Fly to Tirana and transfer to our hotel in Durres, Albania's second largest city and an important port on the Via Egnatia trading route between Rome and Istanbul.
After a series of earthquakes, much of ancient Durres sank into the sea except the wonderful amphitheatre, which is our first visit this morning. This first century construction contains an early Christian crypt and rare wall mosaics and is currently being considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We then make a short stop in Elbasan, a city influenced by various cultures including Serbs and more importantly Italians, to visit the 15th century fortress built by the Romans. Our final destination for today is one of the most charming resorts in Albania, Pogradec, thanks to its position on beautiful Lake Ohrid. To fully appreciate the unique ecosystem of this area and its crystal clear waters, there is also an optional boat tour to Driloni, situated 5km from Pogradec.
This morning we continue to Voskopoja Village, an important and well-known centre of art where many talented Albanian painters chose to practice their profession. The village has suffered over the years, as many of its treasures were stolen during the second half of the 18th century and this even continued during the World Wars. Another short drive takes us to the largest ciy of southeastern Albania, Korca, which sits at the foot of Moravia Mountain. This city became an important handicraft centre and has been called the city of museums thanks to the National Museum of Mediaeval Art and Archaeology, to name but a few. Korca has also been an important religious centre for Orthodox Christians so a visit to the famous church 'The Resurrection' is a must as well as trying the famous local beer.
Our drive through the mountains today is truly spectacular as we enjoy sweeping views across the Gramos and Nemercka Mountains. Along the winding route, we enjoy a short stop in Erseke, which at 1050m is the highest town in Albania. This 17th century town is surrounded by beautiful green pastures of the Gramos Mountains. We finally arrive at Permet, situated in the heart of the white mountains on the Vjosa River, which is famous for its good cooking and wines, including 'gliko' sweets and raki.
After a short visit to the archaeological site of Antigonea, we drive to the beautiful town of Gjirokastra. We enjoy a guided visit around this famous town, that is set on a mountain slope with winding cobbled streets and houses in the form of mediaeval towers. The castle that stands like a balcony over the town offers wonderful panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
In the morning, we visit the Blue Eye, an area where seven wells rise and the biggest natural water spring descends more than 50m. We then continue to the UNESCO Site of Butrint, a sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius, the god of medicine, and founded in the fourth century. Worshippers came to the sanctuary and left symbolic objects or money in order to be healed by the sacred waters in the sanctuary. We spend the night in the cosmopolitan city of Sarande, which is a stark contrast to the tranquil villages we have stayed in, in Albania so far.
We transfer this morning through some spectacular scenery to Vlore, where the Albanian Declaration of Independence was proclaimed in 1912. Our 3 hour route along the winding coast enjoys beautiful views to Corfu, miles of olive trees and pine forests. The afternoon is free to relax on Vlore's beach or simply wander through this vibrant large town. Our accommodation is situated on the beach and only ten minutes' walk from the central square.
We start our journey north today and stop at the wonderful ruins of Apollonia. Originally occupied bythe Illyrian tribes and then the Greek colonists around 600BC, Apollonia flourised in the Roman period and was home to a renowned school of philosophy. We continue inland to the Monastery of Ardenice, built by the Byzantine Emperor in 1282. The monastery became famous as the national hero of Albania, Andronika Arianiti married here in 1451. Another highlight is the Church of Saint Mary set within the monastery, which reveals frescoes from famous Albanian painters. Finally, we transfer further inland to the famous city of Berat.
This morning we enjoy a guided tour around the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site of Berat, with its pretty white buildings perched on the hill amid pine forests. We walk through the narrow cobbled streets to finally reach Berat Castle, where we are rewarded with breathtaking views and understand why it is known to Albanians as 'The City of a Thousand Windows'. In the early evening, we transfer to Tirana.
We have time this morning to visit the famous citadel in Kruje, where Skanderberg led the resistance against the Ottomans and enjoy inspirational views out to the Adriatic Coast. Our flight departs late in the evening so there is also plenty of time to wander the colourful streets of Tirana, which was made the capital of Albania in just 1920.