Arrival in Tirana International Airport. Meet with our representative and transfer to the hotel. We will have a walking tour of the main sights of Tirana, such as the Mosque of Ethem Bey and the Clock Tower, Scanderbeg square, that is the national hero of Albania, the boulevard etc.
Welcome dinner at a traditional restaurant.
In the morning we will visit “BUNK’ART”, the museum exhibition, an anti nuclear bunker of the communist dictatorship, which is located in a military zone. Then we will visit the National Historical Museum, the biggest Albanian museum institution.
Drive to Durres where to visit the Amphitheater situated in the middle of the modern city in an inhabited area, and the Archaeological museum rich in arte facts found in the city.
After the visits drive to Berat UNESCO city to overnight.
Morning departure from Berat to the ancient city of Apollonia, founded in 558 BC by settlers from Corfu and Corinth. It is a little excavated archaeological site with great potential. This was a very important learning center at the height of the Roman empire, with Octavian himself having finished his studies here. We will tour the library of this Roman site and view the beautiful Odeon, along with a visit to the Old Monastery nearby which serves as an Archaeological Museum.
We will stop for lunch at a traditional restaurant after the tour of Apollonia.
Proceed to Vlora, where important events in the struggles for Albanian freedom and independence have taken place.
We shall have a brief stop here for refreshments before continuing on a pleasant drive along the Albanian Riviera passing quaint small coastal villages en-route to Saranda. We will have dinner and a walk in the promenade. It is a pleasant walk passing terraced cafes and shops along the beach front.
This morning, a short walking tour. In the town center, the ancient ruins are thought to be one of the earliest Jewish Synagogues in Albania, approximately dating to the 4th century AD. You will have some independent time to browse if you wish.
This afternoon we visit the World Heritage site of Butrint.
Butrint is Albania’s most important archaeological site and one of the most important sites in the Mediterranean. Evidence here provides proof of continuous inhabitation for thousands of years, forming layers upon layers of civilizations.
We return to Saranda and have dinner at the fabulous Lekursi Castle, on a hill above town, where the Island of Corfu and the Bay of Saranda can be admired.
Overnight in Saranda.
After breakfast we depart to Gjirokastra. We may stop for refreshments at the “Blue Eye” an underwater spring and lovely spot. It is a few minutes drive off the main road.
Gjirokastra, the birthplace of the former iron-fisted dictator of Albania, Enver Hoxha, is a museum city and UNESCO heritage site. We visit the pre-Ottoman citadel that houses a weapons exhibit.
Afterwards, free to stroll around town, where sights include a museum and a former political prison. Many of the buildings retain their original wood and stonework.
Overnight will be in one of the characteristic houses of Gjirokastra. Dinner in a traditional restaurant.
After breakfast we drive through breathtaking scenery in the mountainous areas of Leskovik and Kolonja, stopping in Permet for an early lunch. On arrival in Korca, check into hotel. Some free time to refresh. We will visit the Museum of Medieval Arts. Afterwards, dinner at a traditional restaurant.
In the morning we drive to Voskopoja, one of the most important towns in the European part of the Ottoman empire during the beginning of the 18th century. Testament to this are the first printing house in the Balkans in 1720, the Academia of Voskopoja founded in 1744, the famous Basilicas, and the painted house walls by well-known Albanian painters including David Selenica and the Zeografi brothers. This is a quiet small town and we have a brief walk visiting a few monuments and churches with frescoes that have been restored. One of the best churches is a 5 minute drive above the town and then a short uphill walk to reach it. For those who do not care to walk uphill, there is an outdoor café where you can wait and enjoy refreshments, while the rest of the group continues up.
Afterwards drive to Pogradec on the southern shores of lake Ohrid. We can have a refreshments break here at a lovely lakeside café, and take in the views; and/or have a brief walk on the promenade. Then drive to the small picturesque village of Tushemisht and enjoy lunch of traditional special Ohrid Trout (Koran) at a local restaurant.
After lunch, it’s a five minute drive to the border with Macedonia. We pass Drilon, a place of natural beauty which the Albanian dictator used for relaxation and fishing. Five minutes after crossing into Macedonia, we arrive at Sveti Naum and visit the old monastery. The monastery complex St. Naum (dated from 9th century), is situated on a rock right above the lake, a monument of and devoted to the miracle worker St Nahum.
Afterwards, continue drive, to the town of Ohrid, enjoying panoramic views of Lake Ohrid, Galicica National Park, fishing villages stretching along the lake`s coast: Pestani, Trpejca, Lubanista seeing their typical rural architecture.
Check in to our hotel facing the lake. Dinner with traditional music at our hotel restaurant.
At 695m above sea level, the town of Ohrid is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe, built mainly between the 7th and 19th centuries. The town was known in prehistoric and classical times under the name of Lychnidos – the City of Lights. Slavs gave it the name of Arida in 10th century, and it became a major center of culture and art for this area. It has the oldest Slav monastery (St Pantelejmon) and more than 800 Byzantine-style icons dating from the 11th to the end of the 14th century. After those of
the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow, this is considered to be the most important collection of icons in the world. This is the cradle of Slavic written language and literature. The Cyrillic Alphabet was created here by brothers Cyril and Methodius and then spread all over the Slavic world.
After breakfast, we begin our tour around the old town-museum of Ohrid, (UNESCO site) also known as “City of 365 Churches.” We will stroll along the old narrow streets where, at every 100 meters, you can come across a significant historical sites. Out of endless number of monuments and churches, we will visit the most important ones.
– The museum complex in the houses of Robev family, Uranija and Hristo Uzunov is representative of the town architecture dating from 19th century. House of Robev is a work of art dating from 1863 and houses a significant collection of exhibits from the Ohrid area and prehistory, the antique period and the Middle Ages.
– St. Sophia, the cathedral church of the Ohrid Episcopate, with its outstanding architectural construction and invaluable frescoes dating from the 11th and 14th centuries. It was the seat of the Archbishop.
– The Antique Theatre – the oldest antique theatre in Macedonia, built for – among other things – gladiatorial combats, has been reconstructed to house theatrical performances and concerts.
– Icon Gallery – painted in the period from 11th until 19th century; one of the most valuable museums of icons in the world.
– Sv. Bogorodica Perivleptos (St. Mary), the Church of the Holy Mother of God Perivleptos dating from 1295, with its remarkable architecture and frescoes is one of the best known monuments of its kind not only in Macedonia, but also worldwide.
– Plaosnik – an early Christian complex and the spiritual and cultural source of Lychnidos (later known as Ohrid), preserved, restored and rebuilt as St. Panteleimon church with exposed architectural remains- parts of the original monastic complex from the period of St. Clement, as well as before and after him. In 9th century, St. Clement founded the first Slavonic University, the cradle of Slavonic literacy, culture and its clergy. Dominating the Old Town, this classic Orthodox Byzantine church, popularly called St. Clement, demonstrates the link between Byzantine and Italian Renaissance art.
– Ohrid Fortress, the millennium and indestructible foundation of Lychnidos and Ohrid, built in 10th century.
– The church of St. Jovan Kaneo from 13th century. Located just above a small fishing settlement on a cliff rising up from Ohrid Lake, stands one of the most magnificent
churches in all of Macedonia. Built in honor of St. John the Theologian, St. Kaneo was consecrated at the end of the 13th century. Its exterior is decorated with ceramic sculptures and stone carvings. Though the fresco painters are unknown, the fragments that have been preserved are of exceptional quality. The Communion of the Apostles and the portraits of St. Clement, St. Erasmus and Constantine Kavasilas especially stand out. An extraordinarily unique construction, built from a combination of Byzantine and Armenian architectural styles, St. Kaneo is indeed one of the most beautiful churches in Macedonia and in the whole Balkan region. We view it from the outside only. This is the most impressive part.
From here we take a water taxi return to the main city square. There will be a lunch break some place during the walk.
This afternoon enjoy some independent time to explore the town on your own. You may like to stroll through the Ohrid Bazaar, visiting the old crafts workshops for pearl making; visit the National Museum or the Ethnological Museum.
Morning departure traveling via Mavrovo with opportunity of simultaneous viewing of Ilinka and Bistra Mountains and a panoramic view of the Mavrovo National Park.
After a 1.5 hr drive, we arrive at the monastery complex of St. Jovan Bigorski, deeply embedded in the rocks, surrounded by the mountain Bistra, lying above sea level of 740 meters. Sv. Jovan Bigorski (St. John Bigorski) Monastery is dedicated to Sv. Jovan Krstitel (Saint John the Baptist). It is located on the road between Gostivar and Debar, in the beautiful valley of the Radika River among the villages of Rostushe, Velebrdo, Bitushe and Trebishta. The monastery complex is comprised of the monastery church, the ossuary located next to the church, the seymen defense tower, the monastery mansions complex and a newly-built guest mansion. According to the monastery files, the Monarch Jovan began building it in the year of 1020. The monastery was attacked and damaged by the Turks in the 16th century so that only a small part of the church remained. The rebuilding of the monastery started in year of 1743 by the Jermonarch Llarion who was the first Igumen (head of monastery, similar to abbot) at the Bigorski Monastery.
The monastery is known for its iconostasis, the most beautiful one in Macedonia. The extraordinary tiny woodcarving was created by Petre Filipov – Garkata from the village of Gari, his brother Marko, Makrarij Frckovski from the village of Galicnik and Avram Dicov with his sons Vasil and Filip from the village Osoj, in the period from 1829 to 1835. The iconostasis is divided into six horizontal belts. The first one’s base is comprised of rectangular fields on which there are ornaments of flora and fauna. The second belt, where throne (big and non-movable) icons are placed, finishes with a figure
of an eagle with spread wings. The third belt is divided into three smaller horizontal compartments where symmetrically distributed angels, grapes and vineyard sprouts are presented. There are two rows of icons – festive (icons that are being taken out for festivities) and icons with presentation of angels above them. In the central part there is the large cross with the Crucifixion of Christ. From both sides of the cross there are figures of a dragon from whose mouth the icons of St. Jovan and Holy Mother of God are lifted. The presentation of the dancer Salome is particularly interesting; she is dressed in a traditional Miyak costume.
The Icon of Sv. Jovan Bigorski, believed to have a mysterious power, was found floating over Radika River by the monarch Jovan in the year of 1020, on the same place where the monastery was later built. In the XVIth century. Under the Turkish ruler Selim II, Turks burned the monastery and the Icon mysteriously disappeared. It returned later, unharmed, to the same place. The Icon of Sv. Jovan Bigorski was not protected for 35 years and finally in the year of 1885 was framed in silver. Jovan Krstitel (John the Baptist) is represented in the Icon as a three- handed saint. It is believed that the third hand is blessed and helps families who can’t have children. Twenty-one monks still reside here today.
Lunch at the café of Sv. Jovan Bigorski or en-route to Skopje.
Arrival in Skopje around where we have dinner and overnight.
Skopje is not only the capital but also the largest city in the Republic of Macedonia. It is located in a valley, on both sides of River Vardar and traces back to over 2000 years of history when it was known as Skupi.
This morning, a walking tour of Skopje. The old part of the town is called “Charshi.” Here the Stone Bridge – a symbol of Skopje built by Turks in 15th century, is located. The Church St. Spas, (dating from 1348 and admired for its marvelous iconostas from 17th century), the Museum of Macedonia, the Monastery St. Panteleimon from 1516, the Old Bazaar, Fortress Kale with walls dating back from the 6th century (currently closed indefinitely), Mustapha Pasha Mosque (Ottoman architecture erected in 1492 with the earliest wall paintings), Daut Pasa Bath (Islamic civil architecture from the 15th century).
After lunch. Enjoy walking about the old town aimlessly, browsing/shopping and soak up the ambiance relaxing at one of the outdoor cafes. Overnight in Skopje.
Morning we drive north crossing the border to Prizren. We will meet our Kosovo guide at the border crossing and shall stop for quick refreshments before continuing about 30 minutes into the town. Prizren was established at a convenient locality as an important trading town, through which passed old roads towards the Adriatic coast and the interior of the Balkan peninsula. Graves and artifacts of Illyrian Dardans were found in Prizren’s vincity, which shows that the area of Prizren has been inhabited since ancient times. It was for a while the center of the Serbian Empire. During the Byzantine rule, Prizren was known as Prizdrian. The Ottomans occupied Prizren on June 21, 1455, and that is when the oriental urban development of Prizren began. From all the cities of Kosovo, Prizren has best preserved the architectural physiognomy of the past.
The Bajrakli Gazi Mehmet Pasha’s mosque is the oldest monument of Islamic art in Prizren. The inscription above the entrance states it was built in 1561. This mosque has a square base and numerous windows, while the main veneration niche (mihrab) and the pulpit (mimber) are made of marble. A hexagonal mausoleum (medresa) has been built in the courtyard of the Mosque which Mehmet Pasha earmarked as his grave. Mehmet Pasha also built a Turkish Bath from cut stone and large bricks in harmonious proportions. One of the oldest standing structures in Prizren is the Sh’nm’ria Levishka Church. Built originally as a Roman Catholic Church and one of the primary churches of the Catholics of the region, Levishka was later converted to an Eastern Orthodox Church.
In the center of the town, on the bank of river Bistrica, stands the house in which in 1878, the League of Prizren was organized. It was an assembly of representatives of all Albanian inhabited regions that demanded autonomy from the Ottoman Empire. This event was the starting point of the Albanian liberation movement that eventually led to the declaration of the independence of Albania in 1912. The house archives many of the documents relating to the League of Prizren.
Continue to Pec/Peja. Lunch en-route and then visit Monastery Visoki Decani, UNESCO listed in 2006 – the church devoted to Christ the Pantocrator at Decani Monastery and burial church of Serbian King Stefan Uros Nemanja. Building started here in 1327 and lasted 8 years and knowledgeable eyes will note the beautiful mason and fresco works. King Stefan Decanski initiated its building, while his son, the famous Emperor Stefan Dušan completed the work of his father in the 13th century. Decani church boasts the richest and best-preserved sculpture in the Romanesque-Gothic style, a lavish portal and decorative windows. The building bears witness to the regal origins of the Nemanji’s and the rulers’ families of the founders. This monastery is exceptional due to
its treasury of precious old icons and other objects of superb value. Monks have been living here continuously since the 14th century. There are currently about 22 monks living here at this time.
After our visit, it is about 10 km to the hotel. Check in and some personal time before dinner.
In the morning we drive to Tirana.