Welcome to Albania Religious tour, the only country where religious coexistence and tolerance, is the example that the world should lean on to. In today’s Albania, coexist several religions, which are currently officialized, like: Catholic, Bektashi, Muslim, Orthodox and Protestant. In Albania (even though a tiny country) you will find the remains of over 250 very old Churches, Monasteries & Basilicas dating from II BC, followed by the Tekkes more than 150 of them in very good conditions, to arrive to the ottoman invasion period which left in Albania over 50 old mosques you can still visit today. Religious tolerance in Albania is a quest treated as one of a national characteristic and an extraordinary achievement of the country and the Albanians. As a well-known characteristic, religious tolerance in the country has been and continues to be a value of pride for Albanians, where at its core lies the universally accepted postulate “The religion of the Albanians is Albanianness”. Due to the origins of the Albanians of today, looking back in the past centuries the Albanian population preserved the custom of being Albanians more than being religious, didn’t matter which religion was created or passed through the Albanian lands. Examples of this religious tolerance are “mixed religious marriages”, “celebrations of religious holidays of other faiths” and “peaceful coexistence of Albanians of different religious backgrounds” etc.
Religious tour: After meeting with the guide, we will head to the closest city. The tour will start from Kruje, the epicenter of Albania’s independence from the Ottoman Empire. Located up on the side of the mountain will make us start exactly by the top of the mountain with the best view of the city and the mysterious & sacred place called “Sari Salltik”, a mini temple located inside of the rocks, where you will get to know for the 1st time in your life about the religion of Bektash-ism. Right after we will go down the streets of the city, to visit the old market and head to the Castle where we will visit the Museum of Scanderbeg, the Albanian National Hero. On the way out we will have the chance to experience (optional) a master class in fine art by Mr.Ndricim showing us all the process of doing Qeleshe – Unical Albanian Hat descending & being preserved for more than 10.000yrs.
After will proceed toward the next city, Lac.
Lac is mostly known for its Sacred Place/Church of “Shna Ndout” or “St.Anthony” located up on the hills. Destroyed for the last time in 67’ during communism and rebuild again, it holds never-ending miracle stories.
Dinner will be in a small village called Fishte, famous for its patriots, good wine and organic food. “Mrizi I Zanave” offers all of these, on the way to the north city of Shkodra, where we will have the overnight.
After breakfast will leave the hotel to “dive” into the city of Shkodra. As this city has always been the center of north Albania, we can find different traces from different centuries.
Just after visiting the church & the monastery, while sill by the shores of the lake of Shkodra, will take a short break for lunch. A fish restaurant by the lake will refresh us to continue our journey.
Next will head to the Island of Shurdhah, located in the river on Drin (the longest in the country) where the construction of the hydropower plant of “Vau i Dejes” created an artificial lake that encircled the hill on which the ruins of the medieval city of Sarda sit, transforming the entire area into the island it is today.
After the Island will head back to the city of Shengjin on the coast to enjoy dinner.
After dinner return to the capital.
Will leave Tirana to head toward another city of the same center region, Elbasan. Elbasan is known as an ancient city, where cultural monuments are among the rarest that can be touched in Central Albania. One of those that have taken their rightful place in the world of monuments of ingrained Albanian culture, is the castle in the city center. The 2000-year-old castle is a Roman construction, erected in the early 4th century AD as a military fortress to house a legion and secure control of the “Via Egnatia” road, which at the time was the most important road connecting Kostantinopoli with the Roman Empire. Barbarian wars during the 4th and 5th centuries AD brought about the destruction of castles, and it took the hand of the Byzantine emperor of Dardanian Justinian descent, to rebuilt the castle on the old foundations. Within this castle there are so many cultural monuments, where generated the culture of the mind and the culture of the architecture.
The catholic church, the orthodox church of “St. Mary”, the school in the Castle, the Mosque or the old women’s baths, as well as the clock tower or every house of this Castle have the stamp of history. And these are what we will visit:
Lunch will be inside of the castle, where we will try the delicacies of the area. Not to miss “Tave kosi” (lamb, rice, yoghurt casserole) & “Ballokume” (traditional Spring desert made of corn flower, butter and the special touch of the Albanian women).
Next stop the lake city of Pogradec. The city which is surrounded by historical small villages and of which shores get wet from the sweet waters of the oldest volcanic lake in Europe.
Located just at the entrance of the city, we will find LIN the ancient Illyrian city of LYHNID.
Lin is a postcard village that only recently is getting the attention it deserves not only for its landscape and picturesque views, but for its history, specifically its early Christian basilica and mosaic, the oldest in the entire Balkan region. At the top of the cliff of the Lin Peninsula, stands the rare historical site of the early Christian (or Paleochristian) basilica, and the remarkably preserved mosaic found within it. The preservation of history and natural beauty cannot get better than this! The archaeological objects found in the basilica include copper coins from the period of the Roman emperors Justin (518-527) and Justinian (527-565), as well as ceramic vessels from the Illyrian period of the first half of the first millennium the 5th-8th centuries A.C.
After Lin, will proceed to the city of Pogradec. Will have dinner in the city close to water. Not to miss the specialty of the area, the fish grown ONLY in this lake, the famous Koran, a rare fish of the trout and salmon family, which even Queen Elisabeth loves so much.
After breakfast will start our day toward the county of Korca, the county of culture, knowledge, tradition & history, old churches & monasteries, of Lakror & Kernacka.
1st stop will be the Prespa National Park, one of the largest national parks in Albania, only a 20-minute car ride away from the city of Korça.
The two lakes: Prespa e Madhe (Greater Prespa Lake), and Prespa e Vogël (Small Prespa Lake), have kept each other company for 5 million years. With a surface area of approximately 300km2 and staggering depths of 54m. Aside from its obvious natural beauty, another pleasant surprise awaits the visitors at Prespa Lake, just when reaching the largest village around the lake, Liqenas Village, will have in front of us a tiny little island reachable by boat, on which lies the Church of St. Mary. Built in 1369, inside a cave considered a holy place, the small church immerses the visitors in its quiet and spiritual atmosphere
Next Stop will be the settlement of “Mborje”, a southeastern suburb of Korçë, located 4 km away from Korça. In this village are located the historical settlement of Mborje Castle of the IX century AD and the Church of Ristoz, (The Holy Resurrection Church) built in 1389. Studies show 12 old churches. Among them, the church of Ristoz, which is known as one of the earliest places of worship in the Balkans. The city of Korca is surrounded by 6 municipalities and more than 50 small villages, each of them holding more than 10 churches & monasteries preserving them through centuries. One of this villages is our next destination.
Passing right through the city of Korca we will head toward Voskopoja, the Cradle of the National Resistance, home to 25 churches throughout centuries, after being targeted by the Muslim invasions, remain today only 8 of them, where we can still enjoy the remaining frescoes preserving great values of medieval art.
Dinner and overnight in Voskopoja.
– Do not miss “Lakror” a type of pie coming straight from the 13th century, spread all over Balkans of today, done in the traditional way you can find ONLY in Korca county, perfectly accompanied with the oldest Albanian beer, “Birra Korca” dating from 1928.
After breakfast we depart toward the city of Permet the city of flowers known for many tourist attractions, the city of poets & writers, of music & dance, of raki & gliko, of breathtaking nature, of thermal springs which are highly curative, situated in the banks of the Langarica Canyon.
The Langarica canyon (famous for rafting) is located about 200 meters away from the thermal springs. Permet is also the main city surrounded by the waters of the famous Vjosa River, the Europe’s Last Wild River. The region is also known for its warm hospitality and anyone who has the fortune to be invited into a local home, will immediately be offered some homemade gliko, a compote made from whole fruit. Gliko is an important element of the local cuisine in Përmet and is made from many different fruits & vegetables, all grown locally by many of the valley’s small-scale farmers. ‘Walnut husk’ gliko, made from whole green walnuts, is the most common style and other popular variations include white cherry, eggplant, wild fig, plum & apricot and even onions.
1st stop “The Kamenica Tumulus” The Kamenica Mound is an important archaeological site that we will visit along the way, where we will find a museum dedicated to the PREHISTORY of Albania. The central tomb dates back to the Bronze Age 13 BC. surrounded by two large concentric circles unlike any other mound discovered in Albania. 40 tombs in the late Bronze Age 1200-1050 BC. and up to 200 in the early Iron Age 1050-750 BC. The mound grew further in the 7th century BC. During the excavations, more than 400 tombs, 440 skeletons and 3,500 archaeological objects were found.
2nd stop will be on the way to Leskovik. Lunch awaits us at a family agriculture restaurant between Erseke and Leskovik, to try some of the delicacies of the area in the Sotira Farm.
3rd stop will be in the city of Leskovik. Located on the top of the mountain with an amazing view, will have the chance to visit: The Evangelical Church (Kisha Ungjillore), The Tyrbe of Father Beko or have a coffe (optional) to relax with the view of the city.
4th stop will be in Benje. A natural site of thermal volcanic hot waters, surrounded by the breathtaking view of the highest mountains, mixed with old architecture of stones, the bridge of Kadi, where we can relax, taking baths and enjoying 1-hour free time.
Right after will proceed to the city of Permet at the hotel where we will spend the night. Will have some rest, check out the small city. After meet for dinner to enjoy the delicious dishes in a family restaurant.
Visit Optional (in the city, walking)
After breakfast will leave the hotel.
Will start the tour leaving the city of Permet towards the city of Gjirokaster. Just 10 min drive from the hotel we will make our 1st stop to check out The Church of Assumption (Kisha Fjetja e Shën Mërisë) in Kosinë, Përmet which according to archaeologists, it is defined as a building from 1460, but the structure is earlier and shows that the church has existed since the time of Emperor Justinian, in the VI century. It is built in the business style, with only arches and on the northwest side, there are some unknown inscriptions. This church was declared a Cultural Monument since 1963.
Rising above a beautiful hillside overlooking the village of Alipostivan, lies the main tekke of all Bektashi believers. A religion with its origins in Albania and still followed today by 1/3 of all Albanians. Situated in the beautiful region of Cerja the tekke was originally built by Baba Ali in 1857 and today it still bears his name. The tekke was burned 1st by Ottoman invaders in 1870 and again by the Greek extremists in 1914. The beautiful tekke, other than having spiritual value for Bektashi believers, is also represents an object of rare cultural value for domestic and foreign visitors.
Next: Gjirokastra, a UNESCO World Heritage site for its architecture of stone & also one of the most acclaimed culinary towns of south Albania. The city was a part of the Byzantine Empire dating back on 13th century. The city of stone houses, of arts, of costume and dance, the city of the great leaders, great warriors, writers and artists. City of ancient walls of Antigonea and many castles surrounding it. Here will visit:
After lunch will leave the city towards the Monastery of Ravenna located 10km south of Gjirokastra above the village of Goranxi. The monastery is dedicated to the “Dormition of the Goddess” and celebrates from August 15. The monastery was built in 1600 by the hieromonk Christopher. This is confirmed by an inscription engraved in stone on the west gate. The apse of the church is five-sided. On the apse of the southern wall inside the church is the inscription: “Prayer of the servant of the god Hjokë Quriakut, from the village of Mashkullore (Vlore)”. On a wooden seal is written: “The seal of the Most Holy Goddess, nicknamed Ravenia, over the village of Goranxi 1622”.
Next will departure toward the city of Berat, another Unesco heritage site known for its wonderful architecture where houses look as they were built on each other’s backs, named “The city of the thousand windows”. Berat dating back to its origins on the 6th century BC, is home to the Mount Tomorr and river Osum, present in all myths and legends. City of the olives and virgin oil, grapes and wines. City of vast resources of marble and petroleum. Its castle is considered unique by the fact that people continue to live inside of it. Once inside the Berat Castle, were over 30 churches. Today only 10 are preserved. The earliest churches in the city of Berat are Byzantine, of the 6th-8th century, while with the ottoman invasion of the Balkans, after destroying most of the churches, started to replace them with mosques (middle of the 15th century).
Onufri is the greatest iconographer painter of Albania. Born in the 16th century, he signed his works of art with the title “Protopapa”, indicating that he had a considerable rank in the ecclesiastical hierarchy of Byzantium.
Here we will visit:
Just about dinner time we will be accommodated to enjoy the tastes of traditional food while enjoying the lights of the evening on the stones of the antiquity.
After breakfast will continue toward another UNESCO world heritage center, a must for a foreign tourist, the ancient city of Apollonia of Illyria, founded around 600 BC. Its foundation took place immediately after the foundation of Epidamnus – Dyrrachium (todays city of Durres). The city seems to have sunk with the rise of Vlora. It was “rediscovered” by European classicists in the 18th century. Here we will visit:
As a part of the monastery of Apollonia, it has some enigmatic figures that further add to the curiosity of local and foreign tourists. The fresco of paleologists, the inscription of the Byzantine sebastocrator, the eagle relief and the figures of the portico capitals preserved in this object, are rare images even for the scholars of the field as their authors are not known. In the church’s capital, is engraved on all four sides an enigmatic portrait that it is not known which figure it represents. According to the historian, it could be the Byzantine emperor who built the church, some representatives of his local government or Norman knights, who in the XI-XII centuries carried out conquest campaigns along the coastal part of Albania.
Next, the monastery of Ardenica.
Scholars claim that the Byzantine Emperor Andronick, started building the monastery in 1282. Before the chapel, on this site, had existed a pagan temple dedicated to Artemis. The monastery site lies approximately 1 km from the Via Egnatia. In this monastery was celebrated the marriage of George Kastrioti with Andronika Arianiti, 1451. In the wedding were present all of the Albanian princes, members of the League of Lezhë, the ambassadors of the Kingdom of Naples, Republic of Venice, and Republic of Ragusa.
Lunch break in Ardenica. Do not miss: Fried frog legs, traditional dish of the area.
On the way back to Tirana we will pass close the city of Durres, another important city, known as Epidamnus – “There where water is” Named by the ancestors of the Albanians, dating back in VII B.C. As its old name says it Durres, is located on the beach side, the Adriatic coast. Optional:
After will reach Tirana center for some free time.
Definitely the best traditional organic restaurant in the capital, also a mill workshop where you can see how the Albanians still preserve their ancient culinary customs.
After breakfast will leave the hotel toward the international airport of “Mother Teresa”