|14 Sep - 28 Sep|
The location of the first-ever Regent tour in 1971, Albania has been captivating Regent travellers for decades. Back for a second year, this painstakingly curated group tour, our most in-depth Albanian foray to date, is an attempt to truly get under the skin of this captivating nation, a journey expected to be deeply rewarding, occasionally sad and incredibly fascinating.
Starting and finishing in Tirana, allowing an extended look at the complex history of the nation's capital, enjoy overnight stays in the towns of Korce, Gjirokaster, Vlore, Berat and Shkodra. Explore a varied range of sites- from cold-war bunkers to Ottoman castles, secluded coastal islands to abandoned prisons, and much more in-between.
This is a Regent Small Group Tour and operates with a minimum of 6 and maximum of 14 people.
Arrive at Tirana Airport to meet the group and guide in the arrivals hall then make the short drive into the city centre to check-in to the hotel. Remainder of the evening at leisure.
Get to grips with Albania's capital and its rich yet complex culture and history on a full day tour. The tour starts in Skanderbeg Square, the heart of the city. Here visit the diminutive Et’hem Beg Mosque and statue of Skanderbeg, together with the striking exterior of the Opera and Ballet Theatre and the exterior of a few other landmark buildings—such as various ministries and the clock-tower. Those who wish may pop into the Libraria Adrion Bookstore (a great spot to track down English language books on Albania, in addition to maps, postcards etc) before we take a mid-morning refreshments stop (at your own expense) in one the cafes which ring the square- a lovely spot for watching the world go by. From here visit the sprawling National History Museum—a great introduction to Albania. This afternoon, the tour continues in the heart of Tirana with a visit to the Orthodox Cathedral and the Bektashi World Headquarters - (the Bektashi being an Islamic Sufi mystic order with their origins in the 13th century). In both locations we will meet with high ranking clerics, gaining an insight into their beliefs and culture, and into how these beliefs have shifted in popularity and survived alongside each other (and the government) over the centuries. Finally, head a little out of the city centre to visit the home of famed artist Sali Shijaku. Although recently deceased, this home is a well preserved treasure which dates back to the early 18th century. The home is full of artworks and a pleasant spot to end the initial tour of the city. After visiting the home we will likely have a little chat and drink with a member of Sali’s family, who busy themselves in keeping his great legacy alive. Return to the hotel for the remainder of the day/evening at leisure. (B,L)
Enjoy a further full day in Tirana, with the day’s focus being Albania’s communist and post-communist era, a fascinating chapter of the nation’s history which many don’t like to dwell upon too deeply. Start the day with a visit to the Presidential Palace or Palace of Brigades. This palace (constructed from 1935-1941) was commissioned by King Zog to be his official residence; its fascinating history well encapsulates the history of modern Albania. Moving on, visit the impressive Statue of Mother Albania and the Martyrs’ Cemetery, situated in an imposing location near the Grand Park of Tirana. Here, the guide will be able to talk of communist Albania’s complex origins, including the struggles during the years of Italian and then German occupation, the departure of King Zog and the early rise of Enver Hoxha. Heading into central Tirana visit the Blokku district, a fashionable pocket of the city which, during the communist era, was a strictly off-limits residential quarter home to the party elite. Here we will pass by the exterior of the former home of Enver Hoxha, a state owned property which is largely unchanged since his death in 1985 —a fascinating site to pass while our guide strives to bring the complex communist era to life. Moving on, we will visit the House of Leaves—a former surveillance centre of the Sigurimi (Albanian secret police) which now functions as a museum showcasing how the government spied upon both foreigners and Albanians alike. After lunch, enjoy a rare visit to the Armed Forces Museum. Gain further insight into the nation’s communist history- one which is understandably synonymous with the armed forces. The final site of the day will be to another cemetery- the Vaqarr Cemetery in Sharrë. Here lies the forlorn grave of Enver Hoxha, his remains having been quietly removed from the far grander Martyrs’ Cemetery in the 1990s. Nearby, eagle-eyed visitors can also hunt down the graves of both the mother and sister of Mother Teresa. Return to the hotel in the late afternoon and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure. Should you wish, perhaps consider a visit to the Grand Park of Tirana, a short walk from the hotel—a pleasant spot for a stroll and home to numerous bars and restaurants. The park is also home to the small Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery, a Commonwealth War Grave. (B,L)
*Please note that access to the Palace of Brigades can only be confirmed locally, as this is a government building which is chiefly used during state visits. Similarly, the Armed Forces Museum can also only be confirmed a few days prior to our arrival, as it is located within the grounds of the Ministry of Defence. Men must wear trousers at this museum-shorts are not permitted. Should we be unable to visit either of these sites we will arrange alternative sightseeing.
This morning head east of the city to visit the Bektashi World Headquarters - (the Bektashi being an Islamic Sufi mystic order with their origins in the 13th century). Expect to meet with a high ranking cleric, who will help to give an insight into Bektashism and the ‘mystic path’ which they follow. From here head to Bunk’Art 1, a large 1970s Bunker Complex in the east. The sprawling complex is home to offices, dormitories and even an apartment which was set aside for Enver Hoxha. Back above ground travel on the nearby Dajti Ekspres cable car to a scenic spot on Dajti Mountain, some 1,000 metres above sea level. Here enjoy lunch in the Balkoni Dajtit Restaurant, from where we will (weather permitting) be afforded a commanding view over Tirana below. After lunch, return to the hotel to spend the rest of the afternoon and all evening at leisure. Your guide will be able to give recommendations as to what you may want to see and do with your final time in Tirana; perhaps consider a visit to the Tirana Mosaic, Kadare House Studio or the Markata e Fruta Perimeve, where you can stock up on snacks and supplies for the coming days. (B/L)
This morning, depart Tirana and spend the day slowly travelling to the small city of Korce in southeast Albania, near the border of both North Macedonia and Greece. The first stop of the day will be Kombinati Metalurgjik, on the western outskirts of Elbasan, Albania’s 4th largest city. Kombinati Metalurgjik, now in a ruinous state, once employed some 12,000 people and was, until the collapse of socialism, one of the most important industrial centres in Albania, built through decades of close cooperation with Albania’s erstwhile bedfellow, China. The history of Kombinati is in some regards a microcosm of socialist Albania’s economic model-isolationist & self-reliant, and our light urban exploration of this site will be brought to life by a local expert. From here, make the short drive to oft-overlooked Elbasan to enjoy a quick tour of the walkable old town and Elbasan Castle, followed by lunch in the delightful Taverna Kala restaurant (or similar). Back on the road, continue towards Korce, stopping briefly to take in some roadside Lapidari (socialist era war memorials). Moving on, the road eventually comes to Lake Ohrid and the town of Pogradec, on the southwest corner of the lakeshore, within Albanian borders. There will be a little time to explore Pogradec (either with your guide or at leisure); the town has a relaxing centre and all of interest is within a short walking distance. Leaving Ohrid behind, continue to Korce, checking into the hotel on arrival for a 2-night stay. This evening enjoy dinner in a nearby restaurant. (B,L,D)
Spend the day exploring in and around Korce, starting with a panoramic tour of the city sights before heading into the Old Bazaar, full of cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops. From here head to one of the oldest mosques in Albania, Mirahori, a good spot for the guide to illustrate upon the beginnings of Albania’s marriage with Islam. Next stop will be the small ABC Museum (formerly known as the Museum of Education), an important site located on the site of the old Korce School. This was the first school in the country to teach in the Albanian language (much to the chagrin of the Ottomans) - a subversive act which can be seen as a spark which helped reignite Albania’s national consciousness in the late 19th century. From Korce head up into the hills to visit fascinating Voskopoja. Back in the early 18th century Voskopoja had a population of some 35,000 people, but bandit attacks in the late 18th century transformed the once great city into a small village. We will have plenty of time to explore Voskopoja at a leisurely pace and have a delicious lunch here also, likely to include Lakror, a pastry pie dish which comes from this region. This afternoon, while on the way back to Korce, stop (logistics/location to be confirmed locally) at a small family owned dairy farm in the village of Voskop. Meet with some agricultural workers and be afforded an insight into agricultural life and customs in not just Korce, but Albania in general. Returning to Korce enjoy a tour of the famed Korce Brewery, home of Birra Korça, Albania’s oldest (and arguably favourite) beer. At the end of the tour, those who wish may relax in the beer garden (before making your way back to the hotel independently), while others can visit the National Museum of Mediaeval art before wrapping up the day’s sightseeing in the late afternoon. The rest of the afternoon and all evening is at leisure. (B,L)
Today, travel southwest from Korce to Gjirokaster. The bulk of the morning will be on a scenic road for the drive south, the road at times very close to the Greek border. Your guide will be able to talk about the Italian-Greek War and the communist movements in this southern Albanian hinterland. Arrive at the Sarantaporos River, which marks the border with Greece, and make a brief stop at the Perati Bridge. From here the route makes an abrupt change in direction, skirting the Hotova National Park before arriving in Permet. Permet is famed for cuisine, particularly its gliko dessert. Have lunch in the small town while sampling some of its regarded delicacies. Beyond Permet, make a brief stop ay the Baxho Meshini Bunkeri, a communist-era bunker which has been converted into a cheese factory. Here sample yet more delicacies before making the final push to Gjirokaster. On arrival in the city check into the hotel for a 2- night stay. Depending on the time of arrival there may be a little time to explore Gjirokaster at leisure before heading out for dinner in an nearby restaurant. (B,L,D)
Spend the morning sightseeing in historic Gjirokaster. While the order of the tour will have some flexibility, sights will include the Town Hall Air Raid Shelter, Ethnographic Museum (birthplace of Enver Hoxha) and, what is for many the highlight of the city, Gjirokaster Castle. We will have plenty of time to explore this UNESCO World Heritage castle, which includes within its grounds a prison, two museums, a clocktower and even the remnants of a captured US jet. As this is the last stop of the day our guide will return those who wish back to the hotel at the end of the tour. Those who prefer to linger may do so, making their own way back to the hotel on foot as and when. The bulk of historic Gjirokaster is spread out across a relatively small (but often steep!) area, and we have included a lot of free time today, allowing for you to spend all afternoon/evening exploring as you see fit. Perhaps consider a visit to the Ismail Kadare House, or simply while away the afternoon getting lost in the winding streets or lounging in one of the many bars, cafes and restaurants which are scattered across the city centre. Lunch and dinner is excluded today also— there is no shortage of eateries in Gjirokaster! (B)
Leaving Gjirokaster behind, the first stop of the day will be the UNESCO World Heritage site of Butrint. Although inhabited from prehistoric times up until the late Middle Ages, Butrint peaked under the ancient Greeks and then the Romans - the bulk of what can be seen in Butrint (such as the theatre and forum), dates to this rich period. Enjoy a good hour or more to explore Butrint, one of the most important archaeological sites in Albania, before making the short drive to Ksamil. Here enjoy a leisurely lunch in this pretty seaside town, situated on an isthmus between the Ionian and Lake Butrint. This afternoon, strike north, driving up and along the scenic ’Albanian Riviera’, making a stop in the mid-afternoon to visit Palermo Castle and Porto Palermo. From here the road starts to climb from sea level all the way up to the famed Llogara Pass, at 1,043m above sea level. Here, those who wish can enjoy a short walk (of approximately 25 minutes each way) to Ceasar’s Pass, where Julius Ceaser is believed to have led his legions over the mountain after landing in Palasa. The view from the pass offers a stunning vista of the Karabaruni Peninsula and both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Enjoy dinner in Llogara in a small family-run restaurant, sampling some local delicacies, including honey yogurt. At the end of our meal we will also enjoy a performance of Albanian iso-polyphony, a traditional style of Albanian folk music which is included in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list. From Llogara, descend to Vlore and check into the hotel for a 2-night stay. After a busy day enjoy the rest of the evening at leisure. (B,L,D)
Today, make the short drive to Vlore’s port to board the chartered boat for a day trip to Sazan Island and the Karabaruni Peninsula. Sazan is an uninhabited island some 6km from the mainland. This strategically important island was known to the ancient Greeks, Romans and many others-having changed hands numerous times over the centuries-even coming under British protection at one time. The island today is most famous for its communist years as it was home to a very much ‘off-limits’ naval base- at its peak some 2,500 people lived here. The functioning town had its own school, shop, hospital, cinema etc.- a largely self contained society. During the tumultuous 1990s Sazan, although still technically a military exclusion zone, was abandoned and this pretty island today offers up a strange mix of communist history, urban exploration and beautiful Mediterranean island scenery. After flexible time to explore, return to the mainland and the largely undeveloped/uninhabited Karabaruni Peninsula. Enjoy lunch in a small restaurant before slowly making your way back to Vlore. The entire excursion has flexibility- those who wish may (weather and inclination pending) take a dip in the sea- either from one of the beaches on Sazan or Karabaruni or from our boat itself. On arriving back into Vlore in the mid-afternoon, visit Flag Square and the Independence Monument before returning to the hotel. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon and all evening at leisure. Should you wish, perhaps consider a visit to Lungomare, the seafront promenade, a short walk from the hotel. (B,L)
Departing Vlore, start the day with a brief trip to the picturesque Narta Lagoon, an important wetland site famed for its huge colony of flamingos. Leaving the coast in our rear-view mirror, slowly head inland, arriving in Apollonia in the late morning. Apollonia was an Ancient Greek trading colony which flourished in the Roman period but was abandoned in the 4th century. Now a working archaeological site, the ruins are a popular stop on the road north and well worth an hour or so of exploration. After lunch nearby we will press on, bypassing the main road to take in the Patos-Marinza Oil Field, the largest on-shore oil field in Europe. Gain an insight into Albania’s oil industry, which employs a few thousand people and has its origins with the Romans, who travelled here to trade bitumen. From what lies under the ground to what flies above it, our next visit will be to Kucova, home of the famed Kucova Air Base. This large air base was once the pride of communist Albania and was home to many aircraft, primarily MiGs. The air base is now being fully modernised by NATO and is off limits to casual visitors, but you will still be able to spot some old fighter aircraft and spend time in the small town of Kucova (where the Air Force personnel lived) - here having a little chat and brief tour of the town with a retired pilot. Back on the road, the final stop of the day will be the UNESCO World heritage town of Berat. Check into the hotel for a 2-night stay. Enjoy dinner at nearby restaurant. (B,L,D)
Enjoy the day sightseeing in and around Berat, one of the oldest and most attractive cities in Albania. Explorations start in the lower quarters of Berat, leisurely exploring the sights of both the Managalemi and Gorica quarters, with visits to include the King’s Mosque Halveti Tekke, amongst others. Onwards and upwards, we will ascend to Berat Castle, the citadel of which dates back to the 4th century BC. You will have plenty of time to explore the castle, which offers stunning views of the city and Osumi River below, as well as of distant Mount Tommori, which rises to 2,414m. The castle is home to a multitude of sights and the tour will include the Onufri Museum and a number of the diminutive churches which are scattered within the castle walls. Lunch will be included in one of the basic yet welcoming restaurants within the walls. A highlight for many here is to simply explore the castle’s sights, grounds and ramparts at leisure, so the group will have free time this afternoon for precisely this. In the mid-afternoon drive to the southwest of Berat to visit the Pupa Winery. Here we will enjoy some wine-tasting before returning to our hotel in the late afternoon. The rest of the afternoon and all evening is at leisure. There are plenty of good restaurants within walking distance of your hotel and along the nearby Boulevard Republica. This boulevard is a lovely pedestrianised street with a surprising number of restaurants and bars running it’s length-arguably the best spot for an evening of promenading and dining.. (B,L)
Spend the bulk of the morning driving north from Berat to the small town of Rubik in central Albania, breaking the journey en-route if needs be for a quick refreshment stop. On arrival in Rubik enjoy lunch before continuing along the main Kosovo-bound highway to the infamous Spaç Prison. The prison (often referred to just as Spaç) is a place and word, which still sends a shiver down the spine of many an Albanian. Spaç closed upon the downfall of communism and although it was primarily home to political prisoners forced to toil away in the local copper mine, Spaç feels like more of a gulag or concentration camp than it does a ‘prison’; many who came here, ultimately died here. Today Spaç is a haunting ruin, a small complex of buildings built far from prying eyes in these barren mountains. To try and bring just a fragment of the horrors of Spaç to life we will be shown around the small site by a man who has spent his entire life living in and around Spac. As a first-hand witness of some of the atrocities which took place here, he will be able to tell us in great detail about the realities of life in Spaç prison - a deeply sobering experience. Back on the road, spend the rest of the day driving to the city of Shkodra, the traditional capital of Northern Albania, stopping for dinner at Mrizi i Zanave Agroturizem, one of the finest restaurants in the entire country. Upon arrival in Shkodra check into the hotel for a 2-night stay. Enjoy the rest of the evening at leisure. (B,L,D)
Enjoy the full day sightseeing in and around the small city of Shkodra. While the order of sightseeing will be confirmed locally, our plan is to start with a visit to the Site of Witness and Memory, a small museum which commemorates those in Shkodra who were persecuted under the communists. This disturbing museum is within the former buildings of the Ministry Of Interior and incorporates the original holding cells and torture rooms within its exhibits - fascinating and disturbing in equal measure. From here we will walk to the fascinating Marubi National Museum of Photography, situated on Rruga Kole Idromeno, the pedestrianised heart of the city (and well worth a visit in your free time later, to sit in a café and watch the world go by). From here walk to the nearby Teatri Migjeni, a local theatre where we expect to have a brief tour of he facilities before enjoying lunch with somebody associated with the theatre. In such a setting we will have the chance to informally chat about the arts in Albania. Picking up our transport, our first stop this afternoon will be to take in the impressive Ottoman-era Mesi Bridge, together with the Venice Art Mask Factory, where many of the masks worn during the Venice Carnival are manufactured. The final visit today will be the Rozafa Castle. Rozafa has been fortified since Illyrian times and stands above the confluence of the Drini, Kiri and Buna Rivers—a most impressive location. Returning to central Shkodra, visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral before making the short walk back to our hotel. There will be a little free time in the late afternoon, to relax or explore the city at leisure- the centre is all very walkable from the hotel. This evening head out on foot for a farewell dinner in one of our favourite city restaurants. (B,L,D)
Depart for Tirana Airport this morning and take return flight to the UK. (B)
|Itinerary Dates||From Price||Single Room Supp.|
14 Sep 2024
28 Sep 2024