Fly to Belgrade; transfer to our city centre hotel.
Today we will explore the capital of Serbia. Belgrade is a fascinating city with many cultural facets to explore. We'll visit the old town area, including the Kalemegdan Complex, set high on the rocky ridge where the Sava and Danube Rivers meet. This is the former urban centre of Belgrade, which has the best views of the new Belgrade area and the agricultural plains that surround the city. On our tour of Belgrade, we'll visit: Republic Square, Skadarlija ("the Montmartre of Belgrade"), National Theatre, Parliament, Belgrade Fortress, Knez Mihajlo Street, Kalemegdan Park and Saint Sava Orthodox Cathedral. After the city tour there is the option to visit some of many Belgrade museums, such as the Etnographic or Nikola Tesla Museum. The evening offers the chance to explore the famous nightlife in Belgrade.
We set off towards Zlatibor Mountain and the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, taking in changing scenery on our drive (approx 4 hours) to Visegrad. Here we see the famous Cuprija na Drina (Bridge on the Drina). This UNESCO Heritage site is a magnificent Ottoman bridge spanning the wide Drina river. It gained its fame from the Nobel Prize for Literature winner Ivo Andric and his novel 'Bridge on the Drina'. After lunch we visit the ethno village Staro Selo where traditional Serbian houses have been restored to their original form. We explore the village of Sirogojno and get a glimpse of how life once was for this mountain community. The village is well known for its wool knit work, open air theatre and traditional folklore dances.
This morning we catch the old steam train to Mokra Gora. Our one hour train ride will take us right through this wild and untamed border area. The Sargan Eight is a narrow-gauge heritage railway in Serbia, running from the village of Mokra Gora to Sargan Vitasi station. From Sarajevo to Belgrade, the railway with a gauge of 760 mm (2 ft 5 15/16) ran initially from 1925 to 1974 and was an important connection. The famous train known as 'Cira' travels from Mokra Gora to Sargan Vitasi passing through 22 tunnels, over five bridges and climbing 300 metres. We transfer from the station at Mokra Gora to Drvengrad also known as Kustendorf, a traditional village created by a Serbian film director for his film Life is a Miracle. The village now hosts the annual Kustendorf Film and Music Festival.
Skopje, Macedonia's capital city, is the destination today. En route we stop for lunch at Vrnjacka Banja, the most popular spa town in Serbia with a history dating back to the Romans. The town boasts several mineral springs, with UNESCO registered monuments in the surrounds and is well worth the visit as we make our way to the south of the Balkans.
Skopje has a long and varied history, like many of the main cities in the Balkans, having changed hands several times over the centuries. It has at different times belonged to, or been capital of, the Byzantine, Serb and Bulgarian empires, as well as being part of Yugoslavia until independence in 1991. Our morning tour takes in the old train station - the first in the Balkans, the monument and house of Mother Theresa, the Kale Fortress and the Stone Bridge. After our tour we visit the beautiful Matka Canyon, see the St Andrews Monastery and take a boat ride to the Vrelo Cave, full of stalactites and stalagmites. We take lunch by the monastery before continuing our journey south to the city of Ohrid, on the lake of the same name.
We take a tour of this beautiful lakeside city, starting with 'Dolna porta', the entrance to the old town, near two small churches - St.Nikola and St.'Bogorodica Bolnicki'. We enjoy the old and new architecture of Ohrid, of which Robevci house dominates the scenery. Today the house hosts the museum of Ohrid - which keeps the most important archaeological discoveries of Ohrid and its area.
The church St. Sofia is also worth our time, this church from the XII century is impressive for its construction as well as the frescoes. Ohrid is one of the rare sites that has hosted continuous human habitation for more than a millenium and traces of the city's evolution are to be seen everywhere. One such landmark is the ancient theatre, built in 1st century BC. Accidentally discovered and revived again today, holding plays and concerts. The tour continues to the church of St. Jovan of Kaneo and and the Kaneo area before heading on to Samuil's Fortress, from where there are the most wonderful views of the entire city, the lake and coastline.
After this cultural and historical feast, the afternoon is free to wander this unique destination.
After a morning departure from Ohrid we drive through the Albanian hinterlands and spend the early afternoon in the capital of Albania, Tirana, our base for the final three nights. After first checking in to our hotel, we go to Skanderbeg Square, the centre of Tirana. Here we visit the mosque and the clock-tower and take a walk to one of Albania's traditional bazaars. After exploring this old market place, we turn back towards Skanderbeg Square to visit the National Historical Museum.
Afterwards we head to the Blloku area, formerly a residential area for important members of the regime during the communist era, but today a lively neighbourhood full of restaurants and boutiques. Here we can enjoy a nice cold drink next to the lake in the shadow of the trees before returning to the hotel.
We leave Tirana early in the morning for a 3-hour drive to Berat, the best-preserved historic town of Albania. Today it boasts a mix of Illyrian, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Socialist buildings accumulated over 2400 years. On arrival we begin with a walk in the characterful Mangalemi neighbourhood and visit the Ethnographic Museum. After lunch we walk up to the citadel district of Berat, where we walk inside the old castle walls and visit the splendid orthodox churches and the Onufri Icons museum - named after the famous 16th century master painter of icons and murals. Later in the afternoon we transfer back to Tirana.
For our last full day we visit Shkoder, a 2-hour drive north. Shkoder is one of the largest cities in the north of the country, and we begin our visit with a stroll through the pedestrianized centre. We then drive to the lake and visit the Rozafa Castle, built by the Illyrians. From here the views across the lake are framed by the impressive Prokletije Mountains. Our day ends with a transfer back to our hotel in Tirana.
Tranfser to Tirana airport; fly to London.