Weekend in Sarande & Gjirokaster

Posted By : Niku/ 400

Saranda (alb. Sarandë) the gateway to the southern Albania, is a small town of about 22.000 inhabitants (2008 est.), situated on a beautiful horseshoe bay between a mountains and the Ionian Sea. The name Saranda derives from an early Christian monastery dedicated to Agioi Saranta (Forty Saints). Situated opposite of Corfu island, Saranda is often visited by day trippers who come to enjoy this previously inaccessible resort. There are daily ferry services to and from Corfu available. The sea panorama, the variety of flora, favored by the soft climate and warm sea waters, make Saranda the preferred center for rest and recreation and an important tourist town. Honeymooners traditionally spend their holidays here. Saranda has an excellent climate, averaging 290 sunny days a year. In the summer temperatures rarely exceed 30 degrees during the day, while the sea breeze at night is quite refreshing. Saranda is an old town, first settled by the Illyrian tribe of Chaonians who named it Onchesmus. Cicero mentions it as convenient harbor with favorable winds. The bay on which town is build gives Saranda its charming look, that can be better appreciated if approached from the sea. Many mosaics found in the town confirm that the town must have seen some above average development around 2nd and 3rd century AD. The town is a good base for exploring the most beautiful part of the Albanian coast – a strip also known as the Albanian riviera. The coastal road to Vlore is also wonderful. Near Saranda there are the ruins of the ancient city of Butrint and the Springs of “Blue Eye”. 

Butrint – one of the most important archeological finds in Albania, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Butrint was an ancient city throughout Greek, Roman, bishopric and Byzantine periods. The city was finally abandoned during the Middle Ages perhaps due to the marsh surrounding and subsequent malaria epidemic. Despite being one of the greatest classical cities of the Mediterranean, Butrint remains largely unknown. The current archaeological site includes an impressive Greek amphitheatre, a Byzantine Basilica (the largest in the world after Hagia Sophia in Istanbul), a Roman temple with mosaic floor, a beautifully carved Lion’s gate as well numerous constructions built throughout the periods. Furthermore, what you see is just 15% of what lies beneath.
Known by many as the City of Stone, Gjirokastra is a developing centre for cultural heritage tourism. A walk around the network of cobbled streets that climb steeply out of the bazaar will transport you back in time.

Gjirokastra (alb. Gjirokastër) – situated in southern Albania, Gjirokastra perches on the steep side of the Drino valley overlooking an historic landscape framed by snow-capped mountains.This ‘city of a thousand steps’ comprises hundreds of Ottoman-style tower houses with distinctive stone roofs, wooden balconies and whitewashed stone walls. Dominated by the sheer flanks of its vast castle, Gjirokastra is a magical city with a tumultuous past. From feudal stronghold to Ottoman jewel to Italian colony, the city has known many rulers and has inspired poets, authors and artists. Its old town is inscribed on the World Heritage List as “a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, built by farmers of large estate.” Known by many as the City of Stone, Gjirokastra is a developing centre for cultural heritage tourism. A walk around the network of cobbled streets that climb steeply out of the bazaar will transport you back in time. A visit to the vast 13th-century castle brings the adventurous tales of medieval rulers and communist atrocities alive. There is much to see in Gjirokastra and the surrounding areas, and a stay in bed and breakfast accommodation in one of the converted Ottoman houses can make an excellent base for exploring the region. Gjirokastra is an ancient city with traces of human habitation dating back to the 1st century BC. It is located on the slopes of the Wide Mountain (Mali i Gjer), overlooking the Drinos river. The city was probably founded some time in the 12th century AD around a fortress on the hillside. Under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, it developed into a major commercial centre known as Argyropolis (Silver City). The city was part of the Byzantine Despotate of Epirus in the 14th century before passing to the Ottoman Empire in 1417. It was captured in 1811 by the Albanian-born Ali Pasha, who carved out his own semi-autonomous fiefdom in the southwestern Balkans. In the late 19th century, when the city was the capital of the sandjak of Ergiri in the Yanya vilayet, it became a center of resistance to Turkish rule. The Assembly of Gjirokastra, a key event in the history of the Albanian liberation movement, was held there in 1880.

Highlights of the tour

  • Llogora National Park
  • Albanian Riviera
  • Saranda City Center.
  • Lekures Castle
  • Three Islands in Ksamil.
  • Butrint Archaeological Park.
  • Blue Eye Spring.
  • Gjirokastra Old Quarter.
  • Gjirokastra Castle.

Itinerary

Meet and greet with the group at hotel lobby and start our trip to Saranda,about 300 km from Tirana. On the way we stop for a break in the National Park of LLogara, a wonderful view, from where you can see one of the most beautiful parts of the Albanian Riviera. After the break, we continue our trip to Saranda, where we will visit the town and the promenade. Then we will move to Ksamil where we will enjoy a fantastic view of the Three Islands. After lunch,we will visit the ancient National Park of Butrint, visited by thousands of tourists every year, where we can see The Amphitheater, The Ancient Museum, The Baptistery, The Old Temples etc. Then we move to the hotel to enjoy the dinner from a wonderful view of Saranda by Night. The next day we continue our trip to visit the Blue Eye, one of the most beautiful natural springs of Albania. After having a break, we will continue to Gjirokastra, The Stone City, where we will visit the center of the city and the old bazaar. After lunch we finish this amazing tour and we take the road to Tirana.

Weekend in Fier & Vlore

Posted By : Niku/ 387

Fieri (Albanian: Fier or Fieri) is a city in southwest Albania, in the district and county of the same name. Fier is 8 km (5 mi) from the ruins of the ancient city of Apollonia. This district is also rich in other archaeological sites and post Byzantine monuments.
Apollonia was an ancient city in Illyria, located on the right bank of the Aous River (the modern-day Vjosë River). It was founded in 588 BCE by Greek colonists from Corfu and Corinth, on a site initially occupied by Illyrian tribes. Apollonia flourished during the period of Roman rule in the area and was home to a renowned school of philosophy. The city began to decline in the 3rd century CE when its harbor began silting up as a result of an earthquake. Cicero, the famed Roman Orator, was captivated by the beauty of Apollonia and in his Philippics, referred to it as “magna urbs et gravis,” or “great and important city.” Archaeological excavations have shown that Apollonia achieved its zenith around the 4th-3rd centuries BC. Sources depict a flourishing culture, with a busy harbor along this active trading route. Apollonia, like Dyrrachium further north, was an important port on the Illyrian coast as the most convenient link between Brundusium and northern Greece, and as one of the western starting points of the Via Egnatia leading east to Thessaloniki and Byzantium in Thrace. It had its own mint, stamping coins that have been found as far away as the basin of the Danube. The city has a 4 km long wall encircling an area of 137 hectares. It has been estimated that during the peak of civilization in Apollonia as many as 70,000 inhabitants lived inside the city gates. Among the most interesting sights are the city council building with its surviving facade, the library, the triumphal arch, and the temple of Artemis. Also noteworthy are the Odeon, which dates from the 2nd century BC and once accommodated approximately 10,000 spectators, and the two-story, 77 meter long covered walkway, or “stoa.” An earthquake in the 3rd century CE altered the path of the Vjosë River and caused severe infrastructure damage. The harbor eventually filled with silt, effectively ending trade. The once proud city declined until it was nearly uninhabited. It was “rediscovered” in the 1700’s, and archaeological efforts have continued intermittently throughout the 20th century. Today the site can easily be accessed from the nearby city of Fier and offers both unique views of the Adriatic coastline as well as an extensive collection of historical and archaeological items of interest.

Called the “City of the flag” or “City with two seas” Vlora is regarded as the pearl of the Albanian tourism, with its shores, Karaburun, Sazan, Llogora, Castle of Kanina, Narta Lagoon, numerous beaches, monuments, people, land and sea.

Vlora (alb. Vlorë), known also as Valona, is located in south-western Albania where the two seas, Adriatic and Ionian, meet. Vlora enjoys a beautiful position beacause it is the gatway to the Albanian Riviera , which is the gem of Albanian Tourist places. The town with its wide boulevards decorated by huge palm trees has a real southern Mediterranean feel to it. It is located in front of Karaburuni peninsula and Sazani Island, close to various sandy and rocky beaches and the scenic nearby mountains. Vlora is Albania’s second largest port, having regular ferry boat connections with Italian ports of Bari and Brindisi. The oldest traces of civilization in the area of Vlora date back to the 6th century B.C. In ancient times the city started as a port, and was known under the name of Aulona, famous for its olive groves and vineyards. During the 4th century AD was frequently mentioned as a landing port for ships of goods from the ports of Otranto and Brindisi, as well as an important stop over between the prosperous ancient cities of Apollonia and Butrint. After the fall of Apollonia and Orichum, it became the principal port of Illyria. In the fifth century Aulona was the centre of diocese. The emigrations of barbarians damaged it badly and brought the withdrawal of the city deeper in land. During the Middle Ages the city was fused into one with the fortress of Kanina, which is situated a few kilometres to the south-east. At the fourteenth century, Vlora became an important trading and handicraft centre noted apart from wines and salt, for its swords, its ships and its silk. The Turks invasion took place in 1417. In 1531 Sultan Sulejmani built a fortress, which is believed to have been designed by the architect Sinani. By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Vlora had again become an important economic centre and port it was taken by Ali Pasha Tepelena in 1812. Although an important town throughout history its claim to fame came on November 28th, 1912, when the National Assembly of Albania declared the independence of Albania in Vlora, to end a five century Ottoman rule. The town was the first capital of independent Albania.

Highlights of the tour

  • Apollonia Archaeological Park
  • Vlora City Center.
  • Kuzum Baba.
  • Muradi Mosque.
  • Riviera
  • Llogora National Park
  • Zvernec Monastery.

Meeting and greeting with the group at hotel lobby and then drive to Fier, approx. 120 km from Tirana. After a short driving through the city center, we take the road to Apollonia Archaeological Park where we will visit the famous Church of St. Mary and the ruins of the once famous city of Apollonia. Then we proceed to Vlora, 35 KM from Fier. Lunch by the seaside. Accomodation in hotel and in the afternoon we start to explore the city center, the Muradi Mosque and the Kuzum Baba holy place. This is on top of a hill, with a panoramic view of the city and the bay in general. The next morning we drive to Llogora National Park where we will have lunch in the middle of a forest, on top of the mountain. The road to Llogora goes by the seaside, the bay of Vlora, one of the most beautiful parts of the Albanian riviera. After lunch we will have a coffee on the exit of the national park, with a panoramic view of the Ionian sea, a couple of Greek islands in the distance and some of the most famous beaches of Albania down below. Then we return to Tirana, end of the tour.
Price includes: Transport with comfortable couch, hotel accomodation, professional guide throughout the program.
Entrance fees, where applicable, are not included. Food, drinks and tips not included.