Gems of the Balkans Tour - Greece, Albania, N. Macedonia | 13 Days - Aperture Journeys

Gems of the Balkans Tour – Greece, Albania, N. Macedonia | 13 Days

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Price Per Person Dbl Occupancy w/10 person Group
From$5,950
Price Per Person Dbl Occupancy w/10 person Group
From$5,950
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August 5, 2024
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13 Days Greece, Albania, N Macedonia
Availability : 5 Aug - 17 Aug 2024
Start CIty----Skopje, North Macedonia
End City----Thessaloniki, Greece
Max People : 10

Aperture Journeys Premium Tours

Hi I’m Mike Corcoran the founder of Aperture Journeys.  I hope you enjoy reading about this tour and decide to join us. Albania was my home for a while. My wife and I spent years exploring the area.  I love Albania and this region and I am sure you will too!  Since it is less travel by tourist the culture is still authentic.

If you have any questions please give me a call +1 813 501 6111.

The Aperture Journeys Difference
  • Hosted by an Aperture Journeys Tour Leader
  • Professional Guides & Drivers
  • Designed For Less Time Riding in Bus
  • All Group Meals Included w/Beverages
  • Tips Included
  • Tour Photos & VIdeo available for download
  • Premium 4 & 5 star hotels centrally located
  • Better Travel Experience with Small Groups
  • Personal Support,  Speak Directly With Us, No Call Centers
  • Photo & Video Walks w/ instruction
  • Happy Hour Sessions (min 4) - Share our experiences over drinks
Tour Dates
Gems of the Balkans Tour Overview
Greece, Albania & North Macedonia
Highlights

Europe”s Last unturned stones!

Dust off your travel gear, grab your passport, and join me for an unforgettable cultural experience! Our travels will take us to the best up-and-coming destinations in Europe. We’ll start in North Macedonia in the capital city of Skopje. You’ll enjoy this quaint smaller capital city with its unique mixture of Christian and Ottoman influences. The stunning city square will have you snapping lots of photos. Just across the river you step into the old Ottoman bazaar, you’ll feel like you have stepped back in time! The beautiful town of Ohrid is our next destination. It is situated on the lakeside of the pristine Lake Ohrid. Its a very relaxing place with beauty and history. We have our first winery visit traveling from Ohrid we arrive a beautiful winery in the countryside. We will sample the local wine varieties, have a cooking class and enjoy the friendly hospitality. Our journey continues toward Albania. Along the way we visit historical sites along the lake shore drive. Our last site, St. Naum, is at the southern point of the lake on the border

Albania. After, we proceed to Pogradec, a small lake shore town, then we go to Elbasan. We have a short stop in Elbasan and visit the castle and have a coffee. After a short drive we arrive in Tirana the capital city of Albania. Tirana is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets with beauty and hospitality just waiting to be explored. You’ll immediately notice the warm, friendly nature of the Albanian people and culture of this undiscovered gem as we learn about its fascinating history during our city tour. We’ll visit the Bloku area, once an exclusive district closed to the general public under communist rule. Today it is the most vibrant and hip district in the city, filled with coffee shops & cafes, restaurants, nightlife and shopping.

We now travel south visiting Berat, the city of a thousand windows, Gjirokaster, Ksamil, Historical site of Butrint. WE cross the border into Northern Greece and discover the beauty of Zagori region, Metsovo Mountain village and Meteora’s unique landscape. Finally we finish our journey in Thessaloniki.

Price Includes
Activity Level
Complementary
Price Excludes
  • All Meals Included (w/beverages)
  • Aperture Journeys Tour Leader
  • Small Group Travel 6 -12 Persons
  • Aperture Journeys Tour Leader
  • Welcome and Farewell Dinners
  • Arrival Meet & Greet Service
  • Airport & Hotel Transfers
  • Premium Hotel Accommodation
  • Professional Tour Guide
  • Entrance Fees per Itinerary
  • Transportation During Tour (Coach, Vessel, Flight)
  • Tips Included (Driver, Guide, Restaurants)
  • Wifi Internet during Coach Travel
  • Moderate Pace
  • Walking Cobble stone streets, uneven walking surfaces in ancient ruins
  • Walking up inclines and steps
  • Some Trail Walks
  • Daily Water (2 bottles)
  • Photo & Video Instruction Lessons
  • Candid Photos & Video (available for download)
  • Happy Hour Drinks (4 evenings minimum)
  • International Airfare (Unless Indicated in Itinerary)
  • Personal Expenses
  • Hotel Room Service Fees
Itinerary

Day 1Arrive Skopje, North Macedonia

Welcome to the Skopje the capital city North Macedonia.  A unique capital with an interesting mix of Christian and Ottoman influences. 

Meet & Greet Transfer service

Check into your hotel

Free time

Meals: Dinner

Overnight Skopje Marriott Hotel – Skopje

Skopje Marriott Hotel

 

Day 2Skopje

After breakfast we will have city tour in Skopje. Skopje is the capital of North Macedonia, situated in the Skopje Valley. It is a very attractive tourist destination with its fortress, cultural and historical monuments and archeological cities. Skopje also is a modern, political, economic and cultural center. Skopje, and especially the downtown, hides interesting sites that need careful attention: the old station, (a reminder of the earthquake of 1963) the archaeological museum, the memorial house of Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, winner of the Nobel peace in 1979, born in Skopje in 1910), Macedonia Square with numerous monuments like the monumental statue of Alexander The Great, the Stone Bridge, the Museum of Holocaust, the old bazaar, the church of St. Spas with the beautiful wood-carved iconostasis (19th century), the Daut Pasha Hammam, now an art gallery, one of the largest and finest examples of Ottoman architecture in the Balkans urban, Kapan an, (15th century), the Mustafa Pasha Mosque (15th century), etc. Afterwards we will have lunch in a local restaurant. The rest of the time is free. Dinner at local restaurant.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Overnight Skopje Marriott Hotel – Skopje

Skopje Marriott Hotel

Day 3Skopje>Ohrid

After breakfast continue to Ohrid. On the way we will visit a Winery in the countryside located just west of the town of Demir Kapija on the slopes of Veliko Brdo, (the Grand Hill). The Winery is certainly one of the success stories of North Macedonian viticulture and here it is sometimes possible to taste from the fermentation tanks wine varieties such as; Stanushina a local grape variety found only in the Tikves region as well as Temjanika, Zilavka and Vranac grown in the ex-Yugoslavia territ ories. Also, more international varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also produced. Tikves wine region is the biggest and the most important wine region of North Macedonia spread over 13.000 hectares, along the same latitude as Rioja and Ribera del Due ro. As the Mediterranean climate from the south collides with the continental climate from the north, it creates an area most remarkable for grape growing and wine production on the entire Balkan Peninsula. We will have cooking class at the winery restaurant and enjoy the meal with a wine tasting. Afterwards continue to Ohrid. We will have sailing tour with sunset drinks. Dinner at local restaurant.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

 

Day 4Ohrid

After breakfast we will have city tour in Ohrid. We will visit the Church St. Sofia, built between the 11th and 14th century, which was the seat of the Archbishop. “St . Clement”, a classic Orthodox Byzantine church, dominating the Old Town, demonstrates the link between Byzantine and Italian Renaissance art. At “Plaoshnik”, in the 9 the century, St . Clement of Ohrid founded the first University of Europe and educated 3.500 students. St. John at Kaneo, stands alone on a small peninsula which juts out into the lake at the western end of the Old Town, and provides spectacular panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains, Samuil fortress, Saint Painteleimon Church, The Holy Virgin of Peribleptos Church, Icon Galery and old Bazaar. Afterwards continue to Vevcani where we will have lunch in a traditional restaurant in the Village. After the lunch we will visit the village Vevcani built on a steep hillside and sheltered by a mountain. Its architecture is most appealing with many old houses and buildings of all styles and shapes. The famous Vevcani springs have a water flow of between 400-4000Lt/sec which explains the many water-mills in this area. Afterwards, continue back to Ohrid . Dinner at local restaurant

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Overnight Ohrid

Day 5Ohrid>Tirana, Albania

After breakfast continue to Pogradec. On the way we will stop to visit the museum on water “Bay of the Bones”, depicting life on Ohrid lake 3000-4000 years ago an authentic reconstruction of a part of the pile­ dwelling settlement, dating back between 1200 and 700 BC and a Roman military fortification, that has been reconstructed on the hill above the Bay of Bones. From there we drive to St. Naum Monastery. The site is known for its springs that come from the upper Lake Prespa and cross the Galicica Mountain to come out in a small lake where the surplus falls in Lake Ohrid. Built on the rocky hill right above the lake, the monastery of St . Naum is one of the most beautiful pilgrimage spots in Mace donia. The monastery itself contains a small Orthodox church where Saint Naum is buried. Decorated with frescoes, it is a pure jewel of Byzantine art . Then we proceed to the small village of Tushemisht and to explore traditional village life in this picturesque area of the country. Rowing boat in Drilon . Continue to Pogradec to have lunch in a local restaurant. After lunch on the way to Tirana stop at Elbasani Castle (interesting as it is the only castle in the country given to a private entity with concession which has proved very successful in preserving and restoring this monument) for a coffee.

Continue on to Tirana for dinner and overnight.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Overnight The Plaza Hotel Tirana

Plaza Hotel Tirana, Albania

Day 6Tirana

After breakfast walking tour of Tirana, the lively, entertaining and cultural capital of Albania, found in the early 17 century, is the perfect place for travelers who want to enjoy discovering new places and meet the friendliest people. Take a relaxing walk to discover the major monuments of Tirana. The best of old and new Tirana has been combined with a journey into the history of Albania. Walk through the center where we will visit the city center, the ministerial buildings of Italian architect ure, the remains of the Castle of Tirana, the tomb of KaplIan pasha (built in the early 19th century, with carved stones and has an octagonal shape) and The Tanners’ Bridge, an 18th-century stone footbridge. Visit the National Historic Museum, which will give you an insight into Albanian history, past & present. Lunch in a traditional local restaurant. After lunch continue with the visit of Bunk’art 1, a huge 100 rooms, anti-nuclear bunker built underneath a hill on the foot of the mountain. It illustrates the isolation and paranoia of the Albanian communist dictatorship. Free afternoon. Dinner in local restaurant.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Overnight The Plaza Hotel Tirana

Plaza Hotel Tirana, Albania

Day 7Tirana>Berat>Gjirokaster

After breakfast drive to Berat known as the ‘town of a thousand windows’, Berat’s Ottoman architecture and ancient history has given it UNESCO World Heritage status. The town is home to Berat Castle, which is perched on a rocky hill and inaccessible from the south. The fortress was so large that it could house a substantial proportion of the town’s inhabitants. An influence of different cultures can be found in Berat’s mosques and Byzantine churches. Visit the citadel and the Onufri Icons Museum. Lunch in a local restaurant. Drive to Gjirokastra, a UNESCO site and museum town with beautiful and very distinctive architecture. Short tour of the Old Town. Dinner and overnight in Gjirokastra.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Overnight Hotel Fantasy Gjirokaster

Hotel Fantasy Gjirokaster

 

Day 8Gjirokaster

Breakfast in hotel. The town of Gjirokastra is built on the slope of a hill and is known for its characteristic and narrow coble stone streets. The dwelling houses have the form of medieval towers consisting of a building ensemble with characteristic architecture. The city was besieged and captured by the Ottomans in the 15th century, but unlike many other towns in Albania it flourished under its new rulers. In the 17th century it had 2000 houses and was a very important trading town. The castle itself stands like a balcony over the city. It enables the visitors to enjoy a very a powerful architectural panorama. Visit the Bazaar & 300-year-old Skendulaj House to get a feel of Gjirokaster. Lunch in local restaurant.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Overnight Hotel Fantasy Gjirokaster

Hotel Fantasy Gjirokaster

 

Day 9Gjirokaster>Ioannina>Metsovo>Meteora

After breakfast we drive through the the hills to the mountain town of Metsovo in the Zagori region. Here we will visit a local winery and have lunch with time to explore the old town. After we continue on to Meteora. On arrival check in and free time till sunset happy hour drinks before dinner.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Overnight Meteora- Doupani House

Day 10Meteora

Breakfast in the hotel. Dedicated day for the visit of Meteora, Kala mbaka . The rocks of Meteora are actually miracles of nature. It is a fantastic place to discover. Meteora is included on the UNESCO World Herit age. Visit of 2 monasteries in Meteora. Observation deck and icon-painting workshop. Lunch in local resta urant. Return to the hotel and free afternoon. Dinner in local restaurant.

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Overnight at Hotel Doupiani House Meteora

Hotel Doupiani House

Day 11Meteora>Thessaloniki

After breakfast we begin our drive to Thessaloniki stopping along the way for rest break.

Arriving in Thessaloniki in time for lunch at a local favorite restaurant.

After lunch check into the hotel & free time in the afternoon.

Seaside happy hour drinks before dinner.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, (Happy Hour Drinks) + Dinner

 

Day 12Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is loved by travelers. It is the object of the special Greek’s respect and they call it the second capital of Greece . Picturesque landscapes, developed touristic infrastructure, historical heritage, restaurants, bars and night clubs for all tastes and pleasant climate & atmosphere. We take a guided tour of the city sites – Kastra – old city, Agios Dimitrios church, Rotondo of Galerius, Galerius Palace Complex, White Tower, Monument of Alexander the Great.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 13Thessaloniki - Departure

Enjoy breakfast. Free Time depending on your flight. Transfer to airport after breakfast. Farewell!

Meals: Breakfast

Frequently Asked Questions

Why usWhy should I book with Aperture Journeys?

We are passionate about travel and believe a meaningful life must include rich memories, and travel to new places while experiencing  different cultures and people is key in achieving this. We are firm believers in the idea that great things happen when we step outside our comfort zone.  In 30 years of traveling and a long list of great experiences and memories I can honestly say this is true.

When developing our tours we spend alot of time with “boots on the ground” at the locations.  We are vetting our suppliers, evaluating risk, looking for new and interesting places to see, building experiences that will make great memories. We look back on 30 years of world travel and understand what makes a great travel experience.  We are a small business and are doing what we love and want to share the experience with others. Our groups are small 6- 10 persons which makes for a better touring experience.

Our philosophy on hotels is to book 4 & 5 star hotels and when possible choose hotels that are centrally located to allow a short walk to tourist ares with shopping and restaurants.  This way you can enjoy your free time easily.  There are times when 4 or 5 star is not available so we have to choose wisely in this case.

We love to try the local cuisine, wines and liqueurs that is why most of your meals are included. We think it is great to explore local restaurants and order from the menu and try to do this as much as possible.  We do not prefer to have “Half Board” meals at the hotel, however at times it makes sense, but we try our best to kept HB meals to a minimum.

Entry RequirementsWhat are the entry requirements for these countries?

This tour visits Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Croatia. In order to enter these countries, U.S. and Canadian citizens need a valid passport with an expiration date extending at least six months beyond the date of reentry.

We recommend having at least two blank passport pages for entry stamps.
There is no visa required for U.S. or Canadian citizens.

If you are not a U.S. or Canadian citizen, you must contact each country’s consulate for your specific entry requirements.

For the most up-to-date entry requirements for these destinations visit https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html

WeatherWhat is the climate like in this part of the world?

The Balkan Peninsula is a very diverse region that encompasses variously different climate zones.

Albania: mild temperate; cool, cloudy, wet winters; hot, clear, dry summers; interior is cooler and wetter

Montenegro: Mediterranean climate, hot dry summers and autumns and relatively cold winters with heavy snowfalls in mountain regions

Bosnia Herzegovina: hot summers and cold winters; areas of high elevation have short, cool summers and long, severe winters; mild, rainy winters along coast

Croatia: Mediterranean and continental; continental climate predominant with hot summers and cold winters; mild winters, dry summers along coast

TransportationWhat type of transportation will we use?

Our groups are small so we use smaller coaches usually about 15 pax capacity.  They are able to travel down narrow roads providing better access.

Due to their size there are no toilets onboard these types of coaches however we make regular stops to ensure your comfort along the way . Often, we’ll break up a long transfer with an included walking tour in a location of interest en route to our destination, so you’ll have ample time to stretch your legs as well.

Occasionally we travel on private boats or ferry boats to reach our destination.  These can vary in size from 20 passenger private vessels to large ferry boats capable of hundreds of passengers.

Physical requirementsHow strenuous are the activities?

You will need physical stamina to participate unassisted in touring activities for 6 to 8 hours with walking distances of 3 to 5 miles. Up to 15000 steps or more. Of course we will take frequents breaks to enjoy the food and drink.

You will walk for at least 2 hours daily and up to 5 hrs on terrain of various types like cobble stone streets, uneven surfaces, forest/lake trails and at times some steep inclines.

You will need physical ability to handle your luggage getting into your hotel room, entering and exiting boats and boarding aircraft using stairs when a jetway in not available, which is common in these countries.

LuggageHow much luggae can I bring?

You must be able to comfortably handle all your luggage by yourself at all times. Therefore, we strongly urge you to limit your luggage to one piece of luggage(of a size you can comfortably handle), a hand carry bag and a personal item.  Luggage the size of airline carry-on dimensions is strongly suggested as there may be times requiring you to carry your bag up stairs onto airplanes, etc.   Your luggage will need to fit in a taxi for short transfers.

 

AirportsAre the arriving and departing airports service by major airlines?

Yes! As of this writing, Tirana International Airport (TIA) and Dubrovnik Airport (DBV) connects to many large European cities by these major airlines and their US partners: British Airways (OneWorld – American Airlines); Austrian, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines (Star Alliance – United Airlines).

Photo / VideoWhat is photo / video instruction?

Photo & Video instruction is short lessons provided by us to you throughout the tour to help you improve your photography and videography skills.  They may include lessons on Composition, Lighting, or posing for example.

ShoppingWill there be time for shopping?

Yes! We carefully plan our tours to assure that the pace isn’t too busy or too idle. You’ll have free time to shop or to simply relax in the lovely surroundings. Remember to leave space in your suitcase. If you want to bring back some wine remember to bring one of those plastic wine travel pouches.

North Macedonia, Albania, & North Greece

Gems of the Balkans Tour Map

Aperture Journeys Albania, North Macedonia, North Greece Map
Photos