ALBANIA, MACEDONIA & BULGARIA - GET OUT OF THE BEATEN TRACK AND IN THE HEART OF THE BALKANS!
13 days / 12 overnights
Route: Tirana, Saranda, Durres, Ohrid, Skopje, Melnik, Bansko, Plovdiv, Sofia
Countries: Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania
Price from: request
They say that the Balkan peoples’ twisting history is a lot to bear. The Balkan countries form an unrivalled in diversity patchwork of cultures sewn together through the centuries. We welcome you to discover these lands where the Slav literacy was born and where some of the most powerful ancient civilizations raised and fell to leave us an incredibly rich cultural heritage that cannot fail to fascinate you!
This trip takes you to some of the most famous landmarks of Bulgaria and Macedonia and Albania – three countries in the heart of the Balkans that have so much in common in terms of history and each of them is today so unique in terms of culture. The fact that they were isolated from the Western World during the communist era makes them even more interesting, true unspoiled cultural pearls that have so much to surprise and to fascinate you with! Apart from the warm and welcoming nature of its people, the motherland of Alexander the Great, Macedonia strikes with extraordinary natural beauty and diversity that remained in the shadows for so long! Bulgaria captivates with its preserved traditions in the cosy inviting villages that dot the countryside and the charismatic west-meets east feel of the vibrant capital Sofia! Albania on the other hand captivates with its spectacular mountains that take up one third of its territory, the totally off-the-beaten track unspoiled coastline, the incredibly warm people.
DAY 1 / TIRANA WELCOMES YOU!
Our guide will meet you at the Rinas Airport upon your arrival in Tirana and escort you to the hotel. Then it will be just the right time to start creating memories! We will dedicate the afternoon to the Albanian capital. Our sightseeing tour will reveal to us true Tirana – a lively, colourful town and the beating heart of Albania, where this tiny nation's hopes and dreams coalesce into a vibrant whirl of traffic, brash consumerism and unfettered fun. Having undergone a transformation of extraordinary proportions since it awoke from its communist slumber in the early 1990s, Tirana is now unrecognisable, with its buildings painted in horizontal primary colours and public squares and pedestrianised streets a pleasure to wander. For dinner we will enjoy some local specialties in a restaurant in the city centre.
Overnight in Tirana. (lunch, diner).
DAY 2 / THE ALBANIA COAST
Today we will travel south and explore the beautiful Albanian coast. Our first stop will be the town of Vlora situated at the picturesque Bay of Vlorë and surrounded by mountains. Dotted with gardens and olive groves the ancient sea port has a special Mediterranean feel that we will enjoy during our lunch break. In the afternoon we will make short stop to take s troll in the charming coastal village of Dhermi, which has in the recent years turned into an attractive beach with newly build tourist facilities and fine sand beaches starching along the azure waters of the Mediterranean. In the late afternoon we will arrive at the town of Saranda – one of the main tourist resorts in the Ionian Sea attractive with its mild microclimate with over 300 days of sun a year.
Overnight in Saranda. (breakfast, lunch, diner).
DAY 3 / SOUTHERN ALBANIA
Today we will explore the ancient city of Butrint in the vicinity of Saranda. Butrint is described as a microcosm of European history since it exhibits remains from most major empires of the area, including Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman ruins. We will stroll down the ancient Greek Theatre, the Temple of Aesculapius, The Baptistery. Butrint’s history is quite intriguing as well, since it was one of several places in Albania kept off-limits to the general public during the Communist Era. The city was made into a tourist destination for foreigners to visit, but Albanian citizens were not allowed due to fears that they would try to escape by swimming the short distance to Greece. Next on our agenda for today is the Blue Eye Spring that fascinates with its natural, vibrant blue colour. The way in which the water bubbles up to the surface helps create the illusion of an eye, with the dark-coloured centre as the pupil, and the surrounding blue water appearing as the iris. The spring is reported to be about 45 meters deep, but some say it goes even further. During Albania’s communist days, the Blue Eye was one of several places reserved only for the communist elite to visit, and was kept off-limits to the general public. Our last stop today will be the 16th - century (circa 1537), Lekursi Castle, located on the top of a hill, overlooking Saranda. The views of Corfu and the islands of Ksamil from the castle are mesmerising.
Overnight in Saranda. (breakfast,lunch, diner).
The ancient city of Butrin, Albania
DAY 4 / GJIROKASTRA, BERAT, DURRES
Today we will head north to visit two of the UNESCO listed sites of Albania. The Historic Centres of Berat and Gjirokastra are inscribed as rare examples of an architectural character typical of the Ottoman period. Gjirokastra, in the Drinos river valley in southern Albania, features a series of outstanding two-story houses which were developed in the 17th century. The town also retains a bazaar, an 18th-century mosque and two churches of the same period. Located in central Albania, Berat bears witness to the coexistence of various religious and cultural communities down the centuries. It features a castle, locally known as the Kala, most of which was built in the 13th century, although its origins date back to the 4th century BC. The citadel area numbers many Byzantine churches, mainly from the 13th century, as well as several mosques built under the Ottoman era which began in 1417. We will spend the night in Durres.
Overnight in Durres. (breakfast,lunch, diner).
DAY 5 / GOODBYE, ALBANIA!
This morning we will walk around the coastal town of Durres which was once – albeit briefly – Albania's capital. It's now virtually an extension of Tirana, joined to the capital by a ceaseless urban corridor full of hypermarkets and car dealerships. Blessed with a fine sandy 10km long stretch of beach, Durres is a popular holiday destination for the Albanians in the summer months. There’s also an interesting amphitheatre which is among the biggest ones of its kind discovered on the Balkans. In the afternoon we will cross the Albanian – Macedonian Border head towards the city of Ohrid on the beautiful Ohrid Lake at the South-West corner of Macedonia. Tonight we will have dinner at a traditional Macedonian restaurant and enjoy the authentic feel of the Old Town of Ohrid.
Overnight in Durres. (breakfast,lunch, diner).
DAY 6 / OHRID - THE PEARL OF MACEDONIA
We will start the day with a sightseeing tour of Ohrid and the Ohrid Lake that have become symbolic features of Macedonia. Lake Ohrid, 300m deep and three million years old, shared by Macedonia (two-thirds) and Albania (one-third), is among Europe's deepest and oldest. Although usually calm, during storms Ohrid seethes with steely-grey whitecaps evoking the sea. Sublime Ohrid is Macedonia's prime destination, with its atmospheric old quarter with beautiful churches along a graceful hill, topped by a medieval castle overlooking serene, 34km-long Lake Ohrid. Nearby, mountainous Galičica National Park offers pristine nature, while secluded beaches dot the lake's eastern shore. Today we will visit the biggest and most beautiful in Ohrid Cathedral church of St. Sofia, built in the 10th century, the magnificent Early Christian basilica at Plaosnik (5th century), The Church of Holly Mother of God Peribkleptos (13th century) and the small but stunning church of St Jovan Bogoslov in Kaneo (13th century). We will have some free time to explore the historically significant St. Naum Monastery Complex and to stroll around the Old Quarter of Ohrid.
Overnight in Durres. (breakfast,lunch, diner).
Ohrid Lake, Macedonia
DAY 6 / THE GREENEST PART OF THE COUNTRY
Today we will head towards the western part of Macedonia travelling through vast grape fields and little towns with charming countryside feel. Our first stop will be one of the most beautiful Macedonian Orthodox Monasteries - the St.Jovan Bigorski Monastery, built back in 1021. Next we will drive through the biggest national park in Macedonia - the Mavrovo National Park. We will have lunch at the restaurant in the park and continue our trip to the town of Tetovo where we will visit the unique “Sharena” Mosque (“The Painted” Mosque) popularly known as the Pasha Mosque. Originally built in 1495, the Painted Mosque reflects the Baroque and neoclassical Ottoman style, its most impressive feature being the intricate colourful facade.We will arrive Skopje in the late afternoon.
Overnight in Skopje. (breakfast,lunch, diner).
DAY 8 / THE MACEDONIAN CAPITAL CITY SKOPJE AND THE DRAMATIC MATKA CANYON
Today we will walk around Skopje - one of Europe's most entertaining and eclectic small capital cities. Its new abundance of statuary, bridges, museums and other structures has visitors' cameras snapping like never before and has defined the ever-changing city. Yet plenty survives from earlier times – Skopje's Ottoman and Byzantine-era wonders include the 15th-century Kameni Most (Stone Bridge), Čaršija (old Turkish bazaar), Sveti Spas Church, with its ornate, hand-carved iconostasis, and Tvrdina Kale Fortress, Skopje's guardian since the 5th century. We will have some free time to stroll on our own in the city centre and then we will travel southwest. Our next goal today is the spectacular “Matka” Canyon carved by the Treska River fascinating not only with its extraordinary diverse flora and fauna but also for the great number of native butterfly species, 84 of which can only be seen here! Our lunch today will be nearby the Canyon at a restaurant carved directly into a mountain cave. The last stop for today will be the imposing Medieval St. Panteneleimon Monastery peacefully nested on the slopes of the Vodno Mountain near Skopje. The Monastery is known for its outstanding frescoes, exceptional in its style and aesthetics, painted by anonymous masters of the rank of the best Byzantine imperial frescoes painters of the 12-th century.
Overnight in Skopje. (breakfast,lunch, diner).
“Matka” Canyon carved by the Treska River, Macedonia
DAY 9 / GOODBYE MACEDONIA, HELLO BULGARIA!
Today we will have to say Farwell to beautiful Macedonia! Before we cross the Macedonia-Bulgarian Border we will visit the Monastery of St Joakim Osogovski, located on the green slopes of Osogovo Mountain. Then we will enjoy a relaxing afternoon at our SPA Hotel in the town of Sandanski – a popular thermal resort situated at the south-western corner of Bulgaria.
Overnight in Sandanski. (breakfast,lunch, diner)
DAY 10 / MELNIK, THE ROZHEN MONASTERY, THE RILA MONASTERY, BANSKO
This morning we will spend in the smallest town of Bulgaria – Melnik, famous for its ancient traditions in winemaking. We will also visit the secluded Rozhen Monastery in the Southern part of the Pirin Mountain and marvel at its intricate woodcarvings and peaceful atmosphere. In the afternoon it will be time for us to make our way north-west towards the town of Bansko located at the foot of the northern part of the majestic Pirin Mountain. En route we cannot miss to pay a visit to the UNESCO listed Rila Monastery - a true architectural masterpiece of its time fascinating with its extraordinary works of art, many of which created by some of the most renown Bulgarian masters. We will spend the night in Basnko.
Overnight in Bansko. (breakfast,lunch, diner).
Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
DAY 11 / THE OLD TOWN OF BANSKO, THE VILLAGE OF DOBRASKO AND THE SPECTACULAR UNDOLA PASS
This morning we will dedicate to the Old Town of Bansko where we will drift back in time and explore the beautiful medieval houses tucked behind the high stone walls and spare some time to peek into the numerous welcoming galleries where the local artists present their works. Then we will travel to the nearby village of Dobrasko, where we will visit the church “St. St. Theodor Tiron & Theodor Stratilat” built in the remote 1614 and undoubtedly the most interesting and extremely well-kept historical monument not only in the village of Dobarsko. We will also enjoy listening to some traditional folklore songs performed by the local women’s choir in the church’s cosy yard. In the afternoon we will travel north-west through the spectacular Undola pass where we will have the chance to see the highest train station in Europe “Avramovi Kolibi” at 1267 m. The panoramic view towards the Rila and the Rhodope Mountains from the pass is mesmerising. In the afternoon we will reach the city of Plovdiv dubbed as the most beautiful Thracian city on the territory of the Bulgarian state. Our sightseeing tour will reveal to us the archaeological treasures and beautiful highlights of the Old Town of Plovdiv dating back to the Roman times and the National revival period.
Overnight in Plovdiv. (breakfast,lunch, diner).
Rila Mountain, Bulgaria
DAY 12 / THE CAPITAL CITY OF BULGARIA - SOFIA
Today we will travel to Sofia and take you on a relaxing walk around the capital’s landmarks – the imposing golden-domed St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral, the ancient St.Sofia Church, the National Art Gallery and many more, situated in the heart of the city. We will also have time to enjoy the city centre and its colourful atmosphere on our own. In the evening we will have a Farewell dinner at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant.
Overnight in Sofia. (breakfast,lunch, diner).
DAY 13 / TRIP IN SOFIA
Today after breakfast, we will head back to Sofia where it will be time for us to say “goodbye” with the promise to keep the memories we created together during our Balkan Adventure! (Transfer to the Airport).(breakfast)
WHAT IS INCLUDED:
- 13 days / 12 overnights;
- countries visited: Bulgaria, Albania & Macedonia
- Tour starts: Tirana, Albania
- Tour finishes: Sofia, Bulgaria
- 12 breakfasts (B), 11 Lunches (L), 11 dinners (D)
- 13 nights 4 - star hotel accommodation on a twin-share or double basis
- Guided sightseeing tours of all visited cities and sights
- Escorted services of an experienced guide in the requested language for the whole tour
- Transport: Modern air-conditioned coach
- Group Size: T/A