Albania is an extraordinarily rewarding country to travel in. It has monuments from all periods of Mediterranean history, from prehistoric tumuli through classical temples to Ottoman castles and communist bunkers. It is a country of mountains, river gorges and stunning unspoilt coastline with a strong tradition of hospitality which has yet to be compromised by mass tourism. Visit sooner rather than later.
Day 1 Arrive in Tirana in the evening. Stay in central Tirana
Day 2 Spend the morning exploring ‘blloku’, the centre of the city, once the preserve of the communist party elite, now a sea of cafes. Visit the National Museum to get an overview of Albanian history from prehistory up to the end of the 20th century. Drive to the classical site of Apollonia, where the Emperor Augustus was at university when his adoptive father Julius Caesar was assassinated. Have lunch in the citadel of the site. After lunch head south down the ‘Albanian Riviera’, a stretch of mountainous and uniquely unspoilt Mediterranean coastline. Arrive in Himara in the late afternoon and stay in a seaside hotel.
Day 3 Drive further south down the coast, stopping on the way for lunch in the bay of Porto Palermo and to visit the Ottoman castle built there by the renegade ruler Ali Pasha. After lunch drive on to the port town of Saranda pausing to explore the communist period tunnels and the monastery of St Mary at Kakome beach. Dinner in the castle of Likures overlooking the Straits of Corfu. Stay in Saranda.
Day 4 Spend the day in and around the site of Butrint, the archaeological highlight of the trip, which boasts an outstanding position between the sea and a lake, with a backdrop of mountains and marshes, and monuments from every period of history from the 4th century BC to the 19th AD. Spend the morning exploring the site and the museum, and in the afternoon take a boat trip to one of the small sites across the lake, or go for a walk on the Vrina Plain. Lunch in the restaurant next to the site. Stay in Saranda.
Day 5 In the morning drive one hour to the crumbling Ottoman town of Gjirokastra, stopping on the way to visit the 13th century monastery church of St Nicholas at Mesopotam and to swim in the ice-cold waters of ‘Blue Eye’. Lunch in Gjirokastra followed by a walk around the castle and the old town, a visit to a restored Ottoman house, and the Ethnographic Museum, formerly the Enver Hoxha museum. Stay in Gjirokastra.
Day 6 Drive up the Vjosa valley to Permet, the birthplace of Albanian communism and then on to the hot springs at Benja. Visit the traditional hill village of Benja and bathe in the hot springs. Hike up the river gorge, water levels permitting.
Day 7 Head north to Berat, the best-preserved Ottoman city in Albania. Stop for lunch at the Illyrian and Byzantine site
of Byllis which commands an amazing position with views over the whole of central Albania. Stay in the old town of Berat.
Day 8 Spend the morning looking around the citadel and the many churches and mosques of Berat. In the afternoon either go to the beach south of Durres, or visit the Skanderbeg Museum and bazaar in the hill town of Kruja. Depart from Tirana by the evening flight.