Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia

Explore Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, a stunning and unusual part of the continent on the borders of Christian Europe and the old Ottoman Empire. In Albania we first visit the citadel of Kruja, with its deep connection with Albanian culture and impressively preserved buildings, then head to the region of Mirdita where we step back in time to discover feudal traditions, unique villages and the real spirit of Albanian culture.

We spend a couple of days in the rural communities of Thethi National Park, situated amidst the stunning scenery of the Albanian Alps, exploring the pristine mountainous countryside, crisscrossed with rivers and harbouring villages where the traditions of yesteryear are as relevant as they ever have been.

Moving on, we then cross Lake Koman by boat to continue to Kosovo. Cities like Prizren and Pristina give us the opportunity to delve into the complex history of the region, with its heady combination of east and west. Crossing into Macedonia we explore the capital Skopje and visit medieval churches on the way to the pretty lakeside town of Ohrid. Back in Albania we visit the picturesque towns of Berat and Gjirokastra with their whitewashed traditional houses, and visit the Roman sites of Appollonia Butrint before returning to Tirana.

This is a fascinating land, little-visited up until now but with much to offer the curious traveller. Discover one of Europe’s hidden secrets.

Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro itinerary image

Highlights

  • Impressive Ottoman architecture
  • Stunning mountain scenery
  • Boat journey across Lake Koman
  • Explore traditional villages
  • Ancient Roman ruins

Day 1 - Tirana

Arrive in Tirana and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight Hotel Kruja or similar.

Tirana

Modern Tirana was founded in the 17th-century by the Ottomans, but remained a fairly unimportant town until the early 20th century when it was proclaimed capital of the recently independent Albania. It is characterised by an interesting mix of architectural styles, from the stark buildings of the Communist era, to the remnants of Ottoman rule. The city’s inception as capital was accompanied by a programme of construction led by Italian architects. Its numerous public parks and green spaces are where people congregate to socialise, play board games and walk.

Following the 2000 elections, the mayor of Tirana decided to ‘brighten up’ the city and a number of buildings are painted in bold colours, not to the liking of all of the inhabitants and giving it a rather garish feel in some places. The centre of the city is Skanderbeg Square, named after the ubiquitous Albanian national hero. Nearby stand some of its older and more impressive sights – the 18th-century Mosque of Ethem Bey and the clock tower, which gives a feel of the Ottoman origins of Tirana.

Day 2 - Kruja – Rubik

Leaving the capital we head first to Kruja, one of the most important historic towns in Albania and intrinsically linked with the national hero Skanderbeg. We explore the citadel and the Ottoman bazaar, having lunch in a traditional restaurant before driving to Rubik. Rubik is situated in the region of Mirdita, probably the most authentic and traditional region in Albania and never fully occupied by any invaders during the last two millennia. We spend time exploring this region, with its strong clan-based culture and ancient codes of honour, and visit a traditional kulla – a fortified house built in the style of a tower. Overnight Hotel Eko Marub or similar. (BD)

Mirdita region

This is one of Albania’s most traditional areas, with a culture based around clan associations that is almost feudal in nature. External influences have made few inroads into this mountainous and remote area and it is perhaps the best place in the country to get a glimpse of how most Albanians would have lived not so long ago. Mirdita was ruled according to ancient and traditional rules known as ‘Code of Lek Dukagjini’. The traditional kullas are an important part of the culture here – these robust buildings often played an important part in the resolution of the blood feuds which were once common here, and men from one clan would lock themselves in for months on end until their enemies had cooled down.

Day 3 - Lezha – Thethi National Park

Drive to Lezha in the north west of the country, visiting its castle and the mausoleum of Skanderbeg. We then travel to Thethi in the Albanian Alps, an isolated area marked by imposing peaks and traditional villages. Overnight local guesthouse. (BD)


Day 4 - Thethi National Park

Spend the day exploring the region. Like Mirdita, this is a place where the old customs are not too far away and we spend our time here discovering rural life, visiting waterfalls and canyons, and visiting typical watermills and watchtowers. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)


Day 5 - Shkodra

Drive to the historic city of Shkodra. We visit the main sites which include the Leaden Mosque, the cathedral, the picturesque Mesi bridge and Rozafa castle, the huge fortress which dominates the town and dates back to the time of the Illyrians. Overnight Hotel Tradita or similar. (B)

Shkodra

Shkodra is one of the oldest and most historic towns in Albania, enjoying a strategic position close to the ports of the Adriatic and major trade routes. With a history stretching back to the time of the Illyrian civilisation, many Albanians feel it to be the heart and soul of their country. A wide variety of historic and cultural influences have left a mark on the town, from the Romans to the Venetians to the Ottomans, and the most impressive site to be found here is the Rozafa castle, dating back to the time of earliest settlement but continually reinforced and rebuilt by successive inhabitants. With underground stairways, tunnels and passages this was the last fortress in Albania to fall to the Ottomans, and a fascinating place to explore.

Day 6 - Lake Koman - Decani - Peja

Cross Lake Koman by boat, described as one of the great boat trips of the world, passing impressive mountain scenery. Crossing into Kosovo visit the village of Junik with its traditional Albanian stone houses or kulla for an insight into the feudal traditions of the region, then continue to the 14thcentury Decani Monastery, with its impressive frescoes. Our final stop is Peja, at the foot of the gigantic Damned Mountains. Peja was an important regional centre and the seat of the Patriarchate of Peja – here we spend time exploring the town and delve into its Ottoman heritage. Overnight Seraphine Plaza Hotel or similar. (B)

Peja

In the north west of the country, Kosovo’s second city enjoys a superb location on the edge of the Rugova Valley, flanked by fine mountain scenery. It is known for being the seat of the patriarch and archbishop of the Serb Orthodox church in medieval times, and is seen as the spiritual centre of the Serbian people – one of the many issues that has caused so much conflict between Serbia and the Albanian Kosovars. Peja was an important trading town with almost a thousand shops in the 14th century. The city suffered during the war with Serbia and much was destroyed, but it is not difficult to get a sense of what it was once like, and many old buildings remain or have been restored including the fascinating fortified houses from the Ottoman era as well as the beautiful Haxhi Beut mosque.7

Day 7 - Gjakova - Prizren

Continue to Gjakova with its clock tower, old bazaar and beautiful Hadum Mosque dating to the 16th century. We then visit Rahovec winery to taste some of the excellent local produce, and after lunch drive to the ancient city of Prizren, dating back to the days of the Illyrians and one of Kosovo’s most historic towns. Spend time exploring its old fortress, churches and mosques; Prizren is also home to a number of tekkes, spiritual headquarters for the dervish sect, as well as grand old houses belonging to noblemen and merchants. Overnight Hotel Prizren or similar. (B)

Gjakova

The small town of Gjakova holds a wealth of historic monuments that belie its modest size. Although it suffered much in the war with Serbia, considerable effort has gone into restoring its old buildings, including the carshia – the traditional wooden market that provided the main focus of commercial activity in the town. There are also a number of tekkes – monasteries or spiritual centres for members of the Dervish order, and unique to this part of Europe, as well as old wooden houses and the stunning Hadum Mosque, with its ornate decorations.

Prizren

Prizren has around 70,000 inhabitants, and it is a true open air museum, one of the most beautiful towns of Kosovo. It is situated on the slopes of the Sharri Mountains and on the banks of the river Bistrica. Prizren was established as an important trading town, through which passed old roads towards the Adriatic coast and the interior of the Balkan peninsula. The area of the Prizren valley has been settled by Illyrians since ancient times. The city already existed in Roman times, and in the 2nd century it is mentioned with the name of Theranda and in the 5th century it is mentioned with the name of Petrizên by Procopius of Caesarea. Of all the cities in Kosovo, Prizren has best preserved the architectural heritage of the past.

Day 8 - Prizren

Spend today exploring the eastern part of Kosovo. We visit the 14th century church at Gracanica and the nearby Roman ruins of Ulpiana, then stop at the medieval castle of Novoberdo. From here continue to Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, exploring its key sites including the Bazaar Mosque and the Ethnographic Museum, for an insight into the traditions of the region. Overnight Hotel Begolli or similar. (B)

Pristina

Like many Balkan cities, Pristina is a mish mash of cultural heritage with Ottoman mosques vying for space with Orthodox churches and stark Communist monuments. The city is ancient and there has been some form of settlement here for the last ten thousand years – in Roman times the nearby site of Ulpiana was one of the most important in the Balkan region, at the centre of regional trade routes. Pristina hasn’t always had an easy time though. In the front line between Christianity and Islam it was occupied by Austrian, Ottoman and Tatar forces, often with devastating consequences for the population, and in more recent years suffered some bombing during the NATO campaign against Serbia. Today it is a lively city with an optimistic outlook on the future – newly liberated from Serbian occupation there are now a huge number of bars and restaurants catering for a population finding their feet once more. As part of the former Ottoman Empire it is home to a number of excellent old Turkish buildings including old townhouses and mosques dating back to the time of Sultan Mehmet II in the 15th century, which sit rather uneasily with the grandiose monuments of Communist Yugoslavia. Yet this paradox makes it a continually surprising place to explore, with vibrant and friendly people eager to welcome visitors to this newest of European nations.

Day 9 - Gadime Cave - Skopje

We visit the spectacular cave of Gadime with its stalactites and stalagmites, then cross the border into Macedonia and continue to Skopje. Upon arrival we explore the city including the old Ottoman market, the monastery of Sveti Spas and the ancient Kale Fortress, which dates back to the Illyrian era. Overnight Aristocrat Palace Hotel or similar. (B)

Skopje
Skopje is the capital and the largest city of the Republic of Macedonia. Located on a major north south Balkan route between Belgrade and Athens, Skopje has had a tumultuous past; with the Roman’s, Serbs and Ottoman Turks all occupying the city before it became part of Yugoslavia in 1918. A devastating earthquake then struck Skopje in 1963 when more then 1000 people died and a huge proportion of the city’s buildings were lost, as a result much of Skopje’s architecture dates from the 1960s and 1970s. Fortunately Skopje’s entire heritage was not lost, as much of the northern half of the city escaped untouched, leaving many architectural reminders of the city’s past as an important trading town of the Ottoman Empire. As a monument to the loss the earthquake caused the clock at the Old Train Station, is forever stopped at the moment the earthquake struck.

Most of central Skopje is a pedestrianised, with the 15th-century Turkish stone bridge over the Vardar River linking the old and new towns. North from the bridge you will find the Daud Pasha Baths which date back to 1466, once the largest Turkish baths in the Balkans they are now home to the City Art Gallery.

Skopje’s eclectic past has had an aesthetic impact on the city which is in evidence when visiting the Church of Sveti Spas, which is half buried due to the fact it was constructed in the 17th century (Ottoman Turks’ rule), when no church was allowed to be higher than a mosque. Skopje’s old Oriental bazaar district is the largest and most colourful of its kind left in Europe, with an abundance of small shops in the narrow streets and numerous cafes serving Turkish-style coffee it is a great place to explore.

Day 10 - Matka Canyons - Tetova - Ohrid

Drive through the impressive Matka Canyons with their collection of medieval churches and monasteries, and continue to Tetova. We stop here to explore its historic quarter, then continue through Mavrovo National Park to the pretty lakeside town of Ohrid. Overnight Villa Sofia or similar. (B)

Tetova

Home to much of Macedonia’s Albanian community, Tetova is medium sized town in the north west sitting in the shadow of some stunning mountain scenery. Like much of the Balkan region it is home to a diverse mix of architectural styles and cultural influences, with mosques and churches sitting side by side. Two of the most impressive are the cathedral of St Cyril and Methodius, with its collection of icons and the Sarena Dzamija, a beautifully painted mosque which reputedly used over thirty thousand eggs to decorate. 

Ohrid

Ohrid is one of Macedonia’s most pleasant towns, set on the shores of Lake Ohrid, one of the world’s oldest lakes. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ohrid is packed with churches – some say there is one for every day of the year dotted around the shores of the lake – and dates back to well before Roman times. They of course left their mark here, and the town holds a very well preserved Roman amphitheatre. Looking over Ohrid lies the fortress of Tsar Samoil, a fortified 10th century structure with great views over the lake, and the pretty streets with their whitewashed traditional houses and narrow alleyways are a great place to lose yourself for a couple of hours. Also worth a visit is the 11th century cathedral of St Sofia, which holds some well preserved original frescoes.

Day 11 - Ohrid

Spend the morning exploring Ohrid, with its Orthodox cathedral and Roman amphitheatre. We then head to the pretty village of Vevcani with its traditional houses, and have lunch in a local home, before later returning to Ohrid. Overnight Villa Sofia or similar. (BL)


Day 12 - Voskopje - Korce

We cross back into Albania, stopping first at the monastery of Sveti Naum. In the ancient village of Voskopje we visit its impressive churches, decorated with frescoes, and then have lunch in a local home before continuing a short distance to Korce. Here we visit the Museum of Medieval Art, with the richest collection of icons in Europe, and wander through its old bazaar, among other sites. Overnight Hotel Regency or similar. (BL)


Day 13 - Gjirokastra

Drive to the stunning town of Gjirokastra, known for its distinct and traditional architecture. We have time to explore this UNESCO  listed site, one of the highlights of Albania with an imposing citadel and numerous typical houses. Overnight Hotel Kodra or similar. (BL)

Gjirokastra

The picturesque town of Gjirokastra enjoys an enviable position, perched on the side of a mountain above the Drino River. Like Berat it is also a ‘museum city’ and enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status as a result of its well preserved and traditional Albanian architecture, although the houses here are different to Berat and unique within the country. Dating back to the early 19th century, they are often ornately decorated both in and outside, with the ground floor being used for storage and living quarters in the storeys above. Although following a general style, each is different, and every turn leads to a new discovery – this is a particularly rewarding place to wander around and one of Albania’s most charming towns.

Day 14 - Butrint

Visit Butrint, Albania’s most important archaeological site dating to the 7th century BC and with numerous buildings including an acropolis, basilica and palace. The location of the site itself is also very attractive surrounded by trees and water. We stop in the village of Ksamil for views over the islands of Ionian Sea, then return to Gjirokastra for the night. Overnight Hotel Kodra or similar. (B)

Butrint

The UNESCO listed site of Butrint dates back to the 7th century BC, later becoming a Roman colony, then falling under the sway of the Venetians and Ottomans. Virgil claimed that the Trojans settled Butrint, but no evidence of this has yet been found. Within a century of the Greeks arriving, Butrint had become a fortified trading city with its own acropolis, the ruins of which we can still visit. The rediscovered city is a microcosm of almost 3,000 years of Mediterranean history, and its 6th century BC fortification evokes the city’s military power and symbolizes the rich culture of the once thriving ancient city. It is a beautiful place, surrounded by water and trees and with an impressive collection of monuments including a palace, basilica, bathhouse, city gates and much more – perhaps Albania’s best archaeological site.

Day 15 - Apollonia - Ardenice – Berat

Drive to the ruins of Apollonia, an atmospheric set of Roman remains on a remote hillside and once an important city in the region. Continue from here to Ardenice Monastery, a 13th century Byzantine site locally famed for hosting the wedding of the hero Skanderbeg. Afterwards, continue to the stunning town of Berat, with its white houses clinging to the hillsides. We visit the citadel which contains numerous churches and an interesting museum, and has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Overnight Hotel Desaret or similar. (B)

Apollonia

Ancient Apollonia was founded by Corinthians in 588BC, growing to become an important town of around 50,000 inhabitants. Once a key centre of the arts within the region its significance declined when the river Vjosa changed course, and it lost its port. Much of the site is unexcavated but there is still much to see, with an amphitheatre, temple and colonnaded street tucked away in the hillside. Also worth exploring is the excellent Byzantine monastery dating back to the 13th century, with many sculptures in the cloisters and some ancient frescoes within.

Berat

Nestled among attractive hills Berat is one of the prettiest towns in Albania with a history dating back more than four thousand years. Its citadel snakes walls around picturesque and typically Albanian traditional houses, their whitewashed walls tumbling down the hillsides, and contained within are a number of historic churches and mosques, as well as a museum with superb examples of religious iconography from the region.

The stunning architecture of Berat has led to it being designated a ‘museum city’, and helped it escape the ravages of the Communist era when many traditional buildings were lost elsewhere. More than most places in the country it offers a real sense of old Albania and the culture within – wandering around the small alleys and exploring the mosques and churches will be a real highlight of your time in Albania.

Day 16 - Durres

Drive to the coastal city of Durres, Albania’s second largest. Explore its sites including the Roman amphitheatre and Archaeological Museum. This afternoon we visit the Skanderbeg winery, to taste some of the excellent local wines and brandies produced here. Overnight Hotel Nais or similar. (B)

Durres

Founded in the 7th century BC by Greek immigrants, Durres is one of the oldest cities in Europe and is home to a rich cultural heritage incorporating Greek, Roman, Venetian and Byzantine influences among others. Briefly the capital of newly independent Albania in the early 20th century it is most noted for its impressive amphitheatre but also has some good examples of Ottoman architecture as well as the palace of King Zog, Albania’s first ruler.

Day 17 - Tirana

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)


Scenery in the Albanian Alps - Albania tours
Musician in traditional dress - Albania holidays
Traditional buildings in Berat - Albania holidays

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    In most cases you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example if your trip covers a number of different countries. On this tour you may have different guides in Albania and Kosovo, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Travellers from the UK, EU and US do not require a visa to enter Albania, Kosovo or Macedonia. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. However, there are no compulsory vaccinations needed to enter either country. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

Albania’s local currency is the lek, which you may or may not be able to obtain from your local exchange bureau. In Montenegro and Kosovo the Euro is used. We recommend taking Euros to exchange in Albania – many restaurants will accept Euros instead of the local currency anyway.

Changing money is fairly simple – many hotels will offer this service and there are also banks and exchange bureaus in larger towns. Your guide will be able to advise of the best option. Most towns also have ATMs which accept foreign cards, although don’t count on these always working. Credit cards are not used as widely here as they are in other European countries, so you should only think of this as a back up rather than the main source of obtaining money.

Local conditions

Albania is Europe, but it’s the least developed country on the continent and things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Kosovo is similar – the newest country in Europe was much neglected under Serbian rule. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing there are no warnings against travel to Montenegro or Albania from the FCO, nor warnings against travel to the parts of Kosovo that we visit – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated May 2019

Scenery in the Albanian Alps - Albania tours
Musician in traditional dress - Albania holidays
Traditional buildings in Berat - Albania holidays
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
19 September 2021
Price (PP) -
£1,875
Single Supplement -
£310
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
30 May 2021
Price (PP) -
£1,875
Single Supplement -
£310
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
29 May 2022
Price (PP) -
£1,899
Single Supplement -
£310
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
18 September 2022
Price (PP) -
£1,899
Single Supplement -
£310
Trip Status -
Available