THE LEAST KNOWN BALKAN REPUBLICS IN ONE SINGLE EPIC TRIP
Skopje – Tetovo – Prizren – Pristina – Mitrovica – Shkodër – Tirana – Ohrid
This tour is offered on a regular monthly basis from March through May and again from September through November. Let us know your desired departure month by clicking on the learn-more button below: we will match your preferences with the next relevant scheduled group departure. If you are still unsure about your desired departure date, then simply tell us a period or a season of the year and we will provide you a range of scheduled group departures: just pick up yours!
Our scheduled group departures don't suit your plans? If you are travelling with more than 4 friends, you can set your own departure date: we will arrange a bespoke tour just for you for the same price per person advertised below. If you are travelling solo or with less than four companions, we will then organise a slightly more expensive tailored tour according to your time schedule and specific geographical preferences.
Day 1 - Skopje
In the morning you will meet your tour guide in the lobby of the designated hotel (exact hotel address and meeting time will be communicated well in advance per email; private airport pickup and shuttle service available for a small additional fee).
Introductory briefing about the region and the route.
We'll spend the entire day touring Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia or FYROM, as the Greeks used to say.
Skopje is a fascinating Balkan capital full of ancient history, socialist heritage, brave-new-world pomp and ethnic diversity.
We'll try : invisible lines separating the Muslim Albanian community from the Christian Macedonians, ancient stone bridges, whitewashed Ottoman mosques, gold-filled Orthodox churches, extremely pretentious and helplessly tacky new monuments and imposingly melancholic brutalist shapes from the good old Yugo days.
We’ll also pay a visit to the colourful bazaars and labyrinthine alleys of Shutka, the biggest Gypsy town in the world, located just a few miles north from Skopje’s downtown.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Skopje.
Day 2 - Prizren
We'll leave Skopje early in the morning and head north to the de-facto independent but not fully recognised Republic of Kosovo, also known as Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija.
After completing the usual border formalities at the dusty frontier town of Elez Han, we'll head to Prizren, locally known as little Sarajevo and arguably the prettiest and liveliest city in Kosovo.
We'll have a traditional Kosovar lunch in one of the many cafés built along the Bistrica River and enjoy a walking tour around the churches, mosques and Bektashi (sufi) shrines scattered around Prizren old town.
We'll then pay a visit to the medieval Kalaja Fortress overlooking then town and admire the sunset vista over Prizren and the surrounding plains.
Dinner and overnight in Prizren.
Day 3 - Pristina
Today we'll move further north to Pristina, the gritty Kosovar capital.
We'll spend the day touring this aesthetically ugly but culturally compelling Balkan city of raw socialist concrete apartment blocks, melancholic Spomeniks, whitewashed Ottoman mosques and fancy capitalist steal-and-glass skyscrapers.
An architectonic highlight of our visit will definitely be the National Library: the current building was designed by Croatian architect Andrija Mutnjaković and inaugurated in 1982, it is made with zenith windows, with a total 99 domes of different sizes and is entirely covered in a metal fishing net.
Pristina is also the political and economic centre of a newborn country and thus extremely interesting from a sociological and historical point of view to observe the complex and often controversial process of nation building.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Pristina.
Day 4 - Bajram Curri
We'll depart from Pristina and slowly head to Albania, Kosovo's big brother.
Before leaving the country, we'll make a morally essential detour to the culturally and politically besieged town of Mitrovica, home to the largest Serbian community in the country, and then visit the traditional Kosovar towns of Desan and Gjakova.
After entering Albania, we'll head straight to rough-and-ready Bajram Curri, a place notorious for its dark past of smuggling hub during the latest conflict in Kosovo.
Dinner and overnight in Bajram Curri.
Day 5 - Theth
Today we'll hike the Albanian Alps, aka the Accursed Mountains, from the idyllic mountain hamlet of Valbonë to the remote traditional settlement of Theth.
The hike will take anywhere between five and eight ours depending on the slowest participant's pace… but, hey, we are here to enjoy the pristine nature and the stunning vista over the valley, no need to race!
Please note: for those not fit enough and/or not willing to undertake the hike, we'll arrange transport from Bajram Curri to Shkodër by ferry via the scenic Komani Lake.
Dinner and overnight in Theth.
Day 6 - Shkodër
After a lazy and deservingly restoring morning in Theth, we'll move down to the northern plains, heading for the once seedy and scruffy frontier town of Shkodër, near the Montenegrin border.
Shkodër has recently witnessed an economic and cultural rebirth and is slowly getting rid of its shanty towns and crumbling buildings, even if its peculiar run-down and slightly anarchic atmosphere still lives on.
We'll devote the afternoon to the town, visiting its historical sights (read Italian architecture, Ottoman fortresses and Socialist memorials) and sampling the scents and the flavours of its colourful markets and thriving street life.
Dinner and overnight in Shkodër.
Day 7 - Krujë
In the morning we'll depart from Shkodër and head for Tirana, the booming capital of a new Albania.
En route to Tirana we’ll first stop in Shëngjin, a melancholic seaside resort settlement of long sandy beaches and wildlife-thriving marshlands, and then move on to Lezhë and Krujë, historical Albanian towns renowned for their indissoluble association with the country’s national hero: Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, nobleman and military commander who led a pan-Albanian rebellion against the Ottoman Empire.
Being this a Soviet Tours trip, we will visit several socialist-era monuments and memorials, fading reminders of a failed utopia most elders still remember with ill-disguised nostalgia.
If we happen to travel in the area on Sunday, we’ll also stop near Milot for a de-rigueur visit to the not-to-be-missed weekly market: a gargantuan ensemble of rusty gewgaws, loud vendors and moaning cattle.
In the early evening we’ll eventually reach Tirana and enjoy a night stroll around the quintessentially totalitarian Skanderbeg Square.
Dinner and overnight in Tirana.
Day 8 - Tirana
We'll devote the entire day to Tirana, relentlessly exploring its many facets from dawn to dusk.
Highlights of our stay in town will include:
the intriguing architectonic mixture of fascist rationalism, socialist modernism, Ottoman eclecticism and post-socialist experimentalism;
the colourful chaos of characterising the city’s street markets, improvised bazaars and random food stalls;
the heroic deeds of the partizans eternalised in a vast a plethora of socialist-era monuments, mosaics, bass-reliefs and lapidari (memorials);
the pyramid-shaped abandoned mausoleum that once hosted the mortal remains of Enver Hoxha, the much-hated much-missed isolationist leader of the People's Socialist Republic of Albania;
the touching Varrezat e Dëshmorëve (Martyrs Cemetery) and the highly photogenic Mother Albania statue;
the vast and diverse array of religious sites, epitomising the country’s tolerant multiculturalism: ancient Sunni mosques, bell-tolling Catholic churches, gold-filled Orthodox cathedrals, and Bektashi temples;
the lively night scene in Blloku, formerly home to the Communist Party's elite and now the hippest neighbourhood around town.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Tirana.
Day 9 - Berat
We’ll leave Tirana and head for Durrës, a no-frills port town culturally closer to Italy than to the rest of the country.
After a seafood lunch in Durrës and a pilgrimage to its gigantic partizan monument, we’ll transfer to Berat, a medium-sized hilltop town famous for its walled citadel, Ottoman-style mansions and cobblestone alleys.
We will, however, shun the usual tourist trails and focus instead on the Hoxhaist heritage of Berat, as the city is home to a vast array of socialist-era lapidari and partizan graveyards, a perfect epilogue to our tour through the ruins of communist Albania.
Dinner and overnight in Berat.
Day 10 - Ohrid
After a last Turkish-style coffee in Berat we'll head back to Macedonia and precisely to the resort lake town of Ohrid.
On our way to the border we'll pass through a landscape of gentle hills, run-down villages and concrete bunkers, poignant remnants from the good old times of Enver Hoxha, who spent millions of dollars and tons of construction material to build almost 700000 of these mushroom-shaped defensive structures.
After completing the border formalities, we'll head straight to Ohrid for a day of culture and relax in this little Yugoslav town of ancient monasteries, gorgeous nature and kitschy beach bars.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Ohrid.
Day 11 - Tetovo
On our last tour day we'll explore Macedonia's Wild West: a region of ethnic diversity (and tensions as well), beautiful mountains, isolated villages and pretty old little towns.
We'll first head to the city of Debar on the namesake lake and then enter the wilderness of the Mavrovo National Park to enjoy a picnic lunch on the shore of the alpine Mavrovo Lake.
We'll then reach Tetovo, a hotspot of one of Eastern Europe's many forgotten frozen conflicts: the interethnic, interreligious tensions between Muslim Albanians and Orthodox Macedonians.
In Tetovo, theatre of bloody clashes as recently as in 2001, we'll have the chance to delve deeper into the complex conflictual dynamics characterising the region, while visiting truly beautiful Christian and Islamic places of worship, such as the Painted Mosque and the Leshok Monastery, the peaceful and serene atmosphere of which strikingly jars with the violent nationalistic propaganda on both sides of the barricade.
Dinner and overnight in Tetovo.
DAY 12 - Flight back home or transfer to further destinations
After enjoying a last Macedonian-style breakfast together we'll take care of your transfer to the airport/train station of choice.
For those flying out: transfer to any of the following transportation hubs: Skopje International Airport International Airport, Tirana International Airport, Pristina International Airport.
For those wishing to take the train/bus to reach further destinations: transfer to the central train/bus station.
End of the tour.
4 to 9 participants: 1200 € per person
The price includes: double/twin room accommodation (breakfast included; single supplement: 25 euro/night), private transport in the region (car or minivan), entrance fees to the attractions listed in the itinerary, guiding and translation service.
The price does not include: international flights and any other flight not explicitly included in the tour price and itinerary, meals, drinks and tips, transport to and from the airport of arrival/departure (35 euros/ride), visas if required, entrance fees to attractions not listed in the itinerary, insurance.
The route of this tour has been carefully designed after several research trips in the region. It is, however, always possible to slightly modify the itinerary according to the needs and the suggestions of the participants. Our motto is flexibility.
Disclaimer: the designations employed and the presentation of the material on this website do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of our company concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The territory of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija is internationally recognised as integral part of Serbia. Regardless of your/our position on the issue and for all travel-related intents and purposes, however, the territory of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija is no longer under the control of Serbian authorities.