Kosovo and Albania are independent nations
linked with a strong ethnic identity. Despite having a wealth of natural
beauty, hospitable locals and an abundance of history from ancient to modern,
these two countries are less travelled and very underrated. The modern history
of the countries has been far from pleasant. Albania was locked in the grip of
a tyrannical Communist dictatorship for over 40 years and descended into civil
war soon after breaking free of the regime in the 1990’s. Neighbouring Kosovo underwent
a gruelling civil war to gain independence during the same era. Since then,
both countries have become safe for travel with a lot to offer and are
progressing towards a brighter future and trying to shake off the stigma left
from their dark pasts.
YPT’s quintessential Kosovo and Albania New
Year tour starts in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo which has a well connected
international airport, we explore the country in depth from the isolated
villages deep in the mountains to the cities cut in two by fierce ethnic
tensions Serbian and Kosovans. We then traverse through the mountains, passing
villages infamous for vendettas and blood feuds, before reaching Tirana, the
capital of Albania. Here we’ll explore the shocking history of a Communist
regime that was one of the most brutal, secretive and isolationist during the
Cold War era.
Arrival at your own leisure in Pristina, the capital city of one of the youngest countries in the world: Kosovo!
Check into our very comfortable private apartments in Pristina. The apartments are run by a very hospitable Kosovan family who kept this business going even through the darkest days of the Kosovo war.
In the evening, meet with your YPT guide and the rest of the group before we head to a local Kosovan restaurant for delicious food and to warm ourselves up with their homemade rakija!
Overnight in a private apartment in Pristina.
Tuesday 29th December
We get up early to board our private bus for the extremely scenic drive to Brod.
Brod is populated by the Gorani people. The Gorani has a total population of roughly 50,000 people. They are primarily sheep and cattle herders, but also have a cartel network of dessert/sweet shops. They live in a very geographically small mountainous area of the most southern part of Kosovo, in and near the city of Dragash just south of Prizren. The Gorani have their own language, which is a Torlakian Slavic language, related to Serbian and Macedonian, with Albanian and Turkish loanwords.
We will stop for lunch at the new hotel that has been built just on the outskirts of Brod.
We take our time walking around the old village, where there are numerous chances for some great photos and some wonderful hiking routes.
The village was heavily damaged during the Kosovo war as both Serbian troops and Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) militias operated in the area. Many homes are still ruined by artillery and NATO strikes and some of the walls of buildings are still daubed with ‘Allah hu Akbar’’, faded graffiti left by the KLA.
A chance for dinner and drinks with Brod’s very famous “Borat,” a somewhat local celebrity that usually comes to meet our groups and is very happy to have a drink and have photos taken.
Leisurely drive back to Pristina.
Overnight in Pristina.
Wednesday 30th December
We wake up early and grab breakfast before heading to the bus station for the short bus journey to Mitrovica.
This tense and divided city has been the scene of numerous bloody fights and international incidents. Divided into two parts by a river, Kosovar and Serbian, each side is like crossing into a different nation.
We will arrive on the Kosovar side and grab lunch in a local restaurant, before exploring the sights on this side of the river.
We then cross the tense bridge, guarded by international peacekeepers, and enter the Serbian side. We will see huge political murals honoring Serb commanders, generals, and paramilitaries as well as visit a bizarre souvenir shop that sells every pro-Russian, pro-Putin and pro-Serbian thing you can imagine.
We then take a leisurely walk to the top of the town, where there is an awesome Communist monument and incredible views over this divided city, you will likely see some international Black Hawk helicopters patrolling the city from here.
We cross back into the Kosovar side and catch the bus back to Pristina.
On arrival we start our city tour of Pristina, taking in things like the Bill Clinton statue, and stroll past the university to the Grand Hotel and UNMIK, the Skenderberg monument and the new Government Building, then the historic mosques and the tight lanes of the Old Quarter. You will see cafes, street market stalls, kids hawking cigarettes and phone cards, plus the vibrant community life of Kosovo’s biggest city.
We’ll check out the fascinating ethnographic museum detailing life in a traditional Kosovar home in centuries gone by.
We’ll then visit the museum of Kosovo with discarded artillery and weapons left over from the war. Usually devoid of visitors, this museum details the ancient history of this land and covers their brutal fight for independence.
We’ll then head out for dinner in an awesome local restaurant, where you will be brought numerous local dishes until you can take no more!
Overnight in Pristina.
Thursday 31st December
Free morning in Kosovo before we meet up at midday to head to Albania, we’ll enjoy a scenic drive through the Albanian mountains stopping for photo opportunities and lunch on the way.
Evening arrival in Tirana and check into the centrally located hotel.
Head out in the evening to celebrate the new year and the end of 2020 in Tirana with Albanian food, followed by Rakia in a spinning sky bar in downtown Tirana. Doesn’t drinking grape-based moonshine while spinning in a circle at the top of one of Tirana’s tallest buildings sound like a great idea?
Overnight in Tirana.
Friday 1st January
We grab breakfast in the hotel before beginning our much-loved beaches and bunkers tour where we will be heading to the stunning Albanian Riviera, Albania boasts an array of untouched Mediterranean coastline, minus the mass of tourists.
First, we’ll head to a local museum run by a friend of YPT. Nestled in a courtyard in the middle of Tirana, he has managed to save many relics of Communist Albania from destruction. We’ll enjoy a morning coffee, Albanian jam and a Raki as we converse with the museum owner surrounding by old Communist kitsch.
On the way, we will stop at the family farm of a hospitable Albanian family. Their farm is home to a mass of ammunition and artillery bunkers from the Communist era. Today, the family uses them to brew wine. We’ll be invited to their shaded dining area next to a private lake before being treated to as much mouth-watering Albanian food, wine, and Raki as you like.
We’ll then reach the coast where you’ll have the chance to hike on cliffs above the azure blue waters of the Adriatic, explore the mass of abandoned Communist bunkers dotted along the coast, and finally, we spend a few hours at the beach for people to relax, grab a few beers and take in the views.
Drive back to Tirana for dinner and drinks.
Overnight in the hotel.
Saturday 2nd January
Breakfast at the hotel before an extensive city tour of Albania, we will see many relics of the Communist regime, including a bizarre and foreboding pyramid that is perfect for climbing up for those who are brave enough!
Lunch at one of Tirana’s many great restaurants, with the option to eat in the ironic KFC that now overlooks the former home of Enver Hoxha.
We’ll then head to the infamous house of leaves, this was the surveillance center that the communist authorities used to spy on the population of Albania, foreign embassies, and the rare foreign tourists that dared to enter the country back then.
We then pay a visit to one of Tirana’s best-kept secrets: a collection of hulking Soviet statues hidden beneath an alleyway. While it is not allowed to enter, as always, your YPT guide can get around it and allow you to get some great shots of Tirana’s former Lenin and Stalin monuments!
We then head to one of the vast former government bunkers of the Hoxha regime, this is where the running of the country would have been coordinated from in the event of an expected nuclear war and is a great insight into the advanced paranoia of the regime.
Farewell dinner and overnight in Tirana.
Sunday 3rd January
End of tour
Transport to the airport and onward destinations can be arranged