Discover Albania The Last Blank Spot on the European Map
This tour suits travelers who want to explore the fascinating sights of central and southern Albania. It is a combination of historic cities, dramatic mountains, rural countryside, interesting archeaological and unique UNESCO World Heritage sites. You will visit the unspoilt beaches of the Albanian Riviera, explore the cobbled maze of streets in Gjirokastra and Berat, induldge on fresh organic dishes in Permet and sample the best drops the country has to offer at the Cobo Winery. It's an educational journey with relaxing brakes, tailored for the culturally curious and active traveler. Get to know Albania, its people, their history and cusine on a 8-day trip.
Introduction On this 8-day journey you will get to know the stunning nature and peculiar culture, complex history, manifold cuisine as well as warm hospitality of Albania.
The itinerary includes a varied combination of mountain and coastal landscapes, lively cities, Ottoman old towns and sleepy country-side villages. Visit the three UNESCO-listed highlights Berat, Butrint and Gjirokastra, the beaches of the Ionian and Adriatic Sea, mountains in the Llogara National Park and marshlands of the Butrint Lagoon. The tour can be shortened and extended to your requirements
The Trip The individual character leaves you the freedom to run your own unique trip, we provide you with the information you need to do so. Our daily recommendations assist you planning your personal agenda based on individual interests. Road maps, driving directions and an introduction to points of interests help you plan your day. They cover also lesser known sights not found in most guidebooks and include personal recommendations for our favorite restaurants. An optional WiFi hotspot secures internet access wherever you go, always have navigation and internet search at hand. We can also supply additional guidebooks on request.
CAR: Our default choice rental car is the Ford Fiesta (economy, 2013). An upgrade to the following cars is available, for other models than those listed please inquire: • Ford Focus (comfort, 2013/2014) • Citroen Berlingo (family, 2013/2014) • Skoda Octavia Scout (estate / station wagon 4x4, 2011) • Skoda Yeti (SUV 4x4, 2012)
The latter two feature 4x4 drive making them more suitable for travel on rough roads.
EXTENSIONS: The regular route can be expanded with different modules to include Northern or Eastern Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, leisure time at the Albanian Riviera or hiking trips. • North: one night in Shkodra at the beginning of the journey • Alps: cultural explorer and hiking tours - also Peaks of the Balkans (after Shkodra) • Kosovo: round-trips, walking & cycling in Rugova Canyon (after Shkodra) • Beach: x-number of nights at the Albanian Riviera in Himara (between Vlora & Saranda) • Zagoria: valley trek and day hikes (between Gjirokastra and Permet) • East: two nights in Korca and Ohrid (Macedonia) after visiting Permet More details follow at the end of the document.
Tour Facts Services included: 7x overnights in comfortable hotels: bed & breakfast private en-suite double 7x days rental car, by default Ford Fiesta (2013/14) road book with driving directions, road map and introduction to points of interest meet and greet with Zbulo staff for a tour briefing upon arrival Optional:
English, German, Italian or French speaking driver & guide (inquire for other languages) guide books for Albania English and German (Bradt and others) 5€ local SIM card with free minutes (national and to UK, US, DE...) and 3GB data plan 15€ portable WiFi route with car and wall charger including 3GB data plan 15€
Travelers should bring the following equipment: comfortable walking shoes for slippery cobblestone roads and short walks in nature light rainwear - 90% of rain falls in winter sun protection - cream, hat, glasses small daypack (20l) towel and swimsuit (optional) most importantly: the interest to discover Albania. Visitors are expected to respect the wildlife, leave what they find, dispose of their waste properly and to be considerate with locals.
The Castle and Bazaar of Kruja Arrival in Albania and Skanderbeg’s Stronghold
Arrival meeting and handover of the rental car. We inspect the car, help exchange money, discuss the itinerary, give updates on road conditions, hints and recommendations and answer remaining questions. Time to head of then! The old capital is only a 40min drive from the airport and on route you gather first impressions of the country. On 600m ASL and surrounded by olive groves Kruja enjoys panoramic views of Tirana and the coastline. Stroll over the handicrafts bazaar where women weave carpets on handlooms and a range of items from China-made souvenirs to true antiquities are on sale. Visit the white castle and museum in the national hero’s legacy, interesting ethnographic exhibition housed in an Ottoman villa, clock tower or Bektashi temple. 40min driving time Airport - Kruja
Hotel Panorama’s (Kruja) name describes this popular hotel best. From the comfortable rooms and great restaurant one enjoys panoramic views of the castle and bazaar. The car park is added value.
Berat – "City of Thousand Windows” and Durres Albanian Wines, Ottoman architecture and Byzantine churches
The Adriatic port Durres is Albania’s second largest city and the amphitheatre makes for a good first stop. New high-rise condos now dwarf the ancient city and compete with the medieval city walls. A two hour drive through the coastal plain passes colorful vegetable stalls and the country’s most renowned winery before Berat’s castle backed by 2400m high Mt. Tomorri comes into view. The UNESCO listed old town is split in two by the Osum River behind the still inhabited castle towers above the countless windows rows of the Ottoman-style mansions and small cobbled alleys. From the mighty castle walls you enjoy sweeping views and a church houses an impressive icon collection. Around 3h driving time: Kruja – Durres (1h) – Berat (2h)
Hotel Osumi (Berat), a B&B with 8 rooms housed in a historic building of the UNESCO-listed Mangalemi quarter. An eye for details, the home-made breakfast and friendly hosts set it apart from other options.
Archaeological sites Apollonia & Byllis, Coastal Town Vlora In the Footsteps of Ancient History
Traveling back to the coastline the influence of the nearby oilfield goes not unnoticed in Fier. Ancient travelers who arrived from Italy in Apollonia by boat noted the natural bitumen reserves of the archaeological park that occupies a hill overlooking the plain. Visit the ancient city and archaeological museum before continuing to the popular sea-side town Vlora where the independence of Albania was declared in 1912. A museum dedicated to those events, another ethnographic exhibition and the Zvernec Monastery will be of interest as are the sandy city beaches, range of restaurants and pleasant evening stroll called “xhiro”.
Around 3h driving time: Berat – Apollonia (2h) – Vlora (1h)
Hotel Nika (Vlora) is a welcoming pension with 10 new rooms, close to the beach but away from the buzz. The excellent kitchen is a treat and the family atmosphere will make you feel at home.
The Albanian Riviera, Saranda & Butrint Forgotten Villages, secluded Beaches and the Ionian Sea
The scenic drive from Vlora to Saranda culminates at above a thousand meters in the panorama of the Riviera’s coastline as seen from the Llogara Pass before plunging to the beaches of the Ionian Sea. Past pretty villages and peculiar sights like the cold war submarine pens the coastal road winds through citrus groves and stepped olive plantations, impressive mountains above and inviting azure shimmering waters below. In the afternoon the attractively set former Greek colony Butrint and surrounding lagoon area must see and islets of Ksamil something you would only expect to find in the Caribbean. Enjoy the best beaches and seafood the country has to offer. Inquire for boat excursions to remote beaches and (overnight) sailing trips. Around 3.5h driving time: Vlora – Llogara (1h) – Himara (1h) – Saranda (1h) – Butrint (30min)
Hotel Brilant (Saranda) is a top rated 4-star hotel with 32 rooms in the perfect location. It offers great value, panoramic views of the bay and Corfu over breakfast and a quite surrounding in the proximity of the lively promenade.
Gjirokastra: The City of one thousand Steps Kadare’s Chronicles in Stone, Ottoman Castles and the “Blue Eye”
Leaving the coast behind an impressive karst spring dubbed the “Blue Eye” is located at the foot of the Muzina Pass that leads into the Drinos Valley and to Gjirokastra. The iconic clock tower of Gjirokastra’s mighty castle is visible from afar and provides a vantage point over the slate-covered grey roofs of the old town as well as insights at the city museum. Visit one of the fortress-like Ottoman mansions were Dictator Enver Hoxha and Nobel-nominated writer Ismail Kadare were born and get lost in the labyrinth of alleys of a city built at such a steep slope that the later wrote “a drunk can slip off the road and land on a roof.” ´ Around 1h driving time: Saranda - Gjirokastra (1h)
Hotel Gjirokastra (Gjirokastra), a charming historic hotel with 7 uniquely-decorated rooms, set right between the castle and old town. Run by a friendly couple that can also prepare other meals on request.
The Unknown Wonders of Permet Sopot Waterfall, Baths & Village of Benja and Church in Leuse
Traveling further inland the Vjosa breaks through the Kelcyra Canyon and soon reaches Permet. The city is well known for its natural monuments, spirits and folklore music. Marvel at the dramatic Nemercka Range, Sopot Waterfall at its base and frescoes of the church in Leuse. At the end of the day sample raki and gliko (home-made spirit and preserves) in Benja and soak under an Ottoman stone bridge in the warm sulphuric springs at the entrance of the Lengarica Canyon with snowtopped mountains as a backdrop. Sounds great? It is! Permet is still one of the lesser known areas but well worth the trip. You can also dedicate more time to Gjirokaster and the nearby sights before heading to Permet. Consider visiting Antigonea and Saint Maryâ€™s Church in Libohova among others. Around 1:15h driving time: Gjirokastra - Permet (1:15h)
Hotel Alvero (Permet), modern hotel with 16 rooms overlooking the central square and Vjosa River. Selected products of the regionâ€™s slow food consortium are served on the patio for breakfast.
The Capital City and Farewell from Albania Colorful Tirana and your new Mediterranean love
Following the Vjosa through Tepelena it is only a short detour from the highway to reach the archaeological site Byllis and Ardenica Monastery on the way to Tirana. A city walk includes sights from Ottoman time to Communist era, with more time at hand visit the extensive National History Museum and interesting section of socialist era works in the Fine Art Gallery. Tirana stands in stark contrasts to the rural areas and depicts the split personality of a country caught between West and East. The “blloku” is a perfect example, the nightlife district turned living quarter of the politburo elite was formerly off limits to the public, now it hosts boutique shops, cafes and bars. Your varied journey to discover Albania ends at the airport on the following day: We hope you have enjoyed your trip and wish save travels back home. Around 4:30h driving time: Permet – Byllis (2h) – Ardenica – (1h) - Tirana (2h)
Vila 60 (Tirana), family-run boutique hotel with 12 rooms in the center of the capital. Superior service, convenient location, cozy rooms, breakfast buffet and private parking.
One day in Shkodra, 2500 years of history Arrival and visit of the North’s lively boom town
The town’s landmark, the Rozafa Castle, thrones high above the banks of the Balkans largest lake and affords panoramic views of the Albanian Alps that back the city. Immerse in the buzz of the oriental bazaar or experience the young, modern Albania strolling the lively pedestrian area. Shkodra is a city with deep history and many faces, layers of history and more contemporary stories wait to be explored. You won’t run short on interesting things to do, visit the Ottoman Mesi Bridge, one of the museums, the multi-generational Marubi photo library or one of the many artisan shops. Did you know that most of the world’s Venetian masks are produced here? The extension starts before the regular tour, from the airport you will visit Shkodra first. Shkodra is the starting point for tours into the Albanian Alps.
Hotel Tradita / Shkodra The 17th cent Ottoman villa has 25 rooms and appears almost a museum, decorated with ethnographic items and photos of the Marubi collection, it also hosts a slow food restaurant. Bicycles are available to guests of the hotel free of charge.
The Accursed Mountains & Koman Lake Theth, Valbona, Kelmend: Cultural Discovery & Hiking Trips
The Albanian Alps develop into an internationally regarded outdoor destination and allure visitors with dramatic mountain landscapes, idyllic villages off the beaten track and hospitality of the highland tribes. The tranquil boat ride on the Koman Lake is another highlight that one shouldn’t miss and provides access to Valbona which can be visited with a regular car - for Theth and the Kelmend region a 4x4 is required. Self and locally guided as well as professional escorted trips are possible. Extensions may last from a single overnight in one of the valleys to 3 to 7-day trek on the classic route and two week Peaks of the Balkans tours traveling Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro in the mindset of “Hiking Beyond Borders”. Extensions start from Shkodra and can be combined with Kosovo. The hiking trips are best completed without own vehicle - before or after the self-drive itinerary.
Hotels & Guesthouses / Valbona, Theth, Lepushe, Vermosh Cerem, Nderlysa Varied accommodation standard from en-suite doubles to sleeping on mattresses on the floor and showering from a pot. What do you prefer?
Kosovo - Europeâ€™s Youngest Nation Albanian & Serbian Heritage and the Rugova Canyon
The Western part of Kosovo borders Albania and is known as Dukagjin or Metohija. Both Albanians and Serbs claim it as the cradle of their culture as most of the countryâ€™s cultural heritage is located here. Visit the cultural capital Prizren, the bazaar of Gjakova, vineyards around Rahovac and the two UNESCO listed churches at the Visoki Decani Monastery and of the Patriarchate of Peja that served over centuries as the seat of the Serbian Orthodox church. Sleep in a traditional tower house, sample wine in a Serbian enclave and head up into the Rugova Canyon to hike, bike, climb (rock or Via Ferrata) and experience hospitality in one of the guesthouses. Most popular choice is to spend after visiting Valbona, on the way back to Tirana, an overnight in Gjakova or Prizren This extension starts from Tirana / Shkodra and can be combined with the Alps
Hotels & Guesthouses / Prizren, Gjakova, Peja, Pristina + Rugova Villages From cozy guesthouses, modern, historic and boutique hotels the whole range is covered. Kosovo already has a fair amount of tourism infrastructure catering for emigrants on holidays.
Ionian Sea and Albanian Riviera Best beaches and picturesque villages
Himara is a laid-back coastal town in the heart of the Riviera and best base to explore the adjacent beaches and old towns. Most points of interest can be reached within a 30min drive. Visit the semideserted stone villages of Qeparo, Vuno and Dhermi, secluded beach Gjipe, Ali Pasha Castle and submarine pens in the Porto Palermo Bay or just stay in town where you find everything at your convenience at hand. For other trips taxi boats are a convenient way to reach the remote coves and Pilur on 700m altitude not without reason called the Balcony of Ionian Sea. You decide how many days you want to stay. Ask us for boat excursions and sailing Driving on day 4 from Vlora to Saranda you insert the stopover in Himara.
Among others Hotel Rondos / Himara â€“ Potam Bay Opened three years ago and has direct access to a quite pebble beach and 21 rooms with sea view. The on-site restaurant serves seafood and international dishes on the pleasant terrace. The center of Himara can be easily reached on foot, other bars, restaurants and shops are located nearby.
Caravan Trails in the Hidden Valley Day trips, treks and horse riding
The Zagoria Valley is concealed in the mountains between Gjirokaster and Permet. Ancient caravan trails connect via Ottoman bridges picturesque stone villages where one can discover gems of Byzantine heritage and is hosted in family-run guesthouses. A 3 to 4-day trek with walking times between 5 and 7 hours is best enjoyed in spring and autumn, luggage can be transported on horse and an excellent local guide (very basic English) is available. Day hikes around Permet, into the Fir of Hotova NP, to the Sopot Waterfall and Kazani Canyon are either an alternative or possible combination to create a weeklong active trip in the area. Hiking trips are also possible at the Riviera, Kurvelesh Valley and Llogara National Park. 8-day horse riding tours start weekly (except July) from Gjirokaster. Extensions start from / between Permet and Gjirokaster.
Guesthouses / Limar, Hoshteve, Sheperâ€Ś Empty rooms are made available for guests, most of the time you will enjoy a private room but share the bath with the family. Dinner, breakfast and a lunch package are provided.
Two nights in the Paris and Perl of the Balkans Korca Highlands, Byzantine Heritage, Prespa & Ohrid Lake
Day 1 From Permet the road continues through the scenic Vjosa Valley and remote Kolonja Highlands to Korca, the city of serenades, Albaniaâ€™s oldest brewery and characteristic restaurants, is surrounded by three interesting villages worth a visit. Day 2 Either via the Prespa Lakes and high mountain road or past Podgradec and along the shore you arrive to Ohrid and can explore the old town in the afternoon. Day 3 Following the Via Egnatia that connected Rome to Constantinople along the Shkumbin River you reach the city Elbasan and capital Tirana. From Permet you continue on day 6 to Korca instead of turning to Tirana.
Bujtina Sidheri / Korca A historic villa from the 1920s with 4 unique rooms decorated with an eye for details. The owner cooked for George W. Bush during his visit in 2007. Korca will be a treat for your taste buds. Hotel Maximus / Ohrid Located in first line of the lake shore one enjoys memorable sunsets dining on the panoramic terrace of the modern hotel with 16 rooms, it is only a 5min walk to the historic center of Ohrid.