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Authentic Balkans: Albania & Macedonia

MAY 21st – JUNE 5th, 2023

$3795 Double / $4450 Single

Five words to sum up both of these new destinations for Adventures with Sarah: Hidden, Ancient, Delicious, Hospitable and Authentic

Albania is where the Mediterranean meets the Balkans. A dramatic circus of mountains, shores, people and colors that will delight any eye, mouth, spirit, body or lens that is curious and eager to explore. Albania is packed between the Greeks, the Romans and the Slavs, ruled by Ottomans and Stalinists, a land where the sun and the hospitality rank among local Gods, a land of drama, a land of joy. It’s a land more for travelers than conventional tourists. 

Macedonia could easily claim to be The Balkans as They Once Were. This former republic in Yugoslavia has many nearby slavs and Yugoslav neighbors looking at it with fondness for a more simpler, authentic version of the Balkan way of life.

Both countries are at a crossroads of ancient cultures and faiths. Visible ruins, remains and imprints of Byzantine, Classical & Hellenistic Greek and Roman times can be found as well as felt here. A myriad of faiths and believers of Jewish, Orthodox, Catholic, Sunni and the Bektashi Order are found in all corners. Every day you can encounter either hill towns built entirely of stone, covered bazaars, archaeological sites, homemade rakija, or traces of communist past (and sometimes all in one spot). This tour combines stunning natural beauty, home-cooked culinary delights and towns & cities covered in layers of history, legends and myths. The best thing is that mass tourism has yet to come to this corner of Europe. Guests can feel like they have many places all to themselves.

Tour will be lead by our local Albanian and Macedonian guides in their respective country. Maximum group size of 12.

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Day One

Overnight: Lezhe, Albania

A Taste of Traditional Albania

Transfer from Tirana (for guests coming in a few days early) or at Tirana airport to the northern Lezhe region. Delve into the Albanian culinary world with a visit to winery run by two brothers who produce three autochthonous varietals along with their own olive oil (also indigenous to this region). Then a special welcome dinner at beautifully situated agroturism in the countryside where everything on the table is 0 kilometers.

Day Two

Overnight: Berat, Albania

Uncovering Layers of History

After breakfast we depart for the ancient city of Kruja, which was a stronghold of Skanderbeg. This national hero of Albania successfully fought off the Ottomans for 25 years in the 15th century. Lunch at Bunker Farm, which used to be a military garrison until the end of communism. Dining with local products in an idyllic atmosphere. They use bunkers for farming necessities here, making wine and rakia in them and also shelter the goats which provide the cheese.

Visit to the antique coastal city of Durres, once upon a time a “paytoll” station to enter the famous Via Egnatia, an important Roman road connecting the eastern and western sides of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean and the Balkans. Early evening arrival into hill town of Berat, known as the town of a thousand windows.

Day Three

Overnight: Berat, Albania

Berat – Town of 1000 Windows

The time has come for us to be lazy. Late breakfast followed by visits of the lower part of the town. Local style meal and then a bit of free time to relax or have a siesta (as the locals do). Wines were consumed in this part of the World many many centuries ago, so the ones that are eager to learn about local wines, will not be deluded. Our friends at Çobo Winery, manage to surprise with their whites and reds, their spirits and rakia but also with their passion and knowledge. Indigenous varietals include Shesh I Zi (red), Shesh I Bardhë (white) and Pulës, which they make a sparkling called Shendevere. We’ll also enjoy olive oil and some local cheeses to add more taste to our palate experience

Day Four

Overnight: Qeparo, Albania

Along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas

Albania’s coast is bathed by both the Adriatic and the Ionian. The channel of Otranto stands between the two and creates a natural connection between the mountains of Vlora and the shores of Puglia on the opposite side of the sea. Experience a traditional shepherd meal for lunch with views on the Bay of Vlora. We’ll cross the Pass of Ceasar at 1000 meters to witness eventually one of the iconic views of Albania, the shores of the Ionian sea, the Acroceraunian Mountains (the Mountains of Thunders) and the Island of Corfu in front. Not easy to resist to so much beauty. 

Ali Pasha was an Albanian born rebel in the 18th century. Because of wisdom and ferocity combined, he managed to climb the steps of Ottoman power and luxury. He build the castle of Vasiliqia (that we visit in Porto Palermo) as a gift to his young beautiful wife but what’s more true, as a little element in the fortification of the shores all around the Island of Corfu and the entrance in the Adriatic Sea. Overnight right on the beach in Qeparo’s small family owned Hotel Riviera with home cooked dinner. 

Day Five

Overnight: Gjirokaster, Albania

Beautiful Combination of Nature and History

We continue towards the south and will reach the most beautiful combination of nature and history that Albania could hope for: the Archaeological and Natural Park of Butrint (UNESCO). All sorts of ruins, plants, amphibians and birds make this place quite unique and really pleasant to visit. We will go along the city walls and talk about the many stories that give life to the site and than will drive to nearby Ksamil for a great meal of sea fruit, locally farmed mussels and fruits. 

After lunch we get on the way to Gjirokaster but before entering the other UNESCO surprise of this trip, we will stop for refreshing in the springs of the Blue Eye and a quick visit of some Albanian Stalinist Bunkers (no way you would go to Paris and not see at least from the distance the Tour Eiffel – well that’s how it would be to go to Albania and not visit a Bunker.) 

Late afternoon arrival into Gjirokastra, one of Albania’s two UNESCO World Heritage ‘cities’. It’s a lovely place, with cobbled streets and beautiful old stone houses, many of true Ottoman style. It’s the very proud birthplace of both Enver Hoxha (infamous) and the (famous) writer Ismail Kadare. Enjoy a delicious traditional meal in the romantic atmosphere of the “stone town” and its wonderfully preserved Ottoman era homes.

Day Six

Overnight: Gjirokaster, Albania

Gjirokaster, The Enchanting Stone City

This is the most unusual town in Albania (and maybe in the region). It is inhabited by fairies and witches, by towers and ruins, by pride and decadence, by geniuses and dictators as both Ismail Kadare the writer and Enver Hoxha the dictator were born in this town in the first part of the 20th century.

We will explore the haunted routes that climb up the Wide Mountain, will visit the Castle and its former prison and Weapon Museum, will talk about the Chronicle in Stone, Pyrrus of Epirus, Ali Pasha of Tepelene, Lord Byron, Enver Hoxha and so many more. This is very fertile land for history and imagination. We will let you enjoy some time alone in the small roads of it and will invite you to have dinner in one of the small tavernas where our ambition is to surprise you with local delicacies you have yet to try.

Day Seven

Overnight: Korçë, Albania

Mountain roads and off the beaten path villages

Gear up for one of the most spectacular drives in the region. We will go from one valley to another, will cross mountains and Natural Parks, visit small forgotten towns, see war monuments, the dramatic Pindus mountains (nowadays being the border between Albania and Greece) and taste amazing food and hospitality in small family restaurants. After 440 curves or so, we will reach the plateau of Korçë. It’s one of the romantic gateways of Southern Albania, a station in the commercial routes between Thessaloniki and Durres or the Aegean and the Adriatic. It has developed into a reputation of dolce vita lifestyle, serenades, great food and lovely local beers. We will be overnighting in the small and lovely downtown of Korca, just in time to enjoy the evening xhiro (post siesta promenade), a tradition inherited from the deep ages until nowadays. Dinner at converted Han, a history inn or caravanserai from the 17th century, located next to the city’s Old Bazaar.

Day Eight

Overnight: Ohrid, North Macedonia

Lake Ohrid

Transfer to the Macedonian border at Lake Ohrid to meet our local guide, Visit the reconstruction of a unique prehistoric settlement on water from the Bronze Age – Bay of Bones. We continue to drive to the extraordinary monument of nature – lake springs and the monastery of St. Naum from the 9th century. Ohrid trout are on the menu for today’s lunch. Transfer by boat to ancient town of Ohrid on the lake.

Day Nine

overnight: Ohrid, North Macedonia

Jerusalem of the Balkans

Ohrid is a wealth of historic sites and religious monuments to discover. The town is said to have once been home to 365 churches, one for each day of the year, earning it the nickname ‘the Macedonian Jerusalem’. Today we start with an exploration of the town’s streets and churches, maybe picking up a bargain or two in the vibrant Old Bazaar, or the ancient Tsar Samoil’s Fortress, which stands on the top of Ohrid Hill and looks across the town, along with a 2000-year-old Macedonian-Roman theatre that was uncovered near its upper gate. We finish at St. John of Kaneo church, which sits on a rocky outcrop overlooking the lake, one of the most popular in Macedonia. Afternoon at leisure time.

Day Ten

overnight: Dihovo village, North Macedonia

Village Life and Slow Food

Going very local today at a village to get a glimpse of Balkan life the way it used to be. Locals serve up different specialties from traditional Macedonian cuisine all that combined with homemade wine and traditional alcoholic drink, rakia. The bread and some of the pies come directly from an old furnace, so you will be able to observe the whole backing process. Optional short donkey safari around the village, exploring the beautiful nature that surrounds the village. After an hour drive we arrive into a different village with our guest house for next two nights. The owner is a member of the Slow Food organization for healthy food and produces home-made wine, brandy, and beer as well as home-made organic food. His neighbor makes honey and we’ll go for a short walk to taste it before sitting down for a fantastic dinner.

Day 11

overnight: Dihovo village, North Macedonia

Glimpse into Macedonia’s ancient and recent past

Tour the ancient town and archaeological site of Heraclea Linkestis, founded by Philip II of Macedonia in the fourth century BC. Then we explore one of the most important cities of the Balkans in 19th and early 20th century, Bitola, known as the city of consuls. Enjoy a coffee at one of the many cafes lined up alongside consulates and embassies before shopping in the stalls of the Old Bazaar. Later afternoon back at Villa Dihovo for a hands on cooking class with our homemade dinner to follow.

Day 12

overnight: Tikves wine region, North Macedonia

Discovering Macedonian Wines

Head to Macedonia’s main wine growing region of Tikveš. Visit the biggest archaeological site in Macedonia, Stobi with remains of the oldest synagogue in Europe, from the 1st century A.D. Delve into Macedonian wines at Stobi winery. Tour, wine tasting and lunch here. Discover the bold red Vranec as well as the obscure, white varietal of Rkatsiteli which hails from the Caucasus. Dinner at winery/hotel Popova Kula which is the only winery which produces the indigenous Stanushina grape.

Day 13

overnight: Tikves wine region, North Macedonia

The Art of Macedonian Ajvar

All day around the southeastern corner of the country to taste, discover and learn about the quintessential dish of Ajvar. Meet local families and farmers growing peppers, melons, watermelons and others fruits and vegetables. See their everyday’s activities in the fields and the agricultural greenhouses. Home-hosted lunch in one of the villages. Cool off at waterfalls hidden in a forest of beech trees.

Day 14

overnight: Skopje, North Macedonia

Hidden Corners of Macedonia

Visit Kratovo, a small medieval town founded in the middle of a once-volcano crater. Have a guided walking tour around the town, crossing many medieval bridges and towers. Lunch with a local family making a unique dish, so-called homemade crushed salt, made of salt, peppers, rosemary, basil, peppermint, wild mint, and thyme. Our host will give us a goodbye Macedonian coffee and wild fig jam. Late afternoon arrival into Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. Craft beers at a pub in the Turkish or Stara Čaršija part of the city.

DAY 15

overnight: Skopje, North Macedonia

Old and New Sides of Skopje

Walking tour from the centuries-old Kale – Skopje fortress. We will continue to the Old Turkish Bazaar, mingling with the locals, meeting different cultures and religions, and old forgotten crafts. After that, we can visit the Museum of Macedonian struggle or the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia. We will cross the Stone Bridge, the landmark of the city, and admire the biggest monument and fountain of Alexander the Great in the world. Leisure time in Skopje in the afternoon. Dinner at Matka Canyon OR dinner in Carsija area OR dinner in Kamnik Winery. 

Price: $3795 (Air not included). Single Supplement is $655. We welcome singles and can try to pair you with another single to room with, but the single supplement will be required if we can’t.

Tour price includes 15 nights’ accommodation, all breakfasts, 20 meals, wine tastings and other degustations per itinerary, cooking class, all entrance fees per itinerary and transportation within the tour. Tips for local guides not included.

Tour begins at 2pm in Tirana, Albania, either at your hotel or airport (TIA).

Tour ends in Skopje, North Macedonia. Airport, Skopje (SKP). We can arrange transfers for an additional fee.