Southwestern Balkans Tour 2017 – Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro

 

This two week tour is designed for those who want to experience and see as much as possible in a limited amount of time!

 

It’s a wonderful travel experience encompassing the best on offer from four Balkan countries, focusing on natural landscapes, culture, history and food! Like our Land of the Geg and Land of the Tosk tour, we have planned it to be flexible and we can certainly try our best to accommodate changes according to your interests, timing, physical ability, etc. Just drop us a line and let us know what we could do to make this tour more interesting to you! Groups will aim to be larger than 3 and smaller than 14 participants.

 

A fun and knowledgeable guide will be with you for the duration of the trip to act as your driver and teach you all about Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro.   We will have the occasional local guide help out, too! The tour begins in Tirana, Albania and ends in Podgorica, Montenegro. The dates and prices shown are only for the duration of the tour itself but we can definitely assist you with accommodation if you’d like to arrive in Albania the day before.  At the end of the trip, we will transfer you to the airport for your flight connections back home. However, we’d be happy to help you in making further plans if you’d like to stay in the Montenegrin mountains, Shkodra Lake or if you’d simply like to relax on the beach.

 

Join us for a tour of the Balkans this year!  We have picked these dates because the weather is most pleasant:

 

May 11th, 2017- May 25th, 2017 (CONFIRMED DEPARTURE)

September 22nd, 2017 – October 6th, 2017

October 2nd, 2017 – October 16th, 2017

 

 

Itinerary

 

Day 1 

  • Arrival in Tirana, transfer from airport (approx. 25 minute drive.)
  • Welcome dinner with traditional cuisine.
  • Overnight in Tirana.

Tirana has been the capital of Albania since 1920 and is located in a valley at the foot of the very beautiful Dajti mountain range. Once famous for its isolation, Albania is one of the smallest and least-developed countries in Europe, which makes it all the more enticing to visit! Today, the country is slowly making the transition to an open-market economy and is on the road to progress. On the Adriatic and Ionian Seas and with a pleasant Mediterranean climate, Albania is soon to become one of Europe’s most interesting getaways. Still relatively unspoiled by globalization, you will notice an inspiring and unique mix of civilizations and cultures!

 

Day 2

Tirana – Kruja – Tirana

  • Transfer to Kruja (approx. 1 hour drive.)
  • Visit the fortress of Kruja, the Skanderbeg Museum, Ethnographic Museum, the Bektashi Teqe (a Sufi-inspired version of Islam espousing tolerance and embraced by the majority of Albanian Muslims) and the Old Bazaar (full of souvenirs, including hand-made articles!)
  • Transfer back to Tirana, touring the National History Museum, E’them Bey Mosque, New Bazaar and Boulevard of the Martyrs of the Nation. We recommend you take your own independent tour of Bunk’Art in the city center. It will show you so much about Albanian Intelligent Services focusing on the period when these made Albanians lives as terrible as hell.
  • Overnight in Tirana.

Kruja is a small town perched high on a mountain facing the Adriatic Sea and the Western plain of Albania. It was the capital of the Albanian resistance against the Ottoman Empire under the leadership of our national hero, Skanderbeg. It saw three sieges in the 15th century, one of which was led by the famous Sultan Mehmet Fatih (the Conqueror of Constantinople.) While Skanderbeg was alive, he prevented Kruja from falling under Ottoman control!

 

Day 3 

Tirana – Durres – Berat

  • Transfer to Durres (approx. 45 minute drive.)
  • Visit the Archaeological Museum and Roman Amphitheatre.
  • Transfer to Berat (approx. 1 hour 20’ drive.)
  • Visit the Onufri Musuem, the Castle and the Old Town (with the two beautiful neighborhoods of Mangalemi and Gorica that give Berat the name “1001 Windowed Town.”)
  • Overnight Berat.

Durres is Albania’s second largest city and one of its oldest towns; it has existed under Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Ottoman and Communist periods. The well-preserved amphitheater is the largest in the Balkans- it isn’t difficult to imagine the Gladiator fights! Berat is one of the country’s most beautiful towns and has been continually inhabited for 2400 years.  It is famous for its museum where we will show you elegant post-Byzantine icons from various painters of the Middle Ages and the Ottoman period. We will see some beautiful chapels that still stand in the unique neighborhood of the castle. Views of the Tomorri mountain, the Osumi river and the western plain (and the legends inspired by them) are simply stunning.

 

Day 4 

Berat – Vlora – Saranda

  • Depart for Vlora (approx. 1h45’ hour drive.)
  • Visit the Central Square (Flag Square.)
  • Drive through the Albanian Riviera, going over the stunning Llogara Pass towards Saranda (approx. 3 hour drive.)
  • Overnight Saranda.

Vlora is where Albania declared itself independent after 500 years of Ottoman occupation. The drive through the Albanian Riviera is extremely scenic, passing through the Llogara Pass (otherwise called Ceasar’s Pass.) We’ll make stops to enjoy refreshments and take in the breathtaking views of the Ionian Sea, the Acroceraunian Mountains and the Castle of Vasiliqia in the beautiful bay of Porto Palermo. The castle illustrates the very interesting history of the notorious Albanian Ali Pasha, whose wealth and career threatened the solidity of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 18th century. He was made eternal by British poet George Gordon Byron in “Child Harold’s Pilgrimage” and in Alexander Dumas’ “Count of Monte Cristo.“)

 

Day 5 

Saranda –Butrint – Saranda

  • Depart for Butrint (approx. 30’ drive.)
  • Visit the Greek and Roman ruins here, the most important archaeological site in Albania.
  • Drive by Lake Butrint and have lunch at the beautiful village of Ksamil with great views of the Channel of Corfu.
  • Depart back to Saranda.
  • Overnight Saranda.

Butrint dates back to the 7th century BC (according to the legend of Troyan Helenus – son of Priam of Troy.) Virgil claimed that the Trojans settled Butrint, but no evidence of this has yet been found. Within a century of the Greeks arriving, Butrint had become a fortified trading city with its own acropolis, the ruins of which we can still visit. The rediscovered city is a microcosm of almost 3,000 years of Mediterranean history.  Its 6th century BC fortification evokes the city’s military power and symbolizes the rich culture of the once thriving ancient settlement. Lake Butrint is famous for its beautiful landscape and quality mussels which we definitely recommend you try in one of the little family restaurants in Ksamil.

 

Day 6

Saranda – Gjirokastra

  • Depart east for the Wide Mountains.
  • Visit the exquisite Monastery of Saint George of Mesopotam and Blue Eye natural spring -both must-see historical and natural attractions of the region (approx. 40’ drive.)
  • Depart for the UNESCO-listed town Gjirokastra (approx. 40’ drive.)
  • Visit famous and hidden corners of the Gjirokastra castle, the Weapons Museum, the Bazaar and one or two traditional houses (one of which is a labyrinth of 44 doors and 64 windows!)
  • Overnight Gjirokastra.

Gjirokastra is a magical town of many legends, amazing Ottoman architecture and it is perched atop a mountain facing the beautiful, strategic and historical River Drinos. “This is maybe the only town in the world where you are walking in your garden [and] you slip and you fall on the roof of your neighbor,” writes Albanian Nobel Prize candidate Ismail Kadare. He’s not the only famous Albanian born here – the other one (this time infamous) is Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha -and he certainly loved his town as well.

 

Day 7

Gjirokastra – Voskopoja

  • Depart for Voskopoja, driving through the spectacular Kelcyra Gorge, Vjosa Valley, Leskovik Mountains and colorful fields of Erseka (approx. 4 hour drive)
  • Arrive in the once large and very prosperous village of Voskopoja, just outside of Korca.
  • Overnight Voskopoja.

This is probably one of the most spectacular drives in the region with amazing landscapes and (as local drivers say) 440 curves on an often chicken-nested road. There will be many opportunities for great landscape photographs and stops in some of the forgotten towns like Permet or Ereska. The cuisine is delicious and people are extremely welcoming – not only do they not often see foreign visitors, Albanians rarely go this way, too.  A truly unique part of the trip!

 

 

Day 8

Voskopoja – Ohrid, Macedonia

  • Visit nearby Korca to see the Museum of Medieval Art (one of the best Byzantine art museums of the region) and the local bazaar of Korca.
  • Drive to Lake Ohrid to cross into Macedonia (approx. 1 hour 30′ drive.)
  • Visit the famous Monastery of St. Naum, established in year 900.
  • Depart for Ohrid, visiting the UNESCO-listed historic “town-museum (approx. 1h drive);” visit the 9th century Slavic Panteleimon Monastery, a fortress, amphitheater and many other sites!
  • Overnight in Ohrid in a charming hotel in front of the lake.

Korca is a town of artists and intellectuals and has contributed greatly to the preservation and development of Albanian culture. (It also hosts the oldest and best Albanian brew, Birra Korca!) Here is a great place to better understand local realities and talk to the great ambassadors to the Land of the Eagle – the people themselves. The Monastery of St. Naum is among the most popular destinations in the Republic of Macedonia and for very good reason! The city of Ohrid, with its historic town Centre and stunning lake vistas, is the pride of Macedonia. The old part of the town was known in ancient times as Lychnidos (the City of Lights.) The Slavic Cyrillic alphabet was created here by brothers Cyril and Methodius. Ohrid is also known as the “City of 365 Churches” and we will visit a few of the most important ones.

 

Day 9 

Ohrid – Ohrid

  • Enjoy a well-deserved day of relaxation in one of the Balkan’s most beautiful towns!
  • Overnight Ohrid.

We will be around to give you advice on where to go for more visiting, shopping or we’ll even tell you the best places to relax with a good book.

 

Day 10

Tetovo – Skopje

  • Depart for Tetovo (approx. 2hour drive.)
  • Visit the Painted Mosque located by the Pena River, constructed in 1459 on the foundation of an older edifice.
  • Depart for Skopje, Macedonia’s capital (approx. 45′ drive.)
  • Visit the main square and other famous monuments here.
  • Overnight in Skopje.

The Painted Mosque is decorated with an elaborate facade and interior, making it unique to the Balkans. According to the locals, in the tomb next to it is buried the body of the woman who financed its construction. We’ll have an opportunity to visit a Teqe and meet a local baba who’ll discuss traditions here. Skopje is the ancient, modern and eccentric capital of Macedonia -rich in patrimony and culture, we will visit the central square with its gigantic statues of Alexander the Great and Philip of Macedonia, recently sculpted and provoking diverse reactions from locals and neighbors.

 

Day 11

Skopje – Prizren, Kosovo

  • Morning tour of Skopje including the Kale Fortress (with walls from the 6th century) and many Ottoman monuments like the Mustapha Pasha Mosque, the Karavan Saraj, the old Bazaar area and the Daut Pasha Hamam from the 15th century.
  • Transfer to Prizren, via Pristina, Kosovo’s capital (approx. 2 hour 30’ drive.)
  • Overnight Prizren.

Skopje was once the great town of Justiniana Prima, founded by emperor Justinian, and later used as military barracks by the Ottomans from the 14th to 20th centuries. Our Skopje guide will enthusiastically and passionately tell us the story of this fascinating town. Once we get to Pristina, we’ll take a short walk in the pedestrian part of town and enjoy some little bars in the area. Pristina is crucial to the modern story of Kosovo, especially with the recent conflict between the armies of Milosevic and the local KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army). Tony Blair and Bill Clinton are considered war heroes here and as a result, Brits and Americans have a lot of local fans.

 

Day 12

Prizren – Shkodra, Albania

  • Tour of Prizren – the Sinan Pasha Mosque and the downtown core.
  • Drive through the spectacular Highway of the Nation in the direction of western Albania (approx. 2h30′ drive).
  • Arrival in Shkodra in the late afternoon. Check into a nice local hotel.
  • Overnight in Shkodra.

Prizren has a nice combination of Byzantine and Ottoman heritage and those of Orthodox, Islamic and Catholic faiths peacefully coexist.  If in the mood for a walk, we can hike to the top of the fortress that dominates the town. From there you can see Prizren’s many minarets and red rooftops as well as the whole valley that the town is settled in.

 

Day 13

Shkodra – Ulcinj, Montenegro

  • Tour of the Shkodra city center’s beautifully reconstructed pedestrian areas and very elegant Ebu Bekr Mosque. One of the highlights of this visit will be the very elegant Marubi Photography Museum.
  • Tour to the castle of Rozafa overlooking the town of Shkodra, the lake and the three rivers (Kiri, Drini and Buna) meeting at its feet.
  • Drive to the border of Murriqan and then transfer to Ulcinj (approx. 1 hour drive.)
  • Visit of the castle of Ulcinj with beautiful views of the Adriatic Sea.
  • Overnight in Ulcinj.

Miguel Cervantes was once held in Ulcinj as a prisoner by local pirates. It’s from this town that he got his inspiration for the famous female character of Dulcinea (in Don Quixote.) There are many stories to be imparted and lots of natural beauty can still be seen in this part of the region!

 

Day 14

Ulcinj  – Kotor – Budva

  • Depart for Budva via Kotor (approx. 1 hour drive.)
  • Take in a variety of sites in these two important towns.
  • Drive to Budva (approx. 30’ drive.)
  • Delicious goodbye dinner in one of the local restaurants.
  • Overnight Budva.

Budva and Kotor are impressive sites to visit in the country of the Black Mountains. They have played a major role for navigators throughout the centuries and have preserved a lot of the history of Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Venetian heritage. Kotor is also very interesting as a natural phenomenon -these are the southern-most fjords in continental Europe! They create a spectacular bay surrounded by glorious mountain views. You can choose to climb the 2400-year-old Illyrian tower’s 1350 steps (which will keep us pretty fit!) Alternatively, you can relax at one of the coffee shops in the Old Town, take advantage of shopping opportunities or just sit in one of the squares within the ancient walls and relax while waiting for the others to make their descent (it takes just under an hour.)

 

Day 15

  • Transfer to the airport in Podgorica for the flight back home.

Price:

 

The tour is 1450.0 Euros per person (twin/double room). Single supplement: 239.9 Euros.  Of course, we can take Albanian Lek, GBP and USD, too. We will discuss payment options with you.

 

The tour price includes:

  • Transfer in AC vehicle with professional driver.
  • Character boutique Albanian, Macedonian, Kosovar and Montenegrin family owned 3-4 star hotels with breakfasts.
  • Bed and breakfast accommodation as well as a welcome and a goodbye meal with emphasis on the local traditional Balkan cuisine. We’ll give you good advice on places to eat during the whole trip and will try to recommend the best local cuisine and wine!
  • All entrance fees to museums and visited areas.
  • English speaking tour guide for the whole trip.
  • Expenses for all other guides.
  • Local taxes (VAT 20%)

The tour price does not include:

  • Airfare.
  • Travel Insurance.
  • Tips for the guides and driver.
  • Anything which is not mentioned in the above section.

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All pictures courtesy of our Godmother Jane McLaughlin