06 Days / 05 Nights
South Albania in Six Days
Tirana – Berat – Bual – Gjirokastra – Nivica – Tirana
A whirlwind 06-day tour of south Albania, with wine and gastronomic experiences and a touch of adventure.
Day 01 – Arrive Rinas. Overnight Tirana
Day 02 – Tirana to Berat
Day 03 – Berat to Bual
Day 04 – Bual to Gjirokastra
Day 05 – Gjirokastra to Nivica
Day 06 – Nivica to Rinas
Created January 2023 for travel in April.
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 “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.
The drive from Korça to Gjirokastra is far too long for one day, so we always recommend breaking the journey. If you need a hotel then Përmet is the obvious choice. But if you enjoy village guesthouses, there are few better in Albania than Traditional Guesthouse Përmet, which you'll actually find in the village of Bual, about a 20-minute drive (on a dirt road) from Përmet itself. This extraordinary old stone building was used as a headquarters by the Italian Army in both World Wars, and has wonderful views across the Vjosa valley. Expect one of the best home-cooked meals of your tour here, too - which you can wash down with the local raki, for which Përmet is famed.
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 as such was missed by all the guidebook writers. Now it has not one but three good roads, and will soon be one of Albania’s key tourism destinations. For now, it remains mostly off-the-radar for international travellers, who have yet to learn about its huge canyon system and completely jaw-dropping scenery. You’ll stay at a charming (and very simple) little guesthouse perched right on the edge of the canyon, and if you’re feeling adventurous can make the steep hike down to the river below. In the evening your hosts, Petrit and Ndyshë, will prepare a delicious home-cooked feast using local ingredients, which you can wash down with a glass or two of Petrit’s raki…
Tirana – Hotel Padam
Berat – Hotel Onufri
Bual – Traditional Guesthouse Përmet
Gjirokastra – Hotel Praga
Nivica – Bujtina MBI Kanion
euros €5,200 based on a family of 05
English-speaking driver/guide, his accommodation & expenses
Accommodation as indicated or near equivalents
All breakfasts, evening meals at Bual & Nivica
Evening cookery class in Gjirokastra
Farewell wine-tasting lunch at Uka Farm Winery (close to the airport)
Rafting in the Osumi Canyon (mostly very gentle, with extraordinary scenery)
Hike at Nivica Canyon
Airport collection & drop-off
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)
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If you're spending any time in Tirana, you really should visit the "secret" nuclear bunker built by the Communist regime back in the 1970s, Bunk'Art. It's huge, and very, very creepy. It's also wonderfully cool in high summer - a real relief from the ferocious heat of Tirana. There is a second Bunk'Art in the centre of town, but we reckon this is the one to visit.
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).
Ujëvara e Peshturës
Undoubtedly one of the most scenic waterfalls in Albania! So scenic, in fact, that one of our clients was shortlisted for a US Fujifilm competition for her photograph. You can expect plenty of water throughout the year, apart from in high summer and autumn, when the falls dry up. Visit in springtime and you'll certainly be tempted to take a "shower", but be warned - the water's icy cold!
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.
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.
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!