Albania Cultural Tour: North to South

Albania may be a little country but there is a lot to see and do in this exciting up-and-coming location. Bordering Macedonia, Greece, Kosovo and Montenegro, Albania’s long coastline is one of the most ruggedly beautiful in the world.

While Albania is slowly becoming more popular with tourists it remains extremely undiscovered, as well as almost completely unspoiled. Albania boasts some of the best examples of Ottoman architecture in the world, along with supremely clear Mediterranean air and stunningly fabulous beaches.

And, perhaps best of all, travelling to Albania remains an extremely affordable trip, even compared to much of the rest of this part of Europe. Let’s start with the city and cultural tour North to South.

1. Gjirokastra

The City of Stone

Old City Gjirokastra

Old City Gjirokastra
The old bazaar

The city of Gjirokastra is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and is one of the most attractive tourist sites of the country. Perched on the eastern side of the Wide Mountain (Mali i Gjërë), the city began as a fourth century castle, which is today the greatest castle in the whole country. Inside the fortress is the Museum of Weapons, where weapons of different periods up until the Second World War are displayed. Gjirokastra is known as “The City of Stone”


The museum city of Gjirokastra was built on the eastern side of “Mali i Gjerë”. Since 2005, it has been in UNESCO World Heritage site. The origin of the city starts with the castle of Gjirokastra, built in IV century AD. The main characteristic of Gjirokastra is the intensive use of stone in building the houses, which look like small fortresses, the streets of cobblestone, which all lead to Bazaar. Due to all these features, Gjirokastra is also known as the “The Stone City”.

Zekati family houseGjirokastra FortressThe most important structure of the city is the castle, which is the biggest castle in Albania. You can also visit the house of Zekati family in Palorto, in a dominating position, which has undergone restoration. It is one of the most magnificent and characteristic buildings of Gjirokastra. Built in 1811-1812, it is a magnificent three-floor building and has two twin towers.

2. Butint
The Microcosmos of Mediterranean

Butrint Ancient theatreButrint mosaicButrintButrint Ancient theatreThe first Albanian site to be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage was Butrint, in the south of the country, in 1992. It has been inhabited since prehistoric times and was a part of the Greek and Roman colonies.
The most ancient objects found at the archeological site in Butrint are a stone hammer and a shaft belonging to the second half of the second millennium B.C.

Hekateus made first mention of the city at the end of the sixth century B.C., affirming that the city was built according to Troy and that the origin of the name refers to the sacrifice of a bull, Buthrotos, provided by the Trojan prince Aeneas on his way to Dodona. During its early period, Butrint was the center of the Kaonic tribes, later to become part of the kingdom of Epirus.

The most extraordinary objects discovered in the theater of Butrint are the statue of Apollo, the goddess of Butrint, the marble heads of Zeus, the portrait of Agrippina, the head of Livia and many Latin and Greek epigraphs. Parts of the city were rebuilt during the fifth century B.C.

3. Apollonia
Where Roman emperor Augustus study philosophy

APOLLONIAAPOLLONIAAPOLLONIAApollonia was an ancient Greek colony city and former bishopric in Illyria , located on the right bank of the Aous river (modern-day Vjosa). Its ruins are situated in the Fier region, near the village of Pojani (Polina), in modern-day Albania.
The ancient city of Apollonia is situated in southwestern Albania, about 13 miles from the city of Fier. The fascinating landscape of the archeological park, which has been preserved in an exceptionally intact condition, comprises a successful combination between the beauty of monuments and nature, attractive through its long history, in an atmosphere of relaxation and meditation. Its foundation took place immediately after the foundation of Epidamnus – Dyrrachium and quickly became one of the most eminent cities of the Adriatic basin, which was mentioned more frequently from the other 30 (thirty) cities bearing the same name during Antiquity. The city lay in the territory of the political communion of the Taulantii and was broadly known as Apollonia of Illyria. According to the tradition it was founded during the first half of the 6th century BC by Greek colonist from Corfu and Corinth, led by Gylax, which named the city after his name (Gylakeia). After its quick establishment the city changed its name to Apollonia, according to the powerful divinity Apollo. It stands on a hilly plateau from where expands the fertile plain of Musacchia with the Adriatic Sea and the hills of Mallakastra. The ruins of Apollonia are discovered in the beginning of the 19th century.

This archaeologic park or site contain also a Museum of Archaeology that is situated at the old Monastery of Saint Mary .

4. Berat
2400 year old museum city

BERAT1Berat Old CityBERAT CASTLEThis 2,413 years-old city, the pride of Albanian architecture which is under the protection of UNESCO, is located 120 km from Tirana. The city forms a wonderful combination of eastern and western cultures, costumes, traditions and outlook. Berat is a treasure-trove of Albanian history, culture and a testament to the country’s tradition of religious harmony
The city’s life began in the 6th-5th century B.C. as an Illyrian settlement. Later, in the 3rd century B.C., it was turned into a castle city known as Antipatrea. The castle expanded afterwards, particularly during the feudal dominion of the Muzakaj family. Inside the castle, they built churches with valuable frescoes and icons, and also a calligraphy school. Uniquely today, residents still live inside of the castle walls. The three major neighborhoods of the old city are Mangalemi, Gorica, and Kala, where the castle itself is located.

5. Kruja
The City of Scanderbeg

Kruja MuseumKruja CastleKRUJA The Old BazaarKruja is just 32km away from Tirana and very close to Tirana International Airport. This historic city is 608m above sea level and offers an open vista to an amazing panoramic view.
The name and the importance of the city are closely related to the 25 years of activity of our national hero, Skanderbeg, who in the fifteenth century made Kruja a bastion of uncompromising resistance against the Ottoman. The Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg Museum is situated inside the castle walls, which date back to the fifth and sixth centuries A.D.

The museum itself was inaugurated in 1981. Within the walls of the castle are also the Ethnographic Museum and the Dollma Tekke. Near the castle’s entrance is a traditional market, which dates back to the period of Skanderbeg. Here, tourists can find Albanian craft products such as embroidered items, carpeting, silver objects, copper, alabaster, filigree, traditional clothing, antiques at the traditional Old Baazar of Kruja .

6. Shkodra
Gateway to the Albanian Alps

Shkodra, it is one of the oldest cities in the country, founded in the 4th century B.C. as the center of the Labeat tribe of Illyrians known with the name Scodra .
Shkodra has been occupied several times throughout history: First by the Romans (168 B.C.), then the Serbians (1040), the Venetians (1396), and finally by the Ottomans (1479).
The city returned to Albanian control as the feudal principality of the Balshaj during the 14th century and served as the municipal center of the Bushatllinj Pashallëk from 1757 to 1831. Shkodra is very rich in cultural heritage , the city itself as well as the people bear pride in the large number of artists, musicians, painters, photographers, poets, and writers born here. Shkodra’s main tourist attraction is Rozafa Castle. Rising majestically upon a rocky hill west of the city, the outcroppings and battlements paint a blazing picture against the setting sun.

Shkodra is one of the most important cities of Albania and is also known to be the center of Albanian Catholicism , Culture and Harmony between different religions .

The lake of Shkodra is also suggested to visit , to bath , or to eat some of the best dishes of Albanian cuisine like Krap ne tave typical for this region .

3 lakes, view from castleCastle of ShkodraShkodra Pedonale

7. Tirana

The lively capital

We all can say convinced that the capital of Albania has transformed into a lively, affordable destination. And I might add, that every foreigner I have met there has falled in love with the city.

Interest in Balkan countries has soared significantly in recent years, with curious travelers now regularly seeking out the serenity of the Adriatic Sea and medieval, stone-walled cities like Dubrovnik in Croatia and Kotor in Montenegro. Tirana does not embody such traditional allure. Instead, it impresses as a soulful, urban hub with a strong personality shaped by a turbulent history.

Much like Sarajevo remarkably moved past the atrocities of the 1990s to evolve into a thriving Eastern European capital, Albania is looking past its own decades of horror and isolation to the future.

This is only the main cultural scene of Albania. Many more to come on beaches and entertainment on future blogs. Stay posted.

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10 things to expect from Côte d’Azur

What to expect from Côte d’Azur?

The Côte d’Azur stretches from Théoule-sur-Mer in the west to Menton on France’s border with Italy. Along the way it takes in Cannes, Nice, Antibes and even another country, the principality of Monaco. The mention of such names evokes the sun-drenched and easy-going lifestyle on offer along the French Riviera – the alternative name for the Côte d’Azur. Whatever you call it, the “azure coast” provides all the glitz and glamour you could wish for – as well as beaches, dramatic coastal vistas, medieval villages and untamed wilderness.

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Nice Beach
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Nice Beach

If you don’t like the crowds of summer, winter is an ideal time to visit because the warmth and light, which has attracted everyone from aristocrats to Impressionists, remains.

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Menton
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Menton
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Menton

 

Where should I start?

The département’s capital, Nice.
The Hôtel Negresco is a venerable Nice institution, still favoured by the stars.
The city’s old town, Vieux Nice, is an atmospheric tangle of tiny streets lined with shutter-clad town houses and appealing restaurants. For further details contact Nice Tourism on 00 33 892 707 407, and visit http://www.nicetourisme.com.

 

 

 

​Can I feel the Riviera breeze in my hair?

Yes: time to hit the road, preferably in an open-top car. Rental car agencies rents convertibles, such as the Peugeot 307 coupé cabriolet,. You can choose from three parallel and twisting coastal roads: the Haute, Moyenne and Basse Corniches, which wend their way in a ribbon along the coast between Nice and Monte Carlo. The Haute Corniche is one of the world’s most romantic roads with sharp bends and plunging views that make you catch your breath.

Has movie magic survived?

Yes. The most glamorous event of the Riviera’s calendar is, of course, the Cannes Film Festival each May, when thousands descend on this city to publicise, prance and party, but most of the real action happens behind closed doors in the five-star hotels or the many sleek yachts moored in the bay.

Cannes

 Can I move like Harlow in Monte Carlo?

Yep! Somerset Maugham may have described Monte Carlo as “a sunny place for shady people”, but its hedonistic formula of sunshine, casinos, high-rise apartments, ritzy shops and a yacht-filled harbour makes for an entertaining stay You can also try your luck in one of the principality’s casinos where you can break the bank – or not.

Following hot on the heels of the film festival in May is the Monaco Grand Prix, when the streets of Monte Carlo become a racetrack for the F1 champions to battle it out towards the chequered flag.

 

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Monaco – Port Hercules

 

 

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Monaco – Port Hercules
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Monaco – Port Hercules

Some medieval magic?

The prize for the location with the deepest history goes to Eze, which occupies a magical spot 429m above sea level, just off the Moyenne Corniche and a short drive from Nice. Eze was one of the first settlements established by the Gallo-Romans. Its strategic position meant that it passed into different invading hands several times, with everyone from the Moors to the House of Savoy staking their claim. A wander around its labyrinth of streets, stopping off to visit its botanical gardens and generally soaking up the views, is a must.

 

 


I want to be alone

The Côte d’Azur may seem to be one long and crowded sun-and-champagne-soaked party, but there are plenty of places where you can get away from it all. Nine out of 10 of the Alpes-Maritimes’s one million inhabitants occupy its 120km coastal strip, so that leaves the rest – a stunning wilderness of snow-capped mountains, pine-clad valleys and undiscovered villages – to explore. A must for wildlife lovers and hikers is the u o Mercantour National Park. This diverse landscape of Alpine peaks, lakes, rivers and pine forests is home to over half of the 4,200 species of flora found in France, and fauna including eagles, peregrine falcons, ibex, chamois, wild boars and wolves. The park is also marked with 600km of walking trails.

Mercantour National Park

 

Can I head off the beaten track?

Yes, on one of France’s most spectacular railways. The Chemins de Fer de Provence. It passes through breathtaking mountain scenery and calls at several stations, such as the pretty fortified village of Entrevaux.
Or you could escape to the peaceful Iles de Lérins, just off the coast near Cannes. You can visit eucalyptus-blanketed Ste-Marguerite and St-Honorat, which is home to a monastery dating from the 11th century.

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A day at the beach?

Rocky headlands, shingle and golden sand: you can find it all on the Côte d’Azur. The Plage Mala, in Cap d’Ail, is where you’ll find the beautiful people, and where you can party and sip cocktails well into the night. On Cap d’Antibes, the Plage de La Garoupe found immortality in F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and is one of the most beautiful beaches on the coast.

How do I get around?

Renting a car gives a certain amount of freedom – but in summer the traffic congestion can be horrendous. An excellent alternative is the TER (Regional Express Trains) that connect all the towns and cities on the Côte d’Azur as far as Ventimiglia in Italy. The Ligne d’Azur offers a well-developed network of buses surrounding Nice, with destinations including Vence, Grasse, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Villefranche-sur-Mer and further inland.

Scent of the cote

Grasse is the capital of the world’s fragrance industry – many legendary perfumes, including Chanel No 5, were created there. Wander through fields of jasmine, tuberose and lavender at La Bastide du Parfumeur in Mouans-Sartoux on the edge of town. Opened in June, this botanical garden is filled with fragrant plants cultivated for the making of perfume. It opens 9am-5pm daily from October to March, 9am-6pm in summer. Most of the perfumeries are open to visitors, and Parfumerie Galimard, Parfumerie Fragonard, and Parfumerie Molinard, offer free guided tours in English. They also offer the chance to create your own perfume.

 

 

 

On the trail of the artists

Antibes-1888-Claude-Monet

“What I shall bring back from here will be softness itself, white, rose and blue all wrapped up in this magical atmosphere” – so said Claude Monet when he arrived in Antibes on the recommendation of Guy de Maupassant. Monet was just one of many artists who flocked to the Côte d’Azur to try to capture on canvas its elusive “luminosity”.
A new route, The Painters of the Côte d’Azur, leads you in the footsteps of some of the Riviera’s most celebrated creative residents and visitors, including Picasso, Chagall, Monet, Renoir and Bonnard. With the itinerary as a guide, you can visit the towns where they painted: Le Cannet, Mougins, St-Paul-de-Vence, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer and Menton. Each point has a board erected on the spot where the artist set up their easel, a reproduction of the painting and accompanying information. The itinerary can be downloaded from the Riviera Côte d’Azur website, http://www.guideriviera.com.

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