Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia - Hidden Europe


Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia - Hidden Europe

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 16 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers

Itinerary

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  

Day 2: Tirana - Kruja – Shkoder (2.5 hours travelling time approximately)

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 resistance against the Ottomans. Visit the Skanderbeg Museum and castle as well as the old bazaar. Today lunch will be included and the opportunity to eat some traditional food in Kruja. Later we continue to Shkoder which 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)

Day 3: Koman Lake – Valbona (3 hours travelling time by vehicle, 2.5 hours by boat)

Today we journey from Shkoder to Valbona via Koman Lake. The 2-hour trip on Lake Komani was called “One of the Great Boat Trips of the World” by the Bradt Guide, and certainly the scenery is stunning. The Drin River was flooded along part of its most mountainous passage to create the lakes in this region. The journey takes you along glassy clear water, twisting and turning through narrow passes and past silent mountain peaks. After the completion of this memorable leg of the journey we continue to Valbona. Overnight Hotel Margjeka or similar (BD) 

Day 4: Junik - Gjakova (3 hours driving time approximately)

We cross the border into Kosovo and drive to Junik where we visit the famous Kullat e Junikut (Junik Tower). The towers are castle-like houses with a special architecture built in white rock, where Albanians have for centuries sheltered to survive wars and conflicts. Then continue to Decan Monastery (UNESCO). The medieval church houses some of the most preserved fresco decoration in the Balkans and the grounds are also a delight.

Continue to Gjakova which lies on the banks of the River Erenik where we take in the sites of the old town including the old bazaar and clock tower. Overnight Hotel Çarshia e Jupave or similar (B)

Day 5: Rahovec Vinery – Prizren (2 hours driving time approximately)

Today we continue to a local winery where we can tour the cellar and taste some Kosovo wines. We continue to the city of Prizren, probably the most attractive town in Kosovo with superbly preserved buildings from the Ottoman era. We explore the city of Prizren; an absolute highlight of any visit to Kosovo to see the old houses of the old town in low light as the sun sets is a delight. Overnight at Hotel Prizren or similar. (B)

Day 6: Pristina (2.5 hours driving time approximately)

Drive to Pristina. Explore the city visiting its main sites such as the Orthodox Church and the Carshi Mosque, dating back to the early 15th century. We then head to the ruins of Ulpiana, an ancient Roman city that was once one of the most powerful in the Balkans. Overnight Begolli Hotel or similar. (B)

Day 7: Skopje (3 hours driving time approximately)

This morning we visit the spectacular Gracanica Monastery, one of Kosovo’s most beautiful sites and containing some impressive frescoes. We continue to Macedonia stopping first at Gadime Cave. We cross the border and head to its capital Skopje. Upon arrival we visit some of the most important parts of the town, including the old Ottoman market, the monastery of Sveti Spas and the ancient Kale Fortress which dates back to Illyrian and Roman times. Overnight Hotel Aristocrat Palace or similar. (B)

Day 8: Pristina - Mavrovo National Park – Ohrid (3.5 hours driving time approximately)

After breakfast continue to Mavrovo National Park, the biggest in Macedonia covering 73,000 hectares. We follow the Radika River along the way and stop at monasteries and churches en route. We then drive to the beautiful town of Ohrid (UNESCO). On arrival we will explore its mixture of western and oriental architecture including the Orthodox Cathedral, the 11th Century church of St Sofia and the Roman amphitheatre. Overnight Hotel Villa Sofia or similar (B)

Day 9: Ohrid (UNESCO)

Today is at leisure for you to enjoy the beautiful town of Ohrid at your own pace or relax before the second half of the tour. Overnight Hotel Villa Sofia or similar (B)

Day 10: Sveti Naum Monastery – Voskopoje – Korce (2 hours driving time approximately)

Before crossing back into Albania we visit Sveti Naum Monastery, a truly beautiful site with impressive views over Lake Ohrid across to Albania.  We then continue to the ancient village of Voskopoja where we explore the village including the Monastery of St. John the Baptist with its original structure from the 15th Century. Continue to the historic town of Korce and explore the town including the Old Bazaar. Overnight Hotel Regency or similar (B)

Day 11: Benja – Permet (4 hours driving time approximately)

Today we take an amazing drive though spectacular scenery to Permet. The road is bumpy in parts but the views of this remote part of Albania are incredible. We visit the village of Benja situated close to Permet. Spend a relaxing afternoon at the famous thermal waters of Benja which form 6 beautiful small natural pools. Each pool can be used for the treatment of different ailments. The water temperatures range from 25°C - 28°C. The Ottoman Bridge of Katiu is the frame of this wonderful place and lies over the Langarica’s river Overnight in Permet – Hotel Permeti or similar (B)

Kindly note the Permeti hotel is quite basic but comfortable for 1-night stay and is in a good central location in the town. Bedrooms still have private bathroom.

Day 12: Gjirokastra (3.5 hours driving time approximately)

We continue our scenic drive to Gjirokastra. At Gjirokastra, visit the local museum, housed in the building in which the former communist dictator Enver Hoxha was born, as well as the pre-Ottoman era citadel which affords spectacular views and houses an impressive range of artillery and also bizarrely a reconnaissance US Air Force plane that was forced to land after losing its way in the 1950’s. Gjirokastra is a pretty town with traditional houses and cobbled streets spilling down the sides of the mountain. Overnight Hotel Gjirokastra or similar (B)

Day 13: Blue Eye National Park – Butrint – Llogara (6 hours driving time approximately)

This morning we travel to Syri i Kalter (Blue Eye National park). Continue to the ancient city of Butrint, Albania’s most important archaeological site and given special status by UNESCO. Spend time exploring this impressive site with the added bonus of it being situated in a beautiful natural setting. The walls, basilica, acropolis and theatre at Butrint are truly impressive. We then drive towards Albanian Riviera, via some picturesque seaside villages and narrow roads overlooking the sea. Our final destination is the National park of Llogara situated at over 1000 metres above sea level and overlooking the turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea. Overnight Hotel Alpin or similar (B)

Day 14: Apollonia – Berat (4 hours driving time approximately)

Visit the ancient city of Apollonia, dating back to the 6th century BC. We then drive to Berat, one of the oldest inhabited regions of Albania and with a superbly preserved historic centre that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visit its citadel which contains old churches, mosques and museums before heading to a vineyard to sample some of the excellent local wines. This evening we enjoy a traditional dinner in this historic town.  Overnight Hotel Osumi or similar. (BD)

Day 15: Durres – Tirana (2.5 hours driving time approximately)

Enjoy a morning tour of Berat. We visit the citadel which contains numerous churches and an interesting museum, and has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Visit the Iconographic museum of Onufri located inside the castle walls. We then continue to Durres and visit the largest Roman amphitheatre in the region, dating back to the 2nd century which we will visit. Drive back to Tirana for our final night where you will enjoy a farewell dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Hotel Austria or similar (BD)

Day 16: Tirana

Transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)

 

Optional Montenegro Extension

Day 16: Tirana – Skadar Lake – Sveti Stefan – Budva (4.5 hours driving time approximately)

After breakfast we journey towards Montenegro. After the border crossing we stop at Skadar Lake, the largest lake in the Balkan Region. The lake is known for its diversity of flora and fauna. Enjoy a boat ride on the lake and spend some time enjoying the beautiful scenery before continuing our drive to Budva. Before reaching the old town we stop for a panoramic view of the fortified island of Sveti Stefan, connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway and of the most iconic views in Montenegro. This afternoon we spend time in the old town of Budva and you will also have time for a walk on the promenade. Overnight in Budva in a centrally located mid-range hotel (B) 

Day 17: Njegusi Village – Cetinje – Budva (5 hours driving time approximately)

This morning we drive through the mountain road, known as the serpentine road, and further stop in the village of Njegusi, an authentic village located on the slope of Mount Lovcen at an altitude of 900 m above sea level. The village is also significant for its will-preserved traditional folk architecture and its contributions to Montenegrin cuisine. Here we enjoy degustation of homemade cheese and hams, with local wines in a local restaurant. Continue to Cetinje, the old Royal Capital of Montenegro and the official residence of the President of the country. Cetinje is a town of immense historical heritage, founded in the 15th century, with numerous points of interest, with Cetinje Monastery being the main draw. Later after some time to explore we return to Budva. Overnight accommodation in Budva (BL)

Day 18: Perast – Kotor (UNESCO) – Budva (2 hours driving time approximately)

Travel along the stunning Boka coast observing the small towns and settlements along the way. We stop at the mediaeval town of Perast. Weather permitting; we take a boat trip to visit the Our Lady of the Rock church, one of the most beautiful examples of baroque architecture on the Adriatic. The adjacent museum is very small but focused on the rich local maritime history with a fascinating collection of local art crafts. We continue to Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we spend time enjoying the atmosphere of the old streets and stop at some points of interest including the Cathedral of St Tryphon. Overnight accommodation in Budva (B) 

Day 19: Budva – transfer to the Podgorica or Tivat Airport and Departure

After breakfast transfer to the airport for your flight home (B)  


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