Best of the western Balkans: May 05 - May 17, 2019
Serbia: Belgrad (2 nights) - Cacak - Novi Pazar (1 night) Kosovo: Kosovska Mitrovica - Prishtina - Gracanica (1 night) - Prizren Albania: Koman lake - Tirana (2 nights) - Albanian riviera - Gjirokastro (1 night) - Korce (2 nights) Macedonia: Ohrid - Krushevo (1 night) - Tetovo - Skopje (2 nights)
Day 1, May 05, Sunday
Welcome to the balkans! Arrive in Belgrade. We will pick you up at the airport. On the way from the airport we will stop to have a look at the very interesting Aviation Museum, with hundreds of air- planes exhibited inside a large geodesic dome. Transfer to our trendy hotel in the heart of old Belgrade. We will meet in the afternoon to have a walk along the banks of the Sava river where it flows into the Danube, and have a look at the Contemporary Art Museum - another very interesting building that houses a large collection of Serbian and Balkan art. We will have our welcome dinner at a unique chic restaurant housed in an apartment in a common residential building. Welcome to the Balkans!
Day 2, May 06, Monday
Belgrade. After a late breakfast we will have a walking tour of the Belgrade fortress and old town, and then take lunch in a hip restaurant in Skadarlija, in the heart of Belgrade. Your afternoon is free to explore the town on your own, rest, or perhaps join Yuri to the Museum of Illusion that just opened its doors. In the late afternoon we will take a tram ride to one of Belgrade’s iconic brutalist buildings, looming over the city. How do people live in it? Let’s have some tea and cake with them, and find out. Then we will follow our hosts to a quirky local restaurant for dinner.
Day 3, May 07, Tuesday
Belgrade - Topola - ČaČak - Novi Pazar. We will start early after breakfast. We will drive south, stopping at a unique socialist monument, on top of a hill, dominating the landscape. Our next stop will be the amazing Aleksandrovic winery, near Topola, for a wine tour and tasting. Then we continue to the town of Čačak for a light walk, trying to spot the Roman and Austro-Hungarian remains of the town, and a light lunch. We continue south to Novi Pazar, in the heart of Sandzhak, a Bosnian-Muslim town near the borders with Koso- vo and Montenegro. In the outskirts of Novi Pazar we will have a look at the Petrova crkva, a stunning medieval church that’s inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. We stay at an utterly unforgettable socialist-era hotel, with some of the wackiest architecture and layout you can imagine, right in the heart of the old town. This is probably the most interesting hotel in Serbia - apart from the monstrous hotel in the nearby town of Uzice, but that place is scary - the one in Novi Pazar is not. Some free time to rest after the journey. Before dinner we will take a walk along the narrow winding streets of Novi Pazar - it can’t get more Ottoman than this! Let’s have a glimpse at the old Ottoman hamam, and then dinner in a local Bosniak Muslim eatery.
Day 4, May 08, Wednesday
Novi Pazar - Kosovska Mitrovica - Pristina - Gračanica. In the morning, after a socialist-styled breakfast in the Tito-styled restaurant, we depart to Kosovo. In about hour and thirty minutes we will reach Kosovska Mitrovica, the divided Serbian-Albanian town. We will walk the bridge that once saw a lot of action during the Kosovo conflict. It’s a unique bridge - that both divides and unites the communities. Both Albanian and Serbian police and NATO troops stand on the bridge, guarding the peace. After Kosovska Mitrovica we depart to Pristina, Kosovo’s young capital. We will have a walk, stopping at the stunning library and the Bill Clinton statue, before grabbing lunch in a popular restaurant. In the afternoon we will continue to nearby Gracanica, where we will check in at the comfortable modern Gracanica hotel. Some free time to rest, and then we will have a look at the Gracanica Monastery, a UNESCO Site next door to our hotel. A cosy dinner at the hotel restaurant.
Day 5, May 09, Thursday
Gračanica - Prizren - Koman lake - Tirana. We start, after breakfast, to the nearby town of Prizren, perhaps Kosovo’s most charming and liveliest town, in the foothills of the Shar mountains - the same mountains that we will also see from Skopje! We will have a look at the 1307 Church of Our Lady of Lje- vis, damaged in the Kosovo War, but still having some remarkable frescoes. We will be guided by one of the few Serbs that still lives in Prizren, father of the local priest. After this we will have a walk in central Prizren, taking perhaps a drink, and we continue to cross the border with Albania, at the small and remote Qafe Morine - Gjakove crossing, that sees very few tourists and locals! We will drive to the hamlet of Fierza, from where we will board the local ferry across Koman lake. We will have our picnic lunch onboard the ferry. Most of the other travellers on the ferry will be locals, getting off or boarding at various hamlets along the shore. This is one of the world’s most unique boat rides! About two hours and thirty minutes from the start it ends at the Koman dam. We will use local transport to get us down to the nearest village, where our minibus will wait to drive us to Tirana. We will arrive in Tirana in the evening. We will check in at the ultra comfortable high-rise Plaza hotel, right in the heart of the city, offering the best views in town. Some time to rest, and we will go out to a trendy restaurant across the street for dinner.
Day 6, May 10, Friday
A late start today - have a good sleep, enjoy the views from your room, or take a morning walk around the hotel. We will have a walk along the Skanderbeg Square, having a look at the Et’Hem mosque and the House of Leaves, Tirana’s most intriguing museum, housed inside the former secret police quar- ters. Then we will head to the outskirts of town to have lunch in a lively local (simple but tasty!) restaurant, and stopping at Bunk’Art, another fascinating museum, housed inside Enver Hoxha’s secret bunker. Bunk’Art offers a unique perspective on the dramatic past (and present) of Albania. In the afternoon we will be back at our hotel. Free time to rest or explore the city (perhaps visit the History Museum on the central square, just two minutes on foot from our hotel?). In the evening we will meet for a walk and dinner at the trendy Blloku neighbourhood, which once housed Albania’s political elite and was beyond limits to ordinary citizens. Blloku is now where the cool girls and boys hang out.
Day 7, May 11, Saturday
Tirana - Hemare - Qeparo - Gjirokaster. This will be the longest day on our tour, but also the one with the prettiest and most dramatic scenery, as we go along the Adriatic coast. After an early break- fast we set south. The first two hours will be rather uneventful as we drive along a busy highway through mostly flat agricultural lands. We will stop for a walk and drink at the charming modern seaside town of Vlore. Then we leave the highway, and ascend the mountains, before dropping down to sea level once again. The vistas will be dramatic! We will stop at several traditional villages. At Himare village, populated mostly by Albanian Greeks, we will have lunch in the local Greek tavern, and then have a look at the almost abandoned hill-top village, with the old castle and church of St John on top. Then we continue along the coast, stopping at Porto Palermo to have a look at the old naval (submarine?) bunker in the distance. We will stop at another stunning old abandoned village, Qeparo, for a walk. After Qeparo we drive a bit more along the coast, and then turn inland, towards Gjirokaster. We expect to arrive in the late afternoon. We will check in at our plush hotel in the heart of the UNES- CO-inscribed old town. Some time to rest, and we will head out for dinner at a lovely nearby restaurant.
Day 8, May 12, Sunday
Gjirokaster - Permet - Melissopetra - Korce. After breakfast we will have free time to explore the well-preserved Ottoman town: go along the little streets to find some good shops and cafes, or per- haps hike Ali Pasha’s fortress, looming above Gjirokaster. At 11 am we will depart north. Our first stop will be the mountain town of Permet - complete non-tourist territory! - for a chance to stretch our feet, and take a drink in a local cafe. Then we continue on narrow windy roads with barely any other vehicle in sight, to the Greek border. We cross the border, across the mighty Viosa river (which we also crossed yesterday near Vlore on the coast) to the sleepy Greek village of Melissopetra, where we will take lunch in a good local restaurant. Then we head back to Albania, continuing to Korce, one of Albania’s most charming towns - still almost untouched by mass tourism! We will check in at the new and sleek Life Gallery hotel. Some time to rest before dinner, and dinner at the near- by Korce brewery - Albania’s largest brewery.
Day 9, May 13, Monday
Korce - Voskopoje - Korce. Breakfast at the hotel. Then we will have a tour of Korce’s unique mixture of architecture styles, along its peaceful alleys. We will then explore the large busy market, and take lunch in a local cafe. Afternoon free to explore the town on your own, and perhaps visit the new art muse- um. In the later afternoon we will head to nearby Voskopoje village - once a mighty prosperous town and cultural centre, ravished by Ali Pasha’s troops in 1788. We will visit a couple of the old churches that have survived (the churches we will visit depend on the keys we can find!), with stunning frescoes dating back to the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Then we will have dinner in a village restaurant, and head back to Korce, around sunset.
Day 10, May 15, Wednesday
Korce - Prespa - Ohrid - Bitola - Krushevo. After breakfast we start towards the Mace- donian border. Once again we will avoid the busy border crossings, and head for a small, remote border where the scenery is spectacular: this time along the Prespa lakes. We cross the border, and then head to the Ohrid lake (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) - with some dramatic views as we descend! We will stop at the Monastery of St Naum, where we will take a rowing boat ride across the crystal clear springs of the lake. Then we continue to the town of Ohrid, where we will take lunch and a short stroll along the lake promenade. After lunch we will see the church of St John Kaneo, the prettiest and most photographed view of Ohrid lake. Then we leave Ohrid, as it’s the most touristy place in Macedonia, and head across the mountains to Krusevo, Macedonia’s highest town, located at 4429 feet above sea level. On the way we will stop at the ruins of the Roman town of Heracleia Lynces- tis, boasting some of the most impressive Roman mosaics in the Balkans. At Krusevo we will check in at a com- fortable but strange (and memorable) hotel that offers unparalleled views of the town below - watch out for the dramatic sunrise over town the next morning! We will walk down (or take the minibus) to a popular local tavern serving tasty, simple local food, and a bar downstairs with some live folk music. Let’s join the fun, this is the real Macedonia!
Day 11, May 16, Thursday
Krushevo - Tetovo - Skopje. We start after a late breakfast. Perhaps if the chairlift going up the mountain works, we can take it for a ride. If not, we will go and see the Makedonium monument, dedicated to the anniversary of the Illinden anti-Ottoman Uprising of 1903. That monument is one of the most unusual socialist-era spomeniks, or memorials. Inside they usually have some good local art - let’s have a look! Then we continue north, towards Skopje. We will stop at the town of Tetovo, which has one of Macedonia’s largest ethnic Albanian populations. We will have a look at the colourful central mosque, perhaps the most beautiful mosque Yuri has ever seen. We will grab lunch nearby in a local byurek bakery - with some of the tastiest Albanian-Macedonian-Balkan byurek! In the afternoon we will arrive in Skopje, Macedonia’s capital. We will check in at our modern and stylish Solun hotel right off the central Macedonia square. Some time to rest, and in the late afternoon we will head out to have a tour of post-1963 Skopje (when the big earthquake destroyed much of the city), including some of the recent redevelopments of the city. We will have dinner at a local hip brewery.
Day 12, May 17, Friday
Skopje. After a later breakfast, we will have a tour of pre-1963 Skopje, especially the old and Albanian quarter of town, and the busy market. We will have lunch in a traditional restaurant near the market, enjoying some hearty food. Afternoon will be free to enjoy Skopje on your own - you will be armed with a list of recommendations. In the evening we will meet for our farewell dinner. Yuri still doesn’t know where this will be. There are some amazing restaurants in downtown Skopje, but his heart tells him to go to Vodno, the hills near Skopje, with some fine views of the city below. If the restaurant I have in mind is indeed as good as I think it is, we will have our last dinner there. The restaurant must be a special place, with a deep, playful and wild soul - like the Balkans we just visited.
Day 13, May 18, Saturday
End of tour. Tour over after breakfast. Transfer to the airport in time for your flight. If you can’t find a convenient flight, there is always the option to transfer to Belgrade (five hours by car along a fast highway) or Sofia (four hours by car) and catch a flight from there.
- Accommodation in carefully selected
hotels in Belgrade (Square Nine, 2 nights), Novi
Pazar (Vrbak, 1 night),
Gracanica (Gracanica Hotel, 1 night), Tirana (Plaza, 2 nights), Gjirokaster (Argjiro, 1 night),
Korce (Life Gallery, 2 nights),
Palace, 1 night),
Skopje (Solun, 1 nights).
- All meals according
to program: 12 breakfasts, 4 lunches, 7 dinners (tips for the waiters included,
alcohol most- ly not included).
- Transportation with
an air-conditioned minibus, with all border and toll taxes and bribes, parking
fees, daily allowance and accommodation for the driver.
speaking guide throughout the tour, including
guide-accommodation and daily allowance.
- Local tour guides in (tips included) Belgrade, Tirana, Korce, Skopje,
and possibly at other
- Tickets for all museums
and sights according
to the itinerary.
- Ferry ride on
- Mineral water
on the bus.
- A welcome
pack including maps, brochures, gifts,
Price does not include:
- Tips for
driver and guide.
- Any other additional personal costs: laundry, phone calls, etc.
- Independent meals according
to the itinerary.
- Flights in and
out of the region.
€2740 per person, €480 single supplement.
The cost is per person sharing double or twin room.
The number of participants is limited to twelve. We accept payment by bank wire and credit card.
May 5-17, 2019.
September 29 - October 11, 2019.
September 2-14, 2020.