The Ancient Crossroads tour lets you experience the rich culture, history and cuisine of four nations located in the West Balkans: Albania and Montenegro, which share the Adriatic sea, with the Ionian part of Greece and the beautiful country of North Macedonia. We will discover ancient Balkan landmarks like Heraclea Lyncestum, Rozafa Castle, Apolonia, Dyrrachium, Butrint and monasteries of Meteora and Ohrid, and find vibrant cities with a colorful past and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
An experience like no other. Located across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, north of Greece, west of Kosovo and North Macedonia and south of Montenegro, Albania is definitively an experience like no other. This tiny country offers a remarkable array of unique attractions, including the thriving capital of Tirana, sun-drenched beaches to rival any other in the Mediterranean, a stunning mountain landscape, forgotten archeological sites and villages where time seems to have stood still. An additional bonus is the never-ending supply of fresh produce that fills the markets and roadside fruit and vegetable stalls.
Land of sunshine. Tiny and proud land with a landscape of cobalt-blue-fjords, fishermen’s hut, palaces, a church in a cave and an island built on the wreck of enemy boats. Along with the mild Mediterranean climate and 240 sunny days on average per year, Montenegro boasts outstanding countryside, including UNESCO – recognized fjords capes, culture and history, a variety of leisure activities and rich authentic cuisine, making it a perfect destination.
Cradle of western civilization. Greece boasts historical sites up to four millennia old, superb beaches scattered around the coastline, numerous islands and mountains that urge to put hiking boots and explore. It is a country of culture, which inspires with stories of Minoans, Romans, Arabs, Latin Crusaders, Venetians, Albanians, Slavs and Turks, and a country of hedonism, where one can experience a typical Greek holiday. Greece is a country of surprises, where even the most demanding travellers can feel a true sense of discovery.
Land of impressive sites. North Macedonia is a country worth visiting. Located in the southern part of the Balkans, it boasts a fascinating history and rich cultural background. Part Balkan, part Mediterranean and rich in Greek, Roman and Ottoman history, offers impressive sites and breathtaking natural beauties scattered around the country. While remote mountains conceal fascinating medieval monasteries, superb alpine trails and traditional Balkan villages, Ohrid, noted for its sublime Byzantine churches and 34 km – long lake, is the center of the country’s tourism industry.
In terms of days, the itinerary of the tour has been spread as follows:
DAY 1 – 5: NORTH ALBANIA & MONTENEGRO
DAY 6 – 12: SOUTH ALBANIA & GREECE
DAY 13 – 15: NORTH MACEDONIA
THIS TOUR SUITS YOU IF:
- You would like to visit more than one country in western Balkan.
- You are interested in history and culture and like discovering ancient landmarks.
- You appreciate archeological and UNESCO sites.
- You love visiting charming smaller cities.
- You enjoy delicious local food.
- You would like to get to know the culture of these warm and welcoming countries.
- You like to help smaller local businesses by staying at their place.
- You appreciate the richness and perspective of a local guide.
- You like contributing to the development of tourism in these countries.
At least 15 persons required to be guaranteed.
|START OF TOUR||TIRANA|
|POI’S||TIRANA – KRUJA – SHKODRA – KOTOR – BUDVA – KOLASHIN – MORAÇA – LEZHË – BERAT – GJIROKASTËR – BUTRINT – IOANNINA – METEORA – METSOVO – KORÇA – OHRID – BITOLA – TIRANA.|
|DIFFICULTY||This trip is not physically demanding, but there is quite some walking involved, so take comfortable shoes with you.|
Day 1: TIRANA
is the start- and endpoint of our tour. Lively colorful Tirana is the capital city and the beating heart of Albania, with its busy traffic, on-trend shops, and lovely restaurants. Tirana‟s streets, with their buildings, painted in primary colors, public squares, and pedestrianized streets, gives to the traveller the pleasure of wandering around. The city‟s grand boulevards are lined with fascinating relics of Ottoman, Italian and communist past – from delicate minarets to loud socialist murals. After arrival at Tirana airport and accommodation in the hotel, we’ll be heading for a city tour. We will see the statue of Skanderbeg and the Palace of Culture; visit the National Museum with a mosaic on its facade portraying Albanian history. The Clock Tower inaugurated in 1822, which is 32 meters high, although a monument with an oriental style, it has a cupola in the top which looks like the type of San Marco. After the visit to the Skanderbeg Square, you will take the time to discover Tirana on your own; have a look over the different historical architectures, visit the Cold War corner and enjoy the nightlife in the Blloku area, the place to be for music diehards.
Day 2: KRUJA & SHKODRA'S CASTLES AND SITES
After breakfast, we head to KRUJA, the charming medieval town and one of the busiest tourist spots in the country. It is best known as the hometown of Albania‟s national hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, who transformed the city into the center of anti-Ottoman resistance. We will visit the „Skanderbeg Museum‟ located in a castle of Illyrian origin, which took the form it has today during the 5th century. The Ethnographic Museum and the Bazaar of Kruja with its narrow cobblestoned street are situated inside the castle. Make sure to buy some souvenirs here, as it is one of the most prominent bazaars in the country. Your purchase will help the small entrepreneurs who are tourist-dependent in making a living. The end of the trip to the castle will accompany us to a place of observation with a spectacular view of the green valleys in front of us, stretching all the way down to the Adriatic coast. After a short break, we head to the north of Albania.
SHKODRA is one of the oldest cities in Albania and in Europe. It is founded in century IV B.C. as the center of the Illyrian tribe of Labeate. Situated between the mysterious Accursed Mountains and the Lake of Shkodër, it is the traditional center of the Gheg cultural region. The city has known numerous occupations throughout its history, such as the Roman, Serbian, Venetian, and Ottoman occupations. Later on, it became the center of the Albanian feudal principality of Balshaj. We will visit the castle of Shkodra, one of Illyrian origin, which is perched on a rocky hill, surrounded by the waters of three rivers. Then we head to the Historical Museum and Marubi Phototheque, which holds a valuable collection of old photos. Located in the center of the Old Town they are part of an architectural complex, which with its pastel-painted buildings, has a distinct Italian ambiance. Shkodra city is located close to the lake with the same name, the largest in Southern Europe, which makes the area rich in fauna. With 270 species of birds singing around, Shkodra is definitely worth a visit, not only because of its history but also because of its natural beauty. More information on Shkodër.
Day 3: KOTOR & BUDVA IN MONTENEGRO
Located in a secluded geographical part of Montenegro, the 2000 years old city of KOTOR was settled during Ancient Roman times. Also known as Acruvium, it was part of the Roman province of Dalmatia. Some have called it the most-southern fjord in Europe, but in fact, it’s a submerged river canyon. Together with the nearly overhanging limestone cliffs of Orjen and Lovden, Kotor and its surrounding area, form an impressive landscape. With its deep, clean blue water on one side and the mountains with walled fortifications from the Venetian period on the other side, its old town is listed in the UNESCO heritage. We will visit the city‟s many sights, such as the Venetian walls, the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, the Church of Saint Nicolas and the panoramic Bay of Kotor. The city‟s surroundings are remarkably beautiful, with a rich and diverse history; they offer a comfortable and confident blend of an old-world prettiness, with a lively feel. After a tasty beverage at a panoramic location, we will prepare ourselves to get to the next destination of Montenegro, the town of Budva.
BUDVA, the 2,500-year-old city makes it one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic coast. A legend recounts that Bouthoe (Vouthoe) was founded by Cadmus, the founder of Thebes in Greece when exiled out of Thebes with his wife, goddess Harmonia. We will visit the Old Town, which is situated on a rocky peninsula, on the southern end of the Budva field. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Illyrian settlement was formed on the site of the Old Town before the Greek colonization of the Adriatic. While the site was permanently settled since the Roman era, most of the existing city walls and buildings were erected during the Venetian rule. The entire town is encircled with defensive stone walls since the medieval times, equipped with towers, embrasures, and fortified city gates.
Day 4: DURMITOR & KOLASIN
The national park of DURMITOR is a massif located northwest of Montenegro, part of the Dinaric Alps, with its highest peak Bobotov Kuk, reaching a height of 2,523 meters. We will be submerged immediately, in natural beauties of the national park of Durmitor, going through one of the most picturesque road trips in the Balkans. The park was founded in 1952, and designated as a World Heritage Site in 1980. Glaciers have created this incredible natural beauty of rocky formations, with rolling green alpine meadows set against a stark backdrop of high and rugged peaks. Covering an area of 390 square kilometers, Durmitor features 18 glacial lakes and 3 canyons with the highest part of the canyon, plateau Komarnica. Small lakes, add significantly to the beauty of the mountain and have been nicknamed “mountain eyes”. With 80 kilometers long and 1,300 meters deep, the Tara River Canyon in Durmitor National Park is the deepest gorge in Europe. At the end of the journey, we will head to the town of Kolasin.
KOLASIN is one of the centers of Montenegro’s mountain tourism. Because of Kolašin’s altitude of 954 m, the town is considered an air spa. The origin and the meaning of the name of the town are unknown, although one hypothesis connects it to a duke named Kolašin who founded the settlement. Rebecca West, a British travel writer connected it with the name „Kol i Shen‟, which is Albanian for ‘St. Nicholas’. Kolašin is located on the foot of Bjelasica and Sinjajevina mountains, which offer great conditions for winter sports. Biogradska Gora national park is in the town’s vicinity and is considered a premium tourist attraction. We will be accommodated in one of the luxury resorts that dominate the cityscape, surrounded by beautiful pine forests.
Day 5: MORACA MEDIEVAL MONASTERY & LEZHË
Today we visit one of the largest and most unusual medieval monuments in Montenegro the MORACA MONASTERY, located in the valley of the Morača River, in central Montenegro. The monastery was founded in 1252 and it is one of the best known medieval monuments of Montenegro. After being abandoned for seventy years after 1505, it was then rebuilt from 1574 to 1580. The monastery played a significant role in people’s lives as it witnessed important historical events; here were handed down sentences while important decisions were made, books were copied, and reading and writing were taught. The assembly church is a big one-nave building in Russian style, including a smaller church devoted to Saint Nicholas, as well as lodgings for travellers.
On our way back to Tirana, Albania we will have lunch at Mrizi Restaurant for a superb culinary experience. Set on a sprawling farm in a remote village of LEZHË District, 65 km north of Tirana, this restaurant, which is owned by two brothers – pioneers of Albania‟s slow-food movement, is credited with taking Albanian food back to basics; fresh, organic farm-to-table produce, that celebrates the country‟s fertile terrain. It is considered to be one of the best examples of a responsible business initiative that successfully involves communities, traditions, and nature.
Day 6: TIRANA MUSEUMS & SITES
Our exploration of TIRANA will continue by visiting museums that learn about Albania‟s communist past. We will start our museum journey with House of Leaves with its archive of the former secret communist police Sigurimi. Then we will head over to Bunk Art 1, a bunker for nuclear protection, built during 1972 –1978. Parts of the scenery are also the house of dictator Hoxha and his mausoleum, the „Pyramid‟, but those are not accessible to the public. The tour will close with a superb cable-car trip, 800 meters up to the dramatic Dajti-Mountain National Park right on Tirana‟s eastern edge. We will take a walk in the breathtaking natural scenery of the park and have a memorable view of the city. After having lunch at the top of the tourism complex of Dajti-Mountain, we will turn back to our hotel in Tirana.
Day 7: BERAT
After breakfast at the hotel in Tirana, we will depart for APOLLONIA, South of Albania. Apollonia is one of the most important ancient centers in Roman times on the famous Via Egnatia. The famous Roman orator Cicero, astonished by the beauty of Apollonia, naming it in his Philippics “magna urbs et gravis” – a great and important city. Established in the 7th century B.C. by Greek settlers, the ancient city is located 11 km to the west of the city of Fier. Archaeological excavations reveal that Apollonia achieved its zenith in the 4th – 3rd centuries B.C. In the first century B.C. Octavian Augustus studied philosophy there until he heard the
news of Caesar‟s murder in the Senate and went on to become the next emperor. We will visit the city and an Orthodox monastery turned into archaeological museum.
At lunchtime, we will be heading to the Çobo Winery House. It is one of the best family-owned traditional wineries in Albania, run by a local couple. There we will have lunch, have a tour of the vineyard and winery and do some wine tasting. In case you love wine, this is your chance of taking some other souvenirs with you.
After lunch, we will depart for BERAT, the 2400 years-old-town. Known as “the town of a thousand windows” Berat offers an easy-going, charming, and friendly atmosphere. It is one of the world‟s oldest continuously inhabited cities, home of old history and architecture. It is on the UNESCO heritage list, because of the well preserved Ottoman architecture. Here we will visit the castle (alb: Kala) Berat‟s beautiful old castle, located on the top of a hill, a perfect place to admire the town from above. There are even some families that still live there, and the area looks magical with its ancient ruins, wildflowers, and small courtyards. Inside the castle, we will see the Church of the Dormition of Saint Mary, and the Onufri Museum with its spectacular sixteenth-century paintings, created by the greatest Albanian icon-painter of all time. The church itself, which dates back to 1797, was built on the foundations of a 10th-century chapel. Today Onufri spectacular 16th-century religious paintings are displayed along with the church’s beautifully gilded 19th-century iconostasis.
Day 8: GJIROKASTER
GJIROKASTRA is a magical hillside town with longstanding ways of life described beautifully by Albania‟s most famous author, Ismail Kadare in “Chronicle in Stone”. Defined by its castle, paved roads with chunky limestone, and a perfectly well maintained old town and views out to the Drina Valley, these are features that explain why this city is included in the UNESCO – heritage list. There has been a settlement for 2500 years, though these days there are 600 „monumental‟ Ottoman-era houses in town that attract visitors. We will admire the most beautifully decorated houses covered with original stone roof tiles, and authentic cobblestone and winding little streets. For Albanians, the town is also synonymous with Enver Hoxha, the dictator who kept Albania for 50 years in total isolation. We will visit the castle, admire the city’s architectural values, visit Kadare‟s House, and enjoy dinner accompanied by a special polyphonic choir, called Iso-Polifonia. Iso-Polifonia is a traditional folk music art, included in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list.
Day 9: BUTRINT, IOANNINA & LAKE PAMVOTIS - GREECE
BUTRINT is a vast archeological site in South Albania, part of UNESCO’s heritage list. It reveals evidence of the ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Venetian civilizations, including among others the temple of Asklep – God of Health in century II B.C, the Theatre with 1,500 seats of century III B.C, Baptistery with mosaics – a Palo Christian monument, and the Venetian castle, etc. Butrint constitutes also a National Park, which is under the international convention of RAMSAR – an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. This park is known for its ecosystem and the ruins themselves are in the midst of a real Mediterranean „jungle‟, where laurels and other high trees prevail. It will take us a few hours to walk around the park and enjoy the richness that Butrint has to offer. On the way to Butrint we will visit SYRI I KALTER (Albanian for Blue Eye), the extremely blue and freezing water spring that looks like the pupil of an eye, surrounded by the vibrant greens and turquoise of the iris. What makes it even prettier is the surrounding crystal clear water that reveals the rocks and vegetation at the bottom.
IOANNINA is a vibrant Greek city on the shores of Lake Pamvotis. The city’s foundation has traditionally been ascribed to the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD but flourished in the late Byzantine period (13th–15th centuries). It became part of the Despotate of Epirus following the Fourth Crusade from 1202 – 1204. Ioannina surrendered to the Ottomans in 1430 and until 1868 it was the administrative center of the Pashalik of Yanina lately ruled by Ali Pashë Tepelena. We will visit the Byzantine Museum holding a substantial collection of coins, sculptures, and other artifacts, see Fetiche Mosque and stop by Agion Anargyron Church. The latter is a well-preserved building with chimneys once housed the kitchens of Itch-Kale. We will stroll than through the streets of the old town with its colorful houses, enjoy its famous spoon sweets, and relax at the picturesque and fashionable cafes by the lake.
Day 10: MONASTERIES OF METEORA, LIFE OF EREMITIC MONKS
Seemingly suspended in the air, the magnificent monasteries of METEORA were built atop towering sandstone pinnacles. Six out of the 20 original monasteries have survived the erosion of centuries of wind and rain, but also human chaos: from the Ottoman invasions to the World War II bombings. The monasteries stand proudly, just as beautifully as the day they were erected, if not more beautiful for their age. We will visit two of them including the Holy Monastery of Great Meteora, 140 steps up – cut into the rock, and the church of Saint John the Baptist with its wall paintings from 1682. We will learn about the eremitic monks who built those centuries ago while taking the sweeping vistas.
Day 11: METSOVO, A LOVELY MOUNTAIN TOWN
The town of METSOVO perches on one of the most beautiful slopes of the Pindus Mountain range, the „crossroads‟ of Epirus, Thessaly and Western Macedonia. Built like an amphitheater, its tile roofs and wooden porches stretch out across the slope; its grand mansions nestled in between beech and fir trees. The soothing sound of water, always on the move adds to the majestic atmosphere. This is an ideal destination for lovers of relaxing mountain holidays. In the town, we will visit the Averoff Art Gallery, with its significant collection of Greek paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries. The modern three-story building is built in accordance with the traditional style of the area. Make sure to buy some souvenirs, as Metsovo is famous mostly because of the unique and colorful handwoven textiles, products of centuries of shepherding by the Vlach population that still inhabits the town. After a short break, we will head toward one of the next highlights of our journey, the city of Korça, in Albania.
Day 12: KORÇA AND VOSKOPOJA
KORÇA is one of the prettiest cities in Albania, situated in a valley, surrounded by the Morava mountain chain. Its main boulevard crowned with linden trees resembles the shape of a heart. It is a lively place of cool cafes and top restaurants, all busy with young people, coming from the city and abroad. Prominent in the upper part of the main boulevard stands the Orthodox Cathedral, attracting a lot of visitors, while the inner city is magnificently shaped by its cobblestone streets and grand French-style villas, from the ‟20s and ‟30s. We will visit the “Museum of Medieval Art” containing great collections of icons and other distinguished works of art. The “Prehistoric Museum” offers 1200 items of interest, representing the archaeological digging of prehistoric, Hellenic, Roman and early Byzantine periods. After lunch at the traditional restaurant, we will admire the newly renovated Bazaar
area, an old market with a mix of traditional and modern little bakeries, cafes, and boutique shops established about 500 years ago. After visiting the Bazar, we will depart to the neighboring touristic center of Voskopoja.
VOSKOPOJA is located 25 km east of Korça. Today it is a village, but centuries ago, it was one of the most important economic and cultural centers in the Balkans. Known as a settlement since 1330, it reached the great boom in 1794 when it counted 30,000 inhabitants. The town had 27 churches, an academy, a library, and the first printing press in the Balkans since 1720. We will visit the Church of Shën-Kolli and the Church of Krye-Engjëjve, which belong to the most rear Post-Byzantine style. After a short break, we will head back to Korça. The evenings in Korça return to festivals with the city’s most distinctive songs called „Serenades‟, which are accompanied by guitars. We will have dinner at a local restaurant that promotes the products of the area, bringing the traditional menu with a modern spirit and live ‘serenade’ music.
Day 13: OHRID
The town of OHRID is one of the main reasons to visit North Macedonia. Its captivating lakeside named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 is one of the oldest in all of Europe. Notable for once having had 365 churches, one for each day of the year, has been referred to as the „Jerusalem‟ of the Balkans. We will see Samuel‟s Fortress, which once was the main fortress of the First Bulgarian Empire during the rule of Tsar Samuel at the turn of the 10th Century. The Cyrillic Alphabet was created here in the 9th century and for more than 1000 years Ohrid became the cultural center of the Slavic world. The Roman Amphitheatre, the Church of St. Sophia and St. Clement and Ohrid marketplace are some of the sites we will be visiting. At the end of our journey, a boat trip through Lake Ohrid will be the superb experience of serenity and relaxation that we cannot miss. In the evening, we can enjoy a ride along the lake‟s banks, which brings within a kilometer outside the built-up areas of the town and make us enjoy the peaceful scenery.
Day 14: BITOLA, ERACLEA LYNCESTIS
BITOLA is historically known by several alternative names, such as Manastir or „the city of the consuls‟ because many European countries had consulates in Bitola during the Ottoman period. It is also the city where the modern Albanian Alphabet was founded in 1908. Even with the city‟s casual atmosphere and slow-paced life, it‟s actually the second-largest city in North Macedonia. The city‟s most famous ancient ruin is Heraclea Lyncestis, which was founded in the middle of the 4th century BC by Philip II of Macedon. Located on the most important road of that time, Via Egnatia, Heraclea became its most important station in the region. In the Early Christian period, it was the bishop’s seat. Its amphitheater was built by Emperor Hadrian and the town continued for centuries to remain an important center, in the Byzantine and Ottoman period. During Ottoman rule, the cities together with Salonika were the two reigning cities of the Province of Rumelia. At the center of the city, we will admire the modest Magnolia square, which is home to some of the biggest attractions of Bitola. Here we will find the city‟s pride Clock Tower, and several signs of the mix of faiths found in North Macedonia, with the notable Yeni Mosque and the nearby Church of St. Dimitrija.
Day 15: TIRANA
We are back in TIRANA to discover some more interesting sites like the Archaeological Museum, the Gallery of Fine Arts, and many more. We will have a look also at the faith mosaic of Albania with the religious sites standing close to each other. We will see the Ethem Bey Mosque, built in the period between 1798 and 1823, which is under renovation, the new Namazgah Mosque, the Catholic Cathedral of Shën Pali, and the new Orthodox Cathedral. During the journey, we will take a break and enjoy a coffee or drinks at Kalaja e Tiranës, a long gallery-street that runs through the archeological site of Tirana. We could also close this tour with a relaxing walk in the renovated Rinia Park in the center of the city. Time to hug and take you to the airport.
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