Southwest Albania Self Drive Tour

05 Nights / 06 Days

In Brief

This fast-moving six-day self drive tour of southwest Albania includes nights in the UNESCO cities of Berat and Gjirokastra, as well as a more rural experience in Përmet. The night on the Riviera is at a family owned hotel in a quiet village well away from the crowds. Your final night will be at Kruja, which is just 25 minutes drive from Rinas Airport (Tirana International).

All the driving is on good asphalt roads, and the tour is achievable in a normal road car. Even the rural back-route options we give have fresh surfaces, put down in the past few years. 

The routes are mostly at moderate altitude, which makes this tour ideal even for winter travel, with little chance of snow. 

We’ll deliver the car to your hotel in central Tirana, and collect it from you at Rinas Airport (Tirana International) when you depart. Of course, you are welcome to return the car to Tirana if you prefer.  

From €450* Per Person

Based on 02 sharing 01 double or twin bed
For travel between mid-September & mid-June
*2024 prices

R

Includes

  • 05 nights’ accommodation as agreed on final itinerary – 3* equivalent hotels with the option of a guesthouse stay at Përmet
  • Kia Stonic or similar vehicle delivered to your hotel in Tirana and collected from Rinas Airport (Tirana International)  
  • Full vehicle insurance 
  • Route planning, PDF road books to download to your phone 
  • All breakfasts*; home-cooked evening meal at Përmet if guesthouse accommodation is chosen 
  • 24-hour support

* Unless your departure flight is extremely early and you have to leave the hotel before breakfast is served 

Q

Excludes

  • Flights 
  • Fuel 
  • Parking fees & road tolls
  • Any vehicle / driving fines incurred 
  • Any vehicle damage not covered by insurance (such as damage to the underside of the car due to driving on unsuitable roads) 
  • Personal expenses 
  • Personal travel insurance 
  • Meals unless specified 
  • Alcohol unless specified 
  • Museum & attraction entrance tickets 
  • Unscheduled activities & excursions
  • Local guides
  • Tips
Visit the Protected Trust Services website to find out how the system works

Protected Trust Services

As a UK tour operator offering holiday packages, we have to comply with strict consumer protection legislation. We are proud to be members of Protected Trust Services (member number 5101). When you pay for your tour, your money will be held in a British HSBC trust account. It will be released to us only after your tour is completed, giving you full peace of mind. You can read more about how the Protected Trust Services system works here.   

Route Notes

We don’t share specific route details till we have received your deposit. The reason for this is Albania’s road network is changing rapidly, and a good proportion of the value we provide is knowing where there are good roads, and where there are not. For instance, most of our tours use perfect asphalt roads which do not exist on Google Maps. Conversely, Google Maps will usually send unwitting travellers along roads that are completely impossible for normal road cars.

Overnight Stays

You’ll spend at least one night in each of the following locations. If you want to adapt the tour to include a different destination, let us know and if it’s possible we’ll make it happen

Përmet

Sleepy little Përmet was off the radar till recently. But the creation of the River Vjosa National Park in 2023 has raised its profile, and now it's one of Albania's "hot" destinations. We love the place - it has a unique 1970s charm and is the perfect location for exploring this beautiful region. It also famous for producing the best raki in the country…

You can stay in the "city" itself (a small town by normal standards) or in a village guesthouse close by. We recommend the latter, but room availability can be tricky these days.

Gjirokastra

No tour of south Albania is complete without a night (or better two) in this fascinating UNESCO World Heritage City, famed for its huge old stone houses, many of which date back to the 18th century and the time of Ali Pasha. If you're looking for a "day off" on your tour, this is our recommendation - you won't get bored here.

It even makes a great base for day trips - Butrint and Përmet are within easy reach, the Albanian part of the famous Zagoria valley is a few kilometres away, or you might like to make a guided hike along the Greek border to the south.

You'll stay up in the cobbled Old Town, close to just about everything, and you can explore easily on foot. Be sure to wear sensible shoes, though the local young ladies seem able to negotiate the steep cobbled alleyways in stilettos.

Riviera

The Riviera (the Ionain coastline from the Greek border to Bay of Vlorë) is beautiful, even spectacular in places, but tricky to negotiate. As a one or two night stop on a tour of Albania we think it works brilliantly. If you want a beach-focused holiday, perhaps less so.

Don't believe the "influencers" - Ksamil is not the place to go and is very far from being the "Maldives of Europe". Saranda is OK in the off-season but impossible in summertime, and ugly all year round. Generally we'd only recommend going there if you're catching the ferry to Corfu. The city of Vlorë is also just concrete apartments, though there are some nice spots on Bay of Vlorë to the south.

Better to head to a family owned place in one of the smaller villages, which is where we'll generally try to put you if you're making a tour with us. However, room availability in the reliable hotels is extremely limited in high season. If you're looking to travel in July and August and you contact us after January, we're unlikely to find anywhere we'd want to stay ourselves. If this is the case, we'll respectfully ask you to book your Riviera accommodation independently as we regard it as a guaranteed complaint and do not want to deal with 90 per cent of Riviera hoteliers, who are a law unto themselves.

Finally, the Albanian Riviera is not a cheap destination. You're about five years too late, sadly. In fact, Greece provides better value - and much better standards and service and food - in high season. If you want a few days on the beach at the end of your tour and are exiting via Corfu, you might like to book your beach time there.

 

Berat

Albania's second UNESCO World Heritage City has a charming Ottoman atmosphere and lots of history. If you're travelling on a self drive tour, we'd even suggest booking a local guide to help bring it to life.

Berat is very small and can be explored in just a few hours, so we generally recommend it as a one-night stop, though if you are rafting the Osumi Canyon or hiking Mt Tomorr, then two is necessary.  

You happen to be in the heart of Albania's southern wine region, so you might like to arrange a tasting. You could even sleep at one of the local wineries, which are a short drive from the city itself. Berat is generally dead as a door nail after 10.00pm so don't feel that you'd be missing out on any action! 

 

Traditional Albanian felt slippers

Kruja

This historic spot (it's barely a city) perched on the mountainside makes for a perfect last night in Albania. THere's a genuinely diverting ethnographic musuem, and a surreal late-Communist fake castle dedicated to Albania's national hero, Skanderbeg. He launched his 25-year rebellion against the Ottoman empire from Kruja, though you'll leave the museum none the wiser about his incredible story.

You're within easy reach of the airport for your departure flight, and Kruja's fun little bazzar is the best gift-shopping opportunity of any Albanian tour (more serious shoppers can pick up handmade kilim rugs and detritus from the Communist and Ottoman eras). The views are epic, too.

We're not going to lie to you - Kruja is touristy. However, we think that's acceptable for a last night ("exit via the gift shop…").

EN ROUTE / OPTIONAL ACTIVITIES

This tour takes you past plenty of fascinating sites and attractions. You won’t be able to include them all, but if you let us know what appeals we can adjust routes around your interests. Please note, these additional stops and activities are not included in the cost of the tour

Rafting

On this tour it’s possible to take a rafting adventure on the Vjosa – one of Europe’s last “wild rivers”. There is enough water through the year, even in high summer, to provide thrills. If you’re travelling from January to May, you might prefer to raft the Osumi Canyon, though this will require a two-night stay in or around Berat. 

Sulphur Springs

When you’re in Përmet it’s practically compulsorary to make the small detour to the sulphur springs at nearby Benjë (you might like to hire a bike in Përmet and ride rather than drive). If it’s summertime, you might like to visit early in the morning or around sundown to avoid the crowds. In winter you might be lucky enough to have the place to yourselves.   

Byllis Archaeological Park

Until 2023 Bylis was a real pain to reach, requiring a long, tedious and very twisty detour. Now it is connected with a brand-new asphalt road, so is a logical stop when you’re travelling south to Gjirokastra. We actually prefer Byllis to the more famous Butrint – the views down to the Vjosa river are incredible, and the site is much less crowded (though we guess the new road means the days of being the only visitors are gone…). 

Wild Swimming

Your route notes will include lakes and rivers where you can take a dip. Always a hit is a karst lake which happens to be close to two of our favourite restaurants (which one you eat at will have to be your decision…). Obviously, you swim at your own risk – please don’t expect lifeguards.

Butrint Archaeological Park

Tucked away in the southwestern corner of Albania is the UNESCO-protected Butrint archaeological park. If you visit in spring, autumn or winter it’s a great stop, with atmospheric ruins in a beautiful setting – if you come in summer you have to expect to share the site with day-trippers from Corfu (we suggest timing your visit for the late afternoon, when the coaches have mostly departed). 

Paragliding

Depending on the time of year, it might be possible to include paragliding on your tour. The most famous spot is of course Llogora Pass, but it should soon (we are told) be possible to fly from Mt Çajup, opposite Gjirokastra. Ask us for the most up-to-date information. 

Karavasta National Park

A completely different landscape from anything else you’ll see in south Albania. This is perhaps the country’s most famous bird-watching destination, and is home to plenty of flamingos and the endangered Dalmatian pelican. There are also plenty of excellent and reasonably priced fish restaurants. 

Syri i Kaltër (the Blue Eye, Saranda)

This isn’t a recommendation – we suggest you ignore the guide books and drive right on by. However, nobody ever takes our advice so join the crowds and make the long, sweaty walk to see what would have been a beautiful spot before it got trashed. Be sure to buy a fridge magnet at the giftshop the Minstry of Culture put up just five metres from the spring itself. 

Orthodox Churches

South Albania is home to some of the Balkans’ most beautiful Orthodox churches. We’ll include a few recommendations in your route notes, including our personal favourite, St Mary’s, which we feel is a must on any cultural tour of the region. 

Hiking

Please ask us about hiking opportunities on our tours. But keep in mind that Albania is an extremely mountainous country and almost any hike here will include very steep ascents and descents, and the paths will be rough and often badly maintained. If you ask for a “gentle” hike we probably won’t be able to help.

Antigonea Archaeological Park

Perhaps not the most impressive of Albania’s archaeological parks in terms of ruins, but hard to beat for its atmospheric location, and an easy drive from Gjirokastra too. It’s named, by the way, after the wife of King Pyrrhus, of Pyrrhic victory fame, who was once a big noise in the region.

Wine Tastings

As you travel through south Albania you’ll pass some of Albania’s best wineries. If you’d like to arrange a tasting (or two), please let us know and we’ll design your route accordingly. There is also the opportunity to stay the night in a winery at a beautiful village close to Berat if you choose. 

Cookery Classes

If you’re a keen cook, you might like to include a cookery class in your tour of south Albania. Probably the best place would be Gjirokastra, where you can lean to cook the city’s famous qifqi (herb-and-rice balls) in the garden of the ever-charming Marjeta. 

Apollonia Archaeological Park

It’s a long and dull drive from the Riviera to Tirana, so you might like to break the journey at Apollonia for an hour or so. Only a small percentage of the site has been excavated, but what is visible is pretty impressive, including the much-photographed Monument to Agonothetes. 

Village Lunches

If you like to meet locals and get a taste of village life, we’re happy to arrange more off-beat lunches for you as you travel. A particular favourite is lunch at a mountaintop village along the Albanian Riviera – a far cry from the glitz and fake glamour of the beach resorts below…