An Exploration of Albania and Kosovo – from Mountains to Sea!
Despite its diminutive size—Albania is less than 18,000 square miles, smaller than the U.S. state of Maryland—Eastern Europe’s Albania contains riches in culture, history, and ecology that are nearly unknown to modern travelers. But because of its size, these treasures are easy to discover on foot, and this walking tour samples the best of Albania—from two UNESCO World Heritage Sites to Roman ruins, Ottoman bridges and forts to fascinating castles and monasteries, plus the natural landscape formed by the intersection of mountain and river ecosystems.
In the tradition of its welcoming people, Albania today has opened its doors to visitors, and it has much to offer. On this trip, we will visit numerous sights that take us back in time to Albania’s ancient beginnings. From the beautiful Valbona Valley in the shadows of the magnificent Accursed Mountains; to the historic UNESCO town of Gjirokaster, known as the "town of stone;" to Berat - the "City of 1,000 Windows;" we'll see the best of Albania's mountains and ancient villages, finishing off along the Albanian Riviera for a swim and a festive fish BBQ, and in the historic city of Tirana.
Along the way, we'll cross the border into Kosovo (the youngest country in Europe), and to the historic town of Prizren with its minarets and Orthodox monasteries. We'll visit the Serbian UNESCO town of Peja, with its narrow streets, old-style Turkish houses and mosques; and sample wines in the vine covered rolling hills of Rahovec.
We'll have the opportunity to absorb the culture of this part of Eastern Europe as we explore the beautiful countryside from one cobblestone village to the next. This is a place of unique beauty and thriving ecosystems, where mountains and rivers meet to create cliffs and grottos, caves and gorges, and rolling hillsides with sweeping vistas. With its combination of natural beauty and historically significant sites, this tour will give you a new perspective on Europe’s sprawling culture, history, and scenery!
9 Days of easy cultural touring, 2 days of easy class II rafting or floating, and 1 day of moderate hiking.
Duration: 10 days Start Location: Tirana, Albania End Location: Tirana, AlbaniaDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Arrive in Tirana, Albania – Shkodra – Crown of the Albanian Alps
Your trip leader (or a representative) will meet you at 2:00pm outside the customs and immigration area at the airport in Tirana, Albania. We suggest you arrive by 1:00pm to allow time to get through customs and immigration. We’ll then transfer to Shkodra, the oldest and largest town of Northern Albania – as well as an important cultural and economic center.
Shkodra is an important city in the Western Balkans, due to its geostrategic positioning near the Adriatic and Italian ports. It also links together land-routes to other important cities and towns in neighboring regions. Shkodra is also importance because of the Lake of Shkodër just west of the city—the largest in the Western Balkans—which straddles Albania and neighboring Montenegro.
In Shkoder, we’ll visit the Rozafa Fortress perched on the top of a hill overlooking Lake Shkodra, the town of Shkodra, and the crown of the Albanian Alps in the horizon. After a short walk in the old town center, with its buildings reflecting an Italian architectural style, it will be time to enjoy a traditional dinner at a nearby restaurant, where local musicians will play live folk music.
Day 2 : Boat Trip in Lake Komani – Afternoon in the Heart of the Accursed Mountains
A morning transfer will bring us to the docks of Komani to board a spectacular boat trip through the fjord-like Lake Komani. Lake Komani is one of the largest artificial lakes in Albania, being 45 miles long, possessing a surface area of over 20,000 acres, and containing 40 coves and inlets. The lake was created in 1978 by the construction of the Fierza hydroelectric facility bordering on all three of the region’s districts of the region. The lake is home to 13 species of fish, mollusks, crabs, and amphibians.
About three hours of spectacular floating on a traditional locally built boat will take us by 44 miles of steep mountain faces, that once were known as The Canyon of River Drin - before the Fierza and Koman hydropower dams were constructed in the 1970’s, flooding the river bed.
After arriving at the Fierza docs, a short transfer alongside the Valbona River will bring us to the center of the Valbona Valley – one of the most beautiful alpine valleys of Northern Albania, surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Accursed Mountains. Here we will enjoy lunch with a local village family who will prepare for us homemade dishes made with local produce. In the afternoon we will explore on foot the surroundings of the valley in the company of Catherine, an American from New York who moved to Valbona after falling in love with the place. Tonight we will overnight in a mountain hotel in the very center of the Valbona Valley.
Day 3 : Kosovo the ‘Youngest’ Country in Europe
Today we leave Valbona and cross the border in to Kosovo, where our first visit will be to the Visoki Deçan Monastery near the town of Peja – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in a picturesque chestnut grove, this 14thcentury Serb monastery is a beautiful monument built in the Romanesque and Gothic styles with impressive frescoes inside. In 2004, UNESCO listed the monastery on the list of World Heritage Sites, citing its frescoes as "one of the most valued examples of the so-called Palaeologan renaissance in Byzantine painting," and "a valuable record of life in the 14th century".
After our visit, we’ll drive on through Peja, continuing further to our lunch spot at a traditional restaurant serving meals made with local produce inside the Gorge of Rrugova – one of the major natural parks of Kosovo – giving us beautiful views of an alpine landscape very similar to the Alps of Europe.
In the afternoon we’ll reach Pristina, stopping on the way to visit the Kosovo Battle Memorial of Gazimestan – a monument commemorating the historical Battle of Kosovo between the Balkan and Ottoman invading armies in 1389. The monument was designed and built in 1953 in the shape of a medieval tower. Our evening will be spent in Pristina, the ‘youngest’ capital of Europe, characterized by the ‘New Born’ concrete letters in the town center. After a traditional dinner, we’ll overnight in a hotel near the old town center.
Day 4 : The Winery of Rahovec – Historic Towns of Prizren and Kruja
After a relaxed breakfast and some free time in the center, we will leave Pristina behind, and head towards the vine covered rolling hills of Rahovec, considered to be ‘the Tuscany of Kosovo,’ because most of the country’s wine is produced here. We’ll stop to visit one of the best wineries of Rahovec, and enjoy a taste of the finest wines of the region with cheese from the nearby Sharr Mountains.
We’ll then continue to nearby Prizren – historically one of the most important towns of Kosovo. Built on the foothills of the imposing Sharr Mountain range, Prizren has preserved the relaxed atmosphere inherited from centuries of Ottoman dominion, especially with its historic center divided by the stream of Bistrica, which we will visit on foot. Shadowed by minarets, Orthodox monasteries, and hill top fortress walls, the town center has the feel of a large bazaar, where modern shops and restaurants blend with small craft boutiques, delis, terraces where people play backgammon sipping coffee and tea, and a myriad of traditional ‘kebap’ and sweet shops. We’ll have lunch in one of the best known traditional restaurants of Prizren, on the promenade by the riverside.
After lunch, we’ll continue on to Kruja, taking the scenic mountain highway known as ‘The Road of the Nation’ – because it connects Kosovo to Albania. From the fortress of Kruja, national hero George Kastriot Skanderbeg led the heroic Albanian resistance of the Ottomans in the 14th century, creating a barrier to the invasion of Europe, and vanquishing three major sieges led by Sultans themselves.
After checking in to our hotel, we’ll visit the Museum of Skanderbeg within the citadel of Kruja, and then have some free time to walk the avenues lined with souvenirs and crafts that lead back to our hotel. Dinner tonight is in a nice hotel by the Old Bazaar and fortress.
Day 5 : Berat and Vlora
Today we leave Kruja and head towards the historic town of Berat (an UNESCO World Heritage Site). Berat, ‘The city of 1000 windows,’ lies on the right bank of the Osum River, and is home to a wealth of beautiful buildings of high architectural and historical interest. The pine forests above the city, on the slopes of the towering Tomorr Mountains, provide an impressive background of awe-inspiring grandeur. The Osumi River has cut a 3,000-foot deep gorge through limestone rock on the west side of the valley, forming a natural fortress around which the town was built on several river terraces. According to Albanian legend, Tomorr Mountain was originally a giant who fought with another giant, called Shpirag, over a young woman. They killed each other, and the woman drowned in her own tears, creating the Osum River.
The citadel district of ‘Kala’ located on top of the right bank hill, has a rich history dating more than 2,400 years back in civilization. Upon arrival we will visit the ‘Kala’ neighborhood and the outstanding Onufri Icons Museum - named after the famous Albanian medieval painter (several of his best works are exposed here) – housed inside the Saint Mary church in the center of the citadel, as well as few of the citadel’s frescoed orthodox churches. Afterwards, we’ll have lunch in a traditional restaurant in the old Mangalem district, enjoying regional specialties.
In the afternoon we’ll drive south towards Vlora – the second largest coastal town in the country, and the town where 101 years ago (in 1912), the Albanian patriots, proclaimed the independence from the Ottoman Empire, making it the first capital of modern Albania. Here in this strategically located bay of the Mediterranean, Vlora was founded (6th Century BC) by Greek colons, and was known in antiquity by the name of Aulon. Through the centuries the town has been an important trade center of the Adriatic, and is today one of the top touristic coastal towns of Albania. We’ll enjoy a stop at the center, then spend the evening along the waterfront, with dinner in a fine restaurant.
Day 6 : The Peninsula of Karaburun – Llogora National Park
After breakfast, a short drive will bring us to the Orikum Marina where we’ll embark on a boat ride to the Karaburun Peninsula – the most remote and spectacular part of the Albanian coast, and a remarkable marine wildlife sanctuary of the Mediterranean. The western part of the peninsula is characterized by sheer cliffs that more than 4,920-feet above sea level, and are intersected by caves and a small number of beautiful gravel beaches.
Along the way, we’ll visit the cathedral-size limestone cave of pirate Haxhi Ali, as well as a few secluded beaches along the turquoise water which is perfect for swimming – including Dafina, Bristan, and the outstanding Grama Bay. We’ll stop at a small rustic beach cabana owned by local fisherman who will prepare for us a fresh fish barbecue lunch to be enjoyed while gazing at beautiful views on the Vlora Bay and Sazan Island.
In the afternoon we’ll return by boat to the marina and begin our drive uphill through the impressive valley of Dukat, with the sun at our backs as it sets over the Adriatic Sea. In less than one hour we’ll arrive in the alpine landscape of Llogora National Park, where our hotel is located amidst the freshness of the pine forests. Here we’ll dine on typical mountain dishes of the Laberia – the southern highlands.
Day 7 : The Albanian Riviera and Butrint
Our morning hike takes us on a trail that winds through pine forests on the slopes of the 6,560-feet high Mount Çika until we reach the plateau of Dhjopur, experiencing some of the most spectacular mountain and sea views of the Mediterranean along the way as the slopes descend all the way to the unspoiled beach of Palasa, meeting the blue waters of the Ionian Sea. At the end of our hike, we’ll continue with a scenic drive towards the town of Saranda. This scenic drive takes us along the beautiful Albanian Riviera, with its characteristic Mediterranean villages such as Dhermi, Vuno, Himara and Qeparo. Time permitting, we’ll stop in Porto Palermo Bay for a short walk to the fortress of Ali Pasha of Tepelena, built in the central promontory, from which the once top-secret communist submarines naval base could be seen.
In the afternoon, we’ll continue further south of Saranda to visit the well-known Archaeological Park of Butrint – also part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. Ancient Buthrotum served as a harbor from pre-Hellenistic, to Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times, as the fascinating ruins and excavations will tell. Located between the Straight of Corfu and the Butrint Lagoon, this place is also an environmental heaven for many species of birds, fish, tortoises and rare vegetation. Dinner tonight is in a fine restaurant in Saranda.
Day 8 : Rafting in the Vjosa Valley
After breakfast, we’ll transfer to the River Vjosa Valley over the panoramic pass of Muzina and the picturesque Gorge of Kelcyra. Several miles upstream from the town of Permet, we’ll board our rafts for a scenic float on class 2 rapids alongside the imposing 8,200-feet high Nemerçka mountain range, the highest mountains of southern Albania. At the end of our float, we’ll enjoy a traditional lunch with fresh local produce in a rural setting near the Ottoman bridge and the thermal springs of Benja.
In the afternoon we’ll drive to Gjirokaster, known as ‘the town of stone’ because of the characteristic grey stone houses connected by limestone cobbled alleys (UNESCO listed). Our hotel is located near the historic center.
Day 9 : Tirana – the Capital of ‘New Europe’
After breakfast we’ll visit the historic neighborhood which is dominated by a characteristic fortress and clock tower, and the Museum of Ethnography. Gjirokaster is the hometown of Dictator Enver Hoxha, as well as internationally acclaimed writer Ismail Kadare.
Later we’ll continue with a transfer to Tirana, stopping for lunch along the way in a seafood restaurant in Durres – the second largest town of Albania, and a historic port of the Adriatic. Time permitting, we’ll have a quick visit to the Roman Amphitheatre in the center of town.
After arriving Tirana in the afternoon, we’ll walk through ‘Blloku,’ the most vibrant old quarter of Tirana – once the ‘forbidden district’ inhabited by the communist nomenclature – to Skanderbeg Square, where we will visit the Et’hem Bej Mosque, the Bazaar, Tabaket Bridge and other attractions that cannot be missed. Our festive farewell dinner tonight is in a fine restaurant in town.
Day 10 : Departure
This morning we’ll have some free time before departing for the airport and our departure flights home.
DATES: Best time to go: July Departures: Jul 22 - 31, 2013
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
Richard Bangs has been a pioneer in travel, digital media, e-commerce, and other frontiers.
In the early 90s Richard produced the first internet travel site (www.mtsobek.com), the first travel CD ROM (The Adventure Disc), and the first virtual expeditions (www.terra-quest.com ).
He was founder and editor-in-chief of Mungo Park, a pioneering Microsoft travel publishing effort. He also founded www.terra-quest.com. He was part of the founding executive team of Expedia.com (www.expedia.com ), and served as its Editor-at-Large. He was creator and publisher of Expedia Travels Magazine (published in partnership with Ziff-Davis), and executive producer of Expedia Radio, and founder and executive director of Expedia Cafes. He also served as president of Outward Bound; Founded Well-Traveled.com for Slate, and was founding editor and executive producer of Great Escapes, another Microsoft Travel initiative (www.greatescapes.msnbc.com ). He also ran and founded First and Best for MSN, and founded Sobek Expeditions, which in the early 1990s merged with Mountain Travel to become Mountain Travel Sobek (www.mtsobek.com ).
Richard Bangs has oft been called the father of modern adventure travel, and the pioneer in travel that makes a difference, travel with a purpose. He has spent 30 years as an explorer and communicator, and along the way led first descents of 35 rivers around the globe, including the Yangtze in China and the Zambezi in Southern Africa. He recently co-directed the IMAX Film, Mystery of the Nile, and co-authored the Putnam book of the same name. His recent book, The Lost River: A Memoir of Life, Death and the Transformation of Wild Water, won the National Outdoor Book Award in the literature category, and the Lowell Thomas Award for best book.
Richard has published more than 1000 magazine articles, 19 books, produced a score of documentaries and several CD-ROMs; and has lectured at the Smithsonian, the National Geographic Society, the Explorers Club and many other notable venues. He writes a semi-regular feature with the NYTimes. Richard served as executive producer of Richard Bangs Adventures on Yahoo.
He is currently producing and hosting the new PBS series, Richard Bangs’ Adventures with Purpose (www.adventureswithpurpose.tv), and his companion book, Adventures with Purpose, won the 2007 best book award from NATJA. His latest books are Quest for the Sublime (2008), and Quest for the Kashah (2009).
Richard won the Mark Dubois lifetime achievement conservation award in 2007.
Richard won the CINE Golden Eagle Award in 2008 for the special, Quest for Kaitiakitanga, and six Tele Awards for Quest for the Nile, Quest for the Sublime, and Quest for the Kasbah. Quest for Kaitiakitanga was nominated for an Environmental Media Award (“The Green Oscars”) for best documentary, and won the annual Platinum Award from HSMAI (Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International). Richard’s film Quest for the Viking Spirit won the 2009 Gold Lowell Thomas award for best documentary; and the same award for 2010 for the India show. Also, the series won two Emmys in 2010 in the History/Culture categories.
In 2011 Richard won the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Gold Award for Hong Kong: Quest for the Dragon—2011; the 2011 CINE Golden Eagle Award for Greece: Quest for the Gods; and two Telly Awards for Hong Kong: Quest for the Dragon.
Richard’s show Quest for Harmony won the Gold in the Destination Marketing Category of the 2012 Travel Weekly Magellan Awards, as well as two Bronze Telly Awards, and the 2012 Lowell Thomas Award.
Richard is currently executive producing and hosting Richard Bangs’ Quests for PBS.
Richard will be accompanied by expert MTS local guides in Albania. Expert leadership is the key to an exciting, unforgettable experience. Our trips feature gifted leaders for whom leading trips is a true vocation. Besides showing you wonders you’d never find on your own, they make sure everything runs smoothly and safely without a hitch. They are knowledgeable about all aspects of your trip, and take great pleasure in sharing their insights with you. More than just guides, they positively elevate your experience by being teachers, companions, and the best of friends. You’ll be in good hands with them every step of the way.