Albania Explorer


Albania Explorer

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 9 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers

Dossier

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.


Tour Rating

Fitness ●●○○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●● | Wildlife ●○○○○

Tour Pace

Busy

Tour Highlights

  • 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

Tour Essentials

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
Transport: Minibus
Countries: Albania

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.

Tour Guide

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 Austria or similar.

Tirana

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, Shkoder and Kruje

Leaving Tirana we head to Shkoder. Shkoder is one of the oldest cities in the Balkans and was once a capital of the Illyrian state. We visit the castle then have time to walk in the pedestrian area and visit the cathedral and mosque. We have lunch in Shkoder before travelling 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 the castle. There may be time to visit the old bazaar, where you can see the local artisans and their handmade souvenirs. Overnight Hotel Panorama (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.

Shkodra

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. We will have a traditional dinner tonight before staying overnight in Berat. Overnight Hotel Mangalemi or similar. (BD)

Day 4 - Ardenica Monastery, Apollonia, Vlore and Llogara National Park

Today we visit Ardenice Monastery, a 13th century Byzantine site locally famed for hosting the wedding of the hero Skanderbeg. We 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 in the day we travel to the coastal city of Vlora and have a short sightseeing tour of the city, before heading for our overnight stay in the National park of Llogara.  At over 1000 metres above sea level and overlooking the turquoise waters of the Ionian sea and white sandy beaches, we spend the overnight in a traditional style hotel, in the forest area. Overnight Hotel Alpin or similar. (BL)

Day 5 - Butrint

After breakfast, we continue to the south of Albania, 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. After lunch (paid locally) we depart for Gjirokastra with a short stop in Blue Eye national Park, a fairy tale landscape of mountains and the clear waters of the Bistrica river. On arrival in Gjirokastra we will have a traditional diner and stay at our hotel for the night. Overnight Hotel Gjirokastra or similar. (BD)

Butrint

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 and Permet

This morning we explore Gjirokaster, known for its distinct and traditional architecture. We have time to explore this UNESCO listed site, with its imposing citadel and numerous houses with typical styling. We visit the castle and old bazaar area before transferring to the small town of Permet on an panoramic drive. Later in the day we visit the village of Benja and have a relaxing afternoon at the famous thermal waters which form six beautiful small natural pools. The Ottoman Bridge of Katiu is a wonderful sight as it spans the river Langarica. We have dinner and overnight in Permet. Overnight Hotel Alvero or similar. (BD)

Day 7 – Permet and Korce

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. (BD)

Day 8 – Voskopoja and Tirana

This morning we continue to Voskopoja, once an ancient city rich in history, with interesting Romanesque architecture and Orthodox churches featuring some of the best 18th century frescoes in Southern Europe; today it is a small mountain village around 1300m above sea level. We will continue to Tirana and begin a tour of the city. We visit Skanderbeg Square, dedicated to Albania’s national hero, and the Mosque of Ethem Bey, one of the oldest buildings in Tirana. We then visit Bunk Art 2 – an old atomic bunker, now a museum representing the days of the communist regime in the country. There is a farewell dinner with our guide. Overnight Hotel Austria (BD)

Day 9 - Departure

Transfer to the airport for your departure (B)

 

Inclusions:
Arrival and departure transfers
Transport throughout
All accommodation
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

Excluded:
International flights
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance
Visas
Drinks
Items of a personal nature
Tips (discretionary)

 

*Tour itinerary amended 10/10/17


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