SOUTH ALBANIA & MACEDONIA 2019
A unique south Albania tour combining key cultural sites with untouched landscapes and village experiences
SOUTH ALBANIA / MACEDONIA
KURVELESH / PËRMET / KORÇA / PRESPA / OHRID / ÇERMENIKA / TIRANA / BERAT / GJIROKASTRA / RIVIERA
When to go
March to October
Sunday 15 to Thursday 26 September + GUARANTEED DEPARTURE
Sunday 13 to Thursday 24 October +
Group Size: 02-12
+ Combine with our
North Albania & Kosovo Tour
Sunday 01 to Thursday 12 September or
Sunday 29 September to Thursday 10 October
Our unique 12-day South Albania Tour passes through almost unknown regions such as Kurvelesh and Çermenika, which are completely inaccessible for normal road cars and minibuses. Along our journey we’ll visit four UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Butrint, Gjirokastra, Ohrid and Berat), while avoiding over-developed spots such as Vlorë and Pogradec, and also enjoy the hospitality of villagers who rarely receive western visitors.
Our 2019 South Albania Tour is ideal for adventurous, social types who enjoy getting off the beaten track and for whom a normal coach tour would be anathema. Most meals are included, from home-cooked meals to visits to some of the best restaurants (and wine-makers) in Albania. We also duck into Macedonia for one night, via little-visited Lake Prespa.
Our vehicle will be a brand-new air-conditioned 4×4 minivan (8+1), driven by a Drive Albania team member (we all speak fluent English).
Due to the paucity of low-cost flights to Tirana, we’ve designed our 2019 South Albania Tour to start at Saranda in the south of Albania, which is a short ferry hop from Corfu, which is well served by direct flights from all over Europe. However, you can of course fly into Tirana and we’ll pick you up from the airport.
ARRIVAL IN SARANDA / TO PILUR
DAY 01 / SUNDAY
A relaxed start to the tour. We’ll be waiting to meet you off the morning ferry from Corfu. After a coffee and a briefing (pay attention, please!) it’s time to hit the road. We’ll be heading north up the Riviera today, with stops en route at Porto Palermo and Old Qeparo. Of course, there’ll be the opportunity for a swim too, if you fancy it. Around 17.00 or so we’ll reach our overnight stop, a very civilised guesthouse (en suite) in the village of Pilur, perched high on a mountaintop high above the Ionian Sea. Here we’ll enjoy a home-cooked meal prepared by the owner and his wife, and quite probably lots of local wine…
NB Our March departure will begin from Tirana, and substitute Llogora National Park for Pilur before following the standard itinerary.
Included Welcome coffees or sodas. Light lunch. Home-cooked supper. Village guesthouse accommodation (en suite).
PILUR TO PËRMET VIA KURVELESH
DAY 02 / MONDAY
Our introduction to Albania proper will be a dramatic one! We’ll head inland using an unmapped mountain track – there’ll be a few bumps, but the scenery is more than worth it. After a lunch stop in a very isolated village we descend down to the Këlcyrë Pass, which has been fought over repeatedly since the Second Macedonian War in 198BC through to the Second World War. We’ll check into our hotel in the centre of sleepy Përmet around 17.00, and after a brief pause to grab a towel, will drive the short distance to the hot sulphur springs of Benjë (best visited in the evening, when they are usually empty). We’ll be back in town around 19.00, and will then enjoy a meal together in one of Përmet’s excellent restaurants.
Included Breakfast. Home-cooked lunch. Restaurant supper (set menu). Standard 3* hotel accommodation.
PËRMET TO KORÇA
DAY 03 / TUESDAY
A simply spectacular drive west on a mixture of paved and unpaved roads will bring us to the charming little city of Korça, with its pre-WWI villas and cobbled streets. Here we’ll visit the superb Museum of Medieval Arts, and then head to the recently restored bazaar area to enjoy a glass or two of wine.
Included Breakfast. Picnic lunch. Standard 3* hotel accommodation.
KORÇA TO OHRID VIA PRESPA
DAY 04 / WEDNESDAY
We leave Albania today (just for one night; don’t panic), to visit our second UNESCO city, Ohrid, in Macedonia. To reach it we travel the scenic route, rather than through the depressing concrete sprawl of Pogradec. Our route will take us to Lake Prespa, where we’ll stop for lunch and a boat ride to mysterious Snake Island, before crossing the border. Once in Macedonia we’ll climb up and over the Galichica Pass to reach Ohrid. The views from here are superb – the English painter Edward Lear made repeated and exhausting walks up here on his journey through the region in 1848. Then it’s down to UNESCO-protected Ohrid, after a brief detour to the Monastery of St Naum on the lake shore. We’ll end the day with a glass of excellent Macedonian wine by the lake.
Included Breakfast. Restaurant lunch (set menu). Boat trip to Snake Island on Lake Prespa. Standard 3* hotel accommodation.
OHRID TO ELBASAN
DAY 05 / THURSDAY
There’s plenty of time this morning to explore Ohrid. In the mid-afternoon we’ll hit the road again, and cross back into Albania on the western shore of the lake. From ther border it’s a twisty but scenic run to the historic city of Elbasan, where we’ll be staying in a hotel just inside the impressive walls of the fortress that surrounds the old town. After a stroll, and perhaps a drink, we’ll head to the best restaurant in town. Expect a jolly evening…
Included Breakfast. Supper (set menu). Standard 3* hotel accommodation.
ELBASAN TO TIRANA
DAY 06 / FRIDAY
Simply one of our favourite days of the tour. We’ll depart Elbasan at 09.00 sharp, and climp a sometimes precipitous mountain road up into the forests of Çermenika. This is Albania at its most wlld – the entire region is inaccessible by road car and several villages remain unreachable even by 4×4 (expect to see a fair amount of mules). We’ll rejoin asphalt in the afternoon, and then have a fast run into Tirana. In the evening, to celebrate our arrival in Albania’s lively little capital, we’ll head to one of our favourite restaurants for supper.
Included Breakfast. Picnic lunch. Supper (set menu). Standard 3* hotel accommodation.
DAY 07 / SATURDAY
After eight days on the road, we figure you’ll appreciate a day off! However, if you’d like a guided tour we can of course oblige. In the evening we’ll re-unite and eat at the excellent Restaurant Mullixhiu. Chef Bledar Kola trained at some of the world’s finest restaurants, including Noma in Copenhagen, and his inventive dishes are fast gaining international recognition.
Included Breakfast. Tasting menu at Restaurant Mullixhiu. Standard 3* hotel accommodation.
TIRANA TO BERAT
DAY 08 / SUNDAY
We’ll make a reasonably early start today, and be on the road for 09.00. Our route today will take us south through truly beautiful rural areas, till we reach the UNESCO World Heritage City of Berat around 15.30, which we’ll explore on foot during the afternoon and evening, culminating in supper at one of our favouruite restaurants, Koço’s. Koço himself is usually drunk but his wife and daughter hold things together in the kitchen and the food is excellent.
Included Breakfast. Picnic lunch. Supper (set menu). Standard 3* hotel accommodation.
BERAT TO GJIROKASTRA
DAY 09 / MONDAY
More awe-inspiring scenery today as we wind our way back south, following the route of the Osumi river. There’ll be a reasonably challenging stretch of dirt road along the way, but the last few kilometres are on blissfully smooth, brand-new asphalt. We’re going to make a day of the journey, in any case, as we have two nights to enjoy Gjirokastra which, like Berat, is a UNESCO World Heritage City. In the evening we’ll eat at Restuarant Kujtimi’s, which specialises in southern Albanian specialities.
Included Breakfast. Picnic lunch. Restaurant supper (set menu). Standard 3* hotel accommodation.
DAY 10 / TUESDAY
Two options today. If you’re feeling lazy, you can hang around the city (you’ll easily fill a day). If you want a bit more adventure, you can take a trip with us to Zagoria. This forgotten valley isn’t connected by any asphalt roads to the rest of Albania, and extends well into Greece (as you’ll notice from the Greek-language village signs). We’ll finish with a detour to the eery remains of Antigonea, the city built by King Pyrrhus of Pyrrhic Victory fame (the Romans trashed the place).
Included Breakfast. Standard 3* hotel accommodation.
GJIROKASTRA TO RIVIERA
DAY 11 / WEDNESDAY
Our last day – so we promise it’s a good one. We’ll take a dirt road west towards the Ionian Sea, emerging (in time for lunch) high above the Butrinti Lagoon. The views are pretty special. From here we’ll loop around to the UNESCO archaeological park at Butrint itself – hopefully just as the day trippers from Corfu are vacating the site! It’ll take a couple of hours to explore, then we can make the short drive into Saranda. After checking into our hotel, we’ll congregate at a nearby bar overlooking the port, enjoy a beer (or two) and then walk to the excellent Restaurant Demi for a farewell feast of seafood.
Included Breakfast. Restaurant supper (set menu). Standard 3* hotel accommodation.
DAY 12 / THURSDAY
We’ll deliver you to the terminal in time to get the morning ferry to Corfu! If you’re flying from Tirana, then of course you can hitch a lift with us back north, arriving in the early afternoon.
Albanian rural roads are famously bad, and often impassable for normal cars. Many of the most beautiful and interesting regions are unreachable without a good 4×4 vehicle, which is why since we started operating in 2014 we have used Land Rovers for our tours.
For 2019 we’re entering a new era – we have taken delivery of two brand-new UAZ-452 4×4 minivans, which we’ll be using for our Albania group tours. These iconic vehicles, nicknamed “Buhanka” (“loaf” in English), will be instantly recognisable to anyone who’s travelled in the wilder parts of the former Soviet Union.
Like the Land Rover Defender, the basic design of the Buhanka is ancient. However, the cars have been heavily updated over the years.
Our Buhankas are the Jubilee special edition, built to celebrate the line’s 60th anniversary (with a production run of just 452). As well as the fancy paint job, the interior is upgraded over the standard Buhanka, and most of the drivetrain components (axles and locking differential) have been brought from the renowned American manufacturer DANA.
The Buhankas are delivered from the factory with eight individual passenger seats, but we’ve removed two to create extra interior space. We’ve also fitted air-conditioning and and added an LPG fuel system to the 2.7-litre petrol engine, so on highways the car is supernaturally quiet and more eco-friendly.
On dirt roads, the Buhanka excels, with an off-road ride quality far superior to that of our old Land Rovers. And when the going gets seriously rough, the Buhankas just keep on going – their huge ground clearance and legendary traction prove unstoppable.
All in all, we think the Buhanka is the perfect vehicle for Albanian conditions.
And they look really cool, too!
Transport by 4×4 minivan; fluent English–speaking driver; fuel; private Single, Double or Twin en suite room in standard-level accommodation; all breakfasts; 7 x lunches; 9 x suppers; itinerary as described.
International flights; personal travel insurance, museum entrance fees; optional excursions; alcoholic beverages unless otherwise indicated; driver and guide tips; any taxes or government charges introduced after booking. Please read our booking conditions!
We’d estimate that a budget of around €200 per person for the 12 days will be more than enough.
Getting There: South Albania Tour Direct Flights 2019
Due to the shortage of low-cost flights in and out of Tirana, we’ve designed our 2019 South Albania Tour tour to start and end in Saranda, which is a short hop on the ferry from Corfu (and the airport in Corfu is just 3km from the ferry terminal). However, if you do have Tirana flights you can easily hitch a lift with us down to Saranda on the Saturday, and we’ll of course be driving back to Tirana at the end of the tour.
There are simply too many flights into and out of Corfu for us to list here. Please check Skyscanner.net for options, including services from smaller regional airports.
Getting Home: South Albania Tour Direct Flights 2019
We finish our 2019 South Albania Tour in Saranda, close to the ferry terminal, so you can take advantage of the numerous low-cost flights from Corfu. Again, there are too many flight options from Corfu for us to list here, so please check Skyscanner.net for options. We’ll also be driving back up to Tirana, arriving in the early afternoon, so can give you a lift there if you require!
Book With Confidence – We Offer Full Financial Protection
As a UK-registered company, we have to comply with tough consumer-protection legislation. That’s why we’re proud to be members of Protected Trust Services. When you pay for your South Albania Tour, your money will be held in a British HSBC trust account administered by the independent PTS trustees. We only receive payment once the tour is run, so in the unlikely event of our going bust or your not being satisfied with the tour, your money is safe. To read more about how the process works, please visit the PTS website.
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