Europe’s emerging holiday destination has a name: ALBANIA
It’s called Europe’s best-kept secret & gem, and not without a reason. Albania, this small mountainous Balkan country of surprising natural beauty, dates back to pre-Illyrian times. Having spent nearly half of the 20th century isolated from the rest of the world, Albania remains somewhat a land of mystery, only recently making its way onto European travel itineraries as an offbeat and budget-friendly destination. While ‘the land of eagles’ may be better known for its stormy communist past (with some 750,000 concrete bunkers still scattered around to prove it), it has a rich and diverse historical and cultural legacy. While the best way to explore Albania’s ancient castles, lived-in World Heritage Sites and ethnographic museums is to take this grand tour as a group, a private tour is also possible.
This country is not only a must-see; it’s also a ‘must-see now’ one. Albania is changing rapidly. Remains of Hoxha’s time, such as the pyramid and the countless bunkers are disappearing from the view. That’s probably why Lonely Planet put it on to its budget destinations of 2019, while Harper’s Bazaar & New York Travel Magazine advise: Visit Albania before it’s too late! Fodor’s travel put in on to its Go-list for best countries to visit in 2020.
Albania is truly a unique and authentic place. With a rich and fascinating history, a wealth of culture and tradition, ancient archaeological sites, and breathtaking sceneries it’s more than worth it to put it on your bucket list. You’ll love the enchanting classical sites like ancient Apolonia, Butrint, Berat, & Gjirokaster, and interesting mountain villages such as Theth, Voskopoja, Dardha and many more. The lakes of Shkodra and Ohrid are of the most beautiful lakes in Europe. The idyllic and pristine beaches on parts of the Ionian coast, such as Ksamil, Saranda, and Vlora will make Albania your new Mediterranean love.
Albania is ready to be discovered especially now that the infrastructure has improved. That’s why this tour will surely mark an unforgettable journey for you.
This tour suits you if:
- You love exploring unspoiled nature, azure blue seas, pearly white sandy beaches, and idyllic bays.
- You like high imposing mountain areas, and traditional villages.
- You would like to get to know the culture of a warm and welcoming country.
- You would like to meet hospitable people.
- You appreciate World Heritage sites of UNESCO. Albania has three of them.
- You enjoy delicious food and good wines.
- You enjoy history and ethnography.
- You would like to explore a country that has not yet been discovered by mass tourism.
- You prefer a varied and interesting tour as Albania is many countries in one.
- You prefer small group travel of up to 18 participants.
|START OF TOUR||TIRANA|
|POI’S||Kruja – Lezha – Shkoder – Tirana – Elbasan – Pogradec – Korça – Gjirokaster – Saranda – Himara – Vlora – Berat – Apolonia – Ardenica – Durres – Tirana|
Take an extended fourteen-day tour of Albania and discover the fascinating history, unique culture, and beautiful landscapes of this authentic country.
- Visit historic castles, churches, and mosques.
- Traditional, regional local food, and drink.
- Visit old bazaars and ethnographic museums.
- Visit charming characteristic villages.
- Experience both Ionian and Adriatic coasts.
- Discover the last to fall communist country of Europe.
Kruja – Lezha – Shkoder – Tirana – Elbasan – Pogradec – Korça – Gjirokaster – Saranda – Himara – Vlora – Berat – Apolonia – Ardenica – Durres – Tirana
Day 1: TIRANA – KRUJA
Upon arrival at Mother Theresa International airport, we head to Albania’s historical capital, Kruja. No trip to the country is complete without a stop in this town synonymous with Skanderberg, Albania’s national hero who led the resistance to the Ottomans some 500 years ago. For a period Skanderberg was based here, and Kruja is regarded as almost a holy site for Albanians. We explore the main sights here: the Skanderberg Museum, the National Ethnographic Museum and the tucked-away Bektashi teqe, all located inside the Kruja Castle. With its isolated hilltop location, the castle is a charming place to hang around and go for an early morning stroll through the traditional bazaar (just outside its walls). The uncontested views and location of Hotel Panorama Kruje make it a perfect choice for a night stay.
Day 2: SHKODER
After breakfast we departure to Shkoder and check in at hotel Tradita. Shkoder is one of the oldest and most historic places in Albania as it used to be the capital of the Illyrian tribe. It is also known as the center of the Albanian Catholicism and perfect proof of the fact that different religions can adjoin in one country. We visit the Rozafa castle, surrounded by Drini and Buna rivers and admire the breathtaking views all around. A lovely lunch at the Kalaja restaurant will charge our battery as we have a lot to see. We follow by visiting the Marubi National Museum of Photography which is home to around forty thousand pictures. Created by the Italian photograph Pietro Marubi, the Marubi archives are considered one of the most important photographic heritages in the Balkans. The oldest photos date back to 1858. Other attractions to see are the mask exhibit at the Venice Art Mask Factory, which contains the most diverse and exquisite collection of Venetian masks; St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral and the Great Mosque. The Roman Catholic cathedral was built on 7 April 1858 and is the largest in the Balkans, while the Great Mosque actually dates from the 18th century, but was fully renovated and refaced in 1995. Evening meal by the lake or elsewhere if you so wish.
Day 3: TIRANA
Trendy Blloku buzzes with the well-heeled and flush hanging out in bars and cafes, while the city’s grand boulevards are lined with fascinating relics of its Ottoman, Italian and communist past – from delicate minarets to loud socialist murals. Add to this some excellent museums and you have a compelling list of reasons to visit. With the traffic doing daily battle with both itself and pedestrians, the city is loud, crazy, colourful and dusty, but Tirana is never dull.
We start with our walking tour and explore Skanderbeg Square – Clock Tower (1830) – Ethem Bey’s Mosque (1798-1823) – Historical Museum – Tabak’s Bridge (1st half of 19th cent.) – Town Hall & Ministries – Pyramid – Catholic & Orthodox churches – Mother Teresa Monument. We head to Dajti for a lovely lunch in the mountain, enjoying the panoramic view of Tirana. In the afternoon you will be free to explore the city by yourself, do some afternoon shopping, dine at a favorite restaurant or visit a nice pub. There is something for everyone in Tirana.
Day 4: ELBASAN-POGRADEC
After breakfast we leave for Pogradec and on our way we stop in Elbasan to visit the Castle of Elbasan.
A Roman emperor, a Sultan, fascists and communists have all made their specific contributions to the construction of this ancient city throughout the centuries. As such, the Castle of Elbasan and the subsequent new city below, combine distinct and perhaps incompatible styles and influences, something that gives Elbasan a truly unique stature. A proud city full of warm people. Surrounding this city, there are hundreds of beautiful lakes where locals escape to fish, have massive picnics and relax. After the visit we continue south to Pogradec. On our way we take a short stop at this route to see the remains of Via Egnatia (145 B.C.) and have lunch at a small restaurant by Shkumbini river.
The city of Pogradec lies on the western shore of Lake Ohrid, which is the heart and soul of this city. It is a tranquil, historical, and cultural city. It’s the perfect destination for romantic souls, having inspired generations of artists with its surrounding natural beauty. In 1980, UNESCO proclaimed it a Natural Heritage Site, and from 2019 the Albanian part was inscribed in the list as well. Ohrid is the deepest (285m) lake in the Balkans, and is split between Macedonia (in Ohrid and Struga), and Albania. It took around 4 million years for this lake to form its present shape, from the moment the soil began to shift on the western side of the Dinaric Alps. Now, it is a veritable, picture-perfect swan lake, as well as an ecosystem that includes over 200 species – making it a real national treasure.
Upon arrival in Pogradec we visit the water springs of Drilon and have dinner by lake Ohrid. Of course we recommend you taste the famous “koran” fish. Hotel Hymeti’s Palace will accommodate us in Pogradec.
Day 5: KORÇA
In the morning we leave for Korça, Albania’s sweetheart! Everything about this town is romantic, from its traditional Albanian serenades to its beautiful winter snow. Its traditional villas, cobble-stone streets glistening under the sun, the fresh mountain air, and hospitality, all combine to create an unparalleled warm and festive atmosphere all year round. Once called “the little Paris,” Korça is one of the centers of Albanian arts and history, hosting some of the most fascinating museums in the country. The recently renovated Old Bazaar, a spice and food market surrounded by villas is teeming with people, energy and a casual nightlife scene. Korça’s famous culinary specialties, like lakror and kërnacka, and the surrounding mountainous villages, like Voskopoja and Boboshtica, are some of Albania’s most popular destinations.
We check in at hotel ‘Hani i Pazarit’ and take a walking tour of the city where we see the Traditional Market, the Cathedral “Christ Resurrection” (1992) – the Mosque of Ilyaz Bey Mirahori, the Museum of Medieval Art. For lunch we have traditional Korça food at a special place uphill, called Casa Gace. In the evening you are free to enjoy the city yourself. Dinner suggestions: Vila Cofiel or Komiteti.
Day 6: VOSKOPOJA
After breakfast we go for a short ride of only 21 km to visit Voskopoja churches and Monastery. You see, nature meets art and history in Voskopoja, making it a favorite destination for tourists all year-round. The town of Voskopoja is renowned for having been a cultural center since 1330 and, over the centuries, more than 24 churches were built there. The city hosted the first printing press outside Istanbul along other important institutions, such as the New Academy. Unfortunately, many of these buildings were eventually destroyed by fires, wars, robberies or earthquakes. From that glorious past, now the visitor may admire The Monastery of St. John the Baptist, the Church of St. Mary, the Church of Saint Athanasius, the Church of Saint Nicholas (best Byzantine fresco paintings in the area), among other churches or buildings which are now considered culturally, historically or aesthetically significant. Voskopoja is surrounded by hills and forests and, with its altitude of 1160 meters above the sea, this area is a favorite spot for hiking and skiing. The restaurants serve the famous cuisine of the region, all making your stay unforgettable. Our choice: Restaurant Falco. After lunch we travel back to Korça where if interested you could explore by yourself the Archeological Museum – Vangjush Mio Museum (1891-1957 – Sotiri Studio (1883-1970) – (1484) – Tomb of Kamenica (3000 B.C.) Dinner and overnight in Korça. We recommend restaurant Sidheri.
Day 7: GJIROKASTER
We prepare ourself for a longer journey by eating a good breakfast, as it will take about 4,5 hours to reach our destonation, Gjirokastra, the stone city. Defined by its castle, roads paved with chunky limestone and shale, imposing slate-roofed houses and views out to the Drina Valley, Gjirokastra is a magical hillside town described beautifully by Albania’s most famous author, Ismail Kadare (b 1936), in Chronicle in Stone. There has been a settlement here for 2500 years, though these days it’s the 600 ‘monumental’ Ottoman-era houses in town that attract visitors. For Albanians, the town is also synonymous with former dictator Enver Hoxha, who was born here and ensured the town was relatively well preserved under his rule, though he is not memorialised in any way here today.
We will stop for lunch at a restaurant in the rural area of Germenj, called Sotira Farm. After that we’ll have a coffee break at Viroi water source, which means we are almost in Gjirokaster, anxious to see the Argjiro Castle (12th Cent.) and the Museum of Arms, its characteristic houses and the Bazar. But first we need to relax a bit. We check in at hotel Argjiro.The attactions can wait till next day. Dinner and overnight in Gjirokastra.
Day 8: SARANDA
We depart for Saranda in the afternoon, after having visited the attractions of day 7. Saranda means ‘Forty Saints’. This southernmost city in Albania is quite the multifaceted place! An ideal destination for your holidays, year-round. A location full of virgin beaches and delicious seafood. Sharing a border with Greece, Saranda is also a gateway to this other significant cultural destination. During the summer months it seems like half of Tirana relocates here to enjoy the busy beach and busier nightlife along its crowd-filled seaside promenade. What was once a sleepy fishing village is now a thriving city, and while Saranda has lost much of its quaintness in the past two decades, it has retained much of its charisma. The town’s beaches are nothing special, but Saranda is a great base for exploring the beaches of the riviera.During the route, we visit the Blue Eye spring, perhaps the most breathtakingly beautiful sight in Albania. You will find yourself surrounded by palm trees, wild ferns and tropical plants, as well as dense, mountainous forest vegetation of oaks and sycamores, all at once! This vegetation is kept lush and glorious by the spring flowing down the mountain into the Bistrica River. A total of eighteen springs are dispersed along the site! The fresh water spring from the Gjerë (in English: Wide) Mountain flows into the Blue Eye and creates a natural pool with depths of about 50 meters. Or, so they say! The actual depth has not yet been determined. Many divers have tried to get to the bottom of it, to no avail. The Blue Eye is an oasis of fresh air and cool climate, a tropical paradise that can rival any in Venezuela or the Maldives! It’s breathtaking and mesmerizing. What you will find here is pure beauty!
On our way we will stop by the Mesopotam Church (13th Cent.) and after that we head to Saranda. We check in at hotel Edna. Lunch at a restaurant by the sea. We’ll be using the afternoon for shopping/walking around.
Day 9: BUTRINT & KSAMIL
We take it easy this morning. The ancient city of Butrint (4th Cent. B.C.), protected by UNESCO is only 18km south of Saranda. Easily the most romantic and beautiful – not to mention largest – of Albania’s ancient sites, Butrint is worth travelling a long way to see it. The ruins, which are in a fantastic natural setting and are part of a 29-sq-km national park, are from a variety of periods, spanning 2500 years. We set aside at least two hours to explore. Although the site was inhabited long before, Greeks from Corfu settled on the hill in Butrint (Buthrotum) in the 6th century BC. Within a century Butrint had become a fortified trading city with an acropolis. The lower town began to develop in the 3rd century BC, and many large stone buildings had already been built by the time the Romans took over in 167 BC. Butrint’s prosperity continued throughout the Roman period, and the Byzantines made it an ecclesiastical centre. The city then went into a long decline and was abandoned until 1927, when the Italian archaeologists arrived.
We head to Ksamil on our way back. Delightful Ksamil, sits on a narrow arm of land between a sparkling lagoon famed for its mussels and a cobalt-coloured sea. The entire area surrounding the small town is a protected zone and the dusty tracks and pathways leading over olive-studded hills and along ancient water canals are a joy to explore. The coastline around Ksamil is also unusually attractive. Blessed with three small, dreamy islands within swimming distance of shore and dozens of pretty cove beaches, Ksamil is the kind of place where you can happily while away many sun-drenched days.
We’ll have lunch in Ksamil, enjoying the panoramic view of the islands. We could even go for the Musselhouse a great restaurant with fresh sea-food if you so please. We drive back to Saranda. After dinner we will visit Likurs Castle (14th Cent.), to enjoy the spectacular sunset over Saranda.
Day 10: HIMARA-VLORA
After breakfast we depart for a drive of about 100 km through the Albanian Riviera. We stop halfway in Porto Palermo and Himara and reach Vlora by the end of the day. In a picturesque bay just south of Himara, this 19th-century fortress, also known as the Castle of Ali Pasha, makes for an interesting stop-off along the coastal road. The fortress itself is eerily dark inside, but it’s well worth paying to wander around and explore the battlements, which have superb sea views. There’s no beach as such here, but the bay in which the castle stands is a classic natural harbour that has been used since antiquity. The rocky and sheltered coastline would probably make for good snorkelling. We continue our tour toward Himara, one of the gems of the Ionian Coast, because of its central location by the sea. From here one can easily reach all exclusive beaches of the Albanian Riviera like Livadh, Potam, and Llaman. We drive to one of them and enjoy the panoramic views of untouched beaches.
Himara offers fine cuisine, beautiful architecture, historical points of interest, and a vibrant nightlife. There are two spectacular sites too: Spile Cave and Pigeon’s Cave, in the Ilias village. We do not have time to visit them all. We stop to have lunch in Himara by the sea. After that we take on the intimidating Llogara Pass, where one can taste the most delicious meats as well as freshly made yogurt and honey. On the other side of Llogara, countless historic villages, castles, churches, spectacular seas and sights await. We take a coffee break at Llogara National Park and drive further to Vlora. The Yacht hotel is waiting for us.
Day 11: VLORA
Today we will explore Vlora. It’s one of the largest coastal cities of Albania and the meeting point between the Adriatic and the Ionian Seas. Home to Albania’s independence in 1912, this city is also home to the traditional polyphonic music, exquisite culinary delicacies, a vibrant nightlife, and some of the best beaches of the south, many of which are found in Vlora or right off the city’s coast. Beautiful waters, lush forests, and historic monasteries of the Zvërnec and Sazan islands, the popular Orikum beach, the spectacular island of Karaburun, and the Lagoon of Narta, housing the country’s richest flora and fauna are only some! We leave for Zvërnec where we visit the Monastery, of St. Mary Church (13th Cent.). Of course we have lunch by the sea and leave your afternoon free for shopping or visiting some of the other sights of Vlora on your own like the Historical Museum; Ethnographic Museum; Riviera, “Cold Water”, Orikum (4th C.B.C) – Marmiroi Church (13th Cent.) – Tragjas village – Kanina Castle – Kuz Babà.
Day 12: APOLLONIA-BERAT
After breakfast, we will depart to Fier to visit the archeological site of Apolonia (established 588 B.C.) The evocative ruins of the ancient Illyiran city of Apollonia sit on a windswept hilltop some 12km west of the city of Fier. While a large part of the ruins remains buried under the ground, what has been excavated within the 4km of city walls is pure poetry. The highlights include the theatre and the elegant pillars of the restored facade of the city’s 2nd-century-AD administrative center. Set on rolling hills among olive groves, with impressive views all around, Apollonia (named after the god Apollo) was founded by Greeks from Corinth and Corfu in 588 BC and quickly grew into an important city-state, which minted its own currency and benefited from the robust slave trade. Under the Romans (from 229 BC), the city became a great cultural center with a famous school of philosophy.
After lunch we will head towards Berat. Known as the ‘town of a thousand windows’, Berat has become a major star on the Albanian travel scene, thanks to its impressive Ottoman ‘sprawl’ up the hills on both sides of the Osumi River. The old Unesco-listed Mangalem Quarter with its narrow, cobbled streets is an incredibly picturesque area to wander around. A climb up to its still-inhabited fortress, Kalaja, (Berat Castle – 3rd C.A.D.) will reward us with dramatic views of the surrounding mountains and town below. We will be visiting the 16th-century works of art at the Onufri Museum housed inside the Church of the Dormition of St Mary, the fortress’s largest church that dates from the 18th century. The Ethnographic Museum with exhibits on Albanian traditional culture is situated back down the hill, inside an 18th-century Ottoman house. We’ll spend the night in the heart of the Mangalem Quarter at the lovely, family-owned and operated, Hotel Osumi. For dinner or drinks with a view, we head across the bridge to Antigone or to the rooftop restaurant of Hotel Tomori.
Day 13: BERAT-DURRES
This morning you are free to discover Berat on your own. There is a lot to see and wander around: Mangalem quarter – St. Mary Church (13th Cent.) Onufri Muzeum – St. Trinity Church – Ethnographic Museum – King’s Mosque – Mosque of Lead – Berat Bridge. In the afternoon we depart to Durres (the ancient name “Epidamnus” or “Dyrrahium”). On our way we stop to visit visit to the Monastery of Ardenica. This rarely visited yet magnificent little monastery where Skanderbeg married, is remotely located on a hilltop between the towns of Lushjë and Fier. It’s worth seeing the fantastic interiors – particularly the iconostasis of saints and sinners, dragons and angels – of the 18th-century Church of St Mary. Equally impressive is the golden pulpit, which positively heaves with adornments, not to mention the frescoes of the Zografi brothers that can be seen on display upstairs. Upon arrival in Durres, we check in at a nice hotel in Golem (near Durres) to be able to enjoy the fantastic view of the Adriatic coast and relax. Dinner and overnight in Durres.
Day 14: TIRANA
After breakfast we visit the main tourist attractions of Durres. The Venetian tower and the Archeological museum are surely worth a visit. After a coffee break, we head for Tirana. We’ll have lunch at Preza village. In Tirana we check in at Sar’Otel, located near the center so that you can have a lovely free afternoon in Tirana for shopping/walking around. We’ll have dinner at top-chef Bledar Kola’s restaurant Mulliri, for a little more taste of traditional Albania before we leave. We finish off bij toasting at the Sky Tower bar from where we enjoy Tirana by night.
Day 15: DEPARTURE DAY
This is the last day of our tour. Soon you will be departing to Mother Theresa International Airport. We hope you have had a wonderful time. Dependent on your flight schedule we might have a bit more time to take a walk, have coffee in Tirana or visit some museum or art gallery you might have missed. We say good bye and look forward to welcoming you at some other tour. Loved the tour? Help us reach more people by sharing your experience on social media and by placing a review on our site. Do you have suggestions for improvement? Tell it to us. We’re all ears. Thank you.