Southwest Albania Slow Tour

09 Nights / 10 Days

In Brief

This is a relaxed 10-day Albania “slow tour”, designed around a four-night stay in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Gjirokastra, two nights in Berat and two nights on the Riviera. The final night will be spent in Kruja, to be close to the airport, but there is also the option to sleep at the restaurant-with-rooms Agroturizem Gjepali, in Shijak (about 40 minutes’ drive from Rinas Airport). Alternatively, if your flight is later in the day we could extend the stay in Berat to three nights.

You’ll be driven by an experienced licensed guide, who’ll show you the best that southwest Albania has to offer. The tour is designed with a lot of flexibility, so you can adjust the daily activities (within reason!) as you travel through discussion with your guide. For instance, if you wish to visit Butrint you could do this as a day trip from Gjirokastra, or the following day as you travel from Gjirokastra to the Riviera.

From euros €1,190* Per Person

Based on 04 sharing 02 double or twin bedrooms
For travel between mid-September & mid-June
*2024 prices

R

Includes

  • English-speaking licensed guide, his accommodation & expenses
  • 09 nights’ accommodation as agreed on final itinerary – 3* equivalent hotels
  • Minivan, fuel
  • Route planning, PDF road books to download to your phone 
  • All breakfasts*  

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

Q

Excludes

  • Flights 
  • 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 four nights in Gjirokastra, two in Berat, two on the Riviera, but one night only in Kruja (in order to be close to the airport). 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

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.

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! 

 

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. 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.

 

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

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). 

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…

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. 

Nivica Canyon

You have the opportunity on this tour to visit the incredible Nivica Canyon, where you can stop for lunch at the canyon’s edge, and even make a hike if you’ve the energy (and a head for heights). En route is the impressive Ujëvara e Peshturës waterfall. 

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.