Albania Winter Explorer

Central Albania: (IT-ALBCV04)
URL: https://www.hiddentrails.com/tour/albania_winter_pathways_explorer.aspx

Introduction
Central Albania
This unique winter program combines 3 days of horse riding adventure with another 3 days of cultural exploration!

Winter has a lot to offer including fun adventures, smaller groups, and a different light on cultural elements such as monuments, music and traditions.
The riding portion of the trip takes place in changing landscapes made of valleys, hills, small forests, rivers and steep climbing and downhill sections. You will experience unforgettable moments in the saddle, while exploring the undiscovered treasures of Southern Albania.  
When you are not riding, you will learn more about the Albanian culture and have the luxury of discovering its monuments, thermal baths, archaeological sites, Ionian coast and shepherd lifestyle. On this tour, guests will also have the opportunity to interact, participate and live part of the Albanian local life.

If you already love Albania in the summertime, you should try exploring it in the wintertime. This season brings a slower pace of life and lets you discover another side of this wonderful country!

Accomodation

Accommodations

This is a progressive ride so nights will be spent in different accommodations.

Description
You will be staying in a variety of accommodations. Bathrooms are shared during the whole trip.
Access to electricity is possible every evening and the whole area has a good phone coverage.
Laundry can be done at various locations for a small fee.

Wi-Fi access is only available in Gjirokaster. Internet access is difficult during this ride so we recommend guests to buy an Albanian sim card (around 12 euros) to get free internet access and about 30 minutes of free calls.

Accommodation Itinerary - subject to changes based on availability
Night 1: Hotel in Gjirokaster
Night 2: Family house in Libohova
Night 3: Hotel in Gjirokaster
Night 4: Sheperd's camp in Cajupi's Valley
Night 5: Farmhouse near Ballaban
Night 6: Hotel in Saranda
Night 7: Hotel in Gjirokaster



Room Occupancy
It may be possible to pay for a single supplement on the first, third, sixth and last night of the trail but for the rest participants must be prepared to share accommodation and facilities.
The single supplement does not apply if no one is ok to share a room.



Meals
All meals are included in this trip from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on the last day.

You will get to enjoy local Albanian food (local meats, fruits, and vegetables) traditionally cooked.

Breakfasts include eggs, butter, cheese, local pancakes, fruit jams, honey, milk and tea.
Lunch is often a picnic packed by the riders from the family they stayed with the night before and usually consist of bread, cheese, tomatoes, eggs, olive, pie fruit and a drink.
For dinner, we serve meat (chicken, calf  or pork meat, fish by the sea), salads, cheese, local yogurt sauce, olives, pickles, vegetables from the garden and fruits.

Wine or beer is included with lunch and dinner every day.

Dietary Restrictions
We can cater to all dietary restrictions with prior notice.


This trip includes some wine with dinner and can accommodate special dietary requests.

Riding


Riding Experience

This trip has been designed for intermediate riders who are reasonably fit and in a decent state of health. You should also be happy to share facilities with others and live in basic conditions.

Horses
The horses used for this ride are locally bred and ideal for the terrain. They are small but very robust and surefooted Albanian horses (between 13 and 14.2 hands). The Albanian horse, a unique mountain breed that is s local mixture of the archaic Tarpan and medieval Arab horse. They are great climber, have a clear mind and are surefooted. Our breeding program aims to help saving this declining breed of horses.
Our stable include 38 horses and is situated amidst scenic hills, green valleys, surrounded by high mountains. Our horses are trained with natural horsemanship techniques that we are pleased to share with the guests.

Pace
The rides are at a moderate pace overall. Most of the time we are traveling through mountains so that must be taken into account in regards to your expectations of speed, however there are indeed occasions where you can have a good canter.

Guides
Kristina, Aurel and Ilir are all native from Albania and always happy to share their love for horses and their knowledge of Albania with guests. There are 2 guides accompanying you on this trip.

Itinerary

Sample Itinerary - subject to changes

Please note that this itinerary is given as guidance only and may be altered.

Day 1 (Friday): Arrival
Plan to land at Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 1:00 pm - this leaves enough time for the transfer plus a visit of Gjirokstra. The transfer from the airport of Tirana will take around 3-4 hours (250km).
Tonight, you will be accommodated in a traditional hotel, in the heart of the historical Gjirokastra: the new Bazaar. If you have some spare time before dinner, we recommend having a look at Enver Hoxha’s house, Gjirokastra castle, the church of the Old Bazaar, the mosque of the Bazar and Skenduli house.
Dinner will be served at a traditional restaurant. During dinner your guides will be able to speak to you about the trail (possible requests or needs, advice and things which are good to know). We recommend that you buy a map of the area before dinner in order to gain a good understanding of the itinerary.
Meals included: Dinner
Overnight in hotel in Gjirokastra


Day 2 (Saturday): Ride to Libohova  
After breakfast at the hotel and allocation of horses, we will start to ride through the countryside towards the small town of Libohova, nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain. The route to Libovoha is of intermediate difficulty and combines hilly landscapes, valleys, small water streams, cliffs and many opportunities to canters. Once we have accommodated the horses next to the small farm where you will spend the night, we will drive to the center of the town (10 minutes) for a lunch break in a small traditional restaurant. There, you can taste the local food, wine and Raki.
During the afternoon, we will take a long walk to visit Libohova and its castle, a Bektashi cult object and the tomb of Ali Pasha’s sister, Shanisha. The archaeological evidence indicates a very ancient settlement which reached its zenith in the 17th-century when the town of Libohova became an important commercial centre. 
Later on feeding the horses and taking care of them is part of you evening activity. You will overnight at the local family farm and will taste delicious local food. You can also participate in cooking a local dish with the family.
Riding 3-4 hours
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight at Family house in Libohova


Day 3 (Sunday): Libohova to Antigonea National Park
This morning, you will ride through rolling hills, Drino’s valley and few water streams before climbing a steep hill to reach Antigonea National Park, where we will stop for a visit. Antigonea was built by King Pyrrhus  in 295 BC and named after his first wife Antigona, daughter of King Ptolemeus of Egypt. After the break, we will ride 1 more hour before reaching the stables. Lunch will follow immediately after, in a village close to the stable.
After a short break, we plan to visit the cold war tunnel in Gjirokastra, a building of communism defence paranoia that has a lot to tell. Then, before dinner, you will visit a painter studio and learn from him about local art and special techniques of painting and installations, as well as about many elements of tradition that were involved in his works. Ideological art during communism can be one of the topics to be discussed. 
Dinner will take place at a small local restaurant in the historical area of Gjirokastra and a well-known iso-polyphonic group will be invited to talk, sing and explain about their complex role. South Alabian Iso-poliphony is a UNESCO protected world heritage.
Riding 3-4 hours
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight in hotel in Gjirokastra

Day 4 (Monday): Drino Valley Cultural Visits
This morning, we will focus on cultural visits to a few very important monuments close to each other, over the hills next to Drino’s valley:
- The old paleo Christian church of Peshkepia, an ex-episcopal center of the 9-th century. The place itself has evidence of building since the 3-rd century. 
- The Melani Bektashi monastery. We plan a guided visit by the bektashi father (priest) who will let us tour inside the Sufi object placed over the ruins of an antic city that is thought to be Justinianopolis. Bektashism this sect of Islam has its world center in Albania. The religious place is very peaceful and welcoming for foreigners. You will be introduced to some of the main concept on the basis of bektashism and rules of their life.
- The church of Labova of the Cross in Labova, which will also be our lunch stop. This monument is representing one of the oldest church in Albania. The legend says that was built by Justinian the Great in 554. Justinian married Teodora his wife at the small chapel of this village and the women of the village inherited her wedding dress for centuries. This church is decorated with an old wooden iconostas full of floral and symbolic animal scenes.
After lunch, we will drive up Lunxheria’s mountain and will stop at Çajupi’s valley, located at 1300 m above sea level. A shepherds camp (very basic but pleasant) will be your accommodation for the night.
Before dinner (if still daylight) we can hike around the place on the slopes of the mountains that surround the valley. Dinner will take place next to the fire with lots of mountain food raki and wine.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight at shepherds camp in Çajupi’s valley

Day 5 (Tuesday): Pwrmet
After breakfast and the views of a wonderful sunrise in the mountains, we will drive back to the Drinos valley and will follow the Vjosa river to reach the thermal baths of Benja, in Pwrmet. Along the river, there are splendid warm water human-made pools to soak on a cool day. People believe that the baths have healing properties. The pools are off the beaten path, and during winter months you can have enough privacy. Kadiu bridge, a monument of culture built in 1760 during ottoman period, offers a stunning view of the Langarica river. That is an entering gate to the canyons. During the day there are chances of exploring the canyons by hiking and swimming. Lunch will take place in the city of roses, Pwrmet. You will especially enjoy the local raki and the local sweets.
Later on, we will drive to a remote area close to Ballaban village to visit another unique farm that will be our accommodation for the evening. The owners will have a short presentation on how they abandoned the city life and made it possible live and dream far form everything. Tonight, we will enjoy a special wine tasting.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight at farmhouse near Ballaban

Day 6 (Wednesday): Butrint & Saranda
This morning, after a fresh cooked breakfast we will drive first back to Gjirokastra and then towards Butrint, a UNESCO protected archaeological park, through a challenging off road path. The driving experience will be exceptional and the views are some of the most beautiful in your journey. Today's drive through small remote villages, old houses, winding roads, small gardens and old churches gives you the impression that time has stopped here. We will stop to visit the ruins of the church of Leshnica and will have a coffee stop by Cerkovica village, on the way. A local person will give us a short presentation on how this area lives and what was their past, and what they expect for the future.
We will later drive to Butrint to visit the archaeological park. Originally part of an area called Epirus, Butrint has been occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Venetians. As a result, Butrint offers a wealth of incredible archaeological structures, including a well preserved theatre, Roman public baths, inside which lies a paleo-Christian baptistery, and a 9th century basilica. The sanctuary of Asclepius, god of medicine sits on its hill or “acropolis” and dates back to the 4th century.
Lunch will take place in Ksamil or Butrint in a restaurant next to the sea with plenty of seafood cooked the local way. In the afternoon we will drive to Saranda, where we are accommodated in a hotel by the sea. Before dinner, we will visit the local art gallery and will have a presentation by the head of the gallery, a very good painter. Dinner will take place in a small restaurant in Saranda.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight at hotel in Saranda

Day 7 (Thursday): Ride to Dhoksat
After breakfast we will drive back to Gjirokastra, to the horse stables, for another horse riding day. Today's route passes through a rural environment with beautiful steep hills and small valleys reminiscent of a pastoral atmosphere. This is an area where traditional farming and old defence infrastructures from communism time co-exist.
The view of River Drino (“Tree of Life”) accompanies us during our morning ride. Drino is the most important water basin in the area and part of ancient pagan beliefs. On your way, you will meet the ruins of the castle of Santa Triada reconstructed during 1809-1810 by Ali Pasha. This was a strategic point to control all the medieval caravan itineraries. The castle ruins were used later during the time of socialism for military purposes.
We will then stop for a traditional home-made lunch in Dhoksat village and will have a local expert talk to us about the characteristics of life, tradition, folklore, costumes and ethnography of the area. The ride back to the stables in the afternoon is the most beautiful part of the ride as the landscape allows a few canters and the climbing up hills is stunning. 
In the evening, you can have a walk around the historical area before the farewell dinner. Later in the evening we can have a drink in a popular bar.
Riding 5-6 hours
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight in hotel in Gjirokastra


Day 8 (Friday): Departure 
After breakfast at the hotel you will be transferred back to the airport of Tirana.


Rates and Dates for Albania Winter Explorer

Rates include:

Accommodations, All meals, Water and drinks during meals, 6 riding days, English guide & Luggage transportation

Packages and Options



  • SeasonYearDescriptionEUR ~US$
    A
    20218 day tour, AP€980$1110
The US Dollar Rate is Based on Exchange Rate of 1.13

Rates Note:

Please, provide your passport information at time of booking

* prices are per person based on double/twin occupancy

Rates Note:

Please, provide your passport information at time of booking


Transfer and Other Charges:



 DescriptionEUR~US$
2021 Single room (available only in Gjirokastra - subject to availability) 20 Euros pppn
- to be paid locally
0 $0
2021 Small group supplement (3 pax only), pp 135 $155
2021 Transfer between Gjirokastra and Saranda port, roundtrip, pp (plan to fly to Corfu and then take the boat to Saranda) 40 $45
2021 Transfer from/to Tirana Airport (3+ pax), one way, per person 60 $70
2021 Transfer from/to Tirana Airport (2 pax only), one way, per person 75 $85
2021 Transfer from/to Tirana Airport (1 pax only), one way, per person 125 $140

Season Tour Dates  Min / MaxReserve
A 2021 01/08 - 01/15 8d / 7n 8 day tour, AP 4 /10 Reserve
A 2021 01/29 - 02/05 8d / 7n 8 day tour, AP 4 /10 Reserve
A 2021 02/12 - 02/19 8d / 7n 8 day tour, AP 4 /10 Reserve

Dates Note:

Rates do not include:

Entrance tickets for museums, parks and cultural visits, Extra drinks, Airport Transfers & Gratuities

Note:

Due to COVID-19 Corona virus pandemic and certain travel restrictions we are applying some temporary policy changes to some of our tours.

For Albania Winter Explorer (IT-ALBCV04):
If your booking is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, you can postpone your trip to a later date at no extra cost.
Regarding safety protocols, we won't ask riders to wear masks during the ride.
We asked all our hosts to have enough disinfectant solutions, to keep everything cleaned and organised and most meals outside in the gardens.
Guests are asked not to meet or touch other people and try to stay distant. We will try our best not to have people that don't know each sleep in the same room. We will avoid all crowded places, bars or restaurants on the coast.
We also ask all riders to be responsible and aware of their health condition before booking our trails. If they have any suspicious symptoms of Covid they can cancel the trail without any extra cost. In case a guest starts showing symptoms while in Albania we are obligated by law to refer the case to the national health authorities and wait for their recommendations for the whole group.

For more information please visit our COVID-19 Updates page at https://www.hiddentrails.com/article/covid19update.aspx

Other Info
Meeting: Gjirokaster
Airport: Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (TIA)
Transfer: Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (TIA) or Saranda Port.

Climate:
                                            Gjirokaster area


Month

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average High Temperature (°F)

41

45

52

59

67

75

82

83

76

63

51

42

Average Low Temperature (°F)

24

27

31

36

43

48

54

53

48

39

31

24

Average High Temperature (°C)

5

7

11

15

19

24

28

28

24

17

11

6

Average Low Temperature (°C)

-4

-3

-1

2

6

9

12

11

9

4

0

-4

Source: NOAA


Seasons
The best months to visit Albania are from April to October. Although precipitation is quite high in Albania there is less rain during these months and because of the continental air mass, most precipitation is over the central highlands. Albania has a high number of climatic regions relative to its landmass - the coastal lowlands have a typically Mediterranean climate; the highlands have a Mediterranean continental climate. This ride takes place in southern Albania which is around 5 degrees warmer than the rest of the country. You will experience different types of weather on the trail; from cooler mountainous air to a warmer climate down on the coast.

What To Bring:
Your luggage is transported by vehicle to the accommodations each night.

What to Bring
Normal riding clothes: riding hat, long sleeved shirts (please avoid packing your favourite or expensive clothing due to risk of damage)  riding trousers and chaps, gloves.
Good mountain shoes - with a grip for walking but not too thick as you will need to ride in them too. Normal riding boots with a smooth sole are not recommended as they can be slippery when walking on foot.
Waterproof raincoat
Casual clothes for the evening
Swimming suit, river shoes and towels
Sleeping bag for camping
Sun cream, sunglasses, hat, water bottles.
Anti-allergy medicine for possible insects bites
Camera - please bring small cameras as large professional ones are very difficult to transport on horseback.
Copy of passport
Personal saddlebags are welcome if riders would like to bring their own. Small saddlebags are provided by the ride but just for food and water.