Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia - Hidden Europe


Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia - Hidden Europe

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 16 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 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)

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. Continue to Shkoder, 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 (2.5 hours be 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. Tonight we stay in local guesthouses in Valbona to enjoy the rural life in an authentic local atmosphere. (BD)

Day 4 – Valbona - Junik – Decani Monastery (UNESCO) – Peja - 2.5 hrs by vehicle

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. Visit Decani monastery (UNESCO). The medieval church houses some of the most preserved fresco decoration in the Balkans and the grounds are also a delight. After arrival in to Peja we explore the Ottoman sites of the town including the Haxhi Beut Mosque and the old house of Jashar Pasha as well as the Sheremet Tower and the old bazaar. We then continue to Boge, where we have a short stop at Patriarchana of Peja (13th Century) in the Rugova Valley, one of the most beautiful valleys in the region. On arrival at the hotel you will have the chance to take a walk amidst some of the loveliest scenery in the Balkans. Overnight at Magra Austria Hotel or similar. (B)

Day 5 – Peja – Prizren – 2 hrs driving time approximately  

Continue to Gjakova which lies on the banks of the River Erenik. Visit its main sites including the old bazaar and clock tower. We then continue to a local winery where we can tour the cellar and taste some Kosovan wine. Finally we continue on to the city of Prizren, probably the most attractive town in Kosovo with superbly preserved buildings from the Ottoman era. We visit the castle which is one of the oldest in the Balkans (almost 3 millenniums), built to protect the city from attacks, the ornate Bajrakli Mosque and the old Turkish Hammam among other sights. Prizren is an absolute highlight of any visit to Kosovo and to see the old houses of the old town in low light as the sun sets is a delight. Overnight at Hotel Centrum or similar. (B)

Day 6 – Pristina (2.5 hours travelling time)

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. Later we visit the spectacular Gracanica Monastery, one of Kosovo’s most beautiful sites and containing some impressive frescoes. Overnight Begolli Hotel or similar (B) 

Day 7 – Skopje (2 hours travelling approximately)

We continue into 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 Glam or similar. (B) 

Day 8 – Mavrovo National Park – Ohrid (3 hours driving 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 Millennium Ohrid 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 Millennium Ohrid or similar (B) 

Day 10 – Sveti Naum Monastery – Voskopoje – Korce (2.5 hours driving 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. After lunch we continue to the historic town of Korce and explore the town including the Old Bazaar. Overnight Hotel Regency or similar (B) 

Day 11 – Korce – Permet (3 hours driving today 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. Visit the village of Benja situated 8km from Permet and spend some time this afternoon at the relaxing thermal pools of Benja which form 6 beautiful small natural pools with the water temperature a therapeutic 25 – 28 degrees centigrade. Overnight Hotel Permet 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 - Permet – Gjirokastra (3 hours driving today approximately)

Continue our scenic journey this morning to 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 – Gjirokastra – Blue Eye National Park - Butrint (UNESCO) – Albanian Riviera - Llogara Saranda (3 hours driving approximately)

Continue towards the Riviera and en route enjoy a short stop at Syri i Kalter (Blue Eye National park). Visit 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 take a beautiful drive along the coast where we will make some stops and then up into the mountains to Llogora National Park situated spectacularly at 1000m and perched overlooking the sparkling turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea. Overnight Hotel Alpin or similar (B) 

Day 14 – Llogara – Apollonia – Berat – (Driving time today 4 hours approximately)  

This morning we drive to the ancient city of Apollonia, dating back to the 6th century BC, and spend time exploring this historic site. Continue 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. Tonight enjoy a traditional dinner in Berat. Overnight Hotel Desaret or similar. (BD)

Day 15 – Berat – Durres – Tirana - Driving time approximately 2.5 hours   

Spend more time this morning exploring the historic town of Berat. Later this morning drive to Durres. This port city has the largest Roman amphitheatre in the region, dating back to the 2nd century which we will visit. Later this afternoon return to Tirana for our final night where you will enjoy a farewell dinner with traditional food. Overnight Hotel Austria or similar (BD)  

Day 16 – Tirana

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


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