region, there are many other places worth exploring.

For example, head south from Albania to Greece, where you can discover the stunning beaches and rich history of the Peloponnese peninsula. Or, venture to the northern part of Greece to see the awe-inspiring monasteries of Meteora perched atop towering rock formations.Meteora Monasteries in Greece.

Alternatively, take a detour to Italy and visit the charming cities of Trieste and Venice, both with their own unique beauty and cultural significance. Or if you’re interested in history and architecture, consider a trip to Bulgaria to explore its ancient ruins and impressive cathedrals.

These are just a few suggestions. The Balkans are a treasure trove of history, culture, and natural beauty, and there is always more to discover. So, do your research, plan ahead, and get ready for an unforgettable journey.

Conclusion

I hope that this itinerary has inspired you to plan your own 3-week Balkan road trip along the Adriatic Coast.

If you do, then don’t be afraid to stray off the beaten path and explore lesser-known destinations, as there are plenty of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. And with each country in the Balkans offering its unique cultural and natural treasures, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience.

The Balkans are a truly unique and diverse region, with so much to offer for those who love adventure, history, and nature. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore this incredible part of the world. Start planning your trip today and get ready for an unforgettable adventure!

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Linda (LD Holland)
1 year ago

This 3 week Balkan road trip looks awesome. We have only visited a few of these spots by cruise ship and always vowed to go back. Now we have a full route for our planning! We would definitely do this in the Spring or Autumn. Good tip about checking on costs and rule related to moving between countries. I am sure we might need more than 3 weeks!

Christian
1 year ago

You can easily do this road trip in 4 or even 5 weeks 😀 This itinerary is quite packed, so if you like to travel slowly you should definitely plan more time for this route. But I’m glad this post inspired you to go back, the Balkans really have a lot to offer, much more than I could cover in this post. 🙂

Melanie
1 year ago

Beautiful photos! I saw this lovely corner of the world on a train trip but I’d love to follow your itinerary and see it again by car. You’ve highlighted some nice sites, like the waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Christian
1 year ago
Reply to  Melanie

That must have been a really nice trip, too! A car certainly gives you more freedom to explore all the beautiful corner in the Balkans. The Plitvice Lakes alone are a good reason to go on that trip, that place was incredible! 🙂

Anita
1 year ago

Wow! It’s a really epic itinerary! You have to have lots of time to do it all. So far I have done most of Croatia and also Mostar and must say I really enjoyed that. So I have an inspiration to see also Montenegro and Albania which both look attractive. Thanks for sharing!

Christian
1 year ago
Reply to  Anita

Really nice that you managed to see some of these places, Croatia is a stunning country, but especially Montenegro surprised me a lot. I didn’t know what to expect and Kotor Bay for example was one of my absolute highlights. 🙂

Lorry Perkins
1 year ago

Wow! The scenery is beautiful along the Adriatic Coast. What an amazing 3 week adventure! Thanks for all of the planning tips.

Christian
1 year ago
Reply to  Lorry Perkins

Thanks Lorry, glad you liked this post! It really was an amazing adventure 🙂

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