Albania - Land of the Eagles

Columns of the episcopal complex in the ancient city of Byllis, Albania
Columns of the episcopal complex in the ancient city of Byllis, Albania
The interior of the dome of the Ethem Bey Mosque, Tinara
The interior of the dome of the Ethem Bey Mosque, Tinara
Temple ruins in Ancient Apollonia
Temple ruins in Ancient Apollonia
The interior of the dome of the Ethem Bey Mosque, Tinara
The interior of the dome of the Ethem Bey Mosque, Tinara
Riverside district of the old city of Berat
Riverside district of the old city of Berat
The mighty River Vjosa viewed from the mountaintop ruins of the Illyrian city of Byllis
The mighty River Vjosa viewed from the mountaintop ruins of the Illyrian city of Byllis
Oliver Gilkes in action demonstrating late antique dining practice in Butrint
Oliver Gilkes in action demonstrating late antique dining practice in Butrint
The beautiful river valley - photo taken on our 2014 tour
The beautiful river valley - photo taken on our 2014 tour
Riverside district of the city of Berat
Riverside district of the city of Berat
Baptistery at Butrint; the lovely mosaic floor
Baptistery at Butrint; the lovely mosaic floor
Monument of the Agonothetes
Monument of the Agonothetes
Oliver introduces guests to the Berat Mosque in Butrint
Oliver introduces guests to the Berat Mosque in Butrint
Ottoman houses on the hillside above the River Osum at Berat
Ottoman houses on the hillside above the River Osum at Berat
Gjirokaster, viewed from the castle
Gjirokaster, viewed from the castle
Looking out over Gjirokaster
Looking out over Gjirokaster
Ottoman houses on the hillside above the River Osum at Berat
Ottoman houses on the hillside above the River Osum at Berat
Ali Pasha of Tepelena, reclining in his boat amongst the reeds...
Ali Pasha of Tepelena, reclining in his boat amongst the reeds...

A country unlike any other in Europe and still off the mainstream tourist trail, Albania is home to pristine ruins, rich archaeological heritage and great museums. 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.

Our expert guide, Oliver Gilkes, has directed excavations in Albania for over 20 years and his encyclopaedic knowledge of culture and archaeology enlightens us on this fantastic tour. Join us as we discover Albania’s fascinating past and present.

  • Tour 2,000 years of untouched archaeological heritage
  • Spend a full day at the World Heritage Site of Butrint
  • Travel alongside our expert guide, Oliver Gilkes
  • Explore Albania’s bustling capital of Tirana
  • Exclusive access to Tirana’s Archaeological Museum

Themes

  • Romans
  • Medieval
  • Historic Churches
  • Ancient Greek

Practicalities

  • Special Access
  • Low Single Supplement
  • All Inclusive

Itinerary 2018

Day 1

Today we arrive in Tirana, Albania's bustling capital, and transfer to our hotel in the heart of the city.

Day 2

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.

Day 3

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.

Day 4

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.

Day 5

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.

Day 6

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.

Day 7

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.

Day 8

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.

Day 9

This morning we say “good bye”, or “mirupafshim”, and transfer to Tirana airport for our onward journeys home.

Itinerary 2019

Day 1

We arrive in Tirana and transfer to our hotel located in the heart of the city.

Day 2

We begin with a full day in Albania’s lively capital, Tirana. We visit the early 19th century Ethem Bey Mosque, the National Historical Museum and the National Gallery, which houses over 5,000 works, including a permanent exhibition of Socialist Realist art.

After lunch, we have special access to the Archaeological Museum, located on the east of Mother Teresa Square. It was the first museum founded in this country after the Second World War and it houses exhibits from Classical times up to the Modern Period. The collections here are extensive and range from Roman Statues to jewellery and to ancient clay pots, each of which tells a different story.

Day 3

We drive to Apollonia Archaeological Park, site of the Greek colony founded by the Corinthians in 588BC, then on to one of the largest ancient cities of the Adriatic. Today the excavations are surrounded by olive and oak trees with grassy banks hinting at what may still lie buried beneath. This afternoon we drive along the beautiful Ionian coast, stopping for lunch in Vlora, before we reach our hotel at Saranda this evening.

Day 4

Our entire day will be spent at Butrint, which achieved UNESCO World Heritage status in 1992 and remains Albania’s best known site. It is one of the most striking archaeological sites in the Mediterranean and our guide lecturer Oliver Gilkes has directed excavations here for many years.

After lunch at Butrint Castle, we explore the museum housed there, before walking down to catch the ferry across the Vivari Channel. Here we will explore the Venetian Triangular Fortress.

Day 5

Today we arrive in Gjirokastra and have the chance to visit the Gjirokastra Museum, the Medieval Fortress and the National Museum of Armaments. This afternoon we enjoy special access to the late Ottoman mansion, Zekate House. Built in 1812, Zekate is widely considered to be one of the grandest examples of its kind, providing us with amazing an insight into the upper echelons of Ottoman life.

Day 6

We continue north through the rugged and changing landscapes to the ruins of Byllis. According to legend, the city was founded by warriors led by the son of Achilles returning from the Trojan wars. Archaeologists have yet to find evidence of Homeric heroes but have uncovered a Hellenistic era stadium, theatre and fortifications.

After lunch we will visit Byllis Cathedral, formerly known as Basilica B. Later we will drive to Berat.

Day 7

Today, we shift shift from Classical to Medieval times in the attractive town of Berat. The lower city along the riversides was the preserve of the Muslim inhabitants, while by agreement the Christians held the citadel. There are both Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques to visit, as well as the Onufri Museum, with its spectacular collection of 16th Century religious artwork. 

Day 8

We visit Durrës, Albania’s chief port and the starting point of the Via Egnatia. Here we visit the 2nd century amphitheatre, the largest in the Balkans, as well as sections of the mighty walls.

This afternoon we continue to Kruja, the last bastion of Christianity against the Ottoman Turks and now an interesting town set in beautiful 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.

Day 9

This morning we transfer to Tirana airport for our return flight home. 

What's Included

  1. Expert Guide Lecturer
  2. Tour Manager
  3. Local Travel - Private a/c coach
  4. Meals - All meals included - dinners with wine
  5. Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in program; tips included
  6. Field Notes
  7. Hotels
  8. Flights

Travel Information

Joining the Tour

For full information about how to join the tour, please click here.

Passport & Visa Information

For full information about Passport validity and Visa requirements as well as Health and Vaccination information please click here.

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2019 Tour Details

Fri 12th April - Sat 20th April

Available

Guaranteed Departure

$3,385

inc.

London based departure

sgl supp: $355

ALB19A

Led By: Oliver Gilkes

Fri 27th September - Sat 5th October

Available

$3,375

inc.

London based departure

sgl supp: $355

ALB19B

Led By: Oliver Gilkes

Guide Lecturer

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