For years Albania was a closed society, ruled by the iron fist of Communism, but since the end of the Cold War it has been showing curious travellers its many charms. From the ancient Illyrians and Greeks to the Romans and the Ottomans, the language, music, arts, and cuisine of the Albanian people are a rich and vibrant mix of many civilizations. This small group tour delves in to this enigmatic past and we explore the history and culture of the country while visiting the 'must see' three UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Butrint, Gjirokastra, and Berat.
Fitness ●●○○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●● | Wildlife ●○○○○
- Explore 'undiscovered' Albania, delightfully devoid of mass tourism
- Experience spectacular natural beauty from mountains to lakes to beaches
- Uncover a rich ancient Greek, Roman and Ottoman history
- Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Berat and Butrint
- Take in the views on an incredible drive from Korce to Gjirokastra
Accommodation: Mid-range comfortable small hotels
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunch (L) and dinner (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum of 12
Start Point: Tirana – you can arrive any time on the first day
End Point: Tirana – you can depart any time on the last day
Tour Itinerary Notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour. For small groups of less than 5 clients we will be using a combined driver/guide on this tour.
Day 1 – Tirana
Arrive in Tirana and transfer to your hotel. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore the city. Overnight Hotel Kruja or similar.
Located on a plain on the site of an old Byzantine fortress, Tirana has been the capital of Albania since 1920, although it was founded much earlier. A mixture of architectural styles it has rather an Italian feel to it – many Italian architects were involved in the modernisation of the city in the early 20th century – and is blessed with many public parks and green spaces where people gather to walk, play board games and share conversations. Tirana has been home to an unusual experiment in which many buildings have been painted in rather bright colours, giving parts of the town a very unique look. Many of the older buildings of the city were demolished during the Communist period but quite a few still remain, notably the Ethem Bey Mosque and the Clock Tower, both of which date back to the early 19th century, and you can still find excellent examples of Ottoman architecture in Tirana’s streets.
Day 2 – Tirana, Kruje and Shkoder
Start the day exploring Albania’s capital. We visit Skanderbeg Square, dedicated to Albania’s national hero, the Mosque of Ethem Bey, one of the oldest buildings in Tirana, and the Archaeological Museum among other sites. We then head to Kruja, one of Albania’s most important towns due to the part it played in the resistance against the Ottomans. Visit the Skanderbeg Museum and castle as well as the old bazaar. Later we continue to Shkoder. Shkoder is one of the oldest cities in the Balkans and was once a capital of the Illyrian state. We visit its old bazaar, cathedral and mosque before heading to Rozafa castle for spectacular views of the city, lake and the surrounding mountains. Overnight Hotel Tradita or similar. (BL)
Kruja and Skanderbeg
Kruja occupies a special place in the heart of Albanians – it is the home town of the national hero Skanderbeg from which the Ottoman invasion was resisted for almost 35 years in the 15th century. Skanderbeg was sent as a young boy into the Ottoman army, along with three of his brothers but returned to Albania to spearhead the resistance against the Sultan’s forces who were continuing to make devastating inroads into the region. Uniting Albanian forces and building an army he was able to withstand the Ottoman onslaught and inflicted crushing defeats on them until his death in 1468. The army at Kruja managed to hold on for another ten years before finally succumbing to the Sultan and being formally incorporated into the empire.
Perched on the shores of Lake Shkodra, Shkodra is an ancient city with a rich history that many feel is the soul of Albania. It was founded around the 4th century BC and was the capital of the Illyrian state before being conquered by the Roman Empire a couple of hundred years later. Shkodra is imbued with Italian influence - as well as having been captured by Rome it was also part of the Venetian Republic for some time. Its most impressive site is Rozafa castle, a fortress dating back to the town earliest beginnings with underground stairways, tunnels and vaults.
Day 3 - Durres and Berat
Drive to the coastal city of Durres, Albania’s second largest. Explore its sites including the Roman amphitheatre and Archaeological Museum before continuing to the stunning town of Berat, with its white houses clinging to the hillsides. We visit the citadel which contains numerous churches and an interesting museum, and has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Overnight Hotel Mangalemi or similar. (BL)
Day 4 - Ardenica Monastery, Apollonia and Vlore
Drive to Ardenice Monastery, a 13th century Byzantine site locally famed for hosting the wedding of the hero Skanderbeg. Continue from here to the ruins of Apollonia, an atmospheric set of Roman remains on a remote hillside and once an important city in the region. Later depart to the coastal city of Vlora. Visit the city, including its museum, where Albanian independence from the Ottomans was proclaimed on November 28th, 1912. Overnight Hotel Partner or similar. (BL)
Day 5 - Llogara National Park, Himare, Saranda and Butrint
After breakfast, we continue to the south of Albania, stopping first at Llogara National Park where we enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and the Albanian Riviera. Continue via some picturesque seaside villages to Saranda and onto the ruins of Butrint, Albania's most important archaeological site, and a UNESCO site. Butrint dates from the 7th century BC, later becoming a Roman colony, then falling under the sway of the Venetians and Turks. Explore numerous buildings including an acropolis, basilica and palace. The location of the site itself is also very attractive surrounded by trees and water. Later return to Saranda. Overnight Brilant Hotel or similar. (BL)
The site of Butrint has been occupied since at least the 8th century BC, although myths associated with its origins speak of the city's foundation by Trojan exiles. By the 4th century BC, a walled settlement was established and the city became a successful cult site, dedicated to Asclepius. Augustus founded a colony at Butrint and the town seems to have remained a relatively small Roman port until the 6th century AD. Little is known of the site between the 7th and 9th centuries. Its later medieval history was turbulent as the town was involved firstly in the power struggles between Byzantium and successive Norman, Angevin and Venetian states and secondly in the conflict between Venice and the Ottoman Turks. By the early 19th century it had dwindled to a small fishing village clustered around a Venetian castle.
Day 6 - Gjirokaster
This morning we continue to Gjirokaster. En route we will make a stop at the hilltop settlement of Finiq first established in the 5th century by the Chaones, a Greek tribe in ancient Epirus, but it was inhabited well into the Byzantine era. Its 12-feet-thick stone walls were built to protect the ancient residents against Illyrian attacks. The ruins today include a small temple, a theatre and remains of houses and Roman cisterns. We then travel to Blue Eye National Park before we reach the UNESCO listed town of Gjirokaster known for its distinct and traditional architecture. We have time to explore this UNESCO listed site, one of the highlights of Albania with an imposing citadel and numerous typical houses. Overnight Gjirokaster Hotel or similar. (BL)
Day 7 – Tepelena, Voskopoje and Korce
We stop at the castle of Tepelene, famous for Ali Pash Tepelena, the leader of Ioannina Province under the Ottoman Emperor reign and then continue to Voskopoje, a small mountain village. On our winding journey through the mountains towards Korca, we enjoy wonderful panoramic views. This afternoon we arrive in Korca where we should have some time to explore. Overnight Hotel Regency or similar. (BL)
Day 8 - Elbasan and Tirana
Today we continue to Elbasan and stop for a short city tour, taking in the Elbasani clock, the ethnographic Museum, the Old Mosque and the Via Egnatia. We continue to Tirana were we stay on our last night and enjoy a farewell dinner with your guide. Overnight Hotel Kruja or similar. (BLD)
Day 9 - Departure
Transfer to the airport for your departure (B)
Arrival and departure transfers
Daily breakfast (B), plus lunch (L) and dinner (D) as shown in the itinerary
Services of English speaking guide
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Any airport taxes
Items of a personal nature