08 Days / 07 Nights
Off Road Family Adventure Tour
Tirana – Berat – Përmet – Gjirokastra – Nivica – Riviera – Tirana
A 08-day off-road tour starting and ending in Tirana.
Day 01 – Tirana to Berat
Day 02 – Berat to Përmet
Day 03 – Përmet to Gjirokastra
Day 04 – Gjirokastra to Nivica
Day 05 – Nivica
Day 06 – Nivica to Riviera
Day 07 – Riviera
Day 08 – Riviera to Tirana
Created May 2023 for travel in July 2023.
The “City of a Thousand Windows” is a must-visit on any south Albania tour. Berat was an important strategic hub well before the Roman era, and its imposing Citadel has been inhabited continuously for at least 2,500 years. Berat owes its UNESCO World Heritage status to its three surviving historic neighbourhoods, Mangalemi, Gorica and Kalaja (castle). We recommend it for a one-night stay, which gives you plenty of time to explore its cobbled alleyways and take in the views from Kalaja.
You'll find this charming little village hidden away in the mountains behind Përmet - there's no asphalt road so guesthouse owner Gilberto might well have to drive you up from town in his trusty 4x4 (about 10 minutes). Gilberto, a former mayor of Përmet, has created a beautiful spot, restoring his old family mansion to a very high standard (each bedroom is en suite). In the evening his aunt will prepare a home-cooked meal, which you can enjoy on the patio, or by the open fire in winter. There are several walking trails, though be warned - like most of Albania you can expect steep ascents and descents.
Albania’s second UNESCO World Heritage City is like something from a fairytale, with crumbling old stone mansions clinging to the side of a mountain, in the shade of a huge and frankly creepy fortress. No, Gjirokastra doesn’t lack for either history or atmosphere. We think it offers so much interest, in fact, that we recommend it as a two-night stay. Be sure to visit one of the better-preserved houses (not the ethnographic museum; it’s a fake), the Cold War Tunnels and of course the castle. It’s even worth paying a couple of euros extra to visit the castle’s unreformed military museum, which is a real throwback to the Communist era.
Until 2021, the village of Nivica had no asphalt road connections, and accordingly no entries in guidebooks. The asphalt has arrived now, but it's going to take a year or two for the guidebooks to be updated to include what is one of Albania's most enticing destinations. Undoubtedly the place to stay is Camp Nivica - six luxurious safari-style tents (with private en suite WC/shower) perched right on the edge of the huge Nivica Canyon system. The views are incredible, and the hospitality offered by Astrid, the camp's Swedish owner, is faultless. The camp has a two-night minimum stay policy, meaning you have a full day to hike down into the canyon, enjoy the extraordinary scenery, and generally disconnect from "civilisation". In 2022 the camp was featured in Condé Nast Traveller's feature on Albania - and deservedly so.
The Albanian Riviera (thankfully) has a very short season. In July and August it is jam-packed, and honestly not our favourite place to be. Go in Spring or Autumn, however, and it's heavenly, with empty beaches and charming laidback vibe*. Driving the coast road from Vlorë to Saranda is an experience in itself, though we don't recommend staying in either city unless you have a passion for cheap concrete apartment blocks. We think you'll have a better experience at one of the villages in-between, and that's where we'll put you unless you insist otherwise.
* Really laidback - in the second half of October most hotels and restaurants will be closed.
Berat - Berati Castle Hotel (Double & Family rooms)
Përmet - Guesthouse Chri Chri (Double, Twin & Single rooms)
Gjirokastra - Rose Garden Hotel Gjirokastra (Double & Family rooms)
Nivica - Camp Nivica (02 tents)
Riviera - Hotel Te Stefi Qeparo (Double & Family rooms)
euros €5,200 based on a family of 05
English-speaking tour leader, his accommodation & expenses
02 x Lada Niva 4x4s, fuel (please note, these cars do not have AC)
Accommodation as indicated or near equivalents
Rafting on river Vjosa
All breakfasts, 03 x evening meals (at Përmet & Camp Nivica)
Personal travel insurance
Meals not indicated on itinerary
Museum & attraction entrance tickets
Local guides unless indicated (can be arranged on request)
Unscheduled excursions, taxis
Alcohol (unless indicated on itinerary)
St Mary's Leusa
Set in the hills just above Përmet is one of Albania's most beautiful churches, St Mary's of Leusa. Its idyllic situation sadly is about to be spoiled somewhat by a new asphalt road (someone with some clout has built a guesthouse in the village), but it will be impossible to spoil the church itself, which boasts remarkable frescoes and wood-carvings. Ideally the village priest, Ilir, will be there to show you around - he's like a strange mafia priest from Central Casting, usually sporting mirrored sunglasses...
If you've an interest in learning more about Albanian cuisine, let us know and we'll be able to arrange a cookery class or two along the way. Albanian food is the finest in the region, and completely different from Former Yugoslavia where the meatball reigns supreme. There is a strong Ottoman influence, obviously, but also Italian and Greek as well as many dishes that you just don't find elsewhere in the region (such as Albania's favourite hangover cure, paçe, tava kosi - lamb slow-cooked in yoghurt and qifqi rice balls).
Ujërat Termale Bënjë
A wonderful stop at any time of year are the sulphur springs close to the village of Bënjë, about 15 minutes east of Përmet. Here you can soak in the warm thermal waters, which are famed for their health-giving properties. The Ottoman bridge here is one of the most photographed spots in Albania, and a must for any Instagrammers.
There are several opportunities on this tour to stop for a wine-tasting. We try to focus on smaller family owned wineries rather than the larger more commercial places. If you've an interest in wines and gastronomy, be sure to let us know so we can plan accordingly!
The hilltop village of Qeparo (not to be confused with the more modern settlement on the beach) is one of the most scenic spots in Albania, and remains wonderfully undeveloped. We recommend heading up there to stroll its atmospheric alleyways, and ideally to take a meal at the tiny café / taverna (advance notice required). Most of our clients tell us this is one of their favourite meals of the tour.
On this tour you'll follow the winding Osumi river south from Berat. The views are impressive all the way, but after passing the "city" of Çorrovodë you'll reach the famous Osumi canyon, after which the scenery goes up a notch. If the weather's good, you'll be able to swim in the canyon itself - always a great photo opportunity, though even in summer the water's "fresh". In winter and spring, you can raft here, too - the rapids aren't so scary but the scenery makes it an incredible experience.
South Albania has three opportunities for rafting. In winter and springtime we generally recommend Osumi Canyon, though road infrastructure means this will in most cases require two nights in Berat. For the rest of the year the river Vjosa near Përmet is our preferred option - even in high summer there's enough water to provide a thrill (and sometimes a spill). Both can be enjoyed by anyone over the age of five years old.
Porto Palermo Castle
Halfway between Qeparo and Himarë on the Albanian Riviera is the picture-postcard bay of Porto Palermo. It's obviously a strategic spot - the Soviets built a large submarine base there back in the 1950s, seemingly inspired by the infamous Ali Pasha, who built a small fortress close by in the Napoleonic era. The submarine base is off-limits, but you can visit the castle and learn a little about its fascinating Ali Pasha, who had total control of this region till the Sultan ordered his death from the safety of Istanbul.
Lakes of Belsh
If you're driving from Tirana to Berat, we always recommend taking the scenic backroads rather than the highway. Firstly because the highway route is so ugly you'll want to scratch your eyes out and secondly as taking the backroads allows a detour to a wonderful wild-swimming spot at a clean karst lake near the town of Belsh. On a hot day, you'll really appreciate the chance to cool down in the clear waters, and even sunbathe on the "beach" for an hour or two.
As you're staying on the Riviera, we strongly recommend making a boat trip to Gjipë beach and canyon (don't think about trying to drive; the final couple of kilometres are impassable even for good 4x4s). Best is to leave in the afternoon, and return around sunset - you can expect simply incredible colours and, if you're lucky, dolphins. At Gjipë itself there are a few bars and simple shack-style restaurants, but don't expect to have the place to yourselves - it's a popular day trip.
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