11 Days / 10 Nights

Tirana to Saranda Tour

Tirana – Shijak – Berat – Bual – Gjirokastra – Nivica – Riviera – Saranda  

In Brief

An 11-day tour starting in Tirana and ending in Saranda, for the Corfu ferry. This tour travels at a relaxed pace, and includes some great gastronomic experiences.

Day 01 – Arrive Tirana TBC. Overnight Tirana
Day 02 – Tirana to Shijak
Day 03 – Shijak to Berat
Day 04 – Berat to Bual
Day 05 – Bual to Gjirokastra
Day 06 – Gjirokastra
Day 07 – Gjirokastra to Nivica
Day 08 – Nivica
Day 09 – Nivica to Qeparo
Day 10 – Qeparo
Day 11 – Qeparo to Saranda (for afternoon ferry)

Created January 2023 for travel in June 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 town of Shijak, a few kilometres from the hustle-and-bustle of Durrës, is a curious place - many of the locals are descended from Bosnian immigrants who were given refuge in Albania during the slow collapse of the Ottoman empire. Even today, 150 years later, Bosnian is widely spoken. The place to stay is Agroturizem Gjepali, created on his family farmland by acclaimed chef Fundim Gjepali (a judge on Albanian MasterChef, who now divides his time between restaurants Padam in Tirana and Rome's famed Antico Arco. Fundim's talented young nephew, Altin, can be found in the kitchen, while his sister Reti handles front-of-house. Expect simple rooms, and (it surely goes without saying) fantastic food, which you can wash down with carefully selected Albanian wines.    



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. 


Camp Nivica

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 has a very short season - in July and August it is rammed with tourists; in the spring and autumn shoulder seasons, almost empty. At either time of year our favourite place to stay is the village of Qeparo, about 20 minutes' drive south of Himarë. Even in high summer it retains a chilled-out vibe in comparison with the party spots of Saranda and Dhërmi, and is the perfect spot to relax for a few days. If you get the chance, drive up to Old Qeparo, the most picturesque village of the Albanian Riviera (phone ahead if you want to take lunch in the tiny village shop / taverna).



Tirana – Hotel Boka 
Shijak – Agroturizem Gjepali 
Berat – Hotel Onufri 
Bual – Traditional Guesthouse Përmet 
Gjirokastra – Hotel Praga (with swimming pool)
Nivica – Camp Nivica
Qeparo – Hotel Riviera


Created January 2023 for travel in June 2023.

€1,890 per person, based on 02 travellers sharing 01 Double or Twin room.



English-speaking driver / guide, his accommodation & expenses 

4×4, fuel  

Accommodation as indicated or near equivalents 

All breakfasts; evening meals at Bual & Camp Nivica; cookery class at Gjirokastra  

Guided canyon hike at Nivica

Rafting on the river Vjosa

Airport collection; drop-off at Saranda ferry port




Personal expenses

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)



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. 

Bunk'Art 1

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. 


Tucked right down in the southwestern corner of Albania, about half an hour from the sprawl of Saranda, is Butrint, considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the western Balkans. It has enjoyed UNESCO status since the late 1990s, and is well worth taking a couple of hours to explore - ideally towards the end of the day, when the crowds have vanished. 

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!    

Old Qeparo

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. 

Osumi Canyon

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. 

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. 

Cookery Classes

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).   

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. 


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! 

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. 


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. 


Albania Travel Guide Introduction

"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. "