Albanian Odyssey

Albania

Culture

Discover the culture and hospitality of Albania

10 days £1,695 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro

Finally emerging in the 1990s from the shadow of one of the most brutal communist regimes in the region, Albania is like a child raised alone - its culture and quirks are distinctively its own. As well as a fascinating history since World War II, Albania also betrays more ancient influences - from Byzantines, Romans, Ottomans, Ostrogoths, Venetians, Bulgarians and Normans. Visit the remarkable ruins of Butrint, walk the stunning stone cities of Berat and Girokastra, explore remote monasteries and rustic villages and indulge your palette with delicious Albanian food and wine, a little known Mediterranean culinary secret. Finally experience a taste of blood feud country in the wild, mountainous and hospitable North of the country.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • The beautiful Ottoman architecture of Berat
  • The history of Ali Pasha Fortress
  • The natural beauty of Kelcyra Gorge
  • Butrint's three thousand year history
  • Girokastra castle and cold war tunnel
  • The historic town of Shkodra
  • Experience the wild but hospitable frontier regions of Albania's North
  • Take a boat across Lake Koman
  • The beautiful Ottoman neighbourhood in Prizren

Places Visited

Kruja - Berat - Saranda - Butrint - Girokastra - Permet - Korca - Shkodra - Valbona - Tirana - Prizren

What's Included

International return flight (where indicated)
Airport pick-up & drop-off
Most meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
Ground transport and driver
Local guides
Accommodation
Entrance fees to sites & parks
Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Tirana - Kruja

Arrive into Tirana airport where you will be met by a Travel The Unknown representative and transferred to your hotel in Kruja. Overnight in Kruja.

Meal plan: Dinner

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Day 2 : Kruja - Berat

Visit Kruja in the morning, and have lunch at a restaurant in Durres. Transfer to Berat to visit the citadel and the Onufri Icons Museum. Overnight in Berat.

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Kruja (alb. Krujë) is a medieval town located 32 km northwest of Tirana, built 560 meters above sea level, on the slopes of Sari -Salltiku mountain. The name of Kruja derives from the Albanian word krua, meaning 'water spring'. The citadel has become the main Illyrian fortress in the area in the 4th century AD. In the year 879, Kruja was mentioned for the first time as a Christian religious center, (bishop see). The first Albanian feudal state was created here circa 1190. The Ottomans occupied Kruja two times, in 1396 and 1415. The town reached its zenith on the 28th of November 1443 when Kruja castle was taken by Gjergj Kastrioti (Skanderbeg), who then organized the long anti-Ottoman resistance. From this time on, under the leadership of Skanderbeg, Kruja repelled three Ottoman sieges in 1450, 1457 and 1466. Only ten years after the death of Skanderbeg, in 1478, were the Ottomans able to capture the castle and destroy the town.

Known as the ‘town of a thousand windows’, Berat’s Ottoman architecture and ancient history has given it UNESCO World Heritage status. The town is home to Berat Castle, which is perched on a rocky hill and inaccessible from the south. The fortress was so large that it could house a substantial proportion of the town’s inhabitants. An influence of different cultures can be found in Berat’s mosques and Byzantine churches.                

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Day 3 : Berat - Llogara - Saranda

Transfer to Llogora for optional short hike and lunch. Continue South to visit the Ali Pasha fortress in the afternoon. Continue to Saranda. Dinner in a fish restaurant. Overnight in Saranda.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Llogara National Park is home to many different species of wildlife including the Griffon Vulture, Red Fox, Eurasian Otter and Red Squirrel. The park covers an area of 2,500 acres and the air currents of the area have bent the trees into interesting shapes. 

The Ali Pasha fortress was owned by the notorious Ali Pasha of Tepelena who constructed a number of formidable castles as his territory grew. The defensive reinforcements he made include adding gun batteries and it became his second home. He entertained many notable Western people, including Lord Byron who recorded his encounter with Ali Pasha in 1809 in his work ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’.

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Day 4 : Saranda - Butrint - Girokastra

Visit Butrint Archaeological Park and have lunch at Syri Kalter Springs. Drive to Girokastra to visit the old town. Overnight in Girokastra.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Situated on the Straights of Corfu, Butrint was once the site of a Greek colony. During the 4th century BC, it became one of the most important commercial and maritime centres of the ancient world. Archaeologists have uncovered statues of the ‘Goddess of Butrint’, Roman amphitheatres and a temple dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek God of healing. The town was uncovered mostly intact thanks to the mud and vegetation of the area and has been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The site is also a haven for many species of fish, birds, tortoises, and vegetation.

The city of Girokastra, also known as 'the city of a thousand steps', is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its well preserved Ottoman architecture. The city has been occupied by many different countries over the years, including the Turkish Ottomans, the Greeks and the Italians. The city has a diverse culture, with a substantial Greek minority and the area around Girokastra is the centre of Bektashism, a Muslim sect. It is home to Girokastra castle which overlooks the town and is known as the ‘city of stone’ because of the grey stone houses and cobbled alleyways. The city is also the birthplace of two of Albania's most famous people - the writer Ismail Kadare and the communist leader Enver Hoxha.

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Day 5 : Girokastra - Kelcyra Gorge - Permet

Drive from Gjirokastra to Kelcyra Gorge. Lunch at a village restaurant and visit an Ottoman bridge. Option to walk to Benja village. Overnight in Permet.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Gjirokastra castle is one of the biggest castles in the Balkans that was used as a prison under communist rule. Today it is open to the public, along with the cold war tunnel. This giant bunker was built deep beneath the castle, by communist leader Enver Hoxha, in anticipation of a nuclear attack from Western or Soviet forces. 

The Kelcyra Gorge is an area of stunning natural beauty. Carved by the Vjosa river, the rugged landscape is home to many different species of wildlife such as the jackals, brown bears and wolves, although they are rarely encountered by walkers.

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Day 6 : Permet - Germenj - Korca

Drive to Korca through Germenj National Park. Afternoon spent exploring Korca. Overnight in Korca.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Germenj National Park covers over 7000 hectares of forest creating a breathtaking landscape. Its main draw is the Lake of Shalgar. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife including wild cats, bears, eagles, foxes and wild goats.

Korca was under Ottoman rule until 1912 and its proximity to Greece made it fiercely contested during the Balkans War. It became a hotbed of Communist agitation during the inter-war period, its underground Communist movement becoming the nucleus of Enver Hoxha’s Albanian Party of Labour. The city has been a centre for Orthadox Christians for centuries as well as having large communities of Sunni and Bektashi Muslims. Korca is nicknamed the ‘City of museums’ and is home to many museums, like the National Museum of Medieval Albanian Art. It is also known for its folk music, ‘kernacka’ meat balls and the establishing of the first Albanian school after centuries of Ottoman rule.
 


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Day 7 : Korca - Shkodra

Drive towards Tirana along Lake Podgradec and continue North to Shkodra. Overnight in Shkodra. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

A diamond-shaped city wedged between the Rozafa Citadel, the magnificent Albanian Alps, deep blue Lake Shkodra, a 30-kilometre sand beach and the serene Buna river delta reservation - Shkodra is a diamond in the rough with plenty of potential. While many visitors quickly breeze though the city, Shkodra’s turbulent 2,400-year-old history has left plenty of interesting relics that make a stay in Albania’s cultural capital worthwhile. Hundreds of years of no-nonsense religious and ethnic tolerance resulted in booming trade, witnessed by Shkodra’s grand merchants’ homes, and dozens of mosques and Catholic and Orthodox churches standing in close proximity to each other. Travel to Albania is now easier than ever before, the number of visitors to Shkodra is increasing and facilities for travellers are improving rapidly, with good hotels and several excellent restaurants now established. 

Lake Ohrid straddles the border between Albania and Macedonia. It is one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes, and the focal point of one of the most unique and important aquatic ecosystems in the world. For this it has been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site. Status and is home to over 200 endemic species. The surrounding weeds and wetlands shelter some of the most endangered birds such as the Dalmation Pelican and Spotted Eagle. On its shores, lies the city of Podgradec, home of many famous writers such as Mitrush Kuteli and Lasgush Poradeci.

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Day 8 : Shkodra - Lake Koman - Valbona

In the morning, drive to Koman and take a boat trip on scenic Lake Koman. In the afternoon, continue to the beautiful village of Valbona and explore a village by foot. Overnight in Valbona. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Lake Koman was created by a dam in the 1980s. It is lined by tree-covered hills and sheer limestone cliffs and the area is very remote. Although the car ferry was rendered defunct by the new highway between the coast and Kosovo, a small boat converted bus now operates the same route, making unscheduled stops along the way to serve the locals.

Situated in Valbona Valley National Park, the village of Valbona is surrounded by stunning natural beauty. In the heart of the wild Accursed Mountains, this rugged landscape is one of the most unexplored areas of Europe. Its main draw is the Valbona River, its warm people and its spectacular setting.

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Day 9 : Valbona - Prizren - Tirana

Transfer to Prizren (Kosovo) and explore its Ottoman neighbourhood. Drive back to Tirana. Overnight in Tirana. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Situated on the banks of the river Bistrica with a backdrop of the Sharr Mountains, Prizren is located close to the border with Albania. It is a very culturally diverse town, with mosques sitting next to Orthodox churches, and it has a prominent Turkish community where Turkish is widely spoken. It hosts Dokufest, the summer film festival, and has many interesting monuments in the town centre, such as the League of Prizren Monument and the Sinan Pasha Mosque. The town centre has the feel of a bazaar, where modern shops blend in with small craft boutiques, delis and sweet shops.

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Day 10 : Tirana - departure

Transfer to Tirana airport for departure. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Accommodation

Accommodation

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Panorama

Hotel Panorama is a comfortable 4* hotel situated in Kruja, near the Rinas Tirana Airport. It's situated in a tranquil area and offers modern amenities and panoramic views from the room balconies.

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Mangalemi

The hotel is located in the historic center of the Mangalem Quarter at the beginning of the old road leading to the castle. It is built on the ruins of mansions once belonging to the famous Pasha of Berat (Ahmet Kurt Pasha). 

Visit hotel's site
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Brilant

Brilant is a modern 4* hotel, located in the beautiful area of Saranda, on the south coast of Albania. Its rooms offer lovely sea views, and it's only a few minutes walk from the beach.

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Cajupi

This hotel is located in the heart of Girokastra. It has been recently refurbished to offer modern amenities.

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Alvero

This is a modern, 3* hotel in the centre of Permet. Rooms have air conditioning, TV, private bathrooms and a minibar.

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Life Gallery

This is an elegant, modern hotel, with minimalist design.

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Colosseo

This is a 4* hotel, with rooms featuring air conditioning, TV, internet and a minibar.

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Rilindja

This is a basic hotel, the first one in Valbona. Its restaurant specialises in serving local Albanian fare.

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Diplomat

This is an elegant 4* hotel in the classic style, located in central Tirana.

Visit hotel's site
Extensions

Balkan Explorer (20 days)

Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro & Bosnia

Archaeology of the Balkans (19 days)

Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians & Ottomans

Albanian Odyssey (10 days)

Discover the culture and hospitality of Albania

Reviews

The Balkans is a fascinating part of the world to visit with such complex histories. Wonderful scenery, great food, terrific variety of accommodation and especially loved the vineyards and wine tastings! Albania was such a surprise package! So much more than we anticipated and so much to see and do in this small country. Stunning scenery and roads generally better than we expected. Go before the rest of the world discovers this gem.

Laurel & Paul Smallwood , Balkan Odyssey & Albanian Odyssey, Balkans

We were looking for a land tour in the Balkans and contacted Travel The Unknown. The staff were very responsive in setting up a private tour schedule for us that proved to be perfect and reasonable in cost. We have just got back from our travels and can say that it was certainly a good choice The itinerary was varied and interesting and the accommodation well chosen. The quality and price of the food and wine in the region were an added bonus. Our drivers/guides were friendly, helpful and very knowledgeable. They went out of their way to accommodation our interests and preference.s Highly recommended!

Raymond & Janet Sterling (USA) , Tailormade Balkans
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