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Still emerging from isolation, Albania is a country that is off the main tourist trail, but offers a diverse range of unique attractions that are waiting to be discovered. Experience its stunning natural scenery as we journey from the Adriatic Coast across the White Mountains to the peaceful shores of Lake Ohrid. Along the way you can see villages where time appears to have stood still and the rural lifestyle has gone unchanged for generations. There’s also a wealth of historic sites left behind by past civilisations, such as the Illyrian tribes, ancient Greeks, Romans and the Ottoman Expire. Whatever your interest there is something for everyone to discover in Albania.

Albania’s Capital & Via Egnatia
Beginning our journey along the route known as the Via Egnatia (the old trade route between Rome and Constantinople) we reach the shores of beautiful Lake Ohrid and head over the border for a night in Macedonia, where we soak up the atmosphere of this little-visited region. The following day we return to venture deeper into Albania’s mountainous interior to explore forested hills and isolated churches decorated with colourful frescoes.

Exploring Medieval Gjirokastra
Our scenic drive continues through the White Mountains to Gjirokastra – the ‘silver city’. The picturesque buildings and imposing citadel are now part of a ‘museum town’ and we wander its cobbled streets discovering medieval merchant houses and an imposing castle. Reaching the shores of the Adriatic Sea, we arrive in Saranda and visit the nearby excavations of Butrinti, thought by the Roman poet Virgil, to date back to Trojan times.

Along the ‘Riviera of Flowers’
Heading north along the beautiful ‘Riviera of Flowers’ we relax at Dhermi and walk among the pine forests of Llogara National Park. Next we visit the old Corinthian site of Apollonia and spend a couple of nights in the fascinating museum town of Berat, exploring on foot. Our journey takes us to the feudal principality of Kruja standing as a reminder of the proud independence of its Illyrian descendants. In particular the hero Skandeberg is revered for his resistance to the Turks. Finally we head back to Tirana to enjoy a tour of one of the quietest capital cities in the world.

Highlights

  • Tirana – Explore Albania’s Colourful Capital On Foot
  • Lake Ohrid – Spend Time In Pogradec Overlooking The Famous Lake
  • Benja – Enjoy A Picturesque Walk Through The Mountain Scenery And A Glass Of Raki With Local Villagers
  • Butrint – Discover One Of The Great Archaeological Sites In The Balkans
  • Llogora National Park – Explore One Of The Most Unspoilt Areas In The Adriatic
  • Gjirokastra – Stroll Through The Cobbled Streets Of This UNESCO-Listed Historic Town And Visit Its Hilltop Castle

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Itineraries

DAY 1

Join trip in Tirana

Our trip begins in Albania's capital city, Tirana. After checking in to our hotel and meeting the group, the rest of the day is free for you to explore this colourful city at your own pace. With a blend of communist architecture and a backdrop of beautiful mountains, Tirana is a mix of new and old.  Whilst in Albania we'll have the opportunity to sample the delicious cuisine, which is a real mix of Turkish, Greek and Italian influences, like Byrek - a spinach and feta stuffed filo pie, and in the more rural mountainous areas 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 enjoy fresh seafood. Albanian red wine is especially good and also local beers, such as Birra Korca.

DAY 2

Visit to Petrela Fortress and walking tour of Tirana

This morning we take a short drive to Petrela Fortress stopping en route at the Bektashi World Centre. The Bektashi Order is an Islamic dervish sect who blends elements of both Shia and Sufi beliefs. We'll have a brief stop to see their ornately decorated tekke (place of worship) with its marble mosaics. Petrela Fortress dates back to 5th century and is one of the oldest structures in Albania. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Kruja, where we end our journey through Albania. On arriving back to Tirana, we will have a guided walking tour of the city to see main sights including the government buildings, Skanderbeg Square, the old bazaar and Et'Hem Bey Mosque.

DAY 3

See Elbasan Fortress and drive to Lake Ohrid

This morning before leaving Tirana we will visit the National Museum of History, with its easily recognisable mosaic frontage.  We then drive to Elbasan to visit the historic fortress before continuing on to the picturesque fisherman's village of Lin where we will have free time for lunch before we drive 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.

DAY 4

Drive to Korca via the medieval town of Voskopoja

Today we make the journey to Voskopoja - formally known as Moskopoje. 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, time for lunch and to sample fresh watermelon (when in season) we continue to Korca, sitting at the foot of Moravia Mountain, where we will spend the night.  On arrival we take a city tour including the Resurrection Cathedral, which is the main Orthodox Church, and Medieval Museum which houses a wide selection of stone sculptures, carved wood artefacts and textiles.

DAY 5

Scenic drive to Permeti and walk through the Benja countryside

Our journey today takes us through the southern highlands to Permeti. Travelling along one of the most scenic routes in Albania, we will reach the Barmash Pass (1040 metres) where we can enjoy sweeping views of the Nemercka Mountains, which are snow covered for most of the year and form the border with Greece. En route, we will walk through the Benja countryside and have the opportunity to see the stunning view of the Ottoman stone bridge over the river with the mountains in the distance. We'll then stop for a typical Albanian drink of raki with the locals before heading to a nearby village restaurant to enjoy a barbequed lamb lunch.  En route to Permeti we visit the Kamenica Tumulus archaeological site where we can see a Bronze Age burial complex. Permeti is located on the Vjose River in the heart of the White Mountains.

DAY 6

Drive through the mountains to old Balkan town of Gjirokastra

Our day starts with a walk up to the village of Leusa where there will be time to visit the church which features some stunning frescoes, particularly on the ceiling.  Our route to Gjirokastra takes us through 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 covered in spring with some of the most exuberant wildflowers you are likely to see anywhere in Albania. As we travel, look out for eagles soaring above us. On the way to Kelcyra, we stop at Dhkosat village, where we have the chance for a traditional lunch. Later, we arrive in Gjirokastra where we take a walking tour through the cobbled streets of its UNESCO listed historic centre and visit Gjirokastra Castle and the Ethnographic Museum. The castle sits at a height of 336 metres and is one of the most magnificent structures in the city 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 Ethnographical Museum 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 us an insight into the traditional affluent Albanian lifestyle of the town with numerous household items, folk costumes and cultural artefacts on display.

DAY 7

Explore Butrint, one of the greatest archaeological sites in the Balkans

Leaving Gjirokastra behind us, we drive to Saranda. Along the way, we will stop at the karstic spring, known as 'The Blue Eye' where we can marvel at the blue clear waters.  This afternoon we 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, we return to the shores of the Mediterranean and Saranda for the night.

DAY 8

Visit Ali Pasha's Fortress; stay in Llogora National Park

As we leave Saranda, we can look forward to another scenic coastal drive along the Albanian Riviera, before winding over the 1000 metre high pass at Llogora as we 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 breath taking views over the mountains, sea and forest. We stop at Ali Pasha Fortress, a castle on a small peninsula within Palermo Bay with stunning views over the turquoise waters back along the coastline. Although small, the walls of the triangular fort are well preserved along with some cannons found here. We'll also stop to take a brief stroll along the beach at Himara. Upon reaching Llogora National Park, we will have time for a three to four hour hike covering seven kilometres in the mountains with many attractive views along the way. The route we follow is along a combination of well trodden footpaths, goat trails and a military road. We classify this walk as moderate in difficulty.  Tonight we'll stay at hotel nestled amongst the pine trees of this tranquil national park.

DAY 9

Visit ancient Apollonia and Vlora en route to Berat

This morning en route to Apollonia we stop at Vlora where we will visit Flag Square and the Muradi Mosque. From here we continue our drive to 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. We continue our drive to Berat where we spend the night.

DAY 10

Walking tour of Berat and Durresi

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, we 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. We will also visit the oldest mosque in Albania, the Red Mosque, and the Onufri Icon Museum.  We drive on to Durresi which is one of Albania's main ports. 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 reminders we can see as we wander around the city today of its long and varied history. For example, we will stop off at the Roman Amphitheatre, which is not far from the modern city's main square. We will also visit the Archaeological Museum before we depart and drive to Kruja where we spend the last night of our trip.

DAY 11

Trip ends in Kruja

Our trip ends today after breakfast. Depending on the time of your flight, you may have some 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.

Accomodations

Accommodation Notes

On day 8 of our trip we will be staying in a small hotel within the Llogara National Park. It has a restaurant and bar with outdoor terrace where you can enjoy the traditional Albanian cuisine and great views over the surrounding forested mountain slopes. The en suite rooms are simply decorated and most have balconies.

End City

Kruja

Guides

An Explore Leader is an integral part of any Explore trip and your trip will be led by one of our experienced Explore Leaders who have been handpicked and expertly trained. We believe that our Explore Leaders are the key to the success of our trips; they are passionate travellers who are bursting with first-hand local knowledge which they love to share. Your Explore Leader will also take care of all the planning and organisation throughout your trip. Their passionate approach will make this trip fun and inspiring, bringing the destination to life whether you are travelling alone or with others.

Tour Staff

Driver(s), Explore Tour Leader

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