This all-encompassing tour is designed for travelers who love culture, history, food and seeing natural landscapes!
Fully escorted, a fun and knowledgeable guide will be with you for the duration of the trip to impart the story of this fascinating country and will be your personal driver as you move from one destination to the next. Focusing mainly in Albania (with a brief sojourn into Kosovo), this two week tour is the most in-depth one we offer on purely Albanian heritage, geography and history. Get off the beaten path to discover some parts rarely visited by outsiders! Encompassing Albania’s two distinctive regions (the northern Geg and southern Tosk areas, which you can do as individual trips rather than a whole – see itinerary below), it will surely be an amazing experience.
We’ve designed this tour for English-speaking travelers (from the UK, Europe, North America or any other part of the world) with an itinerary that offers a pleasant lack of super-early starts – most departure times are around 9:00 in the morning. We have managed to avoid long drives – most days you will end up at the next destination with plenty of daylight hours left to explore, relax and eat. The tour allows a lot of flexibility (a good balance of guidance and freedom) and provides opportunities to experience and learn as much as possible from this surprising region of the Balkans!
We would recommend that visitors arrange to arrive in Albania the day before the tour – we will collect you at the airport and can assist you in making arrangements at a suitable hotel for that night. The tour arrangements on the final day are designed to get you back to Tirana in time to catch a late flight home. If you prefer, we can arrange for you to spend an extra night in Tirana and we will take you to the airport the next day. We can also arrange for you to stay longer should you wish to have more time to explore.
Being that there are two portions of the tour (the north and the south) you can definitely opt for only one part according to your timing and interests, but of course, we recommend taking the whole tour of Albania! Here is the itinerary and do contact us if you have any questions!
Northern Albania – Geg Itinerary
Shkodra is one of the oldest and most populated cities in Albania’s north. With gorgeous panoramas on the way there and a surprisingly cosmopolitan and compact downtown core, unwinding after your journey to get here couldn’t be easier. Dinner is a great time to get to know your fellow travelers – the food is delicious and the conversation lively! This is a great destination from which to begin your Albanian adventure.
Valbona is a small village sandwiched between stunning mountains, a craggy landscape and endless trees. The flora and fauna, homes, people, food, traditions and animals all add to the mystique of this place that is seemingly lost in time. Jaw-dropingly beautiful, the stark isolation and sense of community here will, for many, be the highlight of life in the Albanian mountains. And bring an extra battery for your camera – the ferry and village will have you snapping shots all day long!
Kosovo has a unique and complicated history – get a chance to learn some of it and be pleasantly surprised at the hospitality and friendliness you encounter here! A country-in-flux, there has never been a more exciting time to visit. Prizren, a town of shops, mosques, churches and old bridges, compares to many Western European cities in culture and beauty.
Southern Albania – Tosk Itinerary
(Day 1 for those who join us on this day. Although you can start from here, we definitely suggest starting with the first day of the Geg Itinerary! )
For those already on the tour:
The Historical Museum will help make sense of much of the trip, from pre-history to the impact of King Zog. There’s also a hall dedicated to Albania’s struggle against fascism, when Enver Hoxha was aided by Britain’s Special Operations Executive (he never said “thank you”, oddly.)
For those joining us today:
If no one new joins those who’ve been traveling from the north, we will continue accordingly! Tirana is Albania’s small and chaotic capital and there are plenty of things to do -you can easily walk around the central area of Skanderbeg Square and Bllok without needing to get a taxi. Just take care crossing the road – Albanians didn’t have cars until the 1990s and still haven’t gotten a grip on driving…
The ancient city of Kruja was the stronghold of Albania’s national hero, Skanderbeg, who successfully fought off the Ottomans for 25 years in the 15th century. A museum dedicated to Skanderbeg, designed by Enver Hoxha’s daughter, sits within the citadel walls. The small bazaar is probably the best place to go souvenir hunting in Albania.
Durrës is a port and resort town, popular with Albanians in the summer. Although an ancient city, little remains of its archaeological heritage (it does have great seafood, though!) The archaeological museum has a refined collection of objects and monuments that you will love.
The National Art Gallery is one of Tirana’s highlights, with a floor dedicated to Albania’s own unique brand of socialist-realist art. It’s inspired from a time when your career could be cut short if Hoxha’s wife thought your work had hidden capitalist meaning. The very recently opened Bunk’Art 2 is a chain of former Nomenclature shelters to protect the high officials from an eventual enemy attack (some of us think it’s unfortunate this never happened).
The drive to Korça is extremely scenic, taking us down (generally!) good roads, and along the shore of Lake Ohrid, which shares a border with Macedonia. Korça itself is a charming, atmospheric town, with cobbled back streets and crumbling villas from King Zog’s era.
Korça’s museum of medieval art is deservedly famous and not many group tour itineraries take travelers to Korça – we think you’ll be pleased you came! This is one of the few longer drives, but we’ve made sure it’s a special one. The road from Korça to Përmet is one of the most beautiful in Albania, or even Europe -keep your eyes peeled for eagles! Përmet has an unhappy war story, having been burned on several occasions by the Italians and Germans.
Gjirokastra is one of Albania’s two UNESCO World Heritage ‘cities’ (by normal standards, it’s better described as a medium-sized town.) It’s a lovely place, with cobbled streets and beautiful old stone houses, many of true Ottoman style. It’s the very proud birthplace of both Enver Hoxha (infamous) and the (famous) writer Ismail Kadare.
Butrint is deservedly one of the Mediterranean’s most famous archaeological sites. At this time of year we’re likely to have it almost to ourselves, and the temperatures should be pleasant, too.
Porto Palermo is a beautiful bay, with a small fortress in which Ali Pasha (of Byron fame) used to get up to all sorts of disgraceful shenanigans. It’s a lovely setting for our lunch stop.
Transfer to Llogara(approx. 1 hour 20’ drive.)
The Llogara Pass is always a high point (literally) on any tour of Albania. We’ll climb up from sea level to an altitude of 1,000 meters in about 20 minutes, enjoying magnificent views of the coast along the way (yes, we’ll stop for a photo.) Apollonia that we’ll visit next has the reputation of being the “Oxford” of antiquity and a beautiful setting between a valley and the Adriatic Sea. It hosts a really fine archeological museums with original artefacts from the site itself.
The Church of St. Mary at Ardenica is well worth a stop – under communism it was used as a military storeroom, which perhaps explains how its wood carvings and icons are so well preserved.
Berat is Albania’s second UNESCO World Heritage City, with white-washed Ottoman villas clinging to the side of a rocky hill on which sits a small citadel and eight hidden medieval churches.
We will price the tour according to the number of guests and conditions. Please remember, this tour itinerary is flexible! We take Albanian Lek, GBP and USD and will discuss payment options with you.
The tour price includes:
The tour price does not include:
Pictures courtesy of our Godmother Jenn McLaughlin
Here’s what Jenn McLaughlin (Restaurateur and Writer) from Canada thought of our tour in Fall 2016
For anyone questioning whether or not to go on this tour, I tell you with utmost confidence to question it no further. The country and the people running this company are both fantastic. My mom and I did the cultural tour Land of the Geg & Land of the Tosk and experienced two weeks of eye-opening, jaw-dropping beauty.
First off, if you have extremely high expectations for luxury, this country may not be for you. While the hotels were all so unbelievably lovely that I felt grossly underwhelmed coming back to my own home with mix-matched decor and a bathroom that could surely use some updating (1970s purple bathtub, anyone?), the experience of going to Albania is not one filled with grandeur and opulence – thankfully, refreshingly so. It is a breath of fresh air.; a warm blanket on a cold day. You will regret not going.
Albania is honest, raw, sincere, naturally beautiful and has hospitality in places you’d least expect it. It is not perfect – and in some places it’s not even pretty -but the charms of this country-in-flux are ones that force you to love it. And you will love it in the purest way, not just on the surface. Albania creeps up on you. It moves its way into every pore of your body and starts imprinting itself on your mind and heart in ways you didn’t expect. It’s not like those touristy destinations where you feel removed and disengaged, shuffling from one in-your-face-beautiful
Albanian Trip is unequivocally the company with whom you should see Shqipëri. For one, the people running it are incredible. They offer a human side to the country and by no means do they partake in the “smiling guide who just wants your money” act. No, no. These people are genuine -they are everything missing from the world and from the ever-depersonalizing tourism industry.
Contact with Elton began in the winter and he was prompt and charming in his responses. Right away any trepidation I had with choosing an obscure online company was erased. I laughed out loud at some of our conversations and felt entirely sure that I should sign up. I wired my money off.
There were five of us on this particular tour. Although there may be more or less people when you might decide to go, the smaller size made for a unique and personal experience. Gjergji, another of the three owners, was our tour leader and we felt so thankful to have him. This is a growing company and not all will get to be directly with the owners but I can assure you that they carefully choose who works with them.
Gjergji is one of the sweetest, most sincere people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He noticed how everyone was feeling, was able to gauge how to act in any stressful situations and he was careful to balance all of our needs (just imagine working with a group of people with varying personal preferences! It’s no easy task but he pulled it off with great skill.) The tour is designed to allow a good mix of guidance and freedom, and the behind-the-scenes work that goes into planning it makes it too easy to forget just how much they’ve done to make it so seamless. There were no terribly early starts and almost every day we got to the next destination by the afternoon in order to have time to rest and then explore. Gjergji’s driving was flawless and he handled the more strenuous mountain roads with care and expertise (as one who sometimes gets carsick, this was great!)
The choice of activities included on the itinerary is mixed and you will surely get something out of all it. It is designed to give you a well-rounded taste of the country – geographically, historically, gastronomically and culturally. I shall not provide too many details as I don’t want to spoil the surprise but in general, here is what you can expect:
1. Fresh, carefully crafted, mouth-wateringly delicious food.
Everything we ate was above standard. Albanian specialties and meals with either Turkish, Greek or Italian influence were all cooked with precision (and some, in my opinion, were in fact better renditions than their countries of origin due to the high standard of ingredients.) It is obvious that those at Albanian Trip are “foodies” because of the places they pick and suggest to eat at. Not one of them disappointed me. Don’t expect to only get served meat – while the meat dishes my travel partners ate were raved about (whether it was goat, wild boar, fish, veal, lamb, etc.) there are so many kinds of wholesome foods to indulge in like roasted vegetables, salads, cheese, bread, olives, yogurt, savoury pies (byrek), fried spinach, zucchini or rice balls, etc. Be prepared for surprises, too. If you are a vegetarian like me, you will not once be forced to settle nor will you ever have to be a pain to someone. There is so much to eat -so much that you end up rolling home in blissful agony. (And do try the desserts. And also the wine and raki if you like a drink!)
2. Excellent hotels, all with character and some with historical significance.
They had first-class amenities: beautiful decor, hot showers, wifi, TVs with fun satellite channels to browse, comfortable beds, high standards of cleanliness, extra blankets and many had balconies with great views. A couple had wifi reception that was quite finicky but when you see where you are it is completely understandable. In the end, if you check about availability the day before, it’s nothing that can’t be planned around.
3. Natural beauty that will astound you.
The mountains- oh, the mountains! I’ve been to places with rugged landscapes before but this country could top the rest due to the diversity in these tectonic phenomena and also, where the roads are constructed! Never have mountains had personalities. It sounds crazy, but you’ll see when you get there.
4. Lovely, kind people.
Sure, not every experience going into a store to buy a bottle of water will be life-changing. But in almost all cases the servers are extremely happy you are there and go out of their way to speak English and care for you properly. The real surprise is the warm welcome you get from average people going about their day-to-day lives. Be open and communication will happen, even with a hilariously obvious language barrier. Also, if you have a chance to stop at random food markets and the like, do so. I am still teeming with the warmth I experienced from people.
5. Ever-changing identities.
Each pocket of Albania feels different from the one you were at before. This is due to several things: the climate, the flatness or elevation resulting in differing agricultural practices, the language, the proximity to neighbouring countries and absorption of some of their cultural particularities and what body of water is near (whether it’s a river, a lake or a sea greatly changes who’s there and what they are doing.) You will get cosmopolitan stuff: cafe culture, shopping, high heels and energetic youth; and you will rewind and get the idyllic: elderly folk walking hand-in-hand in traditional clothing while cows and goats are herded by a man in a gorgeous field.
6. A great tour company with diverse activities.
Albanian Trip will show you ruins, churches, mosques (don’t underestimate Albania’s religious diversity), natural wonders, historic buildings and places from all periods of Albanian history (Illyrian, Roman, Greek, Ottoman, Communist, present.) You will learn about the people, languages, food, musical styles, national heroes, national symbols and a whole bunch more you can only know about if you sign up. Gjergji was great at teaching about what was around us and often shared personal stories to make it seem more intimate.
All in all, this could very well have been the best trip of my life. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I have traveled a fair bit for someone my age but the unexpected beauty in Albania (again, the pure kind) is something that made it very hard to leave. Also, Gjergji is the type of person you wish lived closer to so you could go catch a Football match together from time to time. He is a guide, yes, but he acts more like a caring friend. He is an exemplary human being and I am a better person for knowing him.
If I have one complaint it’s that Gjergji promised to find my mom an Albanian husband but failed, tragically. If you are looking for matchmaking services, perhaps there is a better choice out there. Albanian Trip was too busy providing an awesome tourist service to find my poor mother a suitable mate. Perhaps we’ll have to go back again to find him.
If you have any more questions regarding the experience I had and what you might expect, ask Elton, Gjergji or Vilma for my email address and I will gladly chat with you! I am a Canadian if that helps – perhaps you might be further interested in a Canadian’s expectations and experience in this little Balkan enigma.
JM, October 2016
Here’s what Jeffrey Nakar (Business Analyst) from London thought of our tour in Spring 2015:
If anybody has any doubts about whether Albania is worth visiting, I can assure you that it is. I have just come back from a most wonderful tour of the whole country, provided by Gjergji and Elton, who are two of the nicest and most knowledgeable guides I have ever been with.
It is a beautiful country, and no longer looks poor. It has excellent roads. The countryside is green and is filled with agriculture, much of it traditional. Attractive new houses are being built. The older buildings in many towns are being restored to a very high standard, involving traditional craftsmen in recreating their interiors, so crafts such as woodcarving etc. can stay alive.
There is a great variety of scenery with mountains and rivers and lakes and coastline all of which are accessible and are visually stunning.
The people are friendly. The food is fresh and healthy and is amongst the best I have had anywhere. Standards of cleanliness and hygeine are high. Portions are large.
Tirana is a fine, modern capital that is well worth visiting for a weekend break. It is an attractive city that is walkable in safety with parks and shops and excellent restaurants. It has a long history with much to see from before and during Communism. It is not just like any other city. It has a history and a character of its own. It is still half the price of most cities, and is a good place to buy cheap clothing.
The country has many historical sites, Ottoman castles, Roman ruins, national heroes (ancient and modern), museums.
Albania went through hell in the twentieth century. Now it is recovering remarkably quickly. It really deserves to be on the map of countries to visit and Albanian Trip deserves to be successful in putting it there. I cannot praise them highly enough for the quality or variety of the tour that they provided. Their knowledge and dedication are exceptional. They provided excellent hotels in different styles and went to places and introduced people that no ordinary tour company would know about. Their tour is built around a love and knowledge of Albania and a sensitivity to its history and to their customers, not a list of standard tourist sites and profit margins. I am really glad that I chose to go with this company.
Communism has gone. The eagles are free in the land of the eagles. They are flying and are almost ready to soar. I wish Albania and Albanian Trip well. They deserve it.
Here’s what Allan Wild (Spacecraft Project Manager) thought of our tour in Autumn 2014:
My impression of Albania, and also of Kosovo, was of beautifully varied landscapes and friendly people. I am happy that I made the choice to explore both countries, and even more happy that I chose to travel with an organization which not only knows the right places to go, but also the people within those places who can provide the best hotel services, the best food, and access to the most interesting galleries, museums, churches and mosques.
It was clear to me that both guides (for the Southern Cities and the North Albania extension) were known and respected in all the places we visited. As a result, many doors were opened to us which had not been accessible to the general public for a long period, due to refurbishment, etc. The small group arrangement also permitted flexibility in the itinerary to take advantage of such access, or to add extra options so that we could enjoy each location to the full. Every city, town or village was a new experience, each quite different to the rest in terms of historical heritage and even food. The only common factor was the friendliness of the people I met, and their wish to talk to me and to share whatever they could with me. This was particularly evident in the Albanian Alps where the few people are scattered over greater areas, but all are welcoming to those travelling through. It has truly been a wonderful experience and I would have been happy to extend my stay if that had been possible.
Here’s what Sue Barber (Museum Curator) thought of our tour in Autumn 2014:
I hadn’t thought of visiting Albania until talking to your friend at Destinations. I normally think quite hard about where to go, and research which company to go with but didn’t on this occasion, having made a spontaneous decision to go with AlbanianTrip. Since returning, I have looked at one or two other tours (there aren’t many) to see how they compare – and I feel even more pleased that I went with you.
I liked the fact that the itinerary went awry at times! This is because we did extra, spontaneous, things, such as visiting the history museum in Vlora and being shown round the Socialist Realist art exhibition in Korca. I doubt that these things could happen on a tour with a larger firm where guides would have less flexibility.
I did like the fact that we dined together. Apart from enjoying the company, we were able to benefit from your knowledge of where and what to eat. The hotels were all good, though some were better than others. I hadn’t known what to expect and, to be honest, thought that they might be less good than they were. The traditional ones in Girokastra and Korca were the best.
I thought that visiting Kruja on our first full day was a good idea as it combined spectacular scenery with diverse elements of Albanian history – specifically Skanderbeg, his fight against the Ottomans and the interpretation of this story in the communist period museum. Combining it with Durres brought in ancient history too, as well as being practical as they’re both near Tirana. I only mention this because I noticed that other tours go there last, on their way back to the airport – your way round is better. I very much enjoyed visiting the cobbler’s, baker’s and blacksmith’s shops and meeting the old man in Permet and even the sozzled general in the bar in Korca. People were very friendly and, clearly, tourists are still a novelty. I also enjoyed the tour of the National Art Gallery in Tirana with the local artist, as you wouldn’t normally meet such a person.
Finally, thank you for leading the tour so well. You have great knowledge about your own country as well as an obvious interest in the wider world and in other people. And a great sense of humor so we had a lot of fun. I particularly appreciated the fact that you were prepared to discuss some of the more negative things about Albania, such as corruption in the judiciary and petrol adulteration. I’m not sure that many tour guides would be as open as this. I felt I got an honest and well rounded view of the country, which might not have been the case with another leader. Absolutely finally, your friend at Destinations captured my attention by describing the countryside and the historical sites but I didn’t realize how good the hotels and food would be, or how friendly the people. Albania is also kind to the pocket as food and drinks are cheap compared with Britain and your single supplement was surprisingly low (good news for solo travelers who resent high supplements.)