10 Days / 09 Nights
North Albania, Kosovo & Macedonia Tour
Tirana – Ohrid – Prizren – Gjakova – Shkodër – Theth – Fishtë
A 10-day circuit through the Western Balkans, combining key cultural cities and sites with the incredible nature of Albania’s Accursed Mountains.
Day 01 – Arrive Rinas Airport. Overnight Tirana (Hotel Boka)
Day 02 – Tirana to Ohrid (Hotel Mal Sveti Kliment Ohrid)
Day 03 – Ohrid
Day 04 – Ohrid to Prizren (Hotel Centrum)
Day 05 – Prizren to Gjakova (Hotel Çarshia e Jupave)
Day 06 – Gjakova to Shkodër (Hotel Çoçja)
Day 07 – Shkodër to Theth (Shpella Guesthouse)
Day 08 – Theth
Day 09 – Theth to Fishtë (Mrizi i Zanave)
Day 10 – Fishtë to Rinas Airport
Created December 2022 for travel in May 2023.
Albania’s chaotic capital is undergoing a mini-revolution, as decrepit Communist-era buildings and pre-War Italian villas are torn down, sometimes seemingly overnight, to be replaced with huge, modern tower blocks. Whether this is a good thing or not is a matter of personal taste – the government’s plan seems to be to turn it into a Balkan version of Singapore. Amid the construction/destruction you’ll find a friendly and fascinating city, with great bars and nightlife and without doubt the best food in the entire Balkan region. Be sure to visit the House of Leaves museum, which explores the role of the feared Sigurimi secret police under the dictatorship, and the “secret” nuclear bunker built with Chinese cash and expertise in the 1970s – Bunk’Art.
The UNESCO World Heritage City of Ohrid is a beautiful spot - we generally recommend you stay two nights to enjoy a full day here. It's certainly a place you might prefer to explore with a local guide (and local they must be - Macedonian tourism regulations prohibit foreigners from guiding in the country). If you come in summertime you'll be able to swim, though personally we prefer to visit in spring or autumn, just to escape the crowds and congestion.
Prizren is one of our favourite Balkan cities, with a lots of history and a great atmosphere. In Ottoman days it was a major trade hub, and retains a Turkish feel - don't be surprised to hear Turkish being spoken as you wander its narrow alleyways. Be sure to make the (steep) walk up to the fortress for sundown, to hear the call-to-prayer echo over the rooftops, and to pay a visit to the impressive mosque. Be aware, although for most of the year Prizren has a great bar scene and decent nightlife, during Ramadam most places go dry.
This mixed Muslim and Catholic town has a unique charm, and makes a perfect overnight stop if you're visiting nearaby Visoki Decani monastery. After the evening call-to-prayer the bars of the bazaar fill up with beautiful young people, particularly in the summer months when the Kosovar diaspora returns to reconnect with family. Gjakova suffered hugely during the conflict of the late 1990s, so we do recommend arranging a local guide to show you around and bring its tragic recent history to life.
The major city of northern Albania has a long and storied history, though sadly after numerous conflicts and the arguably even more damaging Communist years, little remains of the old Ottoman city. What it does have, though, is a charming Italianate centre and the impressive ruins of Rozafa Castle, which in 1478 was beseiged by Sultan Mehmet II (Conquerer of Constantinople) - if he had succeeded in taking Shkodër, his next target would have been Rome. If you're visiting the Accursed Mountains, then Shkodër is the perfect overnight stop to break the journey.
A new asphalt road now connects Theth to the outside world, which is great for the many guesthouses but has transformed the village - please don't expect it to be the isolated rural idyll that many out-of-date websites present it as. We think it's still worth including on any tour of northern Albania, though, thanks to the extraordinary scenery. However, if you are focused on hiking and don't like crowds, you might prefer to stay instead at the villages of Vermosh and Lepushë to the north.
If you’re travelling from Montenegro to Tirana (or vice-versa), then you should break the journey in the village of Fishtë, more specifically at the acclaimed restaurant-with-rooms Mrizi i Zanave. Brothers Altin and Anton Prenga have created something very special here – a charming agrotourism built around the Italian Slow Food philosophy. Almost everything you see on your plate will have been sourced from neighbouring farms, or grown on-site. In 2020 they even opened their own small “factory”, producing cheeses, dried meats and preserves, which was followed in short order by an impressive winery. Mrizi has an international reputation now, and has only eight rooms, so early booking is recommended.
English speaking driver-guide
Minivan with cross-border insurance, fuel
Accommodation as indicated or near equivalents
All breakfasts (unless super-early departure on final day); 01 wine-tasting lunch; 01 picnic lunch on Lake Koman ferry; 02 evening meals at Shpella Guesthouse Theth; evening meal at Mrizi i Zanave
Lake Koman ferry
Local guide in Ohrid (necessary due to local guiding laws)
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)
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!
Lake Koman Ferry
This 2.5-hour journey through the Accursed Mountains of north Albania is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular ferry journeys in the world. The scenery is reminiscent of the Norwegian fjords, or even Lord of the Rings, if you prefer. Lake Koman is an artificial lake, formed by a 1970s hydropower project, and is by far the most impressive way to travel from Shkodër to Kosovo, or vice-versa.
This ethnic Albanian, and very Islamic, city in northeastern Macedonia makes a great stop if you're travelling from Kosovo to Ohrid. It's famed for the beautiful "Painted Mosque", which is by far our favourite in the region, and a sprawling Bektashi monastery, overseen by quite the tallest baba in the Balkans (seriously, we think he's nearly seven feet!). Overall a fascinating place and well worth a few hours to explore.
The mountain range dividing Kosovo from North Macedonia is truly spectacular to traverse, with epic scenery and a wild vibe. If you like, you can stop for coffee or lunch in one of the ethnic Serbian villages, where bills will be presented in Serbian dinar, not euro (and where Kosovo's well-observed ban on indoor smoking is proudly ignored). A great day trip from Prizren or Pristina.
Visoki Decani Monastery
An absolute must-visit! This is one of the finest cultural monuments in the Balkans, with a history going back to the 14th century. The monastery's wall paintings will take your breath away - as will the monks' home-made raki if you dare to try it.
DOESN’T HIT THE SPOT?
"About 20 per cent of Albanian drivers have the firm conviction that traffic on the roundabout has right of way. Another 20 per cent believe traffic entering the roundabout has right of way. Then a good 30 per cent believe they have right of way, in any circumstance whatsoever. The remainder seem to be under the impression that a roundabout is some kind of strange circular car park, with an ornamental garden in the middle. "