Undiscovered Balkans

13 nights from £1325

Valbona Valley in Albania
Prizren, Kosovo
Archaeological Museum of Macedonia, Skopje
Lake Ohrid
Kruja Fortress
Start:Kruja
Finish:Tirana
Duration:13 Nights
Group size:4 - 18
Suitable for: Adult
Accommodation:Standard
Physical rating:Medium, Low, Moderate
Meals:Breakfast: 13 Lunch: 2 Dinner: 4
Diets:Vegetarians, Vegans
Tour operated in: English

Overview

Discover the history and incredible scenery of Albania, North Macedonia, and one of the world's newest countries - Kosovo. It's a great introduction to a region that is off the beaten track and that most travellers know little about. Balkan Capitals - Experience the contrasting architecture and cultures of Tirana, Skopje and Pristina Valbona Valley - Walk through this dramatic alpine valley surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Accursed Mountains Lake Ohrid - Explore this glistening lake and mountain setting boasting many cultural monuments including the Saint Naum Monastery. .......read more
Highlights
  • Balkan Capitals - Experience the contrasting architecture and cultures of Tirana, Skopje and Pristina
  • Valbona Valley - Walk through this dramatic alpine valley surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Accursed Mountains
  • Lake Ohrid - Explore this glistening lake and mountain setting boasting many cultural monuments including the Saint Naum Monastery.
Why Book this Tour
On this multi-country adventure to Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia we'll get off the beaten track and discover areas that most travellers still know little about. The trip gives you a great introduction to the region with a blend of cultural highlights and walking amongst the impressive mountain scenery. For 2017 we'll now spend two nights in Tirana and we've included a new excursion by cable car up Mount Dajti for a highland walk and we'll also have dinner in Tirana's famed Blloku District.

Itinerary

Arrive in Kruja. The town was home to Albania's best-known national hero, Skanderbeg, who fought to defend the country from the Ottoman Empire. The town sits under a mountain topped with a mighty fortress. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Kruja at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Tirana International Airport (TIA), which is about 40 minutes' drive. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to visit the bazaar or the Ethnographic Museum. Whilst in Albania we'll have the opportunity to sample the delicious cuisine, which is a real mix of Turkish, Greek and Italian influences, like byrek - a spinach and feta stuffed filo pie, and in the more rural mountainous areas barbequed lamb and 'earthy' vegetables such as griddled aubergines and mushrooms are particularly popular. Along the coast there will of course be the chance to sample fresh seafood. Albanian red wine is especially good and also local beers, such as Birra Korca.

Accommodation: Hotel

The main highlight in Kruja is the citadel, from where Albania's greatest hero, Skanderbeg, led the resistance against the Ottoman domination. He succeeded in ousting the Turks in 1443 and Albania was free for the next 30 years. Today the fortress is a place of pilgrimage and inspiration for Albanians; it enjoys a classic setting high on a ridge staring out to the Adriatic coast, approached via pine clad hills. We will visit the fortress and the bazaar before continuing to Shkodra. Shkodra is the traditional centre of the Gheg cultural region and is one of the oldest cities in Europe. We visit the Rozafa fortress, which enjoys a panoramic views of the town and lake. The afternoon is free to explore.

Accommodation: Hotel

Today we leave Shkodra and head for the Valbona Valley. Depending on the time of year and the ferry schedule we will either take a scenic ferry ride across Lake Koman to Fierza (taking around two and a half hours) or drive on the National Road through the scenic mountain landscape. Your Leader will advise on the day which option we will be taking. We'll then cross the border into Kosovo and continue our drive to Gjakova where we have time for lunch. This afternoon we pass through the small town of Bajram Curri, as we enter the picturesque Valbona Valley. We check-in to a mountain hotel located in the centre of the vale, amidst the jagged peaks of the Accursed Mountains. We enjoy the afternoon exploring the village on foot.

Accommodation: Hotel

Valbona is one of the most beautiful alpine valleys of Albania. Today we will hike to the side Kukaj Valley, making our way through forest towards alpine pastures that offer stunning views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. We will have a picnic lunch and later visit a shepherd's family to taste a cup of fresh mountain tea. In the afternoon, there is time to relax before a traditional dinner of lamb on the spit is served (vegetarian options also available). Our walk today takes about two hours and is five kilometres. There is the opportunity to walk further on the day. It's along quiet village roads (asphalt and dirt) and well-trodden paths, but some sections are uphill, so is classified as easy to moderate.

Accommodation: Hotel

Today we cross the border into Kosovo where we spend the next five days. Kosovo is the world's newest country and has been independent only since 2008. Unfortunately, to most people Kosovo is most known for its war. However, it is a fascinating country boasting lots of treasures from past empires including Greek, Roman, Turkish and Ottoman. Driving through the town of Gjakova, we will than stop to visit the 'kulla' of Junik (traditional Albanian mountain houses) before arriving at the beautiful Decani Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Monastery was established in 1327 by the Serb King Stefan Uros III Decanski and is a superbly situated showpiece of Orthodox art. Then, we drive to the town of Peja. The afternoon will be spent visiting the town's attractions on foot.

Accommodation: Hotel

Today we will visit the highlands of Peja. As we exit the town we stop to visit the church complex of Peja Patriarch, boasting amazing frescoes and surrounded by the peaks of the Rugova Bjeshk Highlands, the Kosovo part of the Accursed Mountains. Our day will continue with an impressive drive through the dramatic Rugova Gorge to the alpine location of Boga, where we will stop and take a hike to a nearby lake. In the evening, we return to Peja and spend the evening in town. Our walk today to the lake covers five kilometres and will take around five hours. We will climb and then descend from 1,400 metres to 1,800 metres. We will follow a fairly steep mountain trail with rocky sections that are prone to be slippery when wet. We will go up and down following the same path. The walk today is graded as moderate.

Accommodation: Hotel

This morning we leave Peja and our first stop is at the Drini Bardhe Waterfall near to the Montenegro border. Known as White Drin because of the white water that rushes down these 25 metre high falls, it's one of the most picturesque in the area. After time here for photos our drive continues towards the outskirts of Pristina where we visit the Kosovo Battle Memorial. The memorial is devoted to the martyred Serb knights and is located where the Battle of Kosovo took place on 28th June 1389. Next we visit the splendid Monastery of Gracanica, which is one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture in the country. It was built on the site of a ruined 6th century basilica by the Serbian King, Stefan Milutin, in 1321 and was declared a Monument of Exceptional Cultural Importance in 1990. We drive the short distance into Pristina, Kosovo's capital, which largely escaped damage during the war. Our Explore leader will take us on an orientation walk of the main sights and we'll have some free time here for lunch. Pristina isn't the most attractive city that we visit on this trip, but it has an energetic atmosphere and a great coffee culture and locals boast that they make the best macchiato in the world. You'll find numerous cafes along the main pedestrianised Nena Tereza Boulevard. In Old Pristina you'll be able to see a 26 metre high clock tower in the central bazaar area, which reminders stall holders and shoppers when it's time for prayer. The city's oldest mosques are found in this area as well. The National Library with its brutalist architecture is definitely eye catching. There are some unusual pieces of Americana in the city too, such as a mini replica of the Statue of Liberty on top of Hotel Victory and a bronze statue of Bill Clinton on the corner of Bill Clinton Boulevard. We continue our drive to Prizren - a town dominated by Ottoman villas and is perhaps the most authentic town in Kosovo. We'll spend the next two nights here and the rest of this afternoon is free for you to relax and settle in. Prizren is set at the foot of the Sharr Mountains and is Kosovo's second city. It's rich in history and you can see the architectural marks left by both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. You can discover the 14th century UNESCO listed Church of the Virgin of Ljevis and Church of Saint George, which are both Serbian Orthodox in faith. There are a number of traditional handicraft shops to explore and a good selection of restaurants to choose from. Prizren is especially known for its filigree jewellery, which has been handmade locally here since the 15th century. In terms of food barbeque restaurants are very popular and the grilled meats and Sharr cheese are a local speciality. It's also a good spot to try the baklava for dessert.

Accommodation: Hotel

This morning we will stroll down the narrow cobbled streets of Prizren and around the Shadervan area we'll find the city's main Ottoman influences including the Sinan Pasha Mosque and the Old Stone Bridge. We'll also be able to see the outside of the old hammam (Turkish bath) before heading for Prizren Fortress, which dominates the skyline and you can get great views from its hilltop position. On the opposite side of the river to Shadervan we'll visit Prizren League House, which was once the headquarters where a failed uprising began to unite all Albanians within the region into a singular state. This afternoon we drive through rolling hills until we reach nearby Rahovec - the wine cellar of Kosovo. Wine has been made in this area for over 2000 years and we will visit a few wine makers before making our way to the village of Hoqa e Vjeter - a Serbian enclave village, where we will visit a monastery that also makes wine. Later this afternoon we return to Prizren for a free evening.

Accommodation: Hotel

The day will start with a wonderful drive from Prizren through the forests of the Sharr National Park. A short walk on a forest trail near to Preval will bring us to tranquil meadows where we can taste a picnic lunch made from fresh local produce and enjoy the stunning scenery around us. Our walk will take around two hours and will cover a distance of four kilometres. The walk today is graded as easy. In the afternoon we will continue to drive on a beautiful forest road along the Kacanik Valley that will lead to the border crossing at ElezHan, where we will say farewell to Kosovo and hello to North Macedonia. We'll make a stop in the vast and magnificent Matka Canyon before arriving in the capital city of Skopje. The historic city of Skopje was rocked by a huge earthquake in 1963 which unfortunately destroyed an estimated 75% of the city's buildings, but it is still rich in culture and Ottoman heritage. Skopje has been used a pawn in many wars, including World War II and many empires have ruled over the city, all having influenced the architecture, religion and traditions. Despite the turbulent and sometimes violent history, Skopje is now a peaceful city where residents are free to practice all religions, the main faiths being Macedonian Orthodox and Islam. It boasts many beautiful churches and mosques, although you'll notice mostly minarets on the skyline due to a historic law that was enforced by the Turks stating Christian buildings could not be taller than mosques.

Accommodation: Hotel

This morning we visit the main attractions of the North Macedonian capital including the Kale Fortress, the Sveti Spas Monastery and the Ottoman Bazaar, which is the largest and most well preserved in south-east Europe. The fortress is found on the highest point and gives us great views back over the city and Vardar River below. It is believed to have originally been constructed in the 6th century, but has been reconstructed and expended over the years, as different wars were fought and new empires took over. Sveti Spas Monastery, or the Church of the Holy Saviour as it's also known, is a small and modest building tucked away in the corner of a courtyard, but inside you'll find an elaborately carved wooden iconostasis (screen separating the sanctuary and nave) and a few 16th century frescoes. A short transfer will then bring us to the town of Tetovo where we visit Sarena Dzamija, literally meaning decorated mosque. On the banks of the Pena River in the oldest part of the town we'll visit this brightly painted building with its detailed exterior and interior. After our visit we drive to Lake Ohrid, which is situated against a dramatic mountain backdrop. Founded over 2400 years ago, Ohrid has a wealth of heritage and is today an important cultural and spiritual centre. To help its protection both the town and lake were classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. The lake is one of the oldest in the world and allegedly there are some 365 churches, monasteries and other religious sites around the lake. Tomorrow we will visit some of these sites, but the remainder of this afternoon is left free for you to relax on the shores of the lake or wander around the city.

Accommodation: Hotel

This morning we will travel by bus to Saint Naum, an imposing sight on one of the lakes peninsulas, close to the Albanian border. The monastery of Saint Naum is surrounded by sandy beaches and inside we find impressive frescoes. We enjoy some free time here; perhaps you might decide to have some lunch in one of the restaurants alongside the beautiful springs, before having the option to take a boat across the lake back to Ohrid town. Alternatively you can return by bus. In the afternoon we will explore Ohrid with our Explore leader, soaking up the mix of Ottoman and Byzantine architecture in the city including the Old Bazaar, the Amphitheatre and the Old Castle Walls. Tonight it is possible to have dinner on one of the waterfront restaurants, perhaps trying some fish fresh from Lake Ohrid that day.

Accommodation: Hotel

Before starting the climb of the Thana Pass, we will visit the fisherman village of Lin where the ruins of a paleochristian church are found as well as Roman mosaics. We will continue our drive through the valley of Shkumbin and Elbasan town, until we reach Tirana. Tirana was made the capital of Albania in 1920 in order to provide a power base in the geographical centre of the country. There has been a fortress on the fertile Plain of Tirana since Roman times, although the city only really came into its own in the 18th century. Today it is Albania's largest city. We will take a walking tour of the city's main sights including Skanderberg Square and monument, the Opera House, Albanian National Bank and Et'hem Bey Mosque. This evening you may wish to visit the sky tower with views over the city.

Accommodation: Hotel

This morning we drive the short distance to the base of the Dajti Express cable car, which is the longest cableway in the Balkans. Our 15-minute journey takes us almost to the top of Mount Daijti at around 1,049 metres. From here we'll hike to the summit of Tujani for views over the city below and the surrounding highlands. Our trek will take us around three to four hours and will cover a distance of about five kilometres. The maximum altitude reached will be 1,503 metres. The walk today is graded as easy to moderate. There will be the opportunity to have lunch in a traditional mountain restaurant before taking the cable car back down and returning to the city where you have the afternoon free to explore. The city comes to live in the evening and especially in the animated Blloku district. During the communist regime, this area of the city was restricted and only members of the Albanian Politburo (main political party) were permitted to enter and own villas in this upmarket area. We'll have the opportunity to enjoy a final dinner in this district this evening in a traditional Albanian restaurant.

Accommodation: Hotel

The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Tirana. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Tirana at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Tirana International Airport (TIA), which is about 30 minutes' drive. On this trip we have packed in as many highlights of Tirana as we can, but there is very little free time in the city, so if you wish to spend some time discovering more on your own, we would recommend extending your stay for a night or two.

What's Included

Included
  • Fully Guided
  • Accommodation
  • Meals – Breakfast Only
  • All Domestic Transportation (including internal flights)

Not Included
  • 1 bottle of Mineral Water per person per day
  • Country Entry Visas
  • Tipping and Gratuities

FAQ

Reviews

5* Undiscovered Balkans
Another excellent holiday
Added By:
Date: 14-Aug-2019

5* Undiscovered Balkans
Top marks to our guide and driver, they both did a brilliant job.
Added By:
Date: 07-Oct-2018

5* Undiscovered Balkans
This trip has whetted my appetite to trek in the Albanian Alps. They are so picturesque in early summer.
Added By:
Date: 13-Jul-2018

5* Undiscovered Balkans
The trip was hugely enjoyable and gave me an excellent insight into the history and way of life in this troubled part of the world.
Added By:
Date: 14-Aug-2019

5* Undiscovered Balkans
This was my first trip with Explore and I had a fantastic time from start to finish. It packs a lot in to 2 weeks but there were regular stops on the longer journeys and there was a reasonable amount of free time. I will definitely be booking other holidays with you.
Added By:
Date: 07-Dec-2018

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Touring with Explore

Explore have been creating award-winning adventures for over 35 years and are experts when it comes to unique travel experiences.

Their small group adventure holidays have been running since 1981 and today, Explore are one of the most trusted travel companies in the UK with over 600 trips to more than 130 countries. At Explore, they are passionate about travel and have developed a wide range of unique activities and experiences which gives their customers an unforgettable adventure with a team of award-winning Explore leaders .

With Explore, you'll get to see your destination from a whole new perspective that takes you away from the typical well-trodden tourist track. You'll have the chance to meet, dine and stay with local people, rest in authentic accommodation with other like-minded explorers and travel to must-see destinations with a unique Explore twist.

From family trips to holidays for solo travellers; cycling tours to wildlife safaris; trekking on mountains or exploring miles of scenic coastline; self-guided holidays or small group trips; there is something for every kind of traveller with Explore. They will provide their expert knowledge, exciting itineraries and outstanding service as part of their sustainable travel experiences which take you under the skin of the country you're visiting for the adventure of a lifetime.

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tour details

This tour is operated by Explore!

13 nights from pp exc.flights; per Night
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Start:Kruja
Finish:Tirana
Duration:13 Nights
Group size:4 - 18
Suitable for: Adult
Accommodation:Standard
Physical rating:Medium, Low, Moderate
Meals:Breakfast: 13 Lunch: 2 Dinner: 4
Diets:Vegetarians, Vegans
Tour operated in: English
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