Stefan’s Best of the Western Balkans: October 13 - October 26, 2019
Sofia (1 night) – Boyana church – Kyustendil (1 night) – Prishtina – Peje (1 night) – High Dechani monastery – Prizren – Peje (1 night) – Budva (1 night) – Kotor – Budva (1 night) – Skadar lake – Budva (1 night) – Shkoder – Tirana (2 nights) – St. Naum monastery – Ohrid (2 nights) – Tetovo – Gorno Nerezi – Skopje (1 night) – Staro Nagorichane – Sofia (1 night)
Day 1, October 13, Sunday
Welcome to Bulgaria! We will meet in the afternoon at our tour hotel – the cozy and well located Crystal Palace Boutique Hotel. We will have a welcome meeting followed by an orientation walk and dinner in a selected restaurant.
Day 2, October 14, Monday
After breakfast we will depart to Kyustendil in Western Bulgaria. En route we will stop at the Boyana church, on the UNESCO World Heritage list, a small pre-renaissance gem with numerous murals from the twelfth-thirteenth centuries. Then we will drive south on some picturesque roads, surrounded by fields, vineyards, rivers and mountains. We will arrive and have lunch in Kyustendil, and check in at our spa hotel. Kyustendil is a spa town with numerous hot water springs, Ottoman architecture and the home to the “Saviour” of Bulgarian Jews during the Holocaust – then deputy-speaker of the parliament – Dimitar Peshev. Together we will have a short walk in town and visit to his home, now turned into a small museum. The rest of the day you will have some free time to rest, explore the gallery of one of the most famous Bulgarian artists of the twentieth century, Vladimir Dimitrov Maistora (The Master), or enjoy the spa facilities of our hotel. Today dinner is on your own.
Day 3, October 15, Tuesday
Today we are crossing two borders. The first one is to Macedonia, half an hour ride from Kyustendil. Then we will drive towards another border, this time between Macedonia and Kosovo. Welcome to Kosovo, Europe’s youngest state! We will drive straight to its capital, Prishtinë. We will cross the center of the city and have a stop at the Bill Clinton monument for a photo op. A walk in the city, and free time for lunch. Continue to Pejë (Peς in Serbian). Upon arrival we will visit the UNESCO listed Monastery of Pejë (with special permission). This is where Serbian Patriarchs have resided for centuries. The churches have been decorated by the most famous artists of the time. Frescoes date back to the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. We have a very special appointment to visit the monastery, as it is an area strictly defended by UN troops. Check in to our Hotel Dukadjini. Dinner at the hotel restaurant.
Day 4, October 16, Wednesday
After breakfast depart for Prizren, a roughly two hour ride. We will walk along Old Prizren to see some of the highlights of the town, including the fourteenth century Church of Mary of Levish, also on the UNESCO list. The church was badly damaged in 2004. Today only a small part of the altar remains. We will also have a look at the Sinan Pasha Mosque, dating back to the early seventeenth century. It is believed that the construction material was taken from the nearby Monastery of Holy Archangels. And if restoration is complete we'll see the old Turkish baths in the center of Prizren – Gazi Mehmet Pasha Hammam. During our walk we will see one of the oldest trees in these lands, an 800 years old sycamore tree. After our walk we will have lunch in a tavern in Prizren. In the afternoon we will head back to Pejë. On the way back we will stop at the Monastery of St. Stephen in High Dechani, also on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Day 5, October 17, Thursday
In the morning we depart towards the city of Budva in Montenegro, making stops for lunch and to admire the scenery en route. Welcome to Montenegro! We will cross mountains, gorges, spectacular canyons, mountain rivers and small autumn-colored valleys. In the later afternoon we will arrive in Budva. We will stay in a hotel on the ramparts of the Old Town. Time for rest or explore the charming narrow streets of the Old town. Dinner on your own this evening.
Day 6, October 18, Friday
In the morning we will drive to nearby pretty Kotor for a sightseeing tour. One of the Pearls of the Adriatic coastline, Kotor was founded in the 2nd century BC as a Roman town. Nowadays the city is in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its old town is one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in the Adriatic. We will see much - including the Cathedral of St. Tryphon (from the twelfth century), long sections of the defensive walls (Byzantine and Venetian), and much more. After grabbing lunch in Kotor, we will drive around Boca Kotor – the most south situated European fjord. In the late afternoon we return to Budva for dinner on your own or an evening stroll.
Day 7, October 19, Saturday
In the morning we will go from Budva to Virpazar for our boat cruise of Skadar lake. While on the boat we will pass by (but not actually access, as it is not accessible, being full of snakes and birds) the Montenegrin Alcatraz, island of Grmozur. We will also see the Moraca canyon and wetlands area, famous for its waterlilies and variety of birds, with the Dalmatian Pelican as the prettiest of all. The boat cruise will take about four hours. When we are back at Virpazar, we will have lunch prepared with local products. Afternoon at your leisure.
Day 8, October 20, Sunday
Today we will have a look at St Stefan island – Montenegro’s pearl. Dating back to the fifteenth century, the island was first inhabited by fishermen. In Yugoslavian times it was transformed into a luxury resort for the rich and famous. Its glory reached its zenith in the 1970s. Views are fairytale-like: terracotta rooftops over the blue sky and sea. The island is now closed for tourists unless one is willing to pay thousands for an overnight there. We will then continue our drive south to Albania where our first visit will be at Shkoder. Welcome to Albania! We will see the castle of Rozafa over the lake - perched at more than 4,000 feet above sea level. It is believed to have been used since ancient times by the Illyrians until it was captured by the Romans in second century BC. Nowadays remains are predominantly of a Venetian origin. We can enter the castle for an opportunity to see the valley from above. After lunch on our own, we will continue to Tirana (around 3 hours) arriving by about 6:00 PM. Our accommodation is at the four-star hotel Kotoni. We will grab dinner in a selected restaurant nearby.
Day 9, October 21, Monday
In the morning we will walk to Skanderbeg Square, the main landmark of the city, named after the Albanian national hero. We will have a look at the famous painted Et’hem Bey Mosque, in the style of Ottoman “rococo”, amazing for its colors and floral motives. Pilgrims from far and wide reach the Et’hem Bey Mosque to offer prayers. We will also have a look at the Clock Tower, National History Museum, Palace of Culture, the Ruins of Justinian Castle, the monument to Mother Albania and The National Gallery. During our walk we will visit the newly-opened House of Leaves museum, which housed the national surveillance agency during communism. We will have a chance to meet a political prisoner who survived the regime and hear his story. You will have the afternoon on your own to explore the bustling Albanian capital.
Day 10, October 22, Tuesday
In the morning we will depart to the UNESCO museum town of Ohrid in Macedonia – around 3.30 hours, depending on traffic at the border. We will stop for lunch at the St. Naum monastery, just across from the border. We will have lunch in a good local restaurant near the springs of Lake Ohrid, Macedonia’s only UNESCO site. After lunch we can take a little row boat to see the springs, followed by a visit to the monastery of St. Naum. The monastery, established by St Naum, a disciple of St Cyril and Methodius, operated from the end of tenth to the beginning of eleventh century. In the afternoon we depart for nearby Ohrid where we can have dinner on our own in a selected restaurant, walking distance to the hotel.
Day 11, October 23, Wednesday
After breakfast we will have a sightseeing tour in the Old City of Ohrid. We will start a day with a panoramic boat ride in Ohrid Lake (if weather permits) to admire the beauty of Macedonia’s gem. The town and the Lake are protected by UNESCO as rare architectural and natural phenomena. It is said that Ohrid once had 365 churches, one for each day of the year. Its basilicas ornated with luxurious mosaics, valuable archaeological sites and an antique theater: Ohrid was an important religious and cultural center of the ancient era. Plenty of frescoes, wood-carvings and icons can be seen in the churches. Our city sightseeing tour of Ohrid will include the churches of St. Nikola, Virgin Mary Bolnichna, St. Sofia, St. Mary Perivleptos, all with world famous frescoes and icons, the Samuel fortress, the Plaoshnic (first Slavic university), the ancient Roman theater, the church of St. Jovan Kaneo and more. Lunch and afternoon on your own. Tonight we will enjoy a hearty Macedonian dinner.
Day 12, October 24, Thursday
We will take the road to Skopje with a detour to Tetovo to visit the famous painted wooden mosque, dating back to the fifteenth century. Its colorful decorations and frescoes inside make it one of the prettiest mosques on our planet. Our next stop will be in the Vodno mountain, overlooking Skopje, the Macedonian capital: the monastery of St. Pantaleimon. Then we will drive to Skopje to have lunch, and then check in our hotel. In the afternoon we will explore the center of Skopje – Macedonia Square with its numerous monuments, the dominating statue of Alexander the Great, the medieval stone bridge and the small alleys of the old bazaar. The bazaar is the biggest of its kind (open-air) in the Balkans. We will also have a look at the house-museum of Mother Teresa, who was born here more than a century ago. We will have lunch in a place where locals enjoy kevapi and other traditional food.
Day 13, October 25, Friday
After breakfast we check out and depart to Bulgaria. Before leaving Skopje, we will visit the small church of St. Spas, which amazes with its wood-carved iconostasis. Our next stop will be the church of St. George at Staro Nagorichane. The Church of St. George was constructed in the 14th century on the remains of an earlier church, founded probably by the Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV Diogenus (1068-1071). Independent lunch in the area. Then on to the border with Bulgaria and to Sofia. Arrival in Sofia where we check-in to the Hotel Crystal Palace. We will enjoy a farewell dinner at a selected nearby restaurant.
Day 14, October 26, Saturday
Tour over after breakfast.
- Hotel accommodation on
bed and breakfast basis as follow:
- Private transportation
(van or minibus depending on the number of people), including all border and
toll taxes, parking fees, daily allowance and accommodation for the driver
- English-speaking guide
services, including tour-guide’s accommodation outside Sofia and daily
- Local tour guides in
- Tickets for all museums
and sites according to the itinerary;
- Meals – all breakfasts,
6 lunches, 5 dinners (bread, water, tips for the waiters included), alcoholic
beverages not included;
- Welcome drink on Day 1;
- Boat rides in Skadar
lake, Montenegro and Ohrid Lake, Macedonia;
- Complimentary bottled
water on the bus;
- Welcome pack with maps,
Price does not include:
- Personal expenses such
as phone calls, mini-bar, laundry;
- Personal travel and
- Independent meals
according the itinerary;
- Traditional tips for the lead tour guide and driver;