Closed for so many years to the outside world, Albania has now opened its doors to become a rewarding tourist destination, with much to offer the naturalist visitor. After a flight to the capital, Tirana, we will drive south to the historic city of Berat where we’ll be based for three nights. From here we’ll explore Divjaka-Karavasta National Park, and the 4,000-hectare Karavasta lagoon where we’ll look for a host of waterbirds including Garganey and Greater Flamingoes. Whilst in this area we will also visit the Vjosë-Nartë protected area south of Karavasta, which is a magnet for migrating birds such as Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, Spotted Redshanks, Kentish Plovers, stints and sandpipers. Next we drive to the north-east of the country to Valbonë Valley National Park in the Albanian Alps, where we’ll stay in a traditional guesthouse beside the River Valbonë. The park is home to Brown Bear, Wolf and Chamois though these are elusive. We’ll look for birds such as Hazel Grouse, Capercaillie, Rock Partridge and both Black and White-backed Woodpeckers as well as other animals such as the attractive Fire Salamander here. Finally we will make the scenic ferry ride across Lake Komani before heading back to Tirana for our flight home.
- 3-night stay in the old town area of Berat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Explore Karavasta lagoon which holds 5% of the world’s breeding Dalmatian Pelicans
- Pygmy Cormorants, Marsh Sandpipers & Caspian Terns, Karavasta lagoon
- Look for Red-footed Falcons, Collared Flycatchers, Subalpine Warblers & Nightingales
- Slender-billed Gulls, Collared Pratincoles, Stone Curlews, Bee-eaters & Hoopoes, Vjosë-Nartë
- Ring Ouzel, Black Redstart, Wheatear, Water Pipit & Nutcracker all possible, Valbonë Valley National Park
- Enjoy delicious traditional Albanian cuisine: a fusion of Mediterranean & Middle Eastern flavours
- Take the 2-hour ferry across Lake Komani, dubbed ‘one of the great boat trips of the world’!
- Led by expert naturalist guides
All included in the price.
Two small family-run guesthouses. All rooms have en suite facilities.
Day 1 Fly Tirana and transfer Berat.
Day 2 Divjaka-Karavasta National Park from Berat.
Day 3 Vjosë-Nartë from Berat.
Day 4 Transfer Valbonë Valley National Park.
Day 5/7 Valbonë Valley National Park.
Day 8 Transfer Tirana via Koran Ferry and fly London.
For so long, many of us will have had no more than a tantalising glimpse of Albania — perhaps from Corfu or the Adriatic Sea — its distant and rugged hills full of allure, but not opportunity. Shackled for so much of the latter half of the 20th century by the isolationist and atheistic policies of the regime of the then People’s Republic of Albania, followed by economic difficulties in the 1990s (post communism), only in the 21st century has the new Republic of Albania emerged from the shadows to become a tourist destination of great potential. Indeed, with its unspoiled beaches, wild mountainous topography, delicious cuisine and an archaeological heritage fashioned over millennia through successive Greek, Roman and Ottoman occupations, the potential for tourism is rich and varied. So too is its natural history, which we will be excited to discover and enjoy on this holiday.
First, we must fly to Tirana, Albania’s capital. Then we will transfer to the historic city of Berat, our base for three nights. Berat lies on the River Osum, beneath the pine-clad Tomorr Mountains, and boasts a wealth of beautiful buildings of high architectural and historical interest. The old town of Berat is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we will find time to enjoy it, along with its white Ottoman houses, medieval hilltop castle and vibrant atmosphere. Our guesthouse lies on a quiet cobbled street and here we will sample our first Albanian cuisine, which marries classic Mediterranean tradition with flavours and spices from the East. On our first full day we will head to the coast to explore the superb and littleknown Divjaka-Karavasta National Park. The 4,000-hectare Karavasta lagoon is the largest in the country and, with 5% of the world’s breeding Dalmatian Pelicans, it is of international importance. Naturally, these special birds will be a highlight. However, the park’s marshes and shallow pools are teeming with other life. Garganey and Greater Flamingoes can be present in their hundreds, with Pygmy Cormorants, Marsh Sandpipers and Caspian Terns amongst the supporting cast. In the surrounding pine woods we will look for Collared Flycatchers, Subalpine Warblers and Nightingales.
The following day we will visit the Vjosë- Nartë protected area south of Karavasta, a huge complex of saltpans and coastal dunes around the Nartë lagoon. This magnet for migrating birds can offer some of the best wader-watching in Europe, with Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, Spotted Redshanks, Kentish Plovers, stints and sandpipers in abundance, and Slenderbilled Gulls, Collared Pratincoles and Stone Curlews amongst other highlights. Bee-eaters and Hoopoes will no doubt add a splash of Mediterranean colour!
The second phase of our holiday will be spent exploring the Valbonë Valley National Park, the gem within the Albanian Alps. Here we will enjoy daily walks with the aim of discovering the wealth of natural history in these wild and rugged mountains. They hold a healthy population of both Brown Bears and Wolves, though these are elusive and hard to see, as well as Chamois and such avian stars as Hazel Grouse, Rock Partridge and Black Woodpecker. One spectacular walk ascends through vast Beech woodlands to meadows above which may hold Ring Ouzels, Black Redstarts, Wheatears and Water Pipits. Nutcrackers are possible here too, whilst after rainfall there’s always the chance of a Fire Salamander! Botanically, this area is also wonderfully rich. Meadows are covered in Green-winged Orchid, while the fascinating Coralroot and Bird's-nest Orchid are common in the Beech woodlands, with an array of other alpine species possible. Both tours will appreciate and enjoy all forms of natural history; for the more bird focused, the earlier departure is recommended, while in late May there will be more botanical interest as well as butterflies on the wing. As the trail climbs higher the landscape opens out to reveal breathtaking views of snow-clad peaks, with Maja Jezercë the highest of these at over 2,600 metres. Our guesthouse is located in the valley, beside the River Valbonë, and we will be served traditional cuisine in a cosy lodge nearby.
The time will come to bid farewell to this wild region and wend our way southwards, back towards Tirana. However, one more treat lies in store. The ferry journey across Lake Komani has been dubbed by travellers and guidebooks alike ‘one of the great boat trips of the world’! A trip of two hours or so will see us cruising between towering peaks and sheer cliff faces across a region in which no roads or power lines connect its few hardy resident farming families to the outside world. This unforgettable experience provides a fitting and dramatic finale to our holiday in this wild and little-known land.
Mr & Mrs S.T
Offered good opportunities for bird watching and wild flowers. Expert guiding very good. Different locations visited all excellent. Albanian food and hospitality, especially in the mountains fantastic. Tom's leadership very professional and Marsela too. The extension to Tirana/Sarande was also very well arranged.
Miss G. L
I enjoyed the great variety with the combination of cultural and wildlife interest. As a walking holiday this was ideal for me, with regular stops to observe our surroundings. One of the highlights was the hospitality shown by the mountain people. The food produced under such primitive conditions was fantastic.
Mr M. F
Tom Mabbett inspired us with his knowledge, enthusiasm and energy. We very much enjoyed the whole holiday and it was also an adventure!
The trip was well organised with a variety of interests catered for. Valbone NP was a wonderful experience.
Mr K. H
Good balance and well described in your brochure.
Mr D. C
The lunch at the "stan" will live long in the memory. All I can say is that for me it was a wonderful holiday.