Limitless Albania founders, Fatmir and Gesi, were born and raised in Gjirokaster and know every corner of the town. This tour was designed specifically to introduce our guests to the best of Gjirokaster and surrounding countryside, showing parts and places known only to locals. Whether visiting the 12th century castle-fortress, basking in the atmosphere of the Old Bazaar, marvelling at the design and opulence of the uniquely Ottoman and beautifully-restored Skenduli House or eating the best ‘byrek’ in town at Gjiokaster’s oldest bakery, we will show and share with you some of our favorite places and insider tips so that you can get the most from your trip. The lovely Drino Valley that surrounds the town holds a wealth of intriguing places to explore, such as a sunken city build in 2AD by the Roman emperor Hadrian, a beautiful 6th century Byzantine church built by the emperor Justinian and a Bektashi tekke (monastery) where the solitary Dervish will welcome you and share with you his mystical view of the world. This is a tour that really packs a punch in a short period of time!
- Accommodation at a family run guesthouse in the Old town
- Fun and knowledgeable English-speaking driver/guide
- Transport by comfortable A/C vehicle
- Entry fee at the castle and Skenduli Ottoman house.
- Off-road experience into the countryside surrounding Gjirokaster
- Local taxes and fees.
• Meet at your hotel (or other pre-arranged pick-up point) in Tirana and drive to Gjirokaster, a drive of approximately 3 hours.
Situated in a stunning location, sandwiched between high mountains, Gjirokaster began life in the 12th century as the fortress of a local feudal family. Its location on the crossroads of trading routes resulted in the city’s growth in size and importance during Ottoman rule. Unique in character and reminiscent of the towns of childhood fairy-tales in style and atmosphere, the city’s singular architecture, unique, multi-storeyed fortress-houses, winding cobbled streets and rich folk traditions (including its distinctive style of iso-polyphonic music) saw it awarded the status of ‘museum city’ in 1961 and UNESCO world heritage site in 2005. It’s a magical place, totally unique and full of character and atmosphere. The city was the birthplace of Albania’s brutal post-World War 2 dictator, Enver Hoxha, as well as the famous Albanian writer, Ismael Kadare, who wrote in detail about Gjirokaster in his book Kronike ne gur (Chronicles in Stone.
• Arriving in Gjirokaster, we will visit the 12th century castle that overlooks the city and surrounding Drino Valley. Used as a garrison and prison until very recently, excavations indicate that the castle may have been inhabited as early as the Iron Age, in 8-7BC, although much of the structure that can be seen today is the work of Ali Pasha of Tepelena, the notoriously ruthless and powerful ruler of Southern Albania in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The castle now houses the Museum of Gjirokaster, which provides a fascinating overview of the city from its prehistory to recent Communist and post-Communist periods. There is also an interesting exhibition of Second World War paraphernalia, including tanks and some Italian, German and British-issue weapons in the Museum of Armaments in the castle prison – and an incongruous 2-seater US Air Force plane that was shot down in 1957. From the top of the castle, there are superb views over Gjirokaster, the Drinos Valley and the Lunxheria mountains opposite (which in winter, covered in snow, are a particularly beautiful sight!)
• After the fort, we will visit the Old Bazaar at the heart of the Old Town. Known to locals as Qafa e Pazarit, the Bazaar dates back to the 17th century, although much of it had to be rebuilt in the1800s after a fire ripped through the original structure causing considerable damage. Not a bazaar in the traditional sense of the word, but rather a collection of artisan shops and restaurants lining multiple historic streets, this is an ideal place to pick-up some traditional, hand-crafted souvenirs as you wander around and soak in the chatter and ‘old world’ atmosphere of the quarter. Note the distinctive style of houses in the Old Bazaar area – built with defense in mind – which we will explain to you.
• After lunch at one of our favourite traditional restaurants, we will visit the Skenduli House – a wonderful example of the unique architectural style and heritage of Gjirokaster, beautifully restored by the same family that has owned the house for generations (except for a few years in the communist period when the house was requisitioned by the government for its own use). Built in the early 1700s and partially rebuilt in 1827, the house has many notable features, including a dedicated room for wedding ceremonies, ornate frescoes and stained windows, steam rooms, and a total of 9 fireplaces, 44 doors, 64 windows and six toilets!)
• Dinner and overnight at a charming hotel in the historic centre.
• After enjoying some lovely views from the hotel’s balcony over breakfast, we will set off by 4WD to explore the historically-rich Drino Valley.
• Our first stop is the ruins of Adrianopol. Built in 2AD during the time of the Roman Empire, Adrianopol is a well-preserved and typical Roman city with theatre, stairs and remnants of walls and ramparts. We will take you through the history of the Epirot–Roman wars which took place in this valley during the expansion of the Roman Empire.
• Drive to Melani Tekke – a monastery for the Bektashi Order, a mystical order of Sufism, one of the branches of Islam. Here, we will be welcomed by the Dervish Myrteza who will explain the background and beliefs of the Bektashi order. Don’t be surprised to be greeted with raki; alcoholic drinks are allowed in Bektashism!
• Moving from Islam to Christianity – the two prevalent faiths in Albania – we drive to the hamlet of Labova e Kryqit (Labovë of the Cross), a mixed Greek/Albanian settlement where we will visit one of the oldest and most beautiful Byzantine churches in Albania – the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos. This Orthodox Church was built in the 6th century by Byzantine Emperor, Justinian (527–565 AD) in memory of his mother. Both the church and its frescoes are masterpieces of Byzantine art and contain many fine examples of the symbolism and iconography of the Orthodox religion.
• After lunch at a traditional restaurant (we are happy to share our recommendations of the best places to enjoy authentic Albanian cuisine), we will return to Tirana (or elsewhere if desired) where the trip will end.
Need to Know
If you would like to extend your trip and explore more of the Gjirokaster region or in the south of Albania in general, we would be very happy to discuss ideas with you. Please get in touch with Fatmir via contact form.