Albania is distinguished for its rich biological and landscape diversity. This diversity is attributable to the country’s geographic position as well as geological, hydrological, climatic, soil and relief characteristics. The mountainous terrain combined with steep cliffs creates ideal conditions for maintaining and protecting a large number of ancient species, some of which are endemic or sub-endemic. The high diversity of ecosystems and habitats (marine and coastal ecosystems, wetlands, river deltas, sand dunes, lakes, rivers, Mediterranean shrubs, broadleaf, conifers and mixed forests, alpine and sub-alpine pastures and meadows, and high mountain ecosystems) offers rich habitats for a variety of plants and animals. There are around 3,200 species of vascular plants and 756 vertebrate species. There are 27 endemic and 160 sub-endemic species of vascular plants.
The tectonic lakes of Ohrid and Prespa are some of the oldest lakes in the world and form an area of extraordinary beauty and biodiversity. Surrounded by high mountain peaks and centuries-old juniper forests, the region is home to several species found nowhere else in the world, while the surrounding wetlands and reedbeds provide habitat for hundred of thousands of wintering water birds. Our tour includes a boat trip on Great Prespa Lake to Maligrad Island, keeping watch along the way for the lake’s most famous residents, the rare Dalmatian pelican, as well as hundreds of pygmy cormorants.
We shall spend three nights in the mountain village of Voskopojë, an important cultural centre during its glory days around 1750. At its zenith, the city was bigger than Athens and housed a university and a printing press – the second in the Ottoman Empire after that of Constantinople. The small town will be our base for local forest walks, looking out for varied birdlife including goshawk, red-backed shrike, and hawfinch amongst the pine, fir, beech and oak.
Our tour will then transfer to the coastal town of Vlorë, surrounded by mountains and overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The ‘Albanian Riviera’ is a patchwork of different habitats, from the forested mountains of Llogara National Park to the lagoons of Narta, and Divjaka-Karavasta. Whilst here we look out for wetland birdlife including flamingo, great white egret, avocet and spoonbill, as well as numerous migrating waders from Russia and north-eastern Europe.
We stay at three-four star hotels throughout.
Participants should be comfortable walking over sometimes rugged terrain, and a good level of fitness is required for this tour.
This tour will be led by conservationist and ornithologist Dr. Denik Ulqini, from the University of Shkoder, who is also an environmental consultant with a special interest in birds, mammals and ecotourism.
Meet with the guide and the driver at Tirana International Airport and travel to Durres (~30mins) for overnight stay at Hotel Arvi, a 4 star hotel close to the seaside and the main boulevard. Dinner at restaurant by the seaside.
After breakfast, visit of the Durres amphitheater, the museum and the old city walls. Durres is one of the ancient cities in Albania, founded by Greek colonists from Corinth and Corfu as Epidamnos in 627 BC. After visit, leave for a visit at Divjake National Park (~1h drive): lagoons, sand dunes, pine forest, colony of Dalmatian pelicans. After the visit, we have picnic inside the pine forest, and continue the trip to Fier for overnight stay at a 4 star hotel, in the center of the city. In the afternoon, free time around the city. Dinner at the hotel.
After breakfast, we continue our trip for a visit at Apollonia Archaeologic Site (an ancient Greek city and former bishopric in Illyria, founded in 588 BCE) (~20mins). After the visit and the picnik, we continue our trip to Vlore (1 hour drive), with a stop at Narta Lagoon: salt pans with wide variety of avifauna including black-necked grebe, Mediterranean gull, ferruginous duck. Check-in at a 4 star hotel in Vlore. Free time in the city, possible visit at the monument of Independence and Muradie Mosque (from 1537). Dinner at the hotel.
After breakfast, continue our trip to Butrint (~3h and 30mins), with a coffe stop at Llogara Pass (enjoy the panoramic view albanian riviera from about 1040m high) and a visit at Porto Palermo Castle (believed to been builded from Venetians, and final form created by Ali Pasha). Lunch at restaraunt in Butrint and visit of the national park of Butrint and the well conserved archaeological site (a UNESCO World Heritage site, which was founded by the Greeks in the 7th century BC). Continue our trip to Sarande (30mins), for overnight stay at 4 star hotel close to the sea.
After breakfast, continue our trip to Gjirokaster (~2h of drive), with stops at St. Nicholas Monastery Church in Mesopotam (builded in 1224) and at Blue Eye (a water spring and natural phenomenon, a popular tourist attraction). Visit of Gjirokaster (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), with visits at old Bazaar, Castle. Lunch at restaurant in Gjirokaster. Continue our trip to Korce through the valley of Shkumbin. Check-in at 4 star hotel in Korce and dinner at hotel.
Continue trip to Voskopoje (~30mins), for walks in the woodland (Scots pine, silver fir, Valonia oak) and exploration of the town (St Nicholas’ Church with wonderful frescoes, and other monasteries). Lunch in Voskopoje, and continue our trip to Pogradec (~1h 15min) for overnight stay at 4 star hotel. Free time for walks around the town and on the side of Lake Ohrid. Dinner at hotel.
After breakfast, continue our trip to Elbasan (~1h 40min), with stops on the lakeside for birdwatching and photoshots. Visit of the old castle (15th-century fortress), the Paleochristian basilica (built in the 5th or 6th century AD), Naziresha Mosque (from 1599), King Mosque (the oldest active mosque in Albania, builded around 1482-1485) and the Turkish Baths (16th century). Lunch at restaurant inside the castle of Elbasan. After lunch, continue our trip to Tirane (~1h) for overnight stay at 4-5 star hotel. In the afternoon free time for visits around the city. Dinner at the hotel.
Depending on the air flight, we might visit the National Historical Museum and Et'hem Bey Mosque (from 18th-century). Departure for the airport.
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