When I first got interested in the Balkans, I started with the big general studies by Schevill, Jelavich, Fine etc. These describe the historical events, but don't give a flavour of the people and places. I am great believer in walking a battlefield to understand it, but the next best option is a good travelogue, as we can't visit everywhere. I read a wide range of these, many from the 1960's, when Yugoslavia was a popular destination for English language travel writers.
On this theme, I spotted a review for 'Border' by Kapka Kassabova. She grew up in Bulgaria, but now lives in Scotland. She has written about her travels in a rarely visited part of the Balkans - the border between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, broadly Thrace, although the ancient tribal area covered a much larger territory.
Like every good travel writer, she gives a bit of history to introduce each part of her travels and liberally sprinkles historical points in most chapters. This is a part of the Balkans that has seen huge upheavals in the past 200 years, with whole populations being moved both ways across the borders. Ethnic cleansing, before it entered common usage. It was also a hard border in the 20th Century, during the Cold War and even between NATO 'allies' Greece and Turkey.
The author spends some time in cities like Edirne, but most of her stays are in small villages. The locals tell their own story, often tragic. This is not a cheery read, but there are many tales of kindness, often from people who had little to give in the material sense. There are also some great characters!
It was Radio 4's 'Book of the week' and would probably be a good listen in audio. I struggled a bit after the first few chapters, but I am glad I persevered, it's well worth the effort.
Talking of Thracians, here a few ancient warriors from my collection. These are from the Foundry range, some of my very favourite figures.