As featured in the Sunday Times, follow in the footsteps of comedian and author Tony Hawks exploring the best of Albania’s culture and coastline.
Visit archaeological sites, monasteries, castles and UNESCO heritage sites and then relax in the coastal resort of Ksamil with its calm, turquoise waters and stretch of white sandy beach.
After breakfast, you will be picked up at the Hotel Rogner and driven towards Gjirokaster. First stop will be the city of Durres where you will visit the ancient city walls, the Roman amphitheatre and the byzantine forum of the city. Durres is the main port and the second biggest city in the country. Some important archeological monuments that bear witness to the city’s glorious past during different periods of history are: The ancient city walls, the Roman amphitheatre and baths, the Byzantine forum, the Venetian tower and the Ottoman hamam. The city offers visitors a range of interesting buildings and museums such as: the Archeological Museum, the Exhibition of Folk Culture (hosted in a very elegant Ottoman style house), The museum of History etc.
Next stop will be in Ardenica, where you will visit its monastery.
The Ardenica Monastery of Theotokos Mary was built by Byzantine Emperor, Andronikos II Palaiologos in 1282 after the victory against the Angevins in the Siege of Berat. The monastery is famed as being the place where, in 1451, the marriage of Albania’s national hero, Skanderbeg to Andronika Arianiti was celebrated. In 1780 the Monastery started a theological school, teaching Greek Orthodoxy. It had an important library with 32,000 volumes that got completely burned by a fire in 1932. The Church of Saint Mary, situated within the monastery contains frescoes from brothers Kostandin and Athanas Zografi, notable is one of Saint John Kukuzelis, who was born in Durrës.
Continue to Gjirokaster and check in to the Kalemi Hotel, located in a converted Ottoman house in the UNESCO quarter. In the late afternoon, enjoy a city tour of Girokaster.
Gjirokaster, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, known by many as the City of Stone, comprises of hundreds of Ottoman-style tower houses with distinctive stone roofs, wooden balconies and white-washed stone walls. Dominated by the sheer flanks of its vast castle, Gjirokaster is a magical city with a tumultuous past. From feudal stronghold to Ottoman jewel to Italian colony, the city has known many rulers and has inspired poets, authors and artists. A walk around the network of cobbled streets will transport you back in time. A visit to the vast 13th-century Castle brings the adventurous tales of medieval rulers and communist atrocities alive. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, drive to the UNESCO site of Butrint, visiting the Blue Eye Spring en route.
The Blue Eye spring, close to Mesopotam, is one of Albania’s ‘Monuments of Nature’. It is a deep spring forming a circular pool; the vivid, deep blue of the waters give the spring its name. The pool is surrounded by mature woods, forming a magically beautiful location – particularly in the vivid colours of spring and autumn. The spring feeds into the Bistrice River as this runs it short course to the sea at Saranda. Many stories and myths surround the spring, from twelve-headed dragons to the spectacular depth of the spring.
Next stop will be at the UNESCO site of Butrint.
Butrint was a proto-urban centre. By the 5th century BC Butrint became a fully formed ancient city. During the 4th century, the city was equipped with new buildings such as the theatre, the agora, the small, temple and the stoa. The complex of the sanctuary of Asclepius forms the most magnificent part of the city. The main importance and magnificence of the site was during the Roman period when the city was proclaimed a Roman colony and used by the Roman aristocracy as a holiday destination. The construction of the Great Basilica and of the baptistery dates to this period. The floor of the baptistery is covered by detailed and well-preserved mosaics.
Continue to the nearby village of Ksamil and check in to the Hotal Villa Park Bujari, (a small family owned hotel with a private beach front) for a 3 night stay. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, depart towards Berat, driving along the Albanian Riviera. The Albanian Ionian Riviera has been dubbed by some as “the last secret of Europe”, boasting some of the most stunning Mediterranean beaches on the Ionian coast. The Riviera is a stretch of coastline between Vlora and Saranda in south-west Albania. The Ionian coast here is very rugged, with rocky coves along the narrow coastal strip and steep mountains rising almost straight up along much of its length. The sea along this part of the coast has clear blue water and the beaches are usually made of small pebbles, but there are also many sandy ones, especially in the south.
Stop at The Gulf of Porto Palermo for a visit to the Fortress of Ali Pasha Tepelena, situated on an attractive island.
The Castle of Porto Palermo is located on a small peninsula, and was built by Ali Pasha of Ioannina in the early 19th century on the site of an existing monastery. The Porto Palermo Naval Base was started as a joint Albanian- Chinese project in the late 60s. But diplomatic relations were interrupted and Albania decided to continue on her own the project which cost roughly $ 70 million in 1970s dollars. The base was capable of withstanding any kind of attack and 4 Whiskey-class submarines were stationed here.
After a drive along the coastline, you will reach the national park of Logara. Here you will continue your tour, which will bring you through the woods, following the same paths that Julius Caesar and his army marched on to reach the ancient city of Apollonia to fight his rival, Pompeus.
Llogara National Park takes its name from the passage with the same name which, is over 1000 metres in height and extends along the road that goes from the city of Vlore towards the south of the country. This impressive panoramic Ionian road was built by Mussolini in the 30s. The park is characterised by wild and untouched nature, where the peaks of the “Malet Vetetimes” or the Mountains of the Lightings, are often surrounded by clouds. Continue to Berat and check-in to the Hotel Mangalemi (a converted house located in the UNESCO quarter) for overnight stay. Berat: is also known as “The town of one Thousand windows” due to the many large windows that decorate the houses of the old town. The town is still renowned for its historic architecture and particular beauty and has been declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO. Historical Berat consist of three quarters. The quarters of Gorica and Mangalem are situated on the slopes of two hills that are divided by the river Osum. The Kalaja (fortress) quarter stands on the top of the Magalemi hill and is enclosed by a fortification wall that dates back to the 4th century BC. The town has several 15th century mosques and numerous Byzantine orthodox churches. Several of the churches have frescoes painted by the well known artist, Onufri The icons museum is located in the old cathedral church of the Castle and the Ethnographic museum hosted in an old house in the Mangalem quarter. (B,L,D)
Price NotesSingle room supplement: £205