Albania: Land Of The Eagle9 days & 8 nights, Escorted Discovery Group
Escorted Discovery Group
Tirana, Lake Ohrid, Korca, Gjirokaster, Saranda, Vlora & Berat
Known as the 'Cradle of the Balkans', Albania and Macedonia are home to a wealth of natural and historic sites, from Lake Ohrid and the well-preserved Ottoman town of Gjirokaster to the important but lesser-known Roman ruins at Butrint and Apollonia. Travelling through spectacular mountain and coastal scenery, explore these two countries that are emerging after years of relative isolation.
Day 1Arrive Tirana
On arrival, you will be met and taken to your hotel.Theranda Hotel / Tirana International Hotel - 2 Nights
Drive to Kruja, which is 29 miles north of Tirana. The most important sight in Kruja is the semi-ruined citadel area, a fortress dating back to the 5th or 6th century and perched dramatically on a rocky outcrop. Only by the end of the 12th century was the citadel completed. It weathered many sieges, the most famous being the Ottoman campaigns repulsed by the Albanian warrior Skanderbeg and his men. Kruja thus became a symbol of national resistance. The Ethnographic Museum displays the beautiful interior of a traditional Albanian house from around 1800. Exhibits include 19th century folk dress, as well as traditional copper goods and clay utensils. Just outside the citadel is the old bazaar full of quaint shops selling antiques, jewellery, folk costumes, woven rugs and traditional felt hats.Theranda Hotel / Tirana International Hotel (B)
This afternoon, proceed on a tour of Tirana. Begin your sightseeing tour of the Albanian capital at the National Museum. The gargantuan mosaic on the museum's facade represents the development of Albania's history with everyone from Illirians to partisans represented. Inside the museum, each hall covers one of the stages in the development of the Albanian nation and to this day remains the best place in Albania to view beautiful finds from the many archaeological sites across the country.
Continue to the main square to see Tirana's landmark sites, the clock tower and the Et'hem Bey Mosque. Construction of the mosque started in 1794 and was finished in 1821 by Et'hem Bey. Closed under communist rule, the mosque reopened as a house of worship in 1991, without permission from the authorities. 10,000 people dared to attend and the event was deemed a milestone in the rebirth of religious freedom in Albania.
Day 3To Lake Ohrid
Drive from Tirana to Lake Ohrid via Elbasan, a total distance of 107 miles and a journey time of 3 hours and 45 minutes.Royal View Hotel (B)
The first leg of your journey will take you through the Kraba Pass to the city of Elbasan, a distance of 30 miles and journey time of 1 hour and 15 minutes. After a brief stop in Elbasen, one of the largest cities in central Albania dominated by the "Steel of Party" metallurgical complex on the outskirts of the city continue to the border with Macedonia, a further 62 miles and journey time of 2 hours. After completing border formalities continue to the town of Ohrid, a final drive of 15 miles and journey time of 30 minutes.
This afternoon, proceed on a tour of Ohrid. Visit St Sophia Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in Macedonia. The interior of the church contains some interesting frescoes, which are well preserved. The cathedral is used for the annual International poem reading concert which attracts poets from throughout the Balkans.
Continue to the fortress and the Church of St Clement at Plaoshnik, where the first university in Europe was founded. At the Gallery of Icons, see the largest collection of icons in the world. The oldest preserved icons are of "St. Basil the Great and Nicholas" and "The Forty Holy Martyrs". It is estimated that these icons date from around the 11th century. The common feature of both icons is the artistic approach that matches the frescoes in St. Sofia's cathedral.
Day 4To Korca
Drive to the Monastery of Saint Naum which was built in 900 AD and dedicated to the life of Saint Naum who was renowned for his healing powers and a contemporary of St Clement. Peacocks stalk the courtyard and the area surrounding the church, and its position commands excellent views across the lake. Inside the church are frescoes which date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when the original church was destroyed during the Ottoman rule of the area. The remains of St Naum are in the rebuilt church, which still has some of its original 9th-century stonework on view. Next to the church is the source of Lake Ohrid, the Black Drim river.Regency Hotel (B)
Drive from Ohrid to Korca, a total distance of 62 miles and a journey time of 2 hours 15 minutes.
The first leg of your journey will take you to the border at the town of Pogradec, a distance of 37 miles and journey time of 1 hour 15 minutes. After completing border formalities continue to the Albanian town of Korca, a final drive of 25 miles and journey time of 1 hour.
This afternoon, proceed on an excursion to the Museum of Medieval Arts and the Mosque of Mirahori.
Once the most important Orthodox church of Korca, the Mitropolia church of Shen Gjergj (Saint George) was 'renovated' beyond recognition and opened as a museum in 1987. Today it is Korca's best museum and houses an excellent collection of 6,500 medieval and modern icons from Southern Albania, as well as 1,500 other objects, of which some 200 icons and 50 metal objects are on display. Most icons in the museum are from the 16th to 19th centuries and its highlight is the collection of icons by the 16th century Albanian master Onufri, which stand out for their vivid colors and wonderful detail. After the museum visit the Mosque of Mirahori, one of the oldest in the country, built in 1496 after the Ottomans had gained control of the whole country.
Day 5To Gjirokaster
Drive from Korca to Gjirokaster via Kamenica, a total distance of 127 miles and a journey time of 8 hours including stops. The first leg of your journey will take you to the city burial mounds of Kamenica, a distance of 6 miles and journey time of 20 minutes.Cajupi Hotel (B)
Located in the area are over 250 Tumulus (burial mounds) with the largest excavation of its kind at Kamenica. Dating back to the 6th century BC, archaeologists have found a Tumulus which is far greater in size and significance than any other found in the Balkans region. You will be able to see the central and monumental graves, tour the small museum to view the artifacts and watch a DVD on how the site was found and is still being explored.
After your visit to Kamenica, continue to Gjirokaster, a further 121 miles and journey time of 4 hours 40 minutes.
Enjoy a city tour of Gjirokaster. The first visit on the city tour will be to explore the castle, which dominates the skyline of the city. The history of the fortress dates back to the 12th century but it became prominent in the Ottoman era, with its zenith during the time of Ali Pasha. When you are in the central courtyard which overlooks the town, there are cannons which have the English rose on them which were a gift from the British Government to Ali Pasha.
Included on the visit to the castle will be a tour of National Museum of Armaments, which contains a fine collection of armaments ranging from the war of Independence of 1912, to captured Axis weapons from the second world war. To gain access to the museum, you have to pass through a long gallery lined with artillery pieces. All of these guns were either abandoned by, or captured from, the Italian and German occupation forces during the second world war.
Continue to the part of the castle that is now known as the political prison. The fortress was used as a prison from 1932 to 1968 and part of the prison has been refurbished to show what life was like for its prisoners.
View the remains of the United States Air Force T33 Shooting Star which are exhibited on the ramparts overlooking the city. The aircraft was forced to land at Rinas Airport, near Tirana in December 1957 due to technical problems. As this was at the height of the Cold War, the Albanian authorities used this as a propaganda coup to show the superiority of Albanian technology over western counterparts.
The last visit on the city tour will be to house of Hoxha, which was the birthplace of the former Communist leader of Albania, Enver Hoxha, who spent over 40 years in power. During his term of office, his former home was turned into a museum about this life. Today it is a photograph gallery displaying images of the city of Gijrokaster and the surrounding areas.
Day 6To Saranda
Drive from Gjirokaster to Saranda, a distance of 38 miles and a journey time of 2 hour and 15 minutes, visiting the Mesopotam Monastery enroute.Hotel Brilant (B)
Tour of the Mesopotam Monastery. Built in the early 13th century, the Mesopotam Monastery is dedicated to St. Nicholas. The monastery is unusual as it contains a double as apse, which some scholars believe indicates that both the Orthodox and Catholic religions were practiced here.
Enjoy a late morning tour of Butrint. Butrint is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The first sign of settlement here dates back to the 8th century BC, but the remains of the ruins mostly focus on the Greek, Roman, post-Roman and Venetian eras. The town is a good example of how Roman builders changed a town to their design with the inclusions of central avenues of shops, baths, villas and theater. After the fall of the emperors and the rise of Christianity in the region, churches and baptisteries were built. The largest surviving baptistery in the Balkans area is located here but unfortunately the mosaic floor is generally covered to safeguard its fragile nature. Explore the ruins of 4th century BC sanctuary dedicated to the healing god, Asclepius. See the great 6th century early Christian Basilica, the Roman baths and 14th century castle. Due to its location, it is believed within the next 15 to 20 years the entire ruins maybe submerged and lost forever.
Day 7To Vlora
Drive from Saranda to Vlora, a total distance of 78 miles and a journey time of 5 hours 40 minutes including stops. The first leg of your journey is to drive from Saranda to the Ali Pasha castle at Porto Palermo, a distance of 37 miles and a journey time of 3 hours and 30 minutes.Hotel Vlora International or Hotel Partner (B)
Visit the Ali Pasha castle at Porto Palermo. Located of Himare, the castle of Porto Palermo is also known as the castle of Ali Pasha, who was a legendary figure in 18th century Albania. The castle features a triangular shape with its defensive walls up to 65 feet high. The castle is situated on a peninsula and has had a varied history including the use as an Ottoman and Venetian fortress plus a Soviet submarine base.
Continue to Vlora, a journey time of 12 miles and a journey time of 50 minutes.
Day 8To Berat
Drive from Vlora to Apollonia, a total distance of 15 miles and a journey time of 40 minutes.Hotel Mangalemi (B)
Enjoy a morning tour of Apollonia. Despite the importance of the Greek and Roman archaeological site at Apollonia, only 10% has been fully excavated. Julius Caesar granted this area to veterans who fought with him against Pompey Magnus. The first Emperor, Octavian, was educated in the city and it was here where he heard the news of the death of his beloved Uncle. During an earthquake in 3rd century, the important trading river nearby moved course and due to this, the harbor became heavily silted and unusable. More trade passed to the nearby settlement of Vlora. Visit the Roman villa, theater and Acropolis.
Drive from Apollonia to Berat, a total distance of 42 miles and a journey time of 1 hour 15 minutes.
Enjoy a city tour of Berat. Visit the city fortress with originals dating back to pre Roman times. The interior once contained 42 churches and chapels, though now there are only 8 intact shrines and the ruins of 2 mosques, one of which is the Kings Mosque. Unusually the fortress is still inhabited. Within the walls is the Onufri Museum of Icons, housing a large number of works by the principle Albanian icon artist, Onufri, his son Nikolla and other Albanian painters of the late Middle Ages. In the church of St. Mary, there is a small museum, which contains a magnificent iconostasis of carved wood.
Day 9Depart Tirana
Morning at leisure - suggested visits.
This morning, you have time at leisure in Berat. We recommend a visit to the Dormition Cathedral (main square) or the Edward Lear Art Gallery (Palace of Culture, Mangalem)
The Dormition Cathedral was built on the site of the original church of the city and contains some interesting frescoes and a fine iconostasis.
Containing four rooms of works from Albanian artists and of Albanian origin, the main focus of the Edward Lear Art Gallery is abstract modern artwork and socialist-realist sculptures/models. The name of the gallery comes from Queen Victoria's drawing master who travelled in the Balkans in the 19th century and stayed in Berat.
Drive from Berat to Durres, a total distance of 62 miles and a journey time of 2 hours.(B)
On arrival, enjoy a tour of Durres. The second largest city in Albania, Durres is principally a holiday destination for tourists from other Balkan countries. Founded in the 6th century BC by the Greeks, its main attractions are the Archaeological Museum of History, which has a collection of Greek, Roman and Ottoman items and the Roman amphitheater, the remains of which are presently undergoing further excavation. It is thought that the amphitheater's capacity was around 15,000 to 20,000 making it one of the largest in the region.
Drive from Durres to Tirana, a total distance of 21 miles and a journey time of 45 minutes.
On arrival, enjoy a tour of the Bektashi world headquarters and the Prime Minister's Office. The Bektashi order was founded in the 15th century and named after Haji Bektash Veli. Bektashi is part of the Sufi order of Islam and was widespread in the Ottoman empire, especially in the Balkan countries. It held very close ties with the elite Janissary troops of the Imperial Sultans and, when these were disbanded in the early 18th century, the order was also abolished. The order remained dormant until after the founding of the Turkish Republic, when a new wave of repression forced the movement to transfer its headquarters from Turkey to modern-day Tirana. The visit to the Bektashi world headquarters will give you an insight into the history and cultural of this branch of Islam, which is still active in many parts of the Balkans and Turkey today.
After your tour of the Bektashi world headquarters, continue to the Prime Minister's Office.
In the summer of 2015, the Albanian prime minister converted a first floor protocol room of his office into an art gallery. The arts hub features several works by international artists, including a neon-lit canopy in the entrance by French artists Philippe Parreno and a mushroom-shaped sculpture placed in the grassy grounds surrounding the building by Carsten Holler.
After the visit to the Prime Minister's Office, there will be time at leisure in Tirana before your transfer to the airport.