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The Balkan countries all share a similar history, times of which were passed with glory, pride and lots of suffering. The culture, music, food and the life-style is composed with a remarkable diversity representing high respect for religion and the history in general. Our escorted tour will introduce you and your fellow travelers to the diverse cultural mix of Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo. Welcome to ALBANIA! One of Europe’s last unspoiled landscapes and shores. After 50 years of Communism, Albania has opened its borders for the world to explore. Rich in history, culture and tradition. Visit the ancient City of Butrint, where traces of the Venetians, Greeks and Ottomans have been left behind. Visit a former Communist Country and how for over fifty years it has frozen in time. The last European state to go through such turmoil and transition. At the cross-roads of Europe and Orientalism you will find Albania. Welcome to MACEDONIA! The pearl of the Balkan Peninsula. A country with idyllic natural beauties, and a somewhat less idyllic history: Alexander the Great, the Romans, Byzantines, the Ottomans, Nazis, and the Communists have all been here and left a mark on the land and its people, leaving behind rich historical attractions and influence on their traditions. You will visit ancient Megalithic remains, Roman mosaics, Byzantine frescoes; you will walk through untouched natural arias, mountain villages and historic towns.
Day 1 Arrive Tirana Welcome to Albania! Our archaeologist/guide warmly greets us at Rinas International Airport for the transfer to the hotel. For those who are arriving on different flights, we will organize a taxi to pick you up and bring you to the hotel. Time to settle in and recover from jet lag. Our hotel is perfectly situated in the center of the city. It is a local family operated Boutique 3-star Hotel, but well liked for its location and service. Dine tonight as a group at a local restaurant in the middle of Tirana Park. (D) Day 2 Tirana – Kruja This morning we make a short excursion to the famous historical city of Kruja, once defended by Scanderbeg, the 15th century hero of Albania. There we take in the Scanderbeg Museum, the Ethnographic Museum and the old bazaar brimming with local handicrafts. Enjoy a special and very interesting visit to the Tekke of the Bektashi Order, the mystical Sufi Sect of Islam. Lunch at the Castle of Kruja. Return to Tirana in the afternoon to visit the National Museum and the National Gallery of Arts, where we’ll try and see the collection of Social Realism. Dinner at a local restaurant. (B-L-D) Day 3 Durres – Apollonia – Vlora – Saranda We begin our coastal drive toward the South of Albania. First make a short stop to explore the City of Durres, once a major Roman port. We also visit the Amphitheater and Archeological Museum. Continue the drive toward Apollonia, the famous ancient Hellenic city founded in 558 BC by settlers from Corfu and Corinth. We see both the site and its museum. After lunch at a local restaurant, leisurely continue our drive towards the South. Travel along the Albanian Riviera toward the coastal town of Vlora, with stops at several coastal villages. Arrive in Saranda and enjoy some relax time in this charming seaside fishing town. Saranda is located opposite the Greek island of Corfu. Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant. (B-L-D) Day 4 Saranda – Butrint – Ksamili Islands. Visit the World Heritage site of Butrint, Albania’s most important archaeological site. A very detailed tour of the site is organized specially for our group. Butrint National Park is both a city and an archeological site, located in Albania close to the Greek border. It was known in Ancient Greek as Bouthroton and in Latin as Buthrotum. Strategically located on a hill overlooking the Vivari Channel, the site has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Butrint was the site of an Epirot city, a Roman colony and a bishopric. We also go to the Vrina Plain to see the most excavations of the Roman Colony of Butrint. Lunch at a local restaurant. As a change of pace we go to a private beach at the Ksamili Islands so we can have some free time at the sea (weather permitting). Here Auron will explain his work in undersea exploration and his recent discoveries. Completely relaxed, we dine at a local restaurant. (B-L-D) Day 5 Saranda – Phoinice – Mesopotam . After breakfast at Hotel Porto Eda we travel towards the Ancient City of Phoinice where we enjoy a short presentation about the ancient city of Phoinice. It is one of the great cities of Epirus; its theater with 15,000-18,000 seats, is one the largest Roman theaters in the world. Though not thoroughly excavated yet, it is still a fascinating place to visit. From Phoinice we will visit Mesopotam, a 12th century Byzantine Monastery mentioned in the battle between the Norman Crusader army and the Byzantines. Relax over lunch at a local restaurant. In the afternoon, we pay a call at the synagogue of Saranda. This synagogue which dates from the 5th or 6th century underwent various periods of use, including its conversion to a church at its last stage, prior to being abandoned. Initial excavations began about 20 years ago. At that time, the building was identified as a church. However, recently excavated rooms adjoining an elongated hall reveal mosaic floors that depict such features as a seven-branched candelabrum (menorah), a citron (etrog), and a ram’s horn (shofar). All these symbols are associated with Jewish holidays. Guests may opt to spend the later part of the day at the local beach in Ksmail. Returning back to the nearby Hotel for dinner. Overnight Saranda (B-L-D) Day 6 Saranda – Igumenica, Greece Dodona – Ioannina – Gjirokastra, Albania. We start our day with a beautiful drive towards the Greek-Albanian border only 19 miles from Saranda. We cross over to Greece and enter the region of Thesprotia traveling first to the City Port of Igumenica, then to Dodona and finally Ioannina. Dating back at least 5,000 years, Dodona whose site is named for the Earth goddess Dione. The town may be one of oldest in the Epirus region. See its well-preserved amphitheater – one of the biggest in Greece and listen to the wind in the trees as bare-footed priestesses did in times past. Visiting the Castle of Ali Pasha and the old town of Ioannina. Ioannina was founded in the 6th century AD by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and flourished in the 13th century when many wealthy Byzantine families fled there following the sack of Constantinople by the knights of the Fourth Crusade. Free time shopping at the Old market area. Return towards the Albanian border for a short drive to the City of Gjirokastra. Entering the Drinos Valley through the Pass of Muzine, you are sure to be amazed by the beautiful landscape dotted with small villages nestled at the foot of the mountains. On the way, have a splendid view of city of Hadrianopolis. We then arrive in Gjirokastra, a UNESCO World Heritage City. It is one of the most venerable towns of Albania. Our accommodations tonight are at an old house which has been converted to a B&B. Overnight Gjirokastra (B-L-D) Day 7 Gjirokastra – Kelçyra Gorge – Vjosa. Today we start with a walk around the Old Town of Gjirokastra with a morning tour shortly after breakfast. Highlights are Ethnographic Museum once the house of the communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, Castle of Gjirokastra, one of the largest castles in the Balkans, where you find the Museum of Arms. Lunch is served at a local restaurant in the Old Bazaar. After lunch a short drive to the Tekke of Melan where you will visit a liberal sect of an Islamic order – Bektashi’s. We continue our drive through the Kelçyra Gorge. The location is famous as the site of the battle between King Philip of Macedonia and the Roman army of Proconsul Paulius Emilius. Overnight near Vjosa River under the beautiful centuries old oak trees. (B-L-D) Day 8 Vjosa – Permet – Leusa – Permet . This morning we continue the drive along the Vjosa River visiting along the way the Byzantine Church of Saint Mary of Kosina. Enjoying the panoramic views of the Vjosa Valley we reach the small city of Permet in the morning. Explore Permet by foot with a 1/2 mile walk to the village of Leusa, where we see the Byzantine Church. This is a great example of rural architecture. The afternoon will be spent strolling through the town of Permet where we will stay overnight in the city center. Overnight in Permet. (B-L-D) Day 9 Permet – Korça Following breakfast at our quaint B&B, we drive through the rural and panoramic landscape to Korça, the regional capital of southeast Albania. Its location is dominated by the Morava Mountains to the east. The town of Korça was called “Little Paris” in the 1930’s because of its thriving intellectual life. Mirahori Mosque, built in 1418. In Korça we also visit the Museum of Medieval Arts. Dine at a local restaurant. Overnight Korca (B-L-D) Day 10 Korça – Ohrid – Macedonia – Tirana . This morning after breakfast we start our drive towards Lake Ohrid crossing over to Macedonia to visit first the Monastery of Saint Naum. Towards the end of his life St. Naum of Ohrid built the monastery St. Archangel where he was buried in 910. Then we continue our drive to Ohrid. Visit the Old Town and have free time in the old market. Late afternoon cross back over to Albania to continue our journey. Overnight Tirana. (B-L-D) Day 11 After breakfast we sadly must bid a fond farewell to our new friends, our guides and travel companions, and transfer to the airport. (B)
Season Tour Dates offered: April 23 – May 2, 2016 May 28 – June 7, 2016 October 1 – 11, 2016 Duration 11 days / 10 nights Difficulty Easy to moderate. Should expect to walk 3-4 hours per day. Coffee breaks and casual stops along the way. Landscape Rolling valleys, charming villages, local villages and shops along the way.