Albania - Land of the Eagles
Albania is like no other country in Europe – still very much off the mainstream tourist trail. This is a place where pristine ruins still stand in splendid isolation. In Classical times, the Greeks and Romans built cities overlooking the sparkling waters of the Ionian sea; centuries later, Byzantine Christians and Ottoman Turks fought over dramatic mountain strongholds.
Oliver Gilkes has directed excavations in Albania for over 20 years. He offers his encyclopedic knowledge of Albanian archaeology and culture - and is able to secure privileged access to sites. Discover Albania’s past and present, from Illyrian strongholds and Greek colonies to communist bunkers.
- Two thousand years of untouched archaeological heritage – from Classical cities to Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques
- Special access to the Tirana Archaeological Museum and Zekate House, Ottoman Mansion in Gjirokastra, high in the mountains
- Includes a full day at the World Heritage Site of Butrint, where Guide Lecturer Oliver Gilkes directed excavations for many years
- Historic Churches
- Ancient Greek
- Special Access
- Low Single Supplement
- All Inclusive
Today we arrive in Tirana, Albania's bustling capital, and transfer to our hotel in the heart of the city.
Our adventures in Albania begin with a full day exploring Tirana. We visit the National Historical Museum, the country's largest museum, where impressive collections include the Pavilion of Antiquity, an ancient treasure trove containing Illyrian coins and splendid mosaics.
Our next stop is the ornate 18th century Ethem Bey Mosque, which was closed under communist rule. It reopened without permission in 1991, though despite fears from local worshippers, the police did not intervene to close it again.
We continue to the state-owned National Gallery, which houses over 5,000 works, including a permanent exhibition of Socialist Realist art.
The biggest highlight of the day, however, has to be our visit to the city's extensive Archaeological Museum. Exhibiting a brilliant variety of artefacts from the Stone Age onwards, our group enjoys exclusive, private access.
We leave the city limits this morning and drive to the magical site of Apollonia, which was founded by the Corinthians in 588 BC and is one of the largest ancient cities on the Adriatic. Today its excavations lie romantically surrounded by olive and oak trees, its grassy banks hinting at what may still be buried underneath.
It would be easy to spend a whole day at Apollonia, imagining the rows of its theatre filled with spectators, its harbour busy with the sounds of commerce. But there is still much more to see... We spend our afternoon driving along the beautiful Ionian coast, skirting the Mountains of Thunder before reaching our hotel in the sea-side town of Saranda.
We enjoy a whole day at Butrint today, in order to admire Albania’s best-known archaeological site to the full. Our Guide Lecturer, Oliver Gilkes, has directed excavations at Butrint for many years, meaning we are all set for an unparalleled insider tour.
Butrint is one of the most striking archaeological destinations in the Mediterranean: an outstanding setting on the shores of the Ionian Sea, within sight of the island of Corfu. As we walk around its many key locations, we chart the ancient city's rise and fall through the centuries – from the Bronze Age to the Napoleonic Wars.
After a delicious breakfast we journey over scenic peaks to the town of Gjirokastra, an astoundingly well-preserved Ottoman mountain stronghold, set dramatically against limestone summits. We visit the striking medieval fortress which dominates the town, and which has existed in various incarnations since the 12th century.
We also enjoy exclusive access to the late Ottoman mansion of Zekate House. Built in 1812, Zekate is widely considered to be one of the grandest examples of its kind. An amazing insight into the upper echelons of Ottoman life.
Albania continues to wow us with its rugged, ever changing landscapes as we journey north to the little-known ruins of Byllis, which date back as far as the 4th century BC. According to legend, this remote city was founded by warriors returning from the Trojan wars, led by the son of Achilles. Archaeologists have yet to find evidence of Homeric heroes here – these days shepherds are far more in evidence – but they have uncovered a Hellenistic era stadium, theatre and fortifications.
Following this we continue to the gorgeous mountain town of Berat, in preparation for our sightseeing here tomorrow.
This morning we shift from Classical to Medieval, thanks to the magical town of Berat, otherwise known as the “town of a thousand windows” due to its numerous Ottoman houses. The lower city, situated by the riverside, was once the exclusive preserve of Muslim inhabitants, while, by agreement, the Christians held the citadel. There is a wealth of history here, with Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques to visit, as well as the Onufri Museum, with its spectacular collection of 16th century religious artwork.
We bid farewell to Berat this morning and drive to Durres, Albania’s chief port and the starting point of the Via Egnatia, a Roman road that once led all the way down to ancient Constantinople. We visit the city's 2nd century amphitheatre, the largest in the Balkans, as well as sections of its mighty 5th century walls.
This afternoon we continue to Kruja, the last bastion of Christianity against the Ottoman Turks and now an interesting town set in picturesque countryside. Here we visit the Skanderbeg Museum, to learn about Albania's national hero, and wander through the delightful Ottoman bazaar. An eclectic last day to truly represent the many ages and influences of Albania.
This morning we say “good bye”, or “mirupafshim”, and transfer to Tirana airport for our onward journeys home.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in program; tips included
- Field Notes
3 nights in a 4* hotel in Tirana
2 nights in a comfortable hotel in the seaside town of Saranda
1 night in Gjirokastra with panoramic views from the restaurant and bar
2 nights in 2 charming hotels in Berat
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