Sea to Summits A complete Journey of Northern and Southern Albania
This tour suits travelers who want to explore entire Albania. It is a combination of vibrant cities and idyllic counryside, interesting archaeological digs and splendid UNESCO World Heritage Sites, stunning beaches of the Albanian Riviera and unspoiled nature of the Accursed Mountains. An educational journey with relaxing brakes, tailored for the culturally curious and active traveler. Get to know Albania, its people, their history and cuisine during a 15-day trip. A shorter alternative with fewer and less demanding hikes is the 9-day â€žAlbania in a Nutshellâ€œ tour.
Overview The tours starts in the capital Tirana, travels along the diverse Adriatic and scenic Ionian Coast to Corfu, includes visits of the sites at Apollonia and Butrint and hikes in the Llogara National Park as well as at the Albanian Riviera. Two remarkable UNESCO protected cities, Berat and Gjirokastra, as well as for culinary delights famed town Permet and northern capital Shkodra are traveled. From here we journey into the most remarkable valleys of the Albanian Alps: Theth and Valbona. Upon return the scenic ferry ride across the Koman Lake and historic hilltop town Kruja round up your trip of Albania. “Sea to Summits” Highlights:
see the complete image of what friendly Albania has to offer staggering views of the Alps highest peaks and the turquoise waters of the Riviera a tranquil ferry ride on fjord-like Koman Lake & the Blue Eye’s fascinating play of colors eat your way through Albania: fine Ottoman cuisine, organic spit-roasted lamb, fresh sea food, precious olive oil, wine and raki tastings meet the highlanders and experience traditional mountain lifestyle and famed hospitality of the “Kanun” first hand
Duration: 15 days Group Size: 8-14 (possibility for private departure starting from one person) Accommodation: middle-class and boutique hotels; simple, clean family-run guesthouses Difficulty: 2/4 + two longer transfer hikes (more details in the FAQ) Average daily walking time: 9x | 4 ½ hours - almost all hikes can be shortened/extended Luggage Transfers: yes, by horse and car
Tour Facts Services included:
10x accommodation in comfortable hotels, private rooms with en-suite bathrooms 4x accommodation in alpine guest houses, shared facilities and rooms with 3-6 beds full board (meals in restaurants and picnics) English, German, Italian or French speaking guide (inquire for others) all transports within Albania incl. transfers from/to airport, ferry trip entrance fees
At your own:
airfare insurance (compulsory for every participant) tips and personal expenses for drinks or souvenirs
Hikers should bring the following equipment: Hiking boots, gaiters (if hike is in May), light rainwear (90% of rain falls in winter), sun protection (cream, hat, glasses), small to medium backpack (25 to 35l), 1.5 liters water gear, towel and swimsuit (optional). Please note that suitcases are not suitable for transport on horses and only one piece of baggage with maximum weight of 15kg is included. Visitors are expected to respect the wildlife, leave what they find, dispose of their waste properly and to be considerate with locals.
An introduction to Albania Arrival and visit of the turbulent and colorful capital Tirana
Rendezvous at the airport, during the transfer (25km/30min) to our hotel close to Tirana’s center we gather first impressions and the country is introduced. After check-in and time permitting we can visit the extensive National History Museum, interesting section of Communist era works in the Art Gallery or concentrate solely on a walking tour that immerses us in the turbulent past of the country. Illyrian ruins, oriental monuments, socialist “plattenbauten” and modern pomp create a colorful patchwork of a city searching its identity. The “blloku” is a perfect example, now popular upmarket part of the city, home to boutique shops, cafes and night clubs, it used to be the no-go living quarter of the politburo elite. Tirana sees rapid change and stark contrasts, they depict the split personality of a country caught between West and East. Our city tour concludes at a highly debated monument, the “Pyramid”. Constructed as Dictator Enver Hoxha’s mausoleum it was used for very different purpose. The first eventful day closes with an initial taste of Albania’s rich cuisine which we sample in the following days.
2500 years of Illyrian, Greek and Roman History The Adriatic Coast and its unknown archaeological treasures
Our journey takes us South, through the agricultural coastal plain and to the bridgeheads of the Via Egnatia that connected Rome with Constantinople, into Tosk lands. Near the port of Durres (36km/1h), nestled between multistory apartment blocks, lies hidden the largest amphitheater of the Balkans. The little-known archeological gems astound the seasoned traveler at the latest when we reach the Temple of Agonothetes, one of many remains of the Greek-founded city of Apollonia (90km/90min). After lunch we have the opportunity to swim in the Bay of Vlore (50km/1h), where in 1912 almost five centuries of Ottoman occupation ended with the declaration of independence, motifs depicted on the current 500 lek note. Today it is a popular destination for seaside holidaymakers that flock the palm-lined waterfront. By late afternoon we reach Dukat (30km/45min), explore the in WWII fiercely contested village and experience Albanian hospitality when we stop by a local family for dinner. By the time we reach the hotel in the Llogara National Park (15min), we have traveled through 2500 years of history.
Albanian Riviera: Stone Villages, Mountains and the Sea Walking in Llogara, through olive groves and to a hidden beach
Excited to start our first hike we leave from the small mountain hotel on 800m altitude. The cooler climate eases our ascent through the dense forest of the national park to a saddle on the Karaburun Peninsula (1.200m). Here the western slopes plunge steeply into the deep blue Ionian Sea. Expect more panoramic views of Vlore, the coastâ€™s highest summit Mt. Cika and the rugged shore of the Albanian Riviera during the walk on the peninsulaâ€™s spine. We pause to memorize the views of jagged peaks and turquoise waters before descending to the point where Caesar crossed with his army two millennia ago. After lunch at the iconic viewpoint we leave by bus to Dhermi (18km/30min), armed with towels we ramble through citrus and olive groves to the secluded beach Gjipe for a relaxed afternoon break, the inexhaustible can explore the 70m deep Canyon. Onward on bus we visit the beautiful bay Porto Palermo (22km/40min), its submarine pens and the Ali Pasha Castle before reaching the family-run seaside pension (15min) where we stay overnight.
The Ionian Sea and Albaniaâ€™s most Beautiful Beaches A forgotten village, laidback seaside and Hellenistic colony
During the mild morning temperatures we walk to the older hilltop part of Qeparo, an eerie atmosphere surrounds the semi-deserted stone village. We explore the maze of cobbled streets, meet the odd donkey rider and descent to the endless olive forest of Borsh. The driving stage isnâ€™t less scenic, along the way the shimmering crystal-clear sea and long sandy beaches on one side, the craggy range on the other, offer panoramic views. Pretty villages, citrus groves and olive plantations line the road to modern port town Saranda (40km/1:15h), only 2km across the strait lies Corfu. Opportunity for a refreshing swim at the beautiful islands of Ksamil (15km/25min) before we indulge in a sumptuous seafood lunch. The cooler afternoon is reserved for a visit of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Butrint (10min), the former Greek colony enjoys a picturesque setting on a narrow peninsula inside a lagoon. In the early evening we return to Saranda (19km/30min).
Chronicles in Stone: Ismail Kadare’s Gjirokastra Cobbled streets, Ottoman mansions and polyphonic songs
After breakfast we drive inland, break journey at the “Blue Eye” (20km/40min), a mighty karst spring in a jungle-like environment, and continue over a mountain pass and down serpentines into the wide Drinos Valley and in direction of UNESCO city Gjirokaster (35km/1h). From our cozy hotel we start a walk through the narrow cobbled streets which connect the fortress-like, slate covered Ottoman mansions. They have been spared from demolition when the city was declared a “museum town” - maybe due to the fact that it is Enver’s hometown? At his birth house and another splendid mansion we have the chance to peek in the richly decorated rooms, afterwards “qifqi” (rice balls) will be among the specialties sampled for lunch. Following a novel of Albania’s most renowned writer Ismail Kadare, we climb the steep quarters of the City of Stone to the castle Ali Pasha used during his reign over Albanian and Greek lands. From the iconic clock tower views of the valley and surrounding mountains are sweeping while the interior that housed a prison is damp and dark. The afternoon is at your disposal. In the evening we stroll through the lively alleys of the old town seeking traditional music of the region and enjoy the flair of the city.
A Mountain Crossing Rewarded with Raki and Hot Springs Secluded Zagoria, Permet’s cuisine and an unforgettable setting
From the busy streets of Gjirokaster we shift to the isolated and seldom visited Zagoria Valley (41km/1:15h). Only one unpaved access road leads through an impressive canyon into the mountain-framed amphitheater around the village Sheper. From here we cross the Dhembel and Nemercka Ranges near southern Albania’s second highest peak. After a 3h hike we reach the Dhembeli Pass (1450m) that offers rewarding views of the green Fir of Hotova National Park and the picturesque city Permet, embedded in the lingering river landscape of Vjosa Valley more than 1000m below. During the descend we stop for a cultural delight at the beautiful orthodox church in Leuse before entering town. In the afternoon all strains are forgotten, under an Otoman stone bridge we relax in the hot springs of Benje (13km/20min) and enjoy the view of snowcapped mountains in the background. We return to the city and stop in at a tavern to taste the Permet’s famous raki and dishes.
Picturesque Landscape and the City of Thousand Windows Vjosa Valley, Byzantine Architecture and Orthodox Heritage
From the City of Flowers we drive along the Vjosa and hike at the foot of the 1.600m high North face of Nemercka (20km/30min). Through the Kelcyra Gorge and past Ali Pasha’s birth town Tepelene we keep following the Vjosa on our way to the City of Thousand Windows. We break journey for lunch and visit the Byzantine monastery Ardenice (140km/2:45h), from the hill it is erected on we can already see Albania’s equivalent of the Olymp, Mt Tomorr (2416m) is at the center of many folklore stories, below lies yet another UNESCO site - the city Berat (47km/1:15h) Our hotel lies in old town’s Mangalemi quarter and above sits enthroned the castle on a hill, within its mighty walls many families remain, as do mansions and churches from the 18 th cent. In the Onufri church we find a collection of the most beautiful icons of Orthodox Albania. Sweeping views of Mt. Shpiragu and the reshuffled “Enver” writing top off another beautiful day of nature and culture that ends in a small tavern.
Explore the villages of the Tomorr National Park Albania’s Olymp, its best wines and Communist odd ends
A drive along the Osumi River takes us to Polican where Enver Hoxha’s secret weapon factories are holed up in the mountain. In a nearby hamlet (35km/1h) of the Skrapar region our hike to a series of waterfalls and remote villages starts. Over ancient mule tracks we enter the Tomorri National Park, climb higher and enjoy the multifaceted views of well-kept fields, stone houses, the barren marble slopes above and stepped olive terraces below. We return to Berat (35km/1h) and have more time to explore the Gorica and Mangalemi quarters connected by an Ottoman bridge. In the medieval center we find with the Bektashi tekke one of the most ornamented buildings. On the peak of Tomorri another temple of the liberal Muslim sect was erected, thousands join the pilgrimage to it in August. In the early evening we head to one of Albania’s most renowned wineries (15min), sample their best drops of wine or raki and enjoy dinner subsequently. Return to the previous night’s accommodation.
Shkodra, the Lake and the Highlands Illyrian castle, first glimpse of the Alps, hub to the mountains
A long transfer takes us to Shkodra (200km/3:30h), on our way we pass the city of Lezha. National hero Skenderbeg lies buried below the castle where he united the clans in his campaign against the Ottoman invaders. At a village on the shore of the Balkans biggest lake we have the opportunity to swim in front of the Albanian Alps silhouette before savoring catch of the day. Afterwards we visit the Rozafa Castle, learn about its legend and enjoy fabulous views that excite our curiosity for the coming days of travel through the Accursed Mountains. Back in the city the cafĂŠs bust with people that flock for a stroll to the pedestrian area that swells Italian atmosphere and is lined with bourgeoisie town houses, reminder of the cities rich past. We immerse ourselves in the buzz of the bazaar, shopping for the coming days, or in Albaniaâ€™s past captured on film, stored in the archives of the Marubi photo library. Time to enjoy an espresso with the locals or meet an artisan before the daylight fades. The rooms of our hotel set in a restored Ottoman villa are lovingly decorated and meals carefully crafted, we are wishing each other a good night in anticipation of the coming highlights.
Journey into the Accursed Mountains 1st hike in the Thethi National Park and scenic drive
By minibus we travel into the highlands, first along the shore of the lake that is backed by the Montenegrin coastal mountains then through valleys that become narrower until the mountain tops tower high above us at the time we stop for refreshments in Boga (45km/1:15h). Your guide will choose a suitable hike in the national park area and you either walk along the ancient bridle path that connected the valley or head to a look-out mountain (30min transfer). Both walks offer memorable views of the highest peaks of the Accursed Mountains. Enjoy idyllic nature and catch a first glimpse on the village far below while taking delight in a well-earned picnic lunch. A scenic drive over the astonishing pass road takes us to a family-run farmstead in the village Nderlysa (18km/1:15h). You can use your free time to sample mulberries, grapes and plums in the garden, harvest corn and milk sheep with the family, learn to cook a typical dish, explore the surroundings and talk to the villagers.
Theth – In the Heart of the Albanian Alps A hidden oasis, Grunas Waterfall, Kanun and Kula
We walk through a canyon to a karst spring, the bravest can take a dip in the icy waters while butterflies swirl around us – truly a hidden oasis to relax at. Without mobile phone coverage, electricity and road access busy everyday life seems suddenly far away. On our way back we examine the bizarre glacial rock formations, a home-cooked lunch already awaits us at the guesthouse. A short transfer (20min) takes us to the 50m deep Grunas Canyon, on foot we ascend the plateau of the famed waterfall at which’s base often a rainbow appears. In the lock-in tower we dive into recent history. The “kula” offered protection for men threatened by blood feud, the perfect place to elaborate on the highland law code called Kanun, its origins, impact and present day relevance. We pass the deserted ethnographic museum and iconic church of Theth on the way to our guesthouse.
The Grand Crossing: Hike Theth to Valbona On par with the mountains on Valbona Pass (1811m)
Accompanied by mules that carry our load we set out for the transfer hike across Valbona Pass (1815m) â€“ a highlight of each journey. The initial walk through the village reveals its full extent, from the higher terraces the hamlets lie spread below. The fairy-tale beech forest provides cover from the sun while we gain height, we pause to take a breath and for the glorious views from meadows and near springs. On the pass the surrounding peaks appear on a par and sweeping views of both valleys fascinate even the seasoned traveler. Weather permitting we take the lunch break ahead of the descent to Rragam where a vehicle will pick us up for the final leg through the mighty dried up riverbed that leads to the guesthouse (20min). When the daylight fades we watch the alpine glow on the rugged peaks over dinner in the idyllic garden. No surprise many Albanian women were named after the beautiful valley.
Valbona â€“ Queen of the Mountains Hamlet Kukaj, colorful meadows and hospitable shepherds
We start our last hike to Kukaj, an isolated hamlet where only two families reside. The windy path takes us over lush meadows ablaze with the colors of a huge variety of spring flowers to a shepherd hut on 1650m. The building was used as a military barrack in communist period when this was a no-go area. We admire the wild and romantic jagged mountain scenery, can sample fresh milk products and opt to climb higher to an ancient crossing at the Montenegrin border or to stay and enjoy the views. At above 2000m a weathered border pyramid remains as a reminder of the isolation Albania once endured, from here views reach to the most dramatic parts of Montenegrin Prokletije. On a similar path we return to the guesthouse, visiting bunkers that protected the border and catching another glimpse at the Alps highest mountain, Jezerca (2694m).
Lake Koman and Kruja Tranquil ferry ride on Albania’s fjord and Skenderbeg’s capital
We rise early for the transfer to the ferry dock in Fierze (43km/90min). The picturesque Koman Reservoir loops similar to a Norwegian fjord through sheer rock walls and is considered another highlight of the Albanian Alps. The ferry stops at several points to pick up locals from remote villages before arriving at the Koman Dam (46km/3h). By car we continue to a highly praised slow food restaurant in the country side and later to the hilltop town Kruja (87km/1:45h). The castle was Skenderbeg’s capital where he withstood many sieges, Enver Hoxha’s daughter designed a museum in honor of his legacy. The famous bazaar of Kruje is the perfect place to hunt for souvenirs, those range from Chinese made bunker-shaped ashtrays to carpets produced live by skillful women on hand looms and real antiquities. On the terrace of our hotel, overlooking the bazaar, we enjoy a last sumptuous dinner together, recall the past two weeks and celebrate a successful, multi-faceted and memorable journey through Albania.
Farewell A great journey in Albania ends
After breakfast our multi-faceted journey ends with a single timed transfer to the airport (30min) where we wish each other farewell and you safe trip home. Looking for more? Extend your stay by adding days at the beaches of the Riviera or explore the other Balkans nations on a trip to the neighboring Montenegro, Croatia, Kosovo or Macedonia.
This tour suits travelers who want to explore entire Albania. It is a combination of vibrant cities and idyllic countryside, interesting arc...
Published on Apr 9, 2014
This tour suits travelers who want to explore entire Albania. It is a combination of vibrant cities and idyllic countryside, interesting arc...