Discerning travellers will be thrilled with this, one of our more comprehensive Albania and Macedonia tours, featuring two UNESCO World Heritage sites (ancient remains of Butrint, and historic centres of Berat and Gjirorkastra), inspiring antiquities and dramatic nods to the area's rich history at every turn.
Less travelled and poorer than other parts of Europe, the region has, in recent years, seen an improvement in its fortunes and was named #4 global tourism destination by the New York Times in 2014.
Start our Albania and Macedonia tours with an overnight in Albania's capital Tirana, built on the site of a Byzantine fortress, followed with a trip to Kruja, whose imposing fortress was the centre of Albanian resistance to the Ottoman Turks and now houses the world-class Scanderbeg Museum. After, tour an ethnographic museum or find hand crafted souvenirs at the local bazaar.
On return to Tirana visit the re-purposed Bunk'Art 2. An imposing fortress built in the eighties to shelter elite officials from nuclear attack, it's now home to the "Pillar" museum dedicated to the persecution of Albanians that occurred from 1945 to 1991 under the former communist regime.
Up next is a drive to Berat, via the Adriatic port city of Durres, that features a 1st century construction, Roman amphitheatre.
In Berat the "museum city" plenty of time is allotted to take in the old centre of town. Among the best preserved Ottoman cities in the Balkans, visitors can meander among sights that include an inhabited citadel, medieval orthodox churches and the famous Onufri Museum that houses an astonishing collection of Albanian icons. Time in the Lower Town includes the opportunity to take in a number of mosques including the Leaded Mosque, named for its unique roofing material.
Day 4 begins with time at the magnificent (and rarely visited) Ardenica Monastery followed by a visit to Apollonia, founded in 558 BC, before an overnight in Saranda, the southernmost town on the Albanian coast.
Albania and Macedonia tours are not complete without time spent in Butrint, Albania's most significant archaeological site. An ancient Greek, and later Roman city, inhabited since prehistoric times, the fortified site had its own acropolis with ruins still available for viewing. It is truly a microcosm of nearly 3,000 years of Mediterranean history.
Itinerary continues with a drive to the picturesque mountain town of Gjirokastra, a UNESCO site with origins dating back to the fourth century. A unique feature here is the prevalence of stone as a building material with houses that look like small fortresses. Included also is a visit to Skenduli House with its inspiring marriage of Albanian and Ottoman architecture and time for viewing a pre-Ottoman citadel that features a weapons museum and once housed political prisoners.
Leaving Gjirokastra, the tour heads to Korca through a panorama of mountains and forest with probable stops in villages along the way. Also enroute, the Tumulus of Kamenica, a huge burial monument with onsite museum that explains its historical significance. Continue to Korca through the awe-inducing Vjosa canyons before an overnight in preparation for city touring the following day.
Colloquially known as The City of Serenades, Korca is home to Albania's largest carnival that takes place before Orthodox Easter. Rich in culture and tradition (and home to one of the most important mosques in the country) visit the National Museum of Medieval Art and a stellar bazaar with more than 1,000 shops.
In the afternoon tour the nearby village of Voskopoja, home to the Balkan's first printing house, famed basilicas and wall paintings by some of Albania's most revered painters that include David Selenica and the Zeographi brothers.
On day 9, after a stop at Lake Ohrid, our Albania and Macedonia tours cross into Macedonia, a country steeped in Hellenic heritage. First up is the city of Ohrid, with its historic town centre and lovely lake vistas. Included is a boat ride to a 10th century monastery, a walking tour of the old town, the cradle of Slavic written language, and visits to some of the most significant churches. Known in ancient times as the City of Lights and abounding with archaeological sites Ohrid will not disappoint.
Proceeding to Prespa Lake through scenic National Park of Galcica, the tour continues to Heraclea Lyncestis, perhaps Macedonia's best archaeological site. Roman baths, an amphitheatre and palace ruins with remarkably preserved floor mosaics are among the highlights here.
After time for a walk along Sirok Sokak (Broad Street) the tour continues to the mosque Gazi Haydar Kadi, a great example of classical Turkish architecture. Additionally, there are stops at Yeni Mosque and the cathedral St Dimitrija, known for its wood carved iconostasis.
Continuing across the National Park of Mavrovo to Tetovo, visit the Painted Mosque constructed in 1559 and adorned with an elaborated painted facade and interior. After, stop to see Arabati Baba Teqe, a unique blend of mosque, church and Sufi Muslim shrine.
Finish in Macedonia's capital Skopje, home to one of the oldest and largest oriental bazaars in the Balkans. Included are visits to the Museum of the Old Skopje Bazaar, located in a 15th century inn, a walk through the old town across an iconic Turkish-built stone bridge and other highlights including The Kale Fortress and Musapha Pasha Mosque.