Hidden Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro

Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro form a stunning and unusual part of Europe, located on the borders of Christian Europe and the old Ottoman Empire. In Albania, we first visit the citadel of Kruja. Its impressively preserved buildings reflect its deep connection to Albanian culture. We 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.

Crossing into Montenegro we discover its stunning national parks and natural beauty. We then return to Albania to the traditional villages and alpine scenery of Thethi. Crossing Lake Koman by boat we continue to Kosovo to explore the pristine mountainous countryside, crisscrossed with rivers and sheltering villages where the traditions of yesteryear are as relevant as they ever have been.

Cities like Prizren and Pristina give us the opportunity to delve into the complex history of the region, while in the Sharri Mountains we meet the Gorani people. Here we learn about the rich cultural diversity of the country.

Back in Albania, we visit the ‘museum city’ of Berat with its unique architecture, visit the Roman site of Apollonia and the impressive Ardenice monastery.

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
  • Meet the Gorani people
  • 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 – Ulcinj

Drive to Lezha in the north west of the country, visiting its castle and the mausoleum of Skanderbeg. From here cross the border into Montenegro and drive to Ulcinj, exploring its well-preserved old town. Overnight Hotel Palata Venezia or similar. (B)


Day 4 - Cetinje – Durmitor National Park – Zabljak

Our first stop is in Cetinje, the former capital of Montenegro with a wealth of interesting old buildings. From here we head to Durmitor National Park. Durmitor is one of the Balkans’ most stunning regions, with glacial lakes, canyons and dramatic peaks, and we explore the area before driving to Zabljak for the night. Overnight Hotel Pavlovic or similar. (B)


Day 5 - Biogradska Gora National Park

Drive along the Tara River to Biogradska Gora National Park, another of Montenegro’s natural jewels with a beautiful lake and one of Europe’s only rainforests. Explore on foot before heading to Kolasin. Overnight local guesthouse. (B)

Biogradska Gora National Park

Although it’s relatively small, Biogradska Gora National Park contains great diversity of flora and fauna. There are around 220 different plants, 150 species of birds, and 10 species of mammals here and in its forest, there are 86 species of trees and shrubs. Rainfall is extremely high in the area, averaging up to 100 inches per year, and allows the growth of temperate rainforest. One of the unique features of the park is its pristine forest with trees over five hundred years old.

Days 6-7 - Thethi National Park

Crossing back into Albania we travel to Thethi in the Albanian Alps, an isolated area marked by imposing peaks and traditional villages. 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. (Day 6 – BD, Day 7 – BLD)


Day 8 - Shkodra

Drive to Shkodra. Take in 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 Tradida 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 9 - Lake Koman – Decani – Rugova

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 Decani Monastery. Built in the 14th century by the Serbian king Stephan, it was protected during the days of the Turkish occupation and its impressive frescoes are a highlight of a visit to Kosovo. From here we move on to the picturesque valley of Rugova for the night. Overnight Hotel Nagra or similar. (B)


Day 10 - Peja – Pristina

Head to 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. From here continue to Pristina where we visit its key sights including the Roman ruins of Ulpiana and the Gracanica Monastery. Overnight Hotel Begolli 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. This is 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. 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.

Pristina

Like many Balkan cities, Pristina is a mishmash 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 11 - Gjakova – Prizren

Visit a local winery to taste some of the produce, then continue to Gjakova with its clock tower, old bazaar and beautiful Hadum Mosque dating to the 16th century. 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 Centrum 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 Prizren Valley area has been settled by Illyrians since ancient times. The city already existed in Roman times and in the 2nd century it is mentioned along with the name of Theranda. In the 5th century it is talked about by Procopius of Caesarea with Petrizên, Of all the cities in Kosovo, Prizren has best preserved the architectural heritage of the past.

Day 12 - Sharri Mountains

We head into the nearby Sharri Mountains, which border Macedonia. With glacial lakes and pine forests the mountains are home to lynx, bear and chamois, as well as traditional villages where some people still wear traditional dress. We head to the village of Brod, with its lovely Ottoman buildings and stone houses; here we meet the Gorani people, a distinctive ethnic minority who speak a separate language and consider themselves to be different from other Kosovans. Overnight local guesthouse. (BD)

The Gorani people

The Gorani are a small ethnic group of about 15,000 people who live in the region around Dragash, in the sock like extension of Kosovo’s south western corner. Their name means literally ‘highlanders’ and the Gorani are Slavic Muslims, believed to have crossed over the mountains from either Bulgaria or Macedonia. The Gorani resisted the introduction of Islam for much longer than many other groups during Ottoman rule, only really adopting it in the 18th century.

Even today their customs still borrow some elements of Orthodox Christianity and they celebrate Christian festivals such as St George’s Day. The Gorani can often be seen wearing traditional dress and remain traditional in outlook, although a lack of opportunities in the region has led to many younger people leaving to seek work elsewhere.

Day 13 - Durres – Berat

Crossing back into Albania we drive to the coastal city of Durres, Albania’s second largest. Explore its sites including the Roman amphitheatre and Archaeological Museum before continuing 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. We take dinner tonight at a traditional restaurant. Overnight Hotel Osumi 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.

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 14 - Apollonia - Ardenice – Tirana

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. Return to Tirana for your last night in Albania. Overnight Hotel Vila Alba 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 a lot 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.

Day 15 - Tirana

Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)


Hidden Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro
Hidden Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro
Hidden Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro

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 Montenegro. 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

Hidden Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro
Hidden Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro
Hidden Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
09 May 2020
Price (PP) -
£1,899
Single Supplement -
£290
Trip Status -
Guaranteed
Date -
29 August 2020
Price (PP) -
£1,899
Single Supplement -
£290
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
08 May 2021
Price (PP) -
£1,899
Single Supplement -
£290
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
28 August 2021
Price (PP) -
£1,899
Single Supplement -
£290
Trip Status -
Available