Albania, Greece & N. Macedonia
A great tour for cultural heritage lovers , exploring 3 neighboring countries with 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the religious mix and tolerance of the region, delicious cuisine and the genuine hospitality of the inhabitants.
You will be met at the arrivals by your driver/guide and transferred to your central boutique hotel where you will be based for 2 nights. A walking tour of central part of the city will give you an introduction into the different historic periods and the major influences in the development of the Albanian capital. The 45 years of recent communist isolation have left their mark in different shapes and forms and we will be able to explain and explore some of them on this walking tour. Overnight 4*hotel.
After breakfast drive to Shkodra, center of Roman Catholicism in Albania and a town with long historic routes, going back to the legendary Illyrians. Shkodra was the capital of the most famous Illyrian Kingdom who defeated the Aetolians, attacked Sicily, raided the Adriatic hence sparking the Illyrian-Roman wars with superpower of the time Rome. The Illyrians lost the 3 wars and came under Roman rule becoming the Roman province of Illyricum. Visit the legendary Rozafa castle with its imposing position offering spectacular views. Later visit the city center with its pedestrian area with Italian influences. After visits return to Tirana. Free to explore on your own.
This morning we drive to Apollonia one of the most important ancient learning centers in Roman times on the famous Via Egnatia in itself an extension of Via Apia. Due to its fame and importance Caesar chose to send his nephew Augustus Octavian to study oratory here, which is testimony to the importance of this ancient city. After the visits, continue on to Vlora where Albanian Independence was proclaimed. In the center we will see the Square of the Flag commemorating a pivitol moment in Albanian History. Muradie Mosque, a small seemingly unimportant object, is in fact one of the early works of the famous architect Sinan of Albanian origin who designed the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. In te afternoon drive to the naturally beautiful island where we visit the Monastery of Zvernec. Overnight in Vlora. 4*hotel.
The Albanian Riviera with its traditional villages and deep blue Ionian waters, proves to be a wonderful travel companion on this day. Spectacular views unravel at the the top of the Llogara National Park around 1100 metres above sea level. A refreshment break to take all of this in is a must. Continue the journey through winding roads and the sea at our side stoping at Ali Pasha fort at Porto Palermo and a couple of villages along the way. Lunch on your own can be enjoyed in one of the fish restaurants in Himare the major town between Vlora and Saranda. After lunch we will proceed to visit to the ancient city of Butrint- another UNESCO world heritage site. The city has been continuously inhabited for centuries forming archaeological layers of different civilizations, making it an important discovery in the Mediterranean. It is situated in a beautiful peninsula among dense vegetation offering visitors more than just ancient ruins. Overnight in Saranda 4*hotel.
In the morning we depart for Gjirokastra, a Museum town under the protection of UNESCO as a World Heritage Site due to its beautiful stone architecture. It is also known as the city of stone. In Gjirokastra we will visit the fortress, part of which was turned into a political prison for dissidents of the communist regime and the Arms Museum. Visit to the Ethnographic Museum, which is also the house the Albanian ex-dictator was born in. Lunch in Gjirokastra (optional). Depart to Ioannina, Greece, where we will visit the castle of Ali Pasha in the center of Town, the burial place of the pasha and the Mosque turned into his museum. Overnight in Ioannina.
In the morning depart to Meteora, a wonderful monument of nature complemented by the ingenuousness of man. Huge rocks the sze of hills, hundreds of meters high are situated in the middle of a vast lowland, give the impression to have fallen from the sky. It is very likely the word Meteora has been purposely used based on this impression this incredible formations give when one looks at them. Furthermore, these rocks carry on their backs wonderfully crafted monasteries which make for a monumental interaction between nature and man which never ceases to impress new and repeat visitors to this place. The most famous and probably the best monastery out of all Meteora monasteries, is the Great Meteora Monastery or as it is known locally the Megalo Meteoro Monastery or Metamorphosis. We will visit some monasteries and then overnight in Kalabaka just below the Meteora rocks, providing a stunning panorma.
After breakfast drive Bitola “The city of consuls’’ the second largest city in Macedonia, home to twelve consulates. It was known to the ancient world as Heraclea Lyncestis, a city founded by Phillip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great). The old part of Bitola features Shirok Sokak a pedestrian street which dominates with its specific individualism, charm and beauty, featuring monumental urban folklore buildings, and colorful oriental and western European architecture. It is the most popular meeting point for both locals and visitors alike. The main Roman road in the area, Via Egnatia went through Heraclea, and Heraclea was an important stop. Visit Bitola and Heraklea before driving to Ohrid town, North Macedonia’s tourism symbol and the only UNESCO monument. Check in at our central hotel and afternoon free to explore individually. Overnight in Ohrid, 4*hotel.
This morning the tour continues to the Bay of Bones a museum detailing life on the lake several thousand of years ago. Further towards the Albanian boarder, the monastery of St. Naum Monastery situated on a huge rock at the edge of the lake, takes us on the path of St. Naum, meeting the legends of all the miracles he made before and after he built his church. Return to Ohrid to explore the old town. Walk to visit the Church St. Sofia, built between the 11th and 14th century, which was the seat of the Archbishop. “St. Clement”. A classic Orthodox Byzantine church, dominating the Old Town, demonstrates the link between Byzantine and Italian Renaissance art. Visit the Holy Virgin of Peribleptos Church, Icon Galery , the ancient theatre of 2 nd century B.C. before reaching St. John at Kaneo. This symbolic church stands alone on a small peninsula at the western end of the Old Town, and provides spectacular panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains. It is a particularly beautiful site during sunset.
After breakfast drive to Berat, Albania, another wonderful town and UNESCO site. Visit the fortress still inhabited within its protective walls and the Onufri Icon Museum situated in St.Mary’s church. Onufri was an Albanian master painter of the 16th century who had a preference for a particular red color he used so much that it is known today as the Onufrian Red. Many of his wonderfully painted Icons still remain in the museum while others can be found in churches in Albania and Greece where he worked. Two of the rarest world codexes were discovered hidden in the altar of the church. Lunch in a family restaurant in the fortress (optional). After the lunch, in the downtown we visit the renovated King & Mosque, the Bachelor & Mosque and the Alveti Tekke situated in the beautiful Mangalemi district. Also we will pay a visit to a local family to see how life is today in the Berat old quarter. Overnight in Berat.
This day taes us to Durres one of the oldest towns in Albania founded in the 7 th Century B.C. Continues wars, natural disasters and human intervention have damaged the very rich history the city hides underneath, however we will visit the ancient walls, the remains of the ancient amphitheater thought to hold 20 000 people making it the largest in the Balkans and a rich Archeological Museum. Afterwards depart for Kruja the center of Albanian resistance against the Ottomans where we visit the Castle with Ethnographic Museum and the Old Ottoman style bazaar. Drive to Tirana for final overnight.
After breakfast drive to the Airport for return flight.
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