Exploring Albania

Contrasting Cultures

Albania
Monday 11 - Monday 18 May 2020 (8 Days)

Price

£2,370
Places
  • Gently-paced exploration of rural & coastal Albania
  • Spectacular mountain scenery & countryside
  • Evocative archaeological sites at Apollonia, Butrint & Durres
  • Discover traditional Ottoman houses & historic mosques
  • Engaging museum collections in Tirana & across Albania 
  • Centrally located 4* hotel in Tirana & historic house hotels in inland Berati & Gjirokastra

Tour Overview

Undiscovered and largely misunderstood, Albania is perfectly located between Greece at its southern border and Italy, which it faces across a narrow strait of the Adriatic Sea. At this Western edge of the Balkan Peninsula, Albania’s complex history is both furrowed into its landscape and weighs heavily on its shoulders. Yet, it is a history that has to be admired, given the resilience of its people and its engaging cultural heritage.

Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age settlements mark its early history, while Illyrian tribes then dominated the peninsula, from one of whom the Albanians trace their descent. These later coexisted with Greek colonists who settled along the coast from the seventh century BC onwards. The ‘Hellenization’ of southern Albania led to wars between rival kingdoms, seen by the Romans as an opportunity to invade and conquer, which resulted in their division of the territory into three provinces – Dalmatia, Macedonia and Moesia Superior. Prosperity blossomed with much investment to protect road communications which continued under the Byzantine emperors – hence the remarkable wealth of classical sites throughout the country.

In the Medieval period, regional Byzantine supremacy was challenged by Bulgars and Avars while the ‘Albanoi’ emerged as a powerful local force. Feudal citadels mark this unsettled era as Crusaders, Byzantines and even Venetians vied for control. Competing dynastic interests could not contain the looming threat of the Ottomans who swept through Albania and despite some revolts in the fifteenth century, the Turks regained control and ruled until 1912 when Albania gained independence.

Chaos and occupation was a heavy veil over the presidency, and later kingdom of Ahmet Zog which was formed in between the two world wars. Post World War II, the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha then dominated the country until 1992. In the thirty years since, Albanians have re-engaged with the world with considerable economic development and a warm welcome for visitors.

The long and complex history of Albania has survived to be discovered via its archaeological sites at Butrint and Apollonia, towns and rural villages such as Berati and Gjirokastra, and many mosques, churches and art and artefacts both ancient and modern. These are some of the facets we shall encounter, which will make for a voyage of discovery to a country that until recently was so close, yet so far.   

We shall stay in three hotels in central and southern Albania. The 5* Hotel Rogner is located in the heart of the capital Tirana, close to all the principal sites of interest. Both the 4* Hotel Agjiro and 3* Hotel Mangalemi are historic house hotels located in the old centres of the rural towns of Gjirokastra and Berati respectively.

Day by day

Day 1: Monday 11 May
We fly from Gatwick to Tirana airport arriving early evening. We drive into Tirana to our hotel and our first dinner – wine, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
Day 2: Tuesday 12 May
We begin with a visit to the Archaeological Museum and continue to the eighteenth-century Mosque of Et’hem Bey and the fascinating Bektashi Sufi Order Temple, this latter an insight into the mystical side of Islam. After a group lunch we visit the National Museum of Albania, an excellent introduction to the salient aspects of Albania’s history seen through a variety of objects and displays. The evening will be free.
Day 3: Wednesday 13 May
This morning we engage with twentieth century Tirana followed by a visit to the National Gallery of Arts which displays modern works. We leave Tirana and drive southwards stopping for a group lunch. We visit the Monastery of Ardenica to view the fine eighteenth century Church of St Mary and, in the afternoon continue to the town of Gjirokastra. Our group dinner will be in our next hotel.
Day 4: Thursday 14 May
We spend the morning exploring medieval Gjirokastra, a hilltop town which flourished under the Ottomans with many surviving traditional Ottoman houses and an imposing Citadel. Following a group lunch we drive into the local countryside to visit the remarkable thirteenth century Labova of the Cross Orthodox Church. We return to our hotel via the small, semi-excavated Roman Theatre and the possible location of Hadrianopolis, the town built by the Emperor Hadrian. The evening will be free.
Day 5: Friday 15 May
We drive to the south-west corner of Albania, close to the Straits of Corfu to visit the impressive coastal site at Butrint with remarkable Greek, Roman and medieval remains, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. After a late group lunch at the nearby coastal village of Ksamili, we return via the Church of St Nicholas at Mesapotami and the remarkable Blue Eye, an unusual underwater spring. The evening will be free.
Day 6: Saturday 16 May
Leaving Gjirokastra we return to the centre of Albania to visit Apollonia. The second Greek colony on the Illyrian mainland was a strategic and economic force. When young, the future emperor, Augustus, studied rhetoric here. After a group lunch this semi-excavated site reveals a range of re-erected buildings with fine views. We continue to the town of Berati and our final hotel where we have dinner.
Day 7: Sunday 17 May
Today we explore one of Albania’s oldest towns, Berati. It thrived in the middle ages and because of its historic status, Berati has survived the destructive modern era. The imposing Citadel commands astonishing views. We shall visit a number of its small churches and houses including the Onufri Museum dedicated to the Albanian school of icon painters. After lunch, not included, we visit the Ethnographic Museum and two historic sixteenth century Mosques. Our final dinner will be in a typical restaurant in the town.
Day 8: Monday 18 May
We travel north to the coastal port town of Durres. Founded by Green settlers from Corinth on a pre-existing Illyrian settlement, parts of the Amphitheatre remain whilst the Archaeological Museum is rich in Greek and Roman finds.  After our final group lunch in Durres, we continue to the hilltop town of Kruje. Its Castle was the stronghold of fifteenth century Albanian resistance to the Ottomans under national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti. Kruje today pays homage to Albanian identity, and with its pretty bazaar is an apt finale to our week. We make the short journey to Tirana Airport and our early evening flight.

Practicalities

  • Price: £2,370 per person
  • Price without flights: £2,220
  • Deposit: £295
  • Single Supplement: £160 (Double Room for Sole Use)
  • Tour Manager: James Hill

Hotel Details

2 nights at the 5* Hotel Rogner, Tirana; 3 nights at the 4* Hotel Argjiro, Gjirokastra; 2 nights at the 3* Hotel Mangalemi, Berati.

All accommodation with breakfast

Flights

British Airways

Outward:          BA2648 Depart London Gatwick 1525 arrive Tirana 1920

Return:             BA2649 Depart Tirana 2025 arrive London Gatwick 2225

Price includes

4 dinners & 6 lunches with water, coffee & wine. All local transfers, entry fees & gratuities, City tax, the services of Gillian Hovell, James Hill and our local guide

Not included

Travel to Heathrow, 3 dinners and 1 lunch

Weather

Current Conditions

Weather Conditions for Albania in May are:
Average Temperature between: 13oC - 23oC / 55oF - 73oF
Rainfall: 75mm / 3.0 inches

Currency

Albanian Lek

Fitness levels

We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.

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