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Day 1: Arrival in Tirana, Albania
You will be met on arrival at the airport in Tirana and transferred to the hotel. In the evening we meet for our welcome dinner and orientation. Overnight in Tirana.
Day 2: Tour of Tirana
Today is a full day of city sightseeing in Tirana, the capital of Albania. Modern Tirana was founded as an Ottoman town in 1614. Tirana became Albania's capital city in 1920 and has a population of over 800,000 including the new quarters around the city. The Tirana River runs through the city which also has four artificial lakes.
Day 3: Sites of Kruja & Shkodra
After breakfast, we drive to Kruja, where we visit the Old Castle and the Museum of Skanderbeg and the Old Bazaar. We make our way to Shkodra, stopping enroute to explore Mother Teresa's Memorial statue.
Day 4: To Budva and Kotor (Montenegro)
We enjoy a scenic drive to a very secluded part of the Gulf of Kotor. Enroute to Budva, we have a photo stop at stunning Sveti Stefan Island. In Budva, we explore the Medieval Castle. In Kotor, we will visit the Old Town which has a great number of monuments of medieval architecture: churches, cathedrals, palaces, and museums. Its beauty is complemented by the multitude of narrow streets, squares, and markets. The old town of Kotor stands out by the great number of stylish gates, palaces and its many stairs. Today, old Kotor is considered to be the best-preserved medieval urban entity in the Mediterranean. After an early dinner, we enjoy a short drive along the bay of Boka Kotar. We will see Iirian ruins in Risan Town and have an opportunity to take pictures from a distance of the Church on the island. Overnight in Kotor.
Day 5: Walking tour of Old Kotor
This morning we enjoy a walking tour of Old Kotor. The remainder of the day is yours to explore. You will have the option of remaining with your tour leader for a leisurely lunch followed by a spontaneous afternoon, or set out to explore on your own adventure. Overnight in Kotor.
Day 6: Scenic drive, to Durres (Albania)
We enjoy a scenic drive inland, through beautiful mountain landscape. We stop in Cetinje where we visit the Kings Court Museum, then return to Albania through Podgorica and the Bozaj/ Hani Hotit border. We arrive at the second largest city in Albania, Durres, which sits on the Adriatic Sea. Durres is the most important link to Western Europe due to its port and its proximity to the Italian port cities, notably Bari, to which daily ferries run. Overnight in Durres.
Day 7: Roman Amphitheater, to Berat (UNESCO)
This morning, we visit the Roman amphitheater and archaeological museum. we drive to Berat, a UNESCO world heritage site,which lies on the right bank of the river Osum, a short distance from the point where it is joined by the Molisht (Velabisht) river. It has a wealth of beautiful buildings of high architectural and historical interest. Berat is known to Albanians as "The City of a Thousand Windows" or The City of Two Thousand Steps. It was proclaimed a 'Museum City' by the dictator Enver Hoxha in June 1961. During the afternoon, we will have the option of a stroll across the 16th Century bridge, enjoy a visit to either the Ethnographic museum, the King's Mosque, the Bachelor Mosque or the Helvetian Tekke, which was built in 1782. Overnight in Berat.
Day 8: Ancient Apolonia, Vlora, Albanian Riviera, to Saranda
After breakfast we drive to Fieri, a city known for the nearby oil, gas and bitumen deposits. The presence of asphalt and burning emmisions of natural gas in the vicinity was recorded as early as the 1st century AD. Enroute, we visit the Ardenica Monastery, an Eastern Orthodox monument, which was started in 1282. The monastery has Byzantine-orthodox architecture and includes the Saint Mary Church, the chapel of the Saint Trinity, a mill, and a barn. Next we visit the ancient Apolonia Archaeological site, an important port along the route between Rome and Byzantium. We continue on to Vlora, where we visit Independence House and a short photo stop at Muradie Mosque. Vlora is the second largest port city in Albania, where the Albanian Declaration of Independence was proclaimed on November 28, 1912. The city was for a short time the capital of Albania. After lunch at a local restaurant, we proceed to Saranda along the mountain roads of the Albanian Riviera, enjoying the beautiful scenery and fantastic landscapes of Llogara National park and Ionian Coastline. On the way we visit the fortress of Ali Pasha of Ioanina at Porto Palermo bay. We arrive in Saranda late in the evening. Overnight in Saranda.
Day 9: To Corfu (Greece)
We take an early morning ferry to the island of Corfu. After arriving on Corfu, we drive to Paleokastris to see the local monastery, with commanding views of the area. We drive to historic Corfu city through the scenic Ropa Valley. Our drive will take us along the city walls towards the sea, with a stop on the way at the New Fortress. We will also visit the old Jewish Quarter. Overnight in Corfu.
Day 10: Corfu , To Saranda (Albania)
For those wanting a little bit of their own time to explore, or relax and maybe even dip your feet in the sea, this morning is the perfect time and place to do so. After lunch, we return to Saranda and enjoy sunset at Phoenice ruinfield and dinner at a hilltop restaurant. Overnight in Saranda.
Day 11: To Gjirokastra
After breakfast, we visit the Butrinti archaeological site then proceed to Ksamili beach for lunch. This afternoon we drive to Gjirokastra with a stop at "Blue Eye" springs. The gorgeous clear blue water of the river bubbles forth from a stunning pool which is more than 50 meters deep. Divers have descended to fifty meters, but it is still unclear what the actual depth of the karst hole is. Overnight in Gjirokastra.
Day 12: Ottoman Town of Gjirokastra (UNESCO)
After breakfast, we explore Gjirokastra, the birthplace of former iron-fisted dictator of Albania, Enver Hoxha. This old town is inscribed on the World Heritage List as "a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, built by farmers of large estate..." Gjirokastra is situated in a valley between the Gjere mountains and the Drino River. The city is overlooked by the Gjirokastra Castle which includes a pre-Ottoman citadel with a weapons museum and former political prison. After a stroll around town, where many of the buildings retain their original wood and stone work, we visit the Ethnographic museum, housed in the building in which Enver Hoxha was born. The rest of the afternoon is yours to explore this incredible medieval town! Overnight in Gjirokastra.
Day 13: To the Religious Center of Korca
We drive to Korca, which has been an important religious center for Orthodox Christians for centuries. It has a large Orthodox community and it is the seat of an Orthodox metropolitan bishop. There is also a large Sunni community in and around the city. Islam entered the city in the 15th century through Iljaz Hoxha, a famous Albanian jannissary, who actively participated in the Fall of Constantinople. One of the oldest mosques, the Ilias Mirahori was built in Albania by Iljaz Hoxha in 1484. A Bektashi community is present in the city. Overnight in Korca.
Day 14: Sites of Korca
After breakfast we drive to Voskopoja Village, famous for its old Churches with religious paintings. At its peak in the mid 18th century, it hosted the first printing press in the Balkans outside Istanbul. We visit the St. Nicola Church, erected in 1721 and famous for its incredible murals. Later we visit the Birra Korca factory to taste one of most famous beers in Albania. After lunch we drive to the village Liqenas near Prespa Lake, enjoying the beautiful landscapes of this region. Lake Prespa is shared between Greece, Macedonia and Albania. In 1999 the Society for the Protection of Prespa received the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award for its conservation efforts, primarily to protect a breeding colony of one of the most endangered waterbirds of the World, the Dalmatian Pelican. The area contains four National Parks located in Albania, Greece, and Republic of Macedonia. Overnight in Korca
Day 15: Medieval Arts Museum, to Ohrid (Macedonia)
After breakfast, we visit the Medieval Arts Museum and also the Museum ABC, the first school in Albania, For lunch, we can try famous Koran fish (Lake Ohrid Brown Trout) which is only found in Lake Ohrid and its tributaries.
Day 16: Exploring Ohrid
We begin our day with a 3-mile walk along Lake Ohrid, located near the Albanian border, to Galicica National Park. Designated as a national park in 1958 it is situated between the two lakes of Ohrid and Prespa and offers splendid views of the countryside. This park has a wealth of endemic flora and fauna and we have the opportunity to see eagles, vultures, Balkan butterflies and even land turtles. After lunch, we visit the Icon Gallery, the archeological site of Ploeshnik, the Church of St.Bogorodica Perivleptos and the Tcar Samoil fortress. Overnight in Ohrid.
Day 17: Ohrid - Bitola
This morning we drive to Bitola where we visit the ancient Macedonian city of Heraclea founded in the 4th century BC. Marvel at the pristine condition of ancient buildings such as the palaces with their well preserved mosaics. After lunch, we return to Ohrid where we enjoy free time in the afternoon. Overnight in Ohrid.
Day 18: Ohrid - Skopje
Our morning drive to Skopje takes us along the banks of the black Drini river, through Struga, Debar and Gostivar. Here we visit the Monastery of Jovan Bigorski and Tetova. We then stop at the Arabati Baba Tekke and the Motley Mosque (Sarena Xhamija). After lunch in a local restaurant, we continue on to Skopje with visits to Matka, with it's monastery on the lake and it's beautiful scenery near Skopje, the Stone bridge, the St. Spas Church and Mustafa Pasha Mosque
Day 19: To Sofia (Bulgaria), to historic Plovdiv
Today is a long driving day. After breakfast, we visit the oldest train station in the Balkans and the Church of St.Pantelejmon in Nerezi. We then make our way to Sofia, were we will enjoy lunch, before we make our way to the greatest Bulgarian city, Plovdiv. As one of Europe's oldest cities, Plovdiv will amaze you with its history and sites. Overnight in Plovdiv.
Day 20: Roman Ruins & Asenovgrad Castle
Today we visit the ancient amphitheater, the Roman odeon and the Roman stadium. After lunch, we go to Asenovgrad Castle, a medieval fortress in the Bulgarian Rhodope Mountains. This is one of the best-preserved castles in Bulgaria. Set on the edge of a high, rocky ridge, this medieval fortress dates back to the Thracians. Overnight in Plovdiv.
Day 21: To Sofia, Sites, Farewell Dinner
After an early breakfast, we make our way back to Sofia. Upon our arrival, we visit Alexander Nevski Cathedral - one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in Europe. We also visit the church of St. Sophia, built by the Roman emperor Justinian in the 6th century as well as the former Royal Palace. You will have the rest of the afternoon in Sofia to explore on your own before our Farewell Dinner. Overnight in Sofia.
Day 22: Depart Sofia
Today we say good bye to our new friends and the wonderful adventure we had as we transfer to the airport for our onward journey.
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