Albania Kukaj

Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo ~ Walking in the history of Illyria


At first glance, Albania holds obvious appeal for the adventurous traveller – the splendidly wild Albanian Alps, a very rich archaeological and Ottoman heritage and an Adriatic coastline as beguiling as Croatia’s, all, intriguingly, hidden for decades by a policy of total isolation. Further investigation adds to the fascination - literally thousands of defensive bunkers everywhere; astonishing mountain flora (thanks to an absence of modern chemicals); the improbable sight of teddy bears placed on all new buildings to ward off the evil eye; and an array of virtually unknown UNESCO World Heritage Sites, any one of which ‘vaut le voyage’.

Over two weeks, we explore this ancient seat of Illyria in depth, walking to isolated churches with Byzantine frescoes, to hilltop castles and ruined cities, and high in the Albanian Alps for flowers and birds. We take a private boat trip through the scenic gorge of Lake Komani; cross the border into Macedonia to stay on beautiful Lake Ohrid and walk in the remote Galicica National Park.

HIGHLIGHTS of our walking tour in Albania include:

  • Walking high in the Albanian Alps (a remote area still subject to blood feuds)
  • Exploring fascinating archaeological sites with an expert guide
  • Visiting frescoed Orthodox monasteries, 15C mosques & dramatic fortresses
  • A marvellous array of wildflowers, especially orchids, and many birds of prey
  • Robust Balkan cuisine and very palatable red wines
  • A night in Kosovo, Europe’s newest nation, to see exceptional Ottoman architecture
 

Guests’ comments on this trip:

'An excellent introduction to this part of the Balkans; the brief visit into Kosovo was an inspiration and gave an added dimension.’

‘Well organised, thoughtful. A good variety of sites etc and informal flexibility (eg diversion to Kosovo) was excellent.’

‘A brilliantly envisaged and brilliantly organised tour.’

 

DAY 1  
D included

Meeting at Tirana airport around midday, we transfer to this capital of contrasts (30 mins) and check into our charming 4 star boutique hotel in a quiet, central location. After a coffee and cake break, we have a guided walking tour of Tirana, including the monumental ensemble of Skanderbeg Square, the National Historical Museum, Tirana castle and the 18th century Mosque of Et’heim Bey.

DAY 2 
B, L, D included 

A short road transfer takes us to the port city of Durres on the Adriatic coast. We visit the Roman amphitheatre and have a seafood lunch by the sea. Continuing south, we reach the picturesque and ancient city of Berati, founded by the Illyrians in the 6th century BC and now under UNESCO protection. En route, we stop at a well-known winery where an informal wine tasting introduces indigenous Albanian grape varietals such as Sheshi I Zi and Puls. We stay for 2 nights in a very comfortable hotel, a meticulously restored old Ottoman house. 

DAY 3 
B, L, D included 

We spend the morning walking on the hills above Berat and have lunch in a traditional restaurant before an afternoon’s guided walking tour of the historic centre. Highlights include the castle (still inhabited after 2,000 years), the wonderful 16th century icons in the Onufri Museum, the 15th century Sultan’s mosque and the excellent Ethnographical Museum housed in a traditional 18th century mansion. 

DAY 4
B, L, D included

A full morning visiting the atmospheric hilltop ruins of Apollonia, a great city founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BC and later absorbed by the Romans – our guided walking tour is accompanied by bee-eaters and red-rumped swallows. After lunch amidst olive trees on the site, we continue south by road, winding our way up more than 1,000 m to cross the Llogoraja pass, then descending with spectacular coastal views to our small modern hotel on the beach – time for a swim or a paddle and a seafood dinner.

DAY 5
B, L, D included

Our destination today is Butrint, the most important and best-preserved archaeological site in the Balkans, where we have a guided walk amidst holm oak and olive trees and see the impressive city walls and gates, the theatre and the 6th century baptistery, all complemented by views across the channel to the Greek island of Corfu. We visit the informative museum and can choose an optional walk by the lake (a Ramsar listed site, important for species such as pygmy cormorant, spoonbills and glossy ibis) or time relaxing in the garden of our hotel.

DAY 6
B, L, D included

We take a chain ferry to reach an old inland road and head north into the mountains. In Libohova, we enjoy grilled lamb for lunch in the shade of an enormous oriental plane tree before visiting one of the oldest churches in Albania in a nearby village. The church was built on the orders of the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD to house a fragment of the Holy Cross. A 1.5 hrs walk takes us gradually down into the valley, then we drive up into the ‘City of Stone’, UNESCO listed Gjirokastra, and our hotel in a recently restored Ottoman house.

DAY 7
B, L, D included

High in the mountains opposite Gjirokastra, we walk to the magnificently sited ruins of Antigonea, keeping an eye out for short-toed and golden eagles (Albania is known as ‘The Land of the Eagles’). After a picnic, we return to Gjirokastra (birthplace of both Albania’s former dictator, Enver Hoxha, and Man Booker prize winning author, Ismail Kadare) for a guided walking tour of the huge 14th century castle, the picturesque bazaar and the fine 19th century Zekata House. This evening, we walk through the cobbled lanes for dinner on the vine-covered terrace of a well-known local restaurant. 

DAY 8
B, L, D included
A long driving day through magnificent mountain scenery (the scene of much Partisan activity in WWII) is punctuated by a steep short walk up to the church of St Mary at Leusa with its outstanding Byzantine frescoes and lunch in Permet. Our goal is Korca, the regional capital of southeast Albania and the original centre of Albanian nationalism in the 19th century. We spend the night in a recently restored historic hotel.

DAY 9
B, L, D included
A little-used border crossing takes us into the Republic of Macedonia, for an early morning visit to the revered monastery of St Naum in a lovely lakeside setting. After driving high into the limestone Galicica National Park, we walk gradually down through beech forest to a simple picnic in an open meadow (with many orchids), then continue on foot down to the lake. A guided tour of Ohrid town reveals the 2,000 year-old Roman amphitheatre, Tsar Samuel’s impressive fortress, the Cathedral of St Sofia with some of the best preserved 11th century frescoes in the world, and the iconic 13th century church of St Jovan at Kaneo set on cliffs above the lake. We can take a boat to the quay near our hotel (wind dependent) – and freshwater fish is definitely on the menu.

DAY 10
B, L, D included
Our first stop is a fascinating reconstruction of a Neolithic settlement on stilts over the water, before we drive over the Galicica mountain and descend on the other side to Lake Prespa. We pause a few times to take in the fine views and later continue to Bitola, the city of Philip II of Macedonia, to visit the ancient site of Heraclea Lyncestis, with its beautifully preserved mosaics and Roman theatre. We return to Ohrid in the late afternoon.

DAY 11
B, L, D included
Heading north, we drive through the Sharr Mountains and cross the border into Kosovo, Europe’s youngest country. We reach Prizren, noted for its well-preserved Ottoman buildings, by early afternoon. On a guided walk of the historic centre on the banks of river Bistrica, we enter Prizren’s most prominent mosque, the early 17th century Sinan Pasha Mosque. Other notable buildings are the Old Stone Bridge and the Gazi Mehmet Pasha Hamman, both built in the 16th century, and the Albanian League of Prizren. Destroyed by Serbian Forces in 1999, it is now restored and contains a museum and a library. Our small modern hotel has an ideal central riverside location.

DAYS 12 & 13
B, L, D included
We follow ever smaller roads west into the remote Albanian Alps, also known as ‘the Accursed Mountains’ because of their long history of blood feuds. We drive beside the green/blue waters of the Valbona river as we head deeper into the wonderful Valbona valley, bounded by towering limestone peaks. Our comfortable guesthouse (a sustainable tourism initiative of a prominent local family) was recently built of stone and wood, is surrounded by orchards and small fields and has marvellous mountain views. We spend two days exploring the valley, forests and upper flower meadows on foot (first, using 4WDs to get a good start), finding gentians, orchids, saxifrages, globularias and, perhaps, the endemic Albanian lily and soaring eagles, in a superbly scenic ‘bowl’ beneath the 2,694 m Mount Jezerca, the highest mountain wholly in Albania. Over dinner, we will be regaled with tales of wolves and bears (still very common in Valbona) and sample raki, home–distilled brandy.

DAY 14
B, L, D included
This morning we walk from our guesthouse to a hidden little lake, then continue by road to Fierze where we embark on a private boat trip through the dramatic, highly photogenic, gorges of Lake Komani. Meeting our vehicle again we return to Tirana and our charming 4 star boutique hotel.

DAY 15
B included
We have some free time before transferring to the airport for flights home.

£2,690 per person sharing
£400 deposit per person
£290
single room supplement

Please note that the single room supplement is imposed by the hotels and not by Kudu Travel. If you are willing to share but no other suitable guest books on the trip, we regret that the supplement will be payable. We shall endeavour to obtain double rooms for single occupancy whenever possible, but hotels in some countries do have single rooms that are small and less well positioned - in this case the supplement is simply ensuring your privacy.

 
Price includes
  • All accommodation for Days 1 through 15, on a twin shared basis
  • All meals (with wine and beer at dinners and restaurant lunches) as listed in the daily notation
  • All land and water transportation in private vehicles as described, except during free periods
  • All entrance and sightseeing fees, except during free periods
  • Specialist local guides in Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo, plus Kudu tour guide throughout
  • Gratuities for restaurant and hotel staff and the driver (appreciation for Kudu tour leaders is entirely at your discretion)
 
Price does not include
  • International transportation to and from Tirana airport
  • Trip cancellation, medical or other insurance
  • Immunisations, prescriptions or other medical requirements
  • Passport, visa and health documentation
  • Personal expenses (laundry, alcohol, besides wine and beer with group lunches and dinners, free time activities, etc.)
  • Meals noted as excepted in the daily notation
  • Transport and transfer of excess baggage
  • Albania departure tax, if any

VALUE FOR MONEY - SO MUCH IS INCLUDED

On Kudu trips you will only need money for postcards, presents to take home, the odd G & T or an irresistible ice cream. Festival and opera tickets, museum and gallery entrances, National Park fees, all meals (with a very few exceptions specified in individual itineraries), wine with lunch and dinner, access to specialist books carried by the guides, gratuities for porters and hotel and restaurant staff, boat rides, train trips, internal flights, wine tastings, 4WDs with drivers, the services of skilled local guides and trackers etc are ALL INCLUDED in the cost of your holiday. 

We are confident that, like previous very satisfied guests, you will discover that our tours give you excellent value for money.

  • 2 nights in Tirana (first and last), in a charming 4 star boutique hotel in a quiet, central location
  • 2 nights in Berat, in a very comfortable hotel, a meticulously restored old Ottoman house

  • 1 night on the Ionian coast, in a small modern hotel

  • 1 night in Butrint, in a modern hotel with a good restaurant

  • 2 nights in Gjirokastra, in a hotel in a recently restored Ottoman house

  • 1 night in Korca, in a recently restored historic hotel

  • 2 nights in Ohrid (Macedonia), in a stylish new hotel in the old town, on the lake

  • 1 night in Prizren (Kosovo), in a small modern hotel with an ideal riverside location
  • 2 nights in Valbona, in a guesthouse (all rooms with private bathrooms) - a sustainable tourism initiative of a local family, recently built of stone and wood, surrounded by orchards and small fields and with marvellous mountain views

Visa and Health Requirements

Visitors from the EU, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand currently require a valid passport, but not a visa, for entry to Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo. If you are a national of any other country, please check visa regulations with your nearest relevant Embassies.

At present there are no specific and compulsory health requirements for entry to Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo. You may also wish to check the advice given to travellers by the Department of Health and the FCO.

Insurance
It is essential, and a condition of booking, that you protect yourself with a suitable travel insurance policy as soon as you book a trip. We can arrange comprehensive cover for UK residents. Follow this link for a quote for a policy available to UK residents.

If you are already insured or a non-UK resident, please inform us of your policy at the time of booking.

Size of party
This trip will run with a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 14 guests.


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