Still emerging from isolation, Albania's wealth of historic sites, charming rural villages and the colourful capital, Tirana, are all waiting to be discovered. En route, explore the Adriatic Coast, the White Mountains and the peaceful shores of Lake Ohrid. Travelling with a local guide throughout the trip makes this itinerary flexible to suit your interests. Butrint - Discover one of the greatest archaeological sites in the Balkans Llogara National Park - Explore one of the most unspoilt places in the Adriatic Gjirokastra - Stroll along the cobbled streets of this UNESCO-Listed town and visit its hilltop castle
Arrive in Tirana, Albania's colourful capital city. With a blend of communist architecture and a backdrop of rugged mountains, Tirana is a mix of new and old. You will be met on arrival at Tirana International Airport (TIA) by a local guide, and driven to your centrally-located hotel, which is around 30 minutes from the airport. There are no activities planned today, so feel free to arrive in Tirana at any time. For those booking their own flights, you will just need to let us know your flight details no later than three weeks prior to departure, in order to be met on arrival. Your guide will be with you throughout the trip, so you have the opportunity today to ask any questions you wish about the itinerary. The luxury of having the same guide throughout is that you can make this itinerary flexible if you want to - if you want more time at a particular site, for example, or conversely if you want to skip a city tour and do some solo exploration that's fine too.
Take a guided walking tour of the city today, seeing the main sights including the government buildings, Skanderbeg Square, the old bazaar and Et'Hem Bey Mosque. Tirana is a curious mix of brutalist architecture, run-down ex-communist areas and a thriving youth culture that gives the city a lively nighttime scene, particularly in the Blloku district which is full of coffee shops, bars and nightclubs. The rest of the afternoon is free to explore this diverse city. You might want to immerse yourself in Albanian history at the National History Museum, the largest museum in the country with a recognisable mosaic frontage. Alternatively, visit one of the incredible art museums - BunkArt or BunkArt two, both set in former Cold War anti-nuclea bunkers. The former is the larger of the two, and is slightly on the outskirts of the city. The second is right in the centre of town. If museums aren't for you, take a walk through the Grand Park of Tirana - a large green space that houses a zoo, botanical gardens and a massive artificial lake that is a favourite spot for locals during the summer months. Take the opportunity this evening to sample the delicious Albanian cuisine, which is a real mix of Turkish, Greek and Italian influences, like byrek - a spinach and feta stuffed filo pie. In the more rural, mountainous areas during this trip you'll find that barbequed lamb and 'earthy' vegetables such as griddled aubergines and mushrooms are particularly popular. Along the coast there will of course be the chance to sample fresh seafood. Albanian red wine is especially good and also local beers, such as Birra Korca.
Drive to the picturesque fisherman's village of Lin this morning. If you wish, you can stop en route at the historic fortress of Elbasan - during this trip there will often be chance to make little visits en route to our next destination, which means that the itinerary can be quite flexible depending on your interests. After some free time for lunch at Lin, drive on to Pogradec, on the shores of Lake Ohrid. The lake is one of the oldest in the world and is a spot renowned for its natural beauty. Swimming is possible in the lake, and in fact there is actually a local beach in the city, just a short walk away from the hotel. If you have time this afternoon, you might want to take the 20 minute uphill hike to 'Pogradec Castle'. There isn't really a castle up here - it's the old walls of an ancient Illyrian site - but most people come up for the incredible views over the city and Lake Ohrid.
Drive to Voskopoja this morning. Founded in the 16th century, the town was once a major urban settlement and was famous for its churches which were adorned with many beautiful frescoes. After exploring the churches here, its time for lunch and to sample fresh watermelon (when in season), before continuing to Korca, sitting at the foot of Moravia Mountain. Korca is a small town with a rich cultural value for Albania - the largest Orthodox Church in the country is here, and just behind this is the old town with its cobbled streets, ancient French-style houses and picturesque street corners. You'll explore Korca on foot with your guide on arrival. If you wish, you'll have the option to go inside the Resurrection Cathedral, (the name for the largest Orthodox Church), and the Medieval Museum which houses a wide selection of stone sculptures, carved wood artefacts and textiles. The National Educational Museum is another fascinating spot for those interested in learning more about Albania's ancient language and culture. We haven't included any entrances into your trip cost, to give you the option to decide how to spend your afternoon.
Today's four-hour journey takes you through the sweeping mountain scenery of the southern highlands and the White Mountains. Reach the Barmash Pass (1,040 metres) where there are panoramic views of the Nemercka Mountains, which are snow covered for most of the year and form the border with Greece. Then continue into the White Mountains via Kelcyra Gorge, carved by the Vjose River on its way to the Adriatic Sea. The scenery in the mountains is breathtaking with rolling valleys, that in spring are covered with some of the most exuberant wildflowers you are likely to see anywhere in Albania. As you travel, look out for eagles soaring above. On the way to Kelcyra, stop at Dhkosat village for a traditional homemade lunch. Arrive in Gjirokastra in the late afternoon.
This morning, take a guided walking tour through the cobbled streets of its UNESCO-listed historic centre. Visit Gjirokastra Castle (the entrance is included) - one of the most magnificent structures in the city, sitting at a height of 336 metres with views over the hilly countryside, river valley and city. There have been extensive renovations to the building since it was constructed in the 12th century and it now possesses five towers, a church, a cistern, and houses the Weapons Museum. The museum exhibits captured artillery and memorabilia of the Communist resistance against German occupation, as well as a captured US Air Force plane to commemorate the Communist regime's struggle against the 'imperialist' western powers. The afternoon is free. Perhaps visit the Ethnographical Museum, which is in the historic district of Palorto and stands on the site where the dictator Enver Hoxha was born. Set over four floors it offers an insight into the traditional affluent Albanian lifestyle of the town with numerous household items, folk costumes and cultural artefacts on display.
Leaving Gjirokastra behind, drive to Saranda. Along the way, stop at the karstic spring, known as 'The Blue Eye' for it's toothpaste-blue clear waters. This afternoon, visit UNESCO listed Butrint, which is one of the great archaeological sites in the Balkans. With a long and colourful history dating back to the early Neolithic age, Butrint has been occupied and fought over until the Ottoman period when it lay abandoned. More recently, excavations have taken place and all periods of Butrint's history have been revealed including its Roman theatre, Roman house and thermal baths as well as a fine baptistery with fabulous mosaic floors. The setting is idyllic with the ruins nestling in the bend of the Vivari River. After spending time exploring this fascinating site, return to the shores of the Mediterranean and Saranda for the night.
Look forward to another scenic coastal drive today, along the Albanian Riviera, before winding over the 1,000 metre high pass at Llogora as you travel to the national park, which goes by the same name. Along our route we pass terraces planted with citrus groves and olive trees and enjoy the views over the mountains, sea and forest. If you wish, you can stop en route at Ali Pasha Fortress, a castle on a small peninsula within Palermo Bay with stunning views over the turquoise coastal waters. Although small, the walls of the triangular fort are well preserved, along with some cannons found here. You may also stop to take a brief stroll along the beach at Himara. Upon reaching Llogora National Park, there is some time for a three to four hour hike covering seven kilometres in the mountains, with many attractive views along the way. The route follows a combination of well-trodden footpaths, goat trails and a military road. We classify this walk as moderate in difficulty. Tonight, stay at hotel nestled amongst the pine trees of this tranquil national park.
This morning en route to Berat, stop at Vlora and visit Flag Square and the Muradi Mosque. From here, continue and take the opportunity to visit the ancient site of Apollonia. Founded in 585 BC and dedicated to the god Apollo, the city achieved fame and wealth before being incorporated into the Roman Empire to become Caesar's stronghold during the civil war with Pompey. The most impressive feature of the site is the bouleuterion - a facade with six Corinthian columns which are thought to date back to the 2nd century AD. Although much of the ancient site is yet to be excavated, with so few other visitors, it is possible to imagine a time when the site supported 55,000 men and Octavian (later to become Emperor Augustus) was one of its students. If you'd like to visit, this will take approximately two hours before continuing the drive. Situated over a gorge next to the Osumi River and in the shadow of Mount Tomori, Berat's white buildings sprawl up the hillside towards the fortress. New construction is strictly regulated in order to maintain the city's unique character in its UNESCO-listed historical centre.
Exploring on foot this morning, there are several options depending on your intersts. Head up to the fortress and see the painted icons and frescoes in the Church of Saint Mary, one of the seven churches within the citadel walls. Alternatively, visit the oldest mosque in Albania, the Red Mosque, and the Onufri Icon Museum. After some time in Berat, drive on to Durresi, one of Albania's main port towns. Originally founded in 627 BC by the Greeks and then called Epidamnos, the city was later plundered and conquered by the Illyrians, Romans, Normans, Venetians and Serbs, which resulted in the many visible remainders of the city's its long and varied history. You'll have some free time to discover some of the highlights - for example, stop off at the Roman Amphitheatre, which is not far from the modern city's main square. You may also have time to visit the Archaeological Museum before departing to Kruja for the last night of the trip.
Your trip ends today, and you will be taken to the airport to meet your international flight. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Tirana International Airport (TIA), approximately a 40 minute drive, at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. Depending on the time of your flight or if you are extending your stay by a night then you may have some free time today to explore Kruja, perhaps to visit the fortress, which is a place of pilgrimage and inspiration for Albanians, the nearby bazaar or the Ethnographic Museum.
10 Break Fast(s) 1 Lunch(es)
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