ALBANIA 11 DAYS
Group size 10 Start Durres
Countries 1 End Tirana
Reviews 2 Reviews3/5
Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Leisurely
Group Size Medium Group
Discover with us one of the oldest countries in Europe. It looks like time has stopped, national heroes Skanderbeg still reign in their castle and history comes back to life. But even here, the modern world is noticeable – so do not miss the opportunity to experience the originality of Albania. It has everything, beautiful landscapes, mountains, sea, beaches, but it is unlike anything you have seen before.
- 9 x nights: 3 x Hotel Te Stela Resort 4* (or similar) in Durres , 1 x Hotel Picasso 4* (or similar) in Vlora, 1 x Hotel Bahamas 4* (or similar) in Saranda, 1 x Hotel Cajupi 4* (or similar) in Gjirokastra, 2 х Hotel Belvedere 4* (or similar) in Ohrid, 1 х Hotel Mondial 4* (or similar) in Tirana.
- All-route English-speaking guide.
- Meals: HB + lunch on Day 8.
- Transfer by modern coach throughout the whole trip.
- English-speaking city tours: Durres, Tirana, Kruja, Berat, Porto Palermo, Saranda, Gjirokastra,Permet, Korca, Ohrid, Pogradec, Elbasan.
- Entrance + guided tour: all sacred buildings according to program; ruins and
- Archaeological Museum in Durres; National Museum in Tirana; Skanderbeg Museum in Kruja, National Iconographic Museum “Onufri” in Berat, ruins and Archaeological Museum in Apollonia, ruins in Butrint, fortress and National Museum of Armaments in Gjirokastra, Museum Of Medieval Art in Korca, Samuel’s Fortress in Ohrid, Archaeological Site “Real Scampis”.
- Other Highlights: thermal baths in Durres; Skanderbeg Square, City Hall, National Theater,Government District in Tirana; the medieval castle, old town, felt workshop in Kruja; wine tasting in Kallmet; Castle in Berat; Castle in Porto Palermo; visit to Blue Eye Spring; Hoxha House and Kadare House, Turkish Baths, Bunker in Gjirokastra; Sveti Naum Monastery and boat trip in Ohrid.
- Visa Fee
- Travel Insurance
- Single Supplement
- Any meals not mentioned
- Any transfers not mentioned (e.g. first and last day)
- Any expenses of a personal nature
- Camera/video permits
- Tips to the guide and driver
Welcome to a land between crescent and cross! Only a few years ago Albania was the no man’s land for tourists. They came here with no expectations and were pleasantly surprised by the rich cultural heritage and extremely hospitable people. We also promise you exiting time while discovering cultural richness of Albania on this trip. This city is not only the largest port, but also one of the oldest settlements in the country. It was here that the route called Via Egnatia from Rome to Greece began through the flourishing country of Illyria on the lands of the present-day Albania. After the usual formalities you check-in at the hotel in Durres and have a dinner. You could still have a walk around the city, it depends of your arrival.
First glance on Albania
After breakfast we invite you to a city tour. We can see the rich past of Durres as once strategic point, in many places: remains of the Byzantine wall, the Venetian Tower, the ancient Baths of Trajan and the largest in the Balkans Amphitheatre (were only found randomly in the 1960s during construction works) as well as many more. Most finds of the later excavations are exhibited in the nearby archaeological museum. We have a look at ruins and the exhibition. For dinner we come to the hotel restaurant.
In the morning we start exploring capital of Albania. Together we look behind the scenes of a city that hides many treasures. Tirana has a fondness for large and oversized buildings, while also wide boulevards and spacious parks. The largest and most important square in Tirana is named after Prince Skanderbeg – a national hero – who stopped the Ottomans on their train to the Balkans in the 15th century. In the recent past, a dull and gloomy city Tirana surprises us today with its liveliness. Now the city is known for its colorful houses. We visit the most important buildings of the capital: the town hall, the national theater, the government district. We pay special attention to religious diversity in present-day Albania. We visit the Et’hem Bey Mosque and learn about the Muslim traditions in the country. In the recently built first Orthodox Cathedral, we learn about Christianity in Albania earlier and nowadays.
Kruja: the last bulwark against the Ottomans
Today we drive north to a holy for many Albanians city Kruja. Almost forgotten in the middle of a desolate mountainous area, it forms a kind of oasis, no wonder, actually, because the word stands for “spring” in Albanian. Several times in history, the city was the last bastion in the battles against Ottomans, and Kruja is associated with the name of the national hero of Albania – Prince Skanderbeg. His life and deeds are celebrated particularly in the partially restored Kruja Castle that houses now the Skanderbeg National Museum. After his death, however, Kruja fell under Ottoman rule for a long 400 years, what is reflected by a rather oriental-looking appearance of this old town. For us that adds a certain attraction to the town and we have a walk through the bazaar street with the old Turkish market. The bazaar in Kruja is one of the largest folk art markets in Albania. During the visit to the bazaar, you can not only buy handicrafts but also see masters in work. For example, a rugmaker and felters. In this mountainous region the wine is produced as well and we invite you for a tasting in Kallmeti Winery. In the evening we return for the last overnight stay in Durres.
In the city of a thousand windows
Today we continue to the south of Albania along the seashore. Our first stop is Ardenica Monastery, built on remnants of the ancient temple. The oldest buildings from the 15th century consist of the antique building blocks. The monastery courtyard is decorated with ancient Greek statues. The most interesting building is a small church with frescoes. Next we visit Berat – picturesquely called “City of the Thousand Windows”.In reality, the houses resemble the swallows nesting on the rocky mountain, and only their windows are visible. At the top rises the old castle. We walk over Kalaja – the UNESCO World Heritage listed old quarter with its crooked lanes, churches and mosques, the citadel and the ethnographic museum. We also visit National Iconographic Museum “Onufri”, where we see exhibition of valuable icons of the Albanian painter with the same name. The next stop is Apollonia. We can see the remains of the amphitheater, temples and acropolis from the former port city with a busy trade under Apollo’s auspices. Aristotle considered Apollonia a prime example of oligarchy. Due to climate change, the seashore has become a swampy landscape, and Apollonia testifies with its story that nothing on earth is truly eternal. The former Greek giant colony has been turned into a historic monument. At the archaeological museum you can see exhibits with the finds. For overnight stay we reach the nearby town Vlora, the meeting point of Ionian and Adriatic Sea.
Picturesque views and antiquity
Immediately after breakfast we make our way south. This area was known in antiquity as Epirus, now it has a name “Albanian Riviera”. In order to see truly breathtaking landscapes of the mountain serpentines, we should first drive by the Llogara pass. It is located at the height of about 1 km in the middle of national park with the the same name: on both sides of the road there are floraleiche terrain. And when the road goes down, beautiful sea views open up. Our first stop is in Porto Palermo. As in the case with Durres, it used to be a strategic control point over the local laguna. On the peninsula we visit the Porto Palermo Castle, built on a place of the former Venetian Castle. The seascape with turquoise crystal clear water makes you feel like you’re in the a movie. This somewhat unrealistic day continues with the visit to alleged second Troy City. According to legend, Aeneas had intended to bringing an animal sacrifice to Gods for his successful escape from burning Troy and Corfu Island, but the wounded bull tried to flee and only died on the other shore. Just at this point, the mythological hero decided to found a new city. Nobody other than Benito Mussolini (he considered himself an Aeneas descendant) generously but unsuccessfully promoted the continuation of archaeological finds to confirm this legend. Such is the latest history of Butrint – former great ancient Greek and Roman resort with later Byzantine traces and now it is considered a historical well of historical knowledge. Just as thousands of years ago, the yellowed bay leaves are rustling beneath the feet, as if they were watching a performance in the ancient theater or healing in the Asclepius Temple („Äskulap”: someone who treats). Or maybe they belong here to communicate with the Almighty in the early Christian basilica or to baptize a child in the baptistery. Nowadays only the bare stone walls of the basilica have remained, in the baptistery – a unique mosaic floor (considered the best in the Balkans) and pillars. The archaeologists have collected on the surface amazing architectural evidence of bygone eras. And on shady paths of the archaeological reserve “Butrint”, as well as in many other places of this country, stories and legends from Illyrian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman times follow our tracks. Albania reaches into such ancient times and encompasses such cultural layers that the basis for scientific doctoral theses seems to have no end. If you come to the village Ksamil, you would easily understand why Aeneus saw here the new paradise. Beauty surrounds us everywhere. While looking at snow-white sand, water of all imaginable shades of blue and green islets, you believe that a the page from travel catalog you have to view with the motto “your rest is a paradise”. At the weekend, Albania’s southernmost marine recreational spot is packed with people: locals from different parts of the country and tourists, especially the Greeks, “occupy” the coast of Ksamil. There is enough space for everyone. We spend the night in Saranda – the capital of the Albanian Riviera.
Coffee aroma known for a thousand years
Our destination for today is Gjirokastra – an important point on the map of Albania. On the way we drive near the natural wonder “Blue eye” (Albanian: Syri i Kaltër). In communist times, only the party elite was allowed to visit this lake, fortunately, times have changed. In the middle of the mountain forest, an ice-cold spring leaps at such a speed creating not only a lake, but also making small power plant work. The stiff extreme depth at the source point gives the water a dark shade of blue in contrast to bright sea edges – so the lake looks like an eye. The measuring tests were not so efficient: divers detected only the depth of 50 meters, since further investigations were too dangerous. The current intensity is 7 to 8 m per second. Thus, the natural causes of this phenomenon can not be studied precisely. This great sip of fresh air is very helpful in the later while visiting Gjirokastra, which was probably the best preserved historic town during the communist century. Every stone here keeps stories of Byzantine and Ottoman times. Thanks to beautiful tower-like houses Gjirokastra was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List 2005. When it rains, the flat roofs of the houses sparkle like silver- maybe that’s the reason why the settlement is called “the silver city”. Or “The City of a Thousand Steps”: so many you need to reach the old fortress with the bell tower on the mountain. In Gjirokastra two world-famous Albanians were born, very different among themselves. One is Ismail Kadare, the world-class author nominated several times for the Nobel Prize. The other is Enver Hoxha – the man who has led the Albanian people “along the paths of communism” for fifty years, and has actually led the country to complete poverty and isolation. In the house where Enver Hoxha spent his childhood used to be a museum bearing his name. Now only an ethnographic museum works here. The Kadare House is also preserved. Today these two places in Gjirokastra attract the attention of tourists interested in history and literature. Gjirokastra is reach with historical monuments: an old fortress, an arms museum, an American “spy plane” intercepted by the Albanian Communists, Turkish baths… And you can also enjoy delicious coffee, brewed according to a special recipe. It smells cardamom, nutmeg and some unknown spices that grew up on this earth thousands of years ago. Overnight in Gjirokastra.
To Lake Ohrid
After the overnight stay in Gjirokastra we have only one sightleft to visit – the biggest bunker in Albania. You may already know the topic “bunker in Albania” – they are really scattered everywhere, resemble the forgotten alien plates and are used more and more economically. The Albanian dictator, of course, has worried more about accommodation for himself. This bunker for all political nomenclature is deep enough underground and counts up to 100 large rooms.The lower town in the hometown of Hoxha has truly served as a secret military object. Next we head north. The nearest sightseeing spot is Permet, the most green and clean city in Albania. The “City of Roses” is gaining more importance in becoming the center of the attractive tourist area: thermal baths and the picturesque Ottoman bridge nearby as well as the reputation of local wines and Rakia are highly promising reasons for that. Our experienced guide tells you more about a giant stone surrounded by legends that stands in the city center. After about 2 hours drive we come to Korca. By Albanian standards, it is a big and very beautiful city, surrounded by mountains. Since the times of ancient Greeks locals have been weaved here carpets. The followers of travel superlatives can also rejoice: in Korca there is the largest Orthodox church and the first mosque in the country, and of course we visit them. Worth seeing are the local bazaar and the Museum of Medieval Art. You have some rest and after collecting impressions we invite you back to our comfortable bus. Less than an hour ’s drive – and cross the Albanian-Macedonian Border driving along the Ohrid Lake, that belongs since 1978 together with the town of the same name and a section of the shores to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reason for this is the uniqueness of the lake, especially its fauna. Together with Baikal and Tanganyika it is one of the oldest (over 5 million years) lakes on earth. Fabulous landscapes, crystal clear waters and uncanny fish wealth make these shores a recreational and fishing paradise. Around the lake there are hotels and resorts, in one of them we have a dinner and overnight.
Macedonian coloristic touches
Immediately after breakfast we see the Monastery of Saint Naum nearby – an important center of Slavic and Orthodox history. Saint Naum, disciple of Cyril and Methodius (the inventors of the Cyrillic alphabet) founded the so-called Ohrid Literary School in this hidden corner. There was also a crafts center and a shelter for the gifted at the same time – the impressive paintings, frescoes and carvings in the monastery are considered as a model. Compared to the examples heavily destroyed in Albania, these Christian feats are quite fascinating. Besides architectural emphases, the monastery has one more thing. The relics of St.Naum are considered by Christians to be healing, especially in case of mental illness. For this reason, the monastery even had a special status for Ottomans. Even now, the pilgrims are frequent visitors of this place. Returning to Ohrid, we take a boat trip – without it, a visit to Lake Ohrid is unimaginable. To feed the hunger we go to the fish restaurants on the shore – a fish lunch is part of our program, and we highly recommend tasting the unique Ohrid trout, a must-eat in here. Finally we come to explore the city of Ohrid. This modern resort was an important Christian education center at the time of its construction. In honor of the local scholar – St. Climent, contemporary and colleague of St. Naum – the St. Climent Cathedral was built here. It looks very picturesque and monumental at the background of lake and mountains. At the background of lake and mountains, it looks very picturesque and monumental. We also visit the recently reconstructed Samuel’s Fortress. The magnificent view from its walls and running down narrow streets will stay in our memory. And the sunset would be nice to observe from St. John’s Church. We have dinner and overnight stay at the same hotel.
Back to Albania
In the morning we drive back to the Albanian border. Our first stop on the Albanian side is Pogradec. Formerly the place where Greeks and Macedonians lived compactly, the city has the Byzantine Fleur: many Orthodox churches shape the cityscape. A picturesque quay lets us say goodbye to Lake Ohrid. On the picturesque quay we say goodbye to Lake Ohrid. Unlike Macedonia, the Albania still has a long road to develop its sea protection practices: in communist times, there was a nickel mining area in Pogradec, which badly influenced the endemic lake Ohrid. But now the situation is improving gradually. We continue towards Tirana and make the last stop on our exploratory trip in Elbasan. The winding lanes of this Ottoman city bring about the oriental atmosphere, picturesque fountains with oriental decoration only confirm this impression. In the old town in the midst of preserved defensive walls you go through a large gate, in the Real Scampis you can still see the excavations from the Roman period. Visit to the 15th century King’s Mosque and the Bezirika Church, a bishop’s church from the 4th century, with interesting mosaics and frescoes crowns our brief sightseeing tour. In the evening we reach the Albanian capital and finish our tour with a farewell dinner.
On this day, our journey comes to an end. You will take home unforgettable memories as well as the feeling of having experienced something special. We have spent time in Albania very intensively and eventfully, but there’s still so much more things to explore and it would be no wonder if you would like to come here again. We are always glad to help you with planning your next trip!
Most of Albania is accessible year-round, but if you plan to travel through the mountains of the south or north, you might avoid the rainy/snowy winter months (January and February).