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|May 22, 2021||Jun 05, 2021||Call Us||$2,430||Get Quote|
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It's hard to find a patch of Europe that as secluded as this one. Hard, but not impossible. Among the rugged mountains and green fields of Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia there are plenty of shepherds, monasteries, lakes, valleys and Byzantine churches - what's lacking is crowds. It's taken decades for the Balkans to wipe away memories of conflict and communism, but (amazingly) they've emerged strong and smiling. From hip cafes in Skopje and the soft shores of Lake Ohrid to the mosques of picture-perfect Prizren, this 15-day adventure showcases Balkan beauty at its very best.
Day 1: Tirana
Mire se vini – welcome to Tirana, Albania. If you arrive early, perhaps get your bearings of the city with a walk around town. Tirana is filled with activity, from its traffic to its nightlife, but on its doorstep are mosques, citadels, Ottoman architecture and museums. This is a truly progressive city that's working hard to alleviate the Soviet bloc feeling that pervaded it for so long. In the evening, perhaps head out for dinner with your new crew.
Day 2: Tirana / Shkoder
This morning head out on a leader-led orientation walk of central Tirana. It’s the capital of Albania and its biggest city, but it's still small and compact, with architectural influences from Italy and Turkey. Visit the Skanderbeg Monument, the mosaic on the National History Museum and the Palace of Culture, which are all located on Skanderbeg Square. The main sight in Tirana is the Et'hem Bey Mosque, which sits right on the city's main square. The mosque is currently closed for extensive renovation works, but you can still take a look at the frescoes outside and in the portico that depict trees, waterfalls and bridges. After lunch, take a local bus to Shkoder, one of the oldest cities in Europe (approximately 2 hours). Upon arrival, head out on a short walk with your leader along the Pjaca – the main pedestrian street – lined with 19th-century architecture and dominated by Ebu Beker Mosque. Later in the afternoon, why not head north of the city to visit the Venetian era Rozafa Castle, set high on a mountain with panoramic views of the Albanian countryside.
Day 3: Lake Koman / Valbona Valley
Take an early morning transfer to Lake Koman (approximately 1.5 hours), where you'll board a ferry between Koman and Fierza, in the remote north eastern corner of the country (approximately 3 hours). Locals use the boats here when returning from shopping trips or school in the cities, with the boat drifting to the sides to drop off or pick up passengers waiting on the banks, waving for attention. Along the way, you'll have the opportunity to take in the scenery of cliff walls on both sides of the narrow lake. The mountains that surround the lake and can reach over 1700 metres in height are almost uninhabited, except for the occasional settlement. This is one of the most beautiful boat rides you will ever take – emerald water merging with the green vegetation dotting the bright white cliffs. Upon arrival to Fierza, you'll be transferred to your guesthouse in Valbona Valley, where a delicious home cooked meal awaits.
Day 4: Valbona Valley
Take an excursion deeper into the remote Valbona Valley – complete with green meadows of traditional houses, farmland, and alpine trees. Due to the remoteness of the region and the lack of tourist infrastructure, today's activities will come as a surprise to all of us, including the leader! You may go for a hike in the surrounding mountains, walking through wide valleys and thick forests, or you might simply hang out in the village with the locals. One of the best things about Albania is the people – their warmth to strangers is infectious and you're bound to find yourself having a chat and swapping stories over a glass of raki or two. This is a great place to discover the history of Albania from the people who have lived through it, and to learn about the local way of life. Perhaps discover more about the stories of bloody feuds, said to be carried out in the name of the Kanun code: the customs that governed all aspects of life in the mountains.
Day 5: Peja
Today you'll cross the border into Kosovo by private vehicle (approximately 2 hours). Tiny Kosovo is Europe’s newest (official) country: a handful of landlocked mountains, poppy-dotted meadows and oak forests smack bang in the middle of the Balkans. The shadow of conflict in the late 90s has kept Kosovo off traveller's radars but go there today and you can feel that shadow lifting, and Europe’s youngest member is definitely making up for lost time. The first stop in this newly independent country will be the Decani Monastery. Time stands still here – a place of stunning art heritage, but whose symbolic significance as a Serbian Orthodox cultural monument unfortunately makes it vulnerable to destruction. Continue on to Peja (Pec in Serbian) – the gateway to the Rugova Mountains and a major agricultural centre (approximately 30 minutes). Visit the beautifully restored Peja Bazaar, dating back to Ottoman times, and Bajrakli Mosque. Having been destroyed twice in the last 80 years, the bazaar has been fully rebuilt after the Kosovo War, according to historical Ottoman architecture, and is one of the many protected monuments in Kosovo.
Day 6: Rugova Valley / Peja
After breakfast, you'll be transferred to the village of Drelaj, which is deep in the Rugova Valley and close to the Montenegrin border (approximately 30 minutes). The Rugova Mountains rise to over 2400 metres and were declared a national park in 2013. Drelaj will be your base to explore the surrounding area on a 3 to 4-hour guided hike. The Rugova Valley is often compared to Switzerland in its landscape, and here at the foot of Hjala mountain, be surrounded by tall grass pastures dotted with wildflowers, the sound of cow bells drifting through the valley, and simple wooden shacks and stone houses with smoke drifting up to the granite cliffs above. Afterwards, you'll be able to rest your weary bones with lunch at a local family home. Head back to the hotel in the early evening, with your night then free – perhaps try the local Birra Peja, brewed here in town.
Day 7: Gjakova / Prizren
Journey to the south of the country today, to Kosovo's second biggest, and arguably its most beautiful, city – Prizren (approximately 1.5 hours). Along the way, you’ll stop by Gjakova to walk to the Sufi Tekke of the Halveti Order (one of the Dervish sects). It is very interesting as we get to talk often to the Sheh of the order. Inside of the tekke, there are graves of all the previous sheh's since 1600 when the order was established. Afterwards, walking along the Carshia (main street), and stop at the Mosque of Hadumi. If you’re lucky, the main Imam of Gjakova will speak to you and give an Albanian interpretation of Islamic dogmas (principles), with plenty of time for questions. Later on, head to Prizren, with a stop at a restaurant on the Drini River. On arrival, head out an orientation walk, strolling alongside the Bistrica river, taking in the cobbled Shadervan square and the Old Stone Bridge. Explore the city’s famous mosques contrasted with abandoned Serbian Orthodox churches. Wander the streets and do some people watching in in Shadervan square, before another memorable Balkan sunset.
Day 8: Prizren
Today is free to explore the city's sights, after venturing out on an included visit to Prizren's sixth century Kalaja Fortress. This fortress sits proudly on a hilltop above the town and has a 43-step staircase hidden in a tunnel that connects to the river, and gives you views over the city. Make sure you visit the House of the Albanian League of Prizren, where in 1878 the Assembly of Prizren gathered to consolidate Albanian leaders to unite and protect the country against foreign threats. If you feel energetic, you may want to consider walking upstream along the Bistrica River, where you might meet locals tending to their flocks of sheep among mountainous scenery. Otherwise, if your group is up for it, get together to hire a minibus and drive for about an hour for lunch and wine tasting in the vineyards of Rahovec. The owners of wineries and cultivators of grapes are there to talk about the production technologies and approaches. After this, you could go for a walk along the vineyards just outside the town. This region in Kosovo is picturesque and has been a highlight for many travellers. Afterwards, spend another night in Prizren, where there’s a lot of great eateries. Prizren is commonly known as the gastronomic heart of Kosovo.
Day 9: Prishtina / Prizren
Take a day trip to Prishtina and surrounds. The capital of Kosovo is currently reinventing itself as a major commercial centre in the region, and its historical importance makes it an essential highlight. First head to Kosovo Polje (Field of Blackbirds), which the country is named after. There is a memorial here that commemorates the important 1389 battle of Kosovo – a skirmish that led to the Ottoman Empire finally taking control of this area of the Balkans. Nearby is the tomb of Sultan Murat, leader of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century. You'll then get to visit the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Gracanica Monastery – one of King Milutin's last monumental endowments. The afternoon is free to explore the vibrant city of Prishtina, perhaps visiting the Ethnographic Museum, the Sultan Fatih Mosque or the Kosovo Museum. Check out the Newborn Monument, which was unveiled on the day Kosovo declared its independence in 2008. Nearby is a brass statue of Bill Clinton – thanks for the President’s role in ending the war. After exploring the city, head to the nearby Bear Sanctuary – a 16-hectare area of woodland providing a home for rescued dancing bears.
Day 10: Skopje
Craggy mountain backdrops, time-weathered monasteries, stunning lake panoramas, hearty national cuisine – North Macedonia is jam-packed full of the good stuff. Excellent hiking can be had in the mountain forests, Lake Ohrid’s waters rival the clarity of Croatia’s, and 500 years of Ottoman rule can be acutely felt in the capital’s bazaars. And to round it all out, the locals will be delighted to have you. This morning head out early and travel to Skopje, North Macedonia's capital city. Upon arrival, take an orientation walk past Byzantine domes, Turkish baths, and also newly built neo-classical buildings and grand monuments. In the afternoon, wander past the mosques, caravanserais and hamams that fill its winding streets – a testament to Skopje’s Ottoman past. Perhaps take a step back to those times with a visit to the Daut Pasha Hamam, or journey through the humbling Holocaust Museum to learn how Macedonia suffered during this tragic chapter of history.
Day 11: Matka Canyon / Skopje
Venture out to Matka Canyon – a deep ravine cut into the Suva mountains by the Treska River, 15 kilometres southwest of the city. This area is home to several medieval monasteries, caves, and over 70 species of endemic butterflies. There is the option to explore the canyon's sights by boat. Alternatively, you can take one of the many nature walks in the canyon, or up to tracks that hug the ridge high above the valley. Return back to Skopje, with the remaining part of the day free for you to continue exploring this exciting city. Perhaps take the Mount Vodno cable car to Millennium Cross, and for the views back down across the city. Get lost in the narrow lanes of Carsija – Skopje's most atmospheric neighbourhood or take in the stone bridge over the river Vardar – an iconic sight that acts as a handy connection between Macedonia Square and the Old Bazaar. Perhaps visit the Museum of the City of Skopje, housed in the old Railway Station, which is itself a unique piece of history. For dinner this evening you could head to the Old Bazaar or the restaurants in the Debar Maalo area.
Day 12: Lake Ohrid
Travel by local bus from Skopje to Ohrid, situated on a lake with the same name (approximately 3 hours). Europe’s oldest lake, and one of the oldest human settlements in the world, Lake Ohrid has a wealth of historic sites and religious monuments to discover. Ohrid is an eternal town, a magical hill whose primordial pulsation links ancient and modern times forever. The town is said to have once been home to 365 churches, one for each day of the year, earning it the nickname ‘the Macedonian Jerusalem’, while historical excavations date back to Neolithic times. Despite being a World Heritage site for over 30 years, the town remains under the radar of visitors. Get your bearings on an orientation walk around Ohrid, maybe picking up a bargain or two in the vibrant Old Bazaar.
Day 13: Lake Ohrid
Take to the lake on a morning cruise on the turquoise waters of Lake Ohrid. The rest of the day is free for you to discover the area. There are many churches and monasteries to visit, but one of the most popular is the Macedonian Orthodox Church of Sveti Jovana Kaneo, situated on a rocky outcrop above the town, overlooking the lake. Past the church you can wander around to the back of town, exploring the old walls and fortress, and admiring the views of the lake. The Sveti Naum Monastery is also a great option, lying on the shores of the lake south of town, with well-kept grounds that are home to peacocks. The ancient Tsar Samoil’s fortress stands on the top of Ohrid Hill and looks across the town, while a 2000-year-old Roman theatre was uncovered near the Upper Gate – in summer it’s again being used for concerts and performances.
Day 14: Tirana
Say goodbye to the endless, merging blues of lake and sky as you board your private transfer across the border into Albania for your journey back to Tirana (approximately 3 hours). On arrival, your day is then free to explore. Feel the urban energy of this transforming city, where colour splashes enliven drab communist architecture, and if there’s time perhaps take a cable car ride up Dajti Mountain for a breathtaking overview of the city below. If you stay in town longer consider heading out to Kruja, the old capital of Albania. Tonight, perhaps gather together the group for dinner. You could head to Blloku (the Block) – once the domain of the Communist party’s inner circle and now home to designer cafes, glizy restaurants, and boutique bars. For something a little more traditional maybe head to an old house restaurant, where the menus are filled with Albanian recipes. Raise a raki to this adventure!
Day 15: Tirana
There are no activities planned for the final day and you're able to depart the accommodation at any time. If you wish to stay on in Tirana we are able to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).
- Lake Koman - Ferry Ride
- Valbona Valley - Village Tour
- Valbona Valley - Tea House
- Dečani Monastery - UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Rugova Valley - Hike including Lunch
- Gjakova - Sufi Tekke of the Halveti Order
- Gjakova - Hadumi Mosque
- Prizren - Kalaja Fortress Visit
- Kosovo Polje - Field of the Battle of Blackbirds & Tomb of Sultan Murat
- Prishtina - Day Trip
- Gracanica - Gracanica Monastery
- Prishtina - Bear Sanctuary
- Matka Canyon - Day Trip
- Ohrid - Lake Ohrid Boat Cruise
14 Breakfast(s) Included
1 Lunch(es) Included
2 Dinner(s) Included
Health and Safety Protocols for Intrepid Tours
Protection against COVID-19 as well as other transmissible diseases requires enhanced protocols in hygiene and sanitation. We will put in place additional measures, in line with government health advice and with global health authorities (including the WHO and CDC) to ensure that we maintain the highest standards of cleanliness and hygiene.
Handwashing is one of the most important safety measures to prevent the spread of disease. Intrepid will actively reinforce its importance by:
- Implementing a handwashing policy that dictates when, how often and for how long all staff, leaders and crew must wash their hands on-trip.
- Promote the importance of hand hygiene to customers through signage and online customer material.
- Contract suppliers that have hand hygiene protocols in place
- Contract suppliers that provide hand sanitizer in public places (where applicable)
- Educate staff, leaders, crew and suppliers on the importance of hand hygiene via training.
Practicing good respiratory hygiene prevents the spread of disease by reducing the number of droplets in the air when you sneeze or cough. Intrepid will:
- Actively reinforce its importance to customers through signage and online customer material.
- Educate staff, leaders, crew and suppliers on the importance of respiratory hygiene via training.
- Contract suppliers who have respiratory hygiene protocols in place.
In addition, in areas with high community transmission and/or places that are difficult to maintain physical distancing, we recommend the the following at-risk people also wear them. Intrepid follows the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that masks should only be used as part of a comprehensive prevention strategy and that the use of a mask alone is not sufficient to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Physical distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene must also form part of the strategy.
On our trips, regardless of destination, the following people must wear medical/surgical masks:
- Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 regardless of whether or not they have been tested yet.
- People caring for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases (outside of hospitals/clinics).
In addition, in areas with high community transmission and/or places that are difficult to maintain physical distancing, we recommend the the following at-risk people also wear them.
- People over 60
- People with underlying health conditions
- Provide medical/surgical masks as part of the First Aid Kits carried by leaders.
- Educate leaders, crew, staff and customers on the correct method to wear, handle and dispose of a mask.
- Require all customers, leaders and staff to comply with any local regulations or requirements that require the use of a mask in public or in certain places
Intrepid follows the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it is not necessary for the public to wear fabric masks generally.
However in certain circumstances, in places where community transmission of COVID-19 is high and/or physical distancing is not possible (e.g. on public transport, in shops or in other confined environments) then a fabric mask can be a useful barrier to prevent the spread of virus.
Fabric masks be purchased commercially or handmade, and are generally not standardised like medical masks. Fabric masks should:
- Cover the nose, mouth, and chin
- Be secured with elastic loops or ties
- Include multiple layers
- Be washable and reusable.
Protection against COVID-19 as well as other transmissible diseases requires enhanced sanitation processes. Intrepid will take the following measures:
- Require all suppliers to detail their cleaning and sanitation protocols
- Audit/monitor all suppliers on their cleanliness and sanitation.
- All cleaning and disinfecting products must be approved by health authorities (e.g. WHO).
- All rooms must be thoroughly cleaned between guests with all high touch surfaces in shared areas regularly cleaned and disinfected.
- Hand sanitizer should be available in public areas.
- There must be a process in place for customers to escalate any concerns regarding hygiene or sanitation.
- Staff must be trained and able to answer questions regarding safety protocols in place.
- All tents must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between use.
- If staying at a campground, ensure all bathrooms are well stocked with hand soap and paper towels. If the area is remote, with limited facilities and/or minimal staffing, then customers should be informed to bring their own hygiene equipment.
- All mini buses, transfers, charters, overland trucks must be thoroughly cleaned between guests with all high touch surfaces in shared areas regularly cleaned and disinfected.
- Hand sanitizer should be made available
- Close top bins with bin liners should be available on board and disposed of at every stop
- Must be thoroughly cleaned at the end of each day
- Tables and chairs must be disinfected after each guest use
- Avoid buffets where possible. If buffets are used, prevent customers from handling food and operating machines (e.g. self-serve coffee stations)
- Either disinfect shared use objects (e.g. table salt) between guest use. Where possible, Intrepid will try to source safe alternatives to single serve packaging.
- Staff must be trained and able to answer questions regarding safety protocols in place.
- Preferred: Provide hand sanitizer to guests at the door before entry
- All equipment must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between guest us
- Staff must be trained and able to answer questions regarding safety protocols in place.
Limiting the number of surfaces touched by large numbers of people helps prevent the spread of disease. Therefore, it is important to proactively move towards contactless or low touch solutions for travel. Intrepid will:
- Prioritise contactless/low touch as a key feature when sourcing new tech or solutions.
- Remove any paperwork required on the ground (e.g. signing forms, feedback cards)
- If details must be entered using a shared device (e.g. insurance details), then it must be disinfected between each customer. Preference is to move entirely to digital solutions.
- Accommodation should provide online check in (no paperwork)
- Contactless keys (e.g. QR codes)
- Contactless tech (e.g. lights)
- Online ticketing for attractions and transport
- Online payment
Physical distancing is important in the preventing the spread of COVID-19 as it can be transmitted via droplets sprayed when coughing, sneezing, singing, yelling etc…
Intrepid will take the following measures:
- Require all suppliers to detail their physical distancing protocols
- Follow local regulation and advice on the need for physical distancing.
We will continue to offer this as an option. Single supplements are available for single travellers who do not wish to share a room. We will work closely with accommodation suppliers to ensure increased availability of single rooms.
- Consider whether it is appropriate to offer single tents for solo travellers as customers will be much closer together then in a traditional room.
- Consider whether staggering meal times may reduce the number of people sharing a dining tent.
Intrepid will consider the following factors when designing or amending transport options on trips.
- Local laws or requirements regarding physical distancing on transport
- Hygiene protocols of the transport provider
- Level of active community transmission in the destination
- Using designated seating on transport. Customers have assigned seats throughout the trip.
- If trip is longer than 15 minutes and air conditioning is available, it must be set to external airflow rather than to recirculation or windows should be opened for the duration of the trip.
- Designing or amending itineraries to reduce the duration of travel.
- Increasing the size of the vehicle, using multiple vehicles.
- Educate all leaders, crew, staff and customers to maintain a 1.5m distance wherever practical in public (e.g. queueing at a museum).
- Proactively design product to avoid crowds by visiting attractions at off-peak times.
- Proactively design product to avoid crowds on public transport or at airports where practical.
- Follow local regulations on table spacing and guest seating in restaurants. Wherever possible, try to ensure groups are sitting at their own table without strangers in restaurants.
- Proactively design product that focuses on experiences that assist with physical distancing (e.g. picnics over crowded marketplaces) if relevant for that destination.
Screening for COVID-19 helps isolate anyone with COVID-19 symptoms and stops the spread of disease. It is likely to become more common for future travellers.
Pre-Departure (Brand Material)
Customers should be informed as part of ‘Essential Trip Information (ETIs) or other similar trip notes if their trip is likely to include any of the following:
- Testing for COVID-19 before being able to pass through immigration and/or board planes.
- Negative test results to be uploaded for visa purposes.
- Thermal temperature checks in airports, train or bus stations, major hotels or attractions.
Pre-departure, all customers are required to fill out an online questionnaire (“self- declaration/assessment” form) to identify any high-risk customers before travel.
Extra qualifiers will be included to address customers with symptoms that can be contributed to pre-existing conditions (e.g. breathlessness to asthma).
Customers answering YES to any question should be removed from the departure and appropriate arrangements made.
Intrepid will not require a negative COVID-19 test as proof of health from customers or leaders at this stage unless it is required by local law or regulations.
This is partially due to the lack of availability of testing for people with no symptoms in many parts of the world and may change in due course.
- Ask customers, leaders, crew and staff to monitor their own health
- Display appropriate signage on COVID-19 symptoms
- Educate leaders, crew and staff on how to identify COVID-19 symptoms
- Describe COVID-19 symptoms in group meetings
If customers, leaders or crew show symptoms of COVID-19 and are either unable to or unwilling to be tested, Intrepid reserves the right to remove them from our trips to prevent any risk to others.
Flexible Booking Conditions
Customers will be supported by flexible booking conditions to stay home if unwell or displaying symptoms
Flexible Work Conditions
Intrepid will support leaders and crew to stay home rather than lead a trip if they are unwell or displaying symptoms. Schedules will need to be created with back up availability of leaders/crew.
Data Collection & Health Tracking
Intrepid will assist government health departments in tracking and tracing any customers, staff, leaders, crew or suppliers at risk of contracting COVID-19 via exposure to a known case and/or outbreak by providing relevant details in line with privacy laws and regulations.
COVID Tracking apps
Intrepid strongly recommends that customers and staff download COVID tracking apps (e.g. COVIDSafe in Australia, StayHomeSafe in Hong Kong) to assist in reducing the spread of disease within their communities.
Question: How many suitcases can I take with me on my trip?
Question: Is Airfare Included in the Price?
Intrepid did not provide correct information regarding their confirmation of 'single supplement.' Having paid for the supplement, and received a notice entitled "Your Travel Itinerary" which stated ' Single supplement Trip Name: Kosovo, Albania & Macedonia Explorer CONFIRMED", I was shocked to learn that it was not expected to include the entire trip. Intrepid also sent only the name of the hotel where we spent the first and last evenings. The names of all the other hotels were given out upon our first meeting with the leader - certainly not in time to share this important information with family and or friends.
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