Those travelling on the group flights will be met at the airport and transferred to our hotel located close to Tirana's city centre (300m from the centre and approximately 30 minutes drive from the airport). The group flight usually arrives in the morning.
We make an early start and transfer by minibus to Shkoder (approx. 2 hours), where we visit the Cathedral of St. Stephen and the city centre of one of the oldest and most historic places in Albania. Before heading into more remote regions, we recommend that you also take this opportunity to shop for anything you might want for the next three days (snacks, chocolate etc).
Our journey continues into the breathtaking Albanian Alps and Theth National Park, an area admired for its rich flora and fauna. After checking into our quaint guesthouse in Theth, we set off from the door on a gentle walk (approx. 2 hours) through the valley nestled between the wonderful surrounding peaks, getting an insight into agricultural life as we pass locals going about their day. We continue to the Roman Catholic Church of Theth, built in 1892, and used as a health centre for a time during the communist regime. The highlight for most however, is a visit to the shutting tower (or lock-in tower) of Theth, known locally as 'Kulla'. These historic stone 'lock-in towers' were used for protection of families that were involved in blood feuds, and this is one of the few that remains today.
Walk from Theth to Valbona through some of the wildest scenery into the Tropoje District, known as the home of Albanian folk culture. We walk for about 6 hours 30mins in total today, firstly ascending through forests and alpine pastures to reach the Valbona Pass (1950m), from where we take a few moments to enjoy the spectacular views down Valbona and Theth Valleys. We then descend close to the Valbona River, passing some beautiful waterfalls and the quaint village of Rragam en route. Expect some rocky terrain today, particularly as we descend. Luggage is transported by horse to the next guesthouse.
Our route today takes us through beech and pine forests down Rosi Peak and leads us onto the 'White Circle', where we enjoy panoramic views across the peaks and valleys of the Albanian Alps. This circular walk is one of the tougher walks of the trip and you should be prepared to be walking for approximately 7-8 hours, although the rewarding views make it well worthwhile. There is a second supporting guide (although his English may not be as good as the leader's), who can assist or accompany any less confident walkers.
For those who wish you can opt out of the White Circle walk and instead take an excursion to learn about the endemic flowers of the Albanian Alps, or head to the slopes to collect mountain tea.
We are in for a treat tonight as our evening is filled with music and dance and we gain true insight into the magical culture of this region that feels so different to the rest of Albania.
A short two hour walk this morning in Valbona National Park takes us past the beautiful glacial Xhema Lake and along the workers trail in Quku i Dunish's. We then begin our journey to Prizren in Kosovo with plenty of stops to break up the journey. We stop in the Dezdar Region along the banks of the Valbona River to spend a couple of hours sunbathing and swimming. Along the way to Kosovo we'll also visit the old Ottoman bazaar in Gjakova, the largest of its kind in the Balkan.
Upon arrival into Prizren there will be an orientation tour encompassing some of the main highlights. Prizren is one of the best preserved Ottoman cities in Kosovo and has a rich cultural, historical and religious heritage with its 17th century Sinan Pasha Mosque, 14th century Orthodox Church 'Our Lady of Ljevis' and memorial to the former political 'Albanian League of Prizren'.
Crossing back over the border into Albania we make our way to the market town of Kruje, known in Albania as the historical chief town of Scanderbeg who liberated Albania from Ottoman rule for 25 years during the 15th century. Kruja has a beautiful Ottoman bazaar, the only place in Albania to find handmade, traditional crafts in one alley of stalls. After visits to the Scanderbeg Museum, and fortress in Kruje, we gain an incredible amount of knowledge about Albanian history. We then travel via Ardenica Monastery which boasts panoramic views all the way to Kruje, built in 1282 and famous for being the place where the Albanian hero Scanderbeg was married in 1451. Finally we reach our destination for tonight, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Berat. Here, the charming narrow alleys of Mangalem, the historic quarter of Berat, and the castle peering down upon the village from its hilltop perch await. The characteristic architecture can be seen on the residences of merchants and artisans clustered along the waterfront and throughout the town.
After breakfast we set off toward Apollonia Archaeological Site, an ancient Greek city in Illyria. Prominent during the Roman period, Apollonia was home to a renowned school of philosophy and excavations continue with what is considered one of the largest amphitheatres in the Balkans (13,000 people). We then transfer down to Vlore to visit its bustling port and, more importantly Flag Square, where the Albanian Declaration of Independence was proclaimed in 1912. In the afternoon we enjoy a short but beautiful walk in the nearby Llogara National Park, which sits 1200m above sea level and is dominated by a sea of pine trees. From Qafa e Llogarasa (the neck of Llogara's narrow ithmus) we can take advantage of the photo opportunity presented by the breathtaking vistas. We spend tonight in mountainous Llogara.
Travelling in the direction of Tirana, we pay a visit to one of Albania's many great archeological treasures, the Pellumbas Cave, also known as the 'Black Cave' to those who still believe it is endless. As we walk through this fascinating structure, it is incredible to see some of the latest discoveries they have unearthed including evidence of cave bears (Ursus Speleaus) that lived 10,000 to 400,000 years ago. Back in Tirana, there's time to visit the centre and see the colourful former communist blocks, as well as Et'hem Bey Mosque.
Today is free to explore Tirana. The group flights usually depart late evening and arrive in the early hours of the following morning.
The group flights usually arrive in the early hours.