The big loop

Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo & North Macedonia

16 days

Tour reference: AMKMN2-16-UK

Description:

Discovery trip to sites listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. A journey of pleasure and beauty which offers an immersion on the shores of the Ionian Sea. This itinerary leads the traveler to landscapes, cities, places… all more surprising to each other. The four visited countries have a   rich history and will reveal part of the interaction between both Ottoman and Christian civilizations. The beauty of this journey will leave an indelible mark.

Day 1

Airport – Tirana

Meeting at “Mother Theresa” airport in Rinas by anEnglish speaking guide. Departure to Tirana, capital of Albania. Luggage deposit at the hotel.

Visit of the Bunk’Art2 museum (knew during the communist regime under the coded name of “objektiShtylla”. The museum is dedicated to the preservation of the collective memory and telling the history of the communist regime and its horrors (opening time 9:00 to 21:00).

Visit of the city centerwhich includes the Skanderbeg Square, the Et’hem Bey mosque, the National Opera and many official buildings. Then the itinerary takes the direction of the famous “Block” via the Tabakëve bridge, built in the 18th century in the heart of Tirana.

Dinner in a traditional restaurant and overnight at the hotel.

Day 2

Tirana – Kruja – Shkodra

Drive to Kruja, an ancient medieval city. Visit the Skanderbeg Museum, one of the most visited places in Albania. Accessible via the bazaar, the museum is located in the heart of the historic citadel of Kruja and is dedicated to the Albanian national hero, GjergjKastrioti Skanderbeg. It also has a collection of objects dating from the wars between Albanians and Ottomans in the 15th century.

Visit to the Ethnographic Museum of Kruja. It is hosted in a house that belonged to one of the richest families of the 18th century. It presents elaborated ceilings and sumptuous murals and objects and scenes of life that help the visitor to understand how an Albanian family used to live in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Founded in the 4th century BC, Shkodra is one of the oldest cities in Albania. It was the capital of the last kingdom of Illyria. Crossed by major trade routes, the city has known several good times throughout its history. During the Ottoman period, Shkodra was a major economic and cultural center as a trading post on the road linking Prizren to Italian ports.

Visit of the Rozafa citadel and its museum. Dating from the Middle Ages and built on Illyrian foundations, it offers from its summit a panoramic view that allows to admire the mountains, the surrounding plains, but also the largest lake in the region. Which is home to one of the most beautiful bird sanctuaries in Europe.

Drive northeast of Shkodra up to the village of Mes to admire the 18° century stone bridge of Mesi which spans the Kir river. It has an intriguing architecture with round slick stones and stone plates.

Visit of the city center of Shkodra and walk along Pedonalja or KoleIdromeno street where the past and present of the city blend harmoniously

Dinner in a traditional restaurant and overnight at the hotel.

Day 3

Shkodra – Ulcinj–Bar –Stevi Stefan - Budva

Head to Montenegro along the Velipojie Nature Park, cross the border and head to Ulcinj. Ulcinj is the southernmost city at Montenegrin coast. According to historical data Ulcinj is for sure one of the oldest towns on the Adriatic coast. It is thought that Ulcinj is more than 2.000 years old. Visit of the  old town which presents a real nest of culturally historical heritage.

Then Bar. The old town of Stari Bar is perched on the cliffs about 4 km from the current port city. Stari Bar was partially destroyed by the Ottomans in 1878 and supplemented by the 1979 earthquake. It worst to spend a visit to this old city.

The route crosses the new port city of Bar and will continue towards Sveti Stefan, nicknamed the jewel of the Budva Riviera. Stevi Stefan was an ancient independent republic since the 12th century and since its existence, the place has been considered a pirate’s den. At the beginning of the 15th century, the island accepted the protectorate of the Republic of Venice to protect itself from the Ottomans. Under Tito, the last inhabitants of the island were expropriated and evacuated. Stefi Stefan became a luxury hotel casino where celebrities such as Orson Welles, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Kirk Douglas and many others developed their summer habits. Stevi Stefan is now a 5* luxury hotel. Unfortunately, access to it is therefore private.

Arrival in the evening in Budva. Budva is simply the tourist heart of Montenegro, famous for its sandy beaches, wild evenings and above all its well-preserved old town. Evening visit to the Stari Grad district.

Dinner in a traditional restaurant and overnight at the hotel.

Day 4

Budva – Kotor – Cetinje - Podgorica

Kotor an UNESCO World Heritage place is the city of fairy tales in Montenegro. Kotor is a vice grip whose jaws are the mountains and the sea. Kotor breathes in the midst of medieval churches, cathedrals, palaces, monuments, ramparts. Kotor wakes up to the sound of a serenade, music and falls asleep cuddling his old squares filled with modern cafés or listening to the echo left by the steps on the cobbled streets. A walk in the old town.

Direction Njegusi by taking the road to the 24 bends, all numbered. The ascent is dotted with stopping points to take pictures of Kotor Bay. Located at an altitude of 900 meters, this village is known for its famous goat cheese, smoked ham and the quality of its honey. A stopover will be necessary for lovers of specialties.

Cetinje is simply a cultural treasure. Located at the foot of Lovcen National Park, Cetinje was first mentioned in the middle of the 15th century when the Vlaska Church was built. The village was ruled by the Orthodox church until 1692 when the Ottomans eventually conquered it. Cetinje was the capital of Montenegro for centuries and according to some, was the starting point of its spirituality and state organization. Visit of the city and its most important places such as the King Nikola’s Palace (today a museum).

Arrival in the early evening in Podgorica. The capital of Montenegro, the city remained for a long time a military fortification used by the Ottomans, allowing them to control and secure the trade routes. Podgorica was practically destroyed during the Second World War.Night walk in the city center.

Dinner in a restaurant and overnight in a hotel.

Day 5

Podgorica – Peja

Direction Peja in Kosovo. The route will follow the Moraça Canyon, one of the most visited canyons in Montenegro due to its beauty and the diversity of its landscapes.

Visit the Serbian orthodox monastery of Moraca. First built in 1252 is one of the most famous medieval monuments of Montenegro. It was burnt and rebuilt by the ottomans during the XVI° century. Today it hosts beautiful icons and paintings.

A short stop in one of the most touristic villages in northern Montenegro,Kolasin. The city was founded by the Ottomans in the 17th century. On this long journey, another stop is planned in the village of Berane. The Ottomans built a fortress there in 1862. Then to Rozaje, a village surrounded by wooded mountains, where it really worst to visit the magnificent interior of  the Rozaje tower.

The small town of Peja still retains the cultural imprint of the Ottomans whose descendants still reside in the region. Walk in Peja to discover this cultural heritage: the Bazaar, the hammam or the Bajrakli mosque.

Dinner in a restaurant and overnight at the hotel.

Day 6

Peja–Desan - Prizren - Prishtina

Drive to Desan village. Next to the Bistrica River, amongst the steep cliffs of the Prokletije Mountains surrounded by verdant forests and with an abundance of water, Holy King Stefan founded the Dečani Monastery of Christ the Savior, the most glorious piece of the rich heritage of churches and monasteries left behind by the Nemanjić dynasty. Within Dečani’s marble walls, magnificent frescoes, and sculptures, the very spiritual identity and historical memory of the Serbian people is imbedded and thus forever preserved. Organized visit of the Monastery which treasury is the richest among the monastery collections in Serbia. It contains very valuable works of applied art from the 14th to the 19th century, and it reveals not only the creation in the monastery and the centuries-old collecting of the most beautiful liturgical items, but also the attitude of the Dečani monks towards them.

Next to Gjakova, in Bistrazin, visit of the Terzijski bridge. it is thought to have been constructed at the end of the 15th century. This is due to the bridge having been erected on a medieval route, which connected Gjakova with Prizren, and that the bridge was later expanded (a result of changes of flow in the river). In the 18th century it experienced major modifications, which gave it its current appearance.

Lunch at Prizren on the famous pedestrian street Shuaib Spahiu by the old stone bridge (Ura e Gurit).

Prizren, famous for its ancient architecture, has always been a nerve center for the Ottomans. Indeed, its position made it possible to control all the trading routes. After its capture by the armies of the Ottoman Empire, the city became the capital of the region that extended as far as Tetovo in Macedonia. Visit to the Shadervan district, the Sinan Pasha Mosque, the Mahmet Pasha Hamam (if possible), the Helvetis Tekke and the building of the League of Prizren.

Direction Prishtina, capital of the last state born and not yet recognized by all nations. Since its inception, Prishtina has been at the heart of many conflicts and divisions. The Romans, then the Ottomans, the wars and finally the Serbian attempt in 1999 to put an end to the actions of the Kosovo Liberation Army left its mark on the cultural and social life of the inhabitants. Today, a young and dynamic population is trying to revive the economy of the city, the lung of Kosovo. Visit of the heart of the Kosovar capital which is teeming with life with its many clubs, bars and restaurants.

Dinner in a traditional restaurant and overnight at the hotel.

Day 7

Prishtina - Skopje

Prishtina is home to many cultural institutions, such as the Kosovo National Theatre, the National Museum of Archaeology, or Natural or Ethnographic Science. There are also many galleries and bookstores. Visit of the National Library and the Imperial mosque.

Direction thenorthern part of Macedonia. Before crossing the border, the tour will stop to visit the Monastery of Gračanica. Its first construction dates back to 1321 and it was built on the ruins of a 6th century basilica. It is currently under the protection of UNESCO. During the Ottoman Empire it became a very important cultural center. After the Kosovo war, the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church in Kosovo will transfer his offices there, making Gračanica a place of spiritual importance for the Kosovo Serb community.

A little further along the itinerary, a visit to the Gadima cave is a must. This cave was discovered in 1966 by a peasant who was trying to recover stones to build his house and discovered a hole containing blocks of marble. Since then, the cave has been nicknamed the marble cave. About 1500 meters long, it contains a lake and impressive stalactites several meters high in various colors.

Arrival in Skopje in  the mid- afternoon. Skopje, the capital of Northern Macedonia, where Macedonian and Albanian culture is mixed, has an interesting mix of cultures. Being on the caravan route, Skopje flourished during the Ottoman Empire, but lost its splendor after the great war against the Turks. Skopje took about 2 centuries to recover a semblance of fulfilment. Its history allows us to find a rich heritage that can be admired today by visiting the mosques, churches, the old bazaar or the modern city. Visit of the city’s places of interest.

Dinner in a traditional restaurant and overnight at the hotel.

Day 8

Skopje – Tetovo– Ohrid

Direction Tetovo, settle at the foot of the Shar Mountains. The city has received a very strong Ottoman influence and has acquired a rich heritage. Visit to the Sharena Mosque and the Tekke Arabati Baba.

The Sharena Mosque was built in 1438 and was financed by two sisters from Tetovo. It was rebuilt in 1833. Unlike traditional mosques covered with earthenware, Sharena is painted. During its reconstruction in 1833, Adburrahman Pasha commissioned Debar’s painters to cover the walls and ceilings of the mosque with oil-painted ornaments.

The Tekke Arabati Baba was built in 1538 by a dervish. It remained the seat of the Bektachi until 1921, when the Ottomans left the region. After the Second World War, it became a property of the Yugoslav government, which turned it into a hotel. Recently, the Bektachis order was able to recover it and began a long restoration work. However, it is one of the best preserved Tekke in the Balkans.

Departure to the seaside resort of Ohrid. The itinerary will pass through the Marvrovo National Park which hosts  an important cultural heritage. The city of Ohrid, an UNESCO World Heritage, lies on the hilly shores of a lake of the same name, which is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a bright city, rich in history, which is the center of Christianity for the Slavs. Here medieval churches, monasteries and ruins of ancient buildings stand alongside traditional houses with red roofs. The city is said to have hosted up to 365 churches in the 19th century. Visit of the Samuel fortress, descent to the church of St John the Theologian and then walk along the shores of Lake Ohrid, for a city visit.

Dinner in a traditional restaurant and overnight in a hotel.

Day 9

Ohrid – St Naum–Pogradec - Korca

Small trip to St Naum. Visit of the monastery which was founded in the 10th century by the holy monk NaumofPreslav who left his mark in many literary and cultural fields. This monument of unique architecture, built in a magnificent setting, is admirably decorated.

Drive back to Albania and visit of the Drillon springs in Pogradec. Stroll along the shores of the lake.

Korca, one of Albania’s most important cultural and economic lungs. The city hosted the first Albanian school in 1887 and houses the Museum of Education. When Korca was under French administration (1916), nearly 200 bilingual schools (Albanian – French) were opened in this “little Paris”. The city center is home to the country’s oldest mosque, an Orthodox cathedral, streets lined with charming houses and a traditional market. Evening walk inside the old city.

Dinner in a traditional restaurant and overnight in a hotel.

Day 10

Korca – Voskopojia – Korca

Within the morning, visit of the Medieval Arts Museum in Korca. It houses some 7,000 items of immeasurable historical and cultural significance. Stone, metal, wooden, and fabric items from Albania’s iconography are presented. Also, collections of paintings from the Korça school, are on display here, as well. Installed in what was the Korça Cathedral, the museum is a must see attraction for history and art lovers.

Drive to a lovely village named Voskopojia. After the lunch,moment of relaxation in the cobbled streets of this typical Albanian village with its grey stone houses. Also known as the Moscopole, in the 18th century it was a cultural and commercial center for the Aromanians, this ethnic group native to the Balkans that adopted the Ottoman way of life. Visit of the church of St Nicolas, built in 1721 and entirely covered with wall paintings, and then its small sisters.

Back to Korca and a final walk in the heart of the city will end the cultural day.

Dinner in a traditional restaurant and overnight in a hotel.

Day 11

Korca – Permet - Gjirokaster

Full west by taking a winding and relatively long and difficult route. However, not only are there many stops planned (Tumulus de Kamenicë, Ersekë where the imprint of communism is still very visible, detour up to Rehovë village…), a lunch in an agritourism restaurant, but also magnificent landscapes will be available. The journey will undoubtedly cross the path of shepherds leading their herds to different pastures or herds of horses or sheep at large.

Passage through Permet, also known as “the city of roses” where a lunch is offered in an agritourism farm.

Night visit of the old bazaar in the city center of Gjirokaster, where visitors can immerse themselves inside the Albanian culture and discover a wide variety of local products.

Dinner in a traditional restaurant and overnight in a hotel

Day 12

Gjirokaster – Butrint – Saranda

Visit of the citadel of Gjirokaster and its museum which houses remains of the Second World War. A repository of symbols of Albanian traditions and culture, the citadel has hosted the festival of polyphonic groups since 1986. Their interpretation is classified as cultural heritage by UNESCO.

On the way to admire a natural phenomenon. Called the Blue Eye or locally “Syri i Kaltër”, this spring of water gushes out of the bowels of the earth and gives birth to the Bistricë River which, 25 km further on, flows into the Ionian Sea. The Blue Eye, whose depth exceeds 50 meters, is an attraction for everyone and deserves a short stopover.

Butrint has been on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites since 1992 and has been inhabited from prehistoric times to the Middle Ages. The current site, combining archaeology and nature, is a true museum representative of each period of the city’s development. Its Roman theatre, baptistery, mosaic, basilica ruins and ancient fortifications give this place outstanding universal value.

Stop in Ksamil, a coastal resort with its sandy small beaches. Put on your swimsuits and dive into its turquoise waters.

Shortly before Saranda, visit of the monastery of St. George. Dating from the 14th century, it is one of Albania’s cultural monuments. Its position allows you to admire the Ionian Sea on one side, and Lake Butrint on the other.

Saranda should be considered as a “relaxation” stage. Walk along the sea before dinner.

Dinner in a traditional restaurant and overnight in a hotel.

Day 13

Saranda – Llogara

Direction the Riviera road, the most beautiful road along the Albanian’ shores. After a while, stop at Porto Palermo. This village is very well known for three main reasons:its beaches, its semi-under water tunnel claimed to be a submarine bunker during the communist regime and its castle. The well-preserved Porto Palermo castle was certainly built much before Ali Pasha of Tepelena by the Venetians. The place served as former soviet submarine base during the relations between both countries after WW II.

Drive to Himara, located in the middle of the Albanian Riviera and close to the most beautiful white sandy beaches. A stop in the villages of Kudhes and/or Borsh or Qeparoshall be made. These typical villages of the region have a long history. As villages of farmers or sinners, they have managed to preserve their traditions and cultures despite the oppression exercised by communism.

Beautiful winding road to the Llogara. The itinerary winds along the Albanian Riviera, offering plunging views of a turquoise sea, a symphony of colours and rich landscapes where each moment of the day will unfold its nuances of colours like a painter in his canvas.

Arrives at the pass of the llogara at an altitude of more than 1000 meters. The place offers a breathtaking view of the Ionian Sea. Accommodation will be in the heart of the Llogara park and near the pass. While waiting for the sunset, perhaps a parachute experience will allow you to admire the beauty of the sea even more.

Dinner in a traditional restaurant and overnight at the hotel.

Day 14

Llogara – Vlora – Apollonia - Berat

Arrival in Vlora. Visit of the historical center – the Independence Square, where Ismail Qemali raised the national flag and proclaimed Albania’s independence on 28 November 1912. Unfortunately, two years later, Italian troops invaded Albania.

Stop for a visit to the archaeological site of Apollonia in Fier. Exceptionally preserved, it was built in the 6th century BC by Greek settlers from Corfu and Corinth. It was an obligatory point of passage for travelers taking the Via Egnatia. The city flourished in the 4th century, becoming an important place of exchange and trade that could accommodate up to 40,000 people. The site houses an archaeological museum: the Sainte Marie church and its monastery.

Direction Berat, the city with 2400 years of history. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, Berat, better known as “the city of 1000 windows”, is unique in its kind.  Visit of the fortress and the National Museum of the Icons of Onufri, a 16th century Albanian painter famous for having used pink – then rare – in his works. The museum is housed inside the Sainte Mary’s Church, built in the 10th century. Visit of the Gorica district, then of the Mangalem district with its typical houses, which can be reached by crossing the Osum river.

Dinner in a traditional restaurant and overnight at the hotel.

Day 15

Berat – Durres - Tirana

Departure to Durres, the second largest city in the country and which was once the departure point for via Egnatia. It allowed to go to Byzantium by crossing Albania and Greece.

Visit of the Roman Amphitheatre built in the 2nd century. This site is considered the second most important in terms of importance in the Balkans. It is inscribed on UNESCO’s list. Today, little work has been done to restore it, but it is possible to imagine the excitement that could reign there during the time of its greatness. It is currently used as an open-air museum.

Visit the Archaeological Museum of Durres, which contains art objects from the Greek, Hellenistic and Roman periods.

Drive to Tirana and visit of the National Museum and then walk within the city center and its famous “Block” via the Tabakëve bridge, built in the 18th century in the heart of Tirana.

Direction the cable car for the ascent of Mt Dajti. Diner at an altitude of about 1000 meters in a panoramic restaurant offering an exceptional view of Tirana, its surroundings and, on a clear day, the Adriatic Sea and sunset.

Overnight at the hotel.

Day 16

Departure

At the airport, handing over the keys and documents of the vehicle to the rental agency.

INCLUDED
Hotels : See list below 15* Breakfast
15* Dinners Transport
Cable car Roadbook in English language
All locales taxes A bottle of water 0.5l served per person at each meals
NOT INCLUDED
All personal expenses Beverages not mentioned above such as alcohols…
Tips and gratuities All activities not mentioned to in the program
Visits are given as an indication. They are recommended. No visit or entrance ticket is included in the offer The lunches mentioned in this program are optional and are not included in the offer
Travel insurance Air transport or other transportation means not mentioned to in the program

Transport

  • Up to 4/5 persons: Vehicle type Skodia Fabia, VW Polo or equivalent. Insurance included. Does not include border crossing insurance and fuel or any other fees such as parking…
  • Up to 6/8 persons: Minivan type Ford Transit or equivalent. Insurance included. Does not include border crossing insurance and fuel or any other fees such as parking…

Note: Vehicle models are given for information only. Another model can be proposed or given according to availability. Other models are available for rental and can be rented on request.

Tour based on arrival and departure times before 11:30 am.

Depending on the season and/or the availability of the restaurants, dinners may be taken in the hotels.

Local guiding services (city private local tour) can be proposed upon request.

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