Balkan tours around Albania

Although Albania is well worth experiencing in its own right there are also adjoining countries to discover as part of an extended break. Balkan tours around Albania could take you into neighbouring Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia - all equally attractive areas of Europe that remain, as yet, undiscovered by tourists.

Of course, this hasn’t always been the case and finding out more about the former Republic of Yugoslavia will no doubt stand you in good stead before attempting to compare and contrast the cultural heritage and historic relationships between these former Balkan brothers.

Ottoman influence is in evidence across this section of the Balkan Peninsula with the town of Prizen in Kosovo and Macedonia’s capital city, Skopje, both exhibiting an impressive arrangement of preserved Ottoman architecture including traditional Turkish hammams and myriad mosques.

Moving on to Montenegro and it’s the mountains of Durmitor National Park and the Mediterranean coastline that come into play alongside Lake Skadar which straddles the border with north Albania, just as Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa do with Macedonia, in the east.

The freedom to cross borders and travel without impunity is something that we often take for granted in Europe. Please try not to forget the all too recent past as you meet local people on both sides and piece together the path to peace that is still regarded as just as precious as it is precarious.

Meet the neighbours

Montenegro

Making the most of Montenegro will inevitably include Lake Skadar Valley where wild swimming in waterfalls and walks in walnut woods are equally as enjoyable as an afternoon at one of the country’s well regarded wine estates. Crossing into Albania is easy from Montenegro with hikes through Albania’s Theth National Park and the Dinaric Alps bringing you out at the village of Valbona for a well earned rest with that bottle of Vranac wine that you brought back from across the border.

“Don't come expecting Montenegro to be sleek and well organised. It's a small country with a tiny population and beyond the coast people live a pretty simple, basic life. It's not like a vacation to France, say, where the roads are great and you will always find a hypermarket or massive local market where you can stock up on food. Here, there isn't much in the way of shops (people are quite self sufficient), petrol stations can be miles apart, road signs non-existent and roads narrow and perilous.” – Joanna Simmons, travel writer at Responsible Travel

Kosovo

Taking the two-hour ferry ride across Lake Komani to Valbona is a real treat and considered on par with the fjords that you'll find in Scandinavia. After experiencing this area of north Albania you’ll also be close to the medieval frescos, Decani Monastery and fortified towers of Junik in Kosovo. Pristina, Skopje and Mavrovo National Park can all be experienced on a trip across the border before you return to Albania via Lake Ohrid from where Benja, Blue Eyed National Park and Berat await.

"Kosovo is a small country and one of the most undiscovered in Europe. It has lots of interesting sites including UNESCO Decani Monastery and the architectural heritage of picturesque Prizren. Anyone who is interested in both modern and ancient European history will be fascinated by Kosovo. One can also enjoy beautiful scenery and walking in the Rugova Valley and also do some wine tasting at a local vineyard. We would recommend combining visiting Kosovo with Albania and Macedonia for a wider look at the region.” – Mark Huggins from our tour supplier, Undiscovered Destinations

Macedonia

Macedonia is practically double the size of Montenegro but receives two thirds fewer tourists. That leaves an awful lot of space to explore, especially if you’re planning on combining a tour with Kosovo and Albania. A good place to start is Mavrovo National Park which is home to three of the country’s highest peaks. Elsewhere the waterside churches surrounding Lake Ohrid are also worth a visit as well as the magnificent Matka Canyon that can be found just 17kms from the Macedonian capital, Skopje, which boasts way more than its fair share of Ottoman, Illyiran and Roman relics.

“Macedonia is a fantastic country to visit because it’s so diverse. There is a real mix of architectural styles that feature different Mediterranean, Turkish, Slavic and Albanian influences. The capital of Skopje has a mix of historic sites such as the 6th century Kale Fortress as well as many restaurants, bars and art galleries to explore. Anyone visiting Macedonia should definitely visit Matka Canyon and Lake Ohrid too.” – Rosanna Neophytou from our tour supplier, Tucan Travel

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Exploring the Balkans from Albania

There are some superb small group trips (12 travelers max) that will take you overland from Albania into Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. Traveling by local bus and private transport allows for the best of both worlds as you’ll get to meet local people, on their level, as well as supporting local communities through employment opportunities such as guiding and driving.

Distances between the countries surrounding Albania aren’t that far and watching national park, forests and mountains morph into hillside hamlets, towns and city suburbs is a really worthwhile traveling experience - certainly one that can’t be replicated on a domestic flight.

Throughout these types of multi-country tours, you’ll be invited to stay at locally-owned hotels or family run guesthouses in areas that are a slightly off the beaten track - Valbona Valley in Albania, for instance. Accommodation will usually be on a B&B basis, so you get a hearty breakfast to set you up for the day before being able to dine out in locally-run restaurants or sampling street food snacks.

Train travel, cycling, hiking and yacht cruises are all amazing options for travelers looking to get into remote regions of Albania and her nearest neighbours. Not only will you get to experience each country with a local guide, but you’ll also have free time to explore and make new friends along the way. Spending more time in the area allows access to a greater depth of knowledge and experiences with ten days to two weeks our recommended duration for getting in and around Albania.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Michaela DunkelBunt] [Intro: jahmaica] [Montenegro: Alexey Komarov] [Kosovo: vhsrt-just] [Macedonia: Mike Norton]
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