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Guided Cycling Holiday in the Balkan Peninsula

The Balkan Peninsula for many is one of the last undiscovered corners of Europe. Cultural and natural variety abound here, forged over the centuries by numerous political changes and imperial influences from the Byzantine to the Ottoman. This holiday contrast Tirana, Skopje, Prishtina, and Podgorica with traditional towns, villages, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and places of untouched natural beauty. Each country offers a different culture, cuisine, and tradition to discover, each growing as an independent nation in its own right and taking its place in the modern world. This is a rare chance to see the re-emergence of places kept off limits until relatively recently.

Key information

  • Trip type: Guided
  • Lodging: Point to Point
  • Terrain: 100% tarmac
  • Starts in: Tirana
  • Ends in: Shkodër
  • Difficulty level: Moderate (Cyclist needs to have a good level of fitness, terrain is mostly hilly or unpaved but they will ride on flat terrain sometime,31-45 miles per day)
  • Total Distance: 392 Miles / 631 Kilometers
  • Type of bike: Road bike
  • E-bike: Available to rent / 370 EUR per week

Highlights

  • Cycle to Lake Ohrid, one of the oldest lakes in the world
  • Ride through gorges, pine forests, karst fields, and waterfalls of Mavrovo National Park
  • Cycling at Sharr Mountain, one of the most picturesque parts of Kosovo
  • Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Peje
  • Use of bicycles and panniers
  • Service of a multilingual guide and a support van
  • 14 nights accommodation

Skill level

  • Intermediate

11 days with instruction in English
The organizer also speaks: German, Italian
Group size: 6-20 participants
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Accommodation

Check-in Time:
14:00
Check-out Time:
00:00

You will stay at various accommodations arranged by the Food Tours Albania team. On day 1, you will stay at Hotel Sky 2 in Tirane.

Program

East meets West and new merges almost seamlessly with old. Over the centuries people have traveled to this region for its fertile soil, natural resources, and healing waters. This enchanting land, which has remained virtually untouched by tourism, boasts rich tradition, vibrant culture, and mouth-watering cuisine. With vast historical attractions, nightlife coastal towns, countless national parks, and 11 UNESCO sites, this adventure tour is delightfully different.

Tour information

  • Contries visited: Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo & Montenegro
  • 11 Riding days with 100% vehicle support
  • 2 rest days: Pej (Kosovo) and Kotor (Montenegro)

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival

Rendezvous at Tirana airport and transfer to hotel in Tirana city center. Meet the rest of the tour group over a relaxing dinner. After checking in at the hotel, depending on the arriving flights, you will have the chance to do a tour of Tirana and visit the nuclear bunker of Enver Hoxha, the fruit and vegetable market, and the National Museum of History next to the newly build city center of Tirana. Before the welcome dinner, your tour guide will go with you, through all the tour details and tell you everything you need to know about the amazing tour you are about the journey.

Lively, colorful Tirana is the beating heart of Albania, where this tiny nation's hopes and dreams coalesce into a vibrant whirl of traffic, brash consumerism, and unfettered fun. Having undergone a transformation of extraordinary proportions since awakening from its communist slumber in the early 1990s, Tirana's center is now unrecognizable, with buildings painted in primary colors, public squares, and pedestrianized streets that are a pleasure to wander.

Trendy Blloku buzzes with the well-heeled flushes hanging out in bars and cafes, while the city's grand boulevards are lined with fascinating relics of its Ottoman, Italian, and communist past, from delicate minarets to loud socialist murals. Add to this some excellent museums and you have a compelling list of reasons to arrive a day earlier here.

Day 2: Tiranë - Ohrid

You will start the morning with a two-hour transfer to the northern side of Lake Ohrid. After all participants have unloaded their bicycles and fitted them to their comfort, you will start cycling along the scenic shore of Lake Ohrid towards Pogradec. After lunch, you will cross over into Macedonia, and visit the monastery of St Naum before arriving in Ohrid.

The sublime Ohrid with its 365 churches is Macedonia's most seductive destination, with an atmospheric old quarter cascading down a graceful hill, crammed full of beautiful churches, and topped by the bones of a medieval castle. Its cobbled streets are flanked by traditional restaurants and lakeside cafes, but it's not a complete tourist circus just yet and still has a lived-in feel.

Lake Ohrid, one of the oldest lakes in the world, came into existence during a remote geological age as a result of tectonic shifts, and with its unique flora and fauna the lake is one of the largest biological reserves in Europe and with 212 known endemic species and a surface area of 358 km2, it is probably the most diverse lake in the world.

Distance: 64 kilometers | Total Climb: 525 meters

Day 3: Ohrid - Debar

Today you cycle along the Black Drin Valley following the only way out for the river, from Lake Ohrid down the gorge past several dams and lakes to Debar.

Across the city of Debar passed the main road Via Egnatia. At that time the city included all the provinces on both sides of the middle course of Black Drin - from Struga to Prizren, from Tirana to Kicevo, and from Elbasan to Gostivar. All that attached great importance to the economic centers on the western side of the Balkan Peninsula. Throughout the city, there were long columns of caravans in different directions, to Albania, Thessaloniki, and Skopje.

Debar has several thermal water springs with temperatures reaching 48°C and is characterized as sulfur-sulfide with a high degree of radioactivity and the presence of algae suitable for treatment and for scientific purposes.

Distance: 68 kilometers | Total Climb: 478 meters

Day 4: Debar - Mavrovo

Today’s ride is just glorious. Cycle through gorges, pine forests, karst fields, and waterfalls of Mavrovo National Park offer a breath of fresh, rarefied air. Beautiful vistas abound, and the park is home to North Macedonia's and Albania’s highest peak, Mt Korab (2764 meters) where both countries divide.

Distance: 61 kilometers | Total Climb: 942 meters

Day 5: Mavrovo - Prizren

After an early breakfast, you will transfer for one and a half hours to the border with Kosovo. From there, after coffee and tea, you’ll cycle up and down the wild Sharr Mountain, one of the most picturesque parts of Kosovo and for years a popular skiing destination in the former Yugoslavia.

Undulating roads, moorland mountains offer fabulous views, all the way down to picturesque Prizren, with its charming mosque- and church-filled old town, shining with an enthusiasm that's infectious. It's Kosovo's second city and most obvious tourist town and is well worth your afternoon lingering exploration. Prizren is a UNESCO city and is also known for Dokufest, a documentary film festival held each August that attracts documentary makers and fans from all over the world.

Distance: 69 kilometers | Total Climb: 1007 meters

Day 6: Prizren - Pejë

You take a day break from cycling and continue by bus to Peja, Kosovo's third-largest city and one flanked by sites sacred to Orthodox Serbians and with a Turkish-style bazaar at its heart. You will visit the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites just before lunch and continue up the spectacular nearby Rugova Valley and surrounding mountains for a relaxing afternoon.

Peja Patriarchy, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a complex of churches located in the suburbs of Pejë, near the Lumbardh River, at the entrance of Rugova Gorge. This complex dates from the XIII century and is the site where the Serb episcopate and patriarchs resided. From its inception, the Patriarchy was a gathering place for theologians, writers, and artists alike—a place where artistic heritage was greatly stressed and, today remains one of the core monuments to Kosovo’s cultural heritage.

Day 7: Pejë - Berane

After breakfast, you will make your way down the Rrugova national part toward the remote border with Montenegro. This mountain border was only open recently for tourism purposes and makes a great addition to the development of hiking and cycling for the region, which previously saw little to no tourism at all. A beautiful climb inside an ancient forest followed by an even more spectacular descent with views of the Plava valley dotted with caustic lakes.

Distance: 57 kilometers | Total Climb: 1037 meters

Day 8: Berane - Kolasin

You leave Berane via a narrow, winding road that ascends steadily through the Komovi Mountains to reach the Trešnjevik Pass (1,565 meters) and a welcome bar for refreshments. From the pass, the narrow road descends into the valley of the Tara River before crossing the Drcka River and joining a wider, more modern road that runs alongside the Tara River into the town of Kolašin situated beneath the Bjelasica and Sinjajevina mountains.

Distance: 45 kilometers | Total Climb: 897 meters

Day 9: Kolasin - Zabljak

You leave Kolašin by cycling alongside the Tara River, Montenegro’s second longest at 146 kilometers. The river valley begins to narrow as you enter the lower reaches of the Tara River Canyon. At 78 kilometers long, this is the longest river canyon in Europe. You have lunch overlooking the Tara Bridge which stretches across the canyon 165 meters above the river.

The next 10 kilometers is uphill as you leave the Tara River and enter the Durmitor National Park, before reaching the remote collection of A-frame ski chalets offering open views of the surrounding mountains. Once in Žabljak, you’ll be free to explore this amazing winter ski resort or go for a short bike ride around the mystic waters of the Black Lake.

Distance: 53 kilometers | Total Climb: 1026 meters

Day 10: Zabljak - Pluzine

Today’s ride takes you through the Durmitor National Park and begins with a dramatic and remote 8 kilometers ascent to the Prevoj Sedlo Pass (1,907 meters) along the highest paved road in Montenegro. From the pass, the narrow road winds its way down through the mountains before a second ascent to the Prijespa Pass (1,885 meters). The descent continues through magnificent limestone scenery and alpine meadows. Leaving the National Park, you descend through hairpin bends and rocky tunnels to the shore of Lake Plužine and the town of Plužine.

Distance: 55 kilometers | Total Climb: 900 meters

Day 11: Pluzine - Cetinje

From Pluzine, you undulate along the main road above the Komamica River heading south toward Nikšić. After lunch there, you will prepare the bikes and transfer by minivan to the Ostrog Monastery, before continuing to Cetinje, the Old Royal Capital city of Montenegro where you will experience the authentic atmosphere of the town by walking through the historical center and chilling at one of many centuries-old open-air terraces.

Ostrog Monastery with its gleaming white facade resting miraculously in a cliff face 900 m above the Zeta valley, is the most important site in Montenegro for Orthodox Christians. Dubbed St Basil’s miracle, no one seems to understand how it was built. Constructed in 1665 within two large caves, it gives the impression that it has grown out of the very rock.

Distance: 62 kilometers | Total Climb: 900 meters

Day 12: Cetinje - Kotor

Today is one of the contrasts as you travel from the highlands down to the Adriatic Coast. You initially head west, gradually ascending, to Lovcen national park, where there is also the mausoleum of Montenegrin ruler and poet Petar II Petrovic Njegos.

The road then passes through a dry, rocky landscape before reaching our lunch stop at a roadside restaurant in the town of Njegusi. The rest of the day is spent pretty much going downhill. This narrow road descends through a series of hairpin bends with dramatic views of the inlet of Boka Kotorska some 650 meters below.

After reaching Kotor, you cycle alongside the shoreline of the Boka Kotorska, or ‘The Bay of Kotor’, to reach Dobrota on the outskirts of Kotor.

Distance: 47 kilometers | Total Climb: 650 meters

Day 13: Rest day in Kotor

Free day to explore the medieval city of Kotor. Built in the 15th century, the city is still completely encircled by walls with three entrance gates to the west, north, and south. The city is overlooked by Mt Lovčen and contains several squares, a cathedral, several churches, and a patchwork of narrow streets. Other options include a boat trip or hire a canoe on the Boka Kotorska.

For those that fancy cycling, a circuit of the Boka Kotorska is recommended. It involves a 10-minute ferry journey to cross the sea inlet on the western side and offers magnificent views of Kotor and the various towns and villages along the shoreline with the surrounding high mountains as a backdrop.

Day 14: Kotor - Shkoder

Your final day of cycling takes you alongside the western shore of Lake Skadar which straddles the border between Montenegro and Albania. For most of the day, you have wide-open views across the lake’s blue waters. The road is a bit of a “roller coaster” with three significant ascents and descents.

Near the southern end of the lake, your final ascent takes you to the Štegvaš Pass (490 m) with its fine views across the lake and into Albania. A long descent brings us down to the flat plain and the main road and just a few kilometers later, you cross the border back into Albania.

The final 15 kilometers within Albania is almost flat and after crossing the River Buna, you enter the city of Shkodër, the largest city in Northern Albania.

Distance: 50 kilometers | Total Climb: 610 meters

Day 15: Departure

Farewell day. Depending on your flight, right after breakfast, you will transfer for one and a half hours to Rinas airport in Tirana. A separate transfer will be offered to those staying another night in Tirana or continuing on other adventures.

Location

Albania, the land of eagles

Albania can trace its historical roots back to the prehistoric era some 300,000 years ago when nomadic peoples roamed the area, living out of various caves across the land. Starting in the 7th century BC, Greek colonies began popping up along the Illyrian coast, and for the next several centuries the Illyrian tribes dominated the region. It wasn't until the 1st century BC that the Roman army defeated the Illyrians, ending their independence.

The Romans ruled here until 395 AD when the empire was split in half, and the area of present-day Albania was put under Byzantine command. Under the Byzantines, Albania endured raids by various European tribes including the Visigoths, Huns, Ostrogoths, Avars, and Croatians, and by the early 7th century AD, most of the empire was either destroyed or weakened. In the mid-800s the Bulgarian Empire took over, and the area of eastern Albania became a valuable cultural center.

As the Bulgarian Empire declined in the late 13th century, Albania switched hands yet again, becoming integrated this time into the Serbian state. The Ottomans took control in 1385 with the Battle of Savra, and aside from a brief interruption during 1443-1478, they ruled for an astounding 600 years.

During this time many native Albanians reached notable rankings within the Ottoman government, remaining highly active and faithful during the Ottoman era. However, by the late 1800s nationalism had faded, and the Albanian people began to pursue their independence. Toward the end of the 19th century, many revolts were organized, and the Albanian National Awakening took place, but it wasn't until the Balkan War of 1912 that the Albanians were freed from Ottoman rule. As Albania began to establish its new boundary lines and put together a government, World War I interrupted their efforts, and political turmoil overwhelmed the country.

Prince William of Wied, who was appointed King, left Albania during that war to serve in the German Army and never returned to claim his position. Albania was consequently divided among Italy, Serbia, and Greece. As World War I ended, the country was still without a recognized government. Worried that their independence was coming to an end, Albania struggled to regain control. In 1920 the United States intervened in support of Albania's independence, which ultimately led to the League of Nations accepting Albania as a full member.

Despite the acceptance of Albania by the League of Nations, the government still scrambled to retain order. Between July and December of 1921, the premiership was switched at least five times. Finally, in 1924, Ahmed Bey Zogu victoriously defeated the current Prime Minister, Fan Noli, with the help of the Yugoslav military, and was elected president for a seven-year term. Zogu was given dictatorial powers, formed an alliance with Italy, and established good relations with Benito Mussolini.

Albania's parliament shifted in 1928, becoming a Kingdom with Zogu as appointed King. King Zog I, as he was henceforth referred to, still held onto his dictatorial powers. As Albania's alliance with Italy crumbled, and the country failed to make interest payments to Italy on loans, Mussolini's army invaded Albania, eradicating King Zog. Albania was one of the first nations occupied by the Axis Powers during World War II, resulting in a tug-of-war between Italy, Germany, and Greece.

Unfortunately, this spelled disaster for the Albanians, and by the war's end some 30,000 residents were dead, 200 villages totally destroyed and around 100,000 were left homeless. In their weakened state, Communists quickly invaded Albania and isolated them from the rest of the non-communist world. This lasted until the early 1990s when most of the Communist doctrine collapsed across Europe. Albania took this moment to completely abandon its long-time Communist rule in favor of democracy and a move into the 21st Century.

Blessed with many natural resources, Albania has (for the most part) remained somewhat isolated from the world because of its mountainous topography and the policies of its former hard-line government. In 2009 the country joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and applied for EU membership.

Tourism to Albania has increased in recent years, and this comes as no surprise due to the country's pristine beaches, impressive mountain ranges, delicious cuisine, and genuine hospitality. Albania's capital, Tirana, is host to a vibrant nightlife, while the countryside has become a growing mecca for backpackers.

Kosovo

The 20th Century: First partitioned in 1913 between Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo was then incorporated into the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later named Yugoslavia) after World War I. During World War II, parts of Kosovo were absorbed into Italian-occupied Albania. After the Italian capitulation, Nazi Germany assumed control over Kosovo until Tito’s Yugoslav Partisans entered at the end of the war.

After World War II, Kosovo became an autonomous province of Serbia in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (S.F.R.Y.). The 1974 Yugoslav Constitution gave Kosovo (along with Vojvodina) the status of a Socialist Autonomous Province within Serbia. As such, it possessed nearly equal rights as the six constituent Socialist Republics of the S.F.R.Y.

In 1981, riots broke out and were violently suppressed after Kosovo Albanians demonstrated to demand that Kosovo be granted full Republic status. In the late 1980s, Slobodan Milosevic propelled himself to power in Belgrade by exploiting the fears of the Serbian minority in Kosovo. In 1989, he eliminated Kosovo’s autonomy and imposed direct rule from Belgrade. Belgrade ordered the firing of most ethnic Albanian state employees, whose jobs were then assumed by Serbs.

In response, Kosovo Albanian leaders began a peaceful resistance movement in the early 1990s, led by Ibrahim Rugova. They established a parallel government funded mainly by the Albanian diaspora. When this movement failed to yield results, armed resistance emerged in 1997 in the form of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The KLA’s main goal was to secure the independence of Kosovo.

In late 1998, Milosevic unleashed a brutal police and military campaign against the KLA, which included widespread atrocities against civilians. Milosevic’s failure to agree to the Rambouillet Accords triggered a NATO military campaign to halt the violence in Kosovo. This campaign consisted primarily of aerial bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (F.R.Y.), including Belgrade, and continued from March through June 1999. After 78 days of bombing, Milosevic capitulated. Shortly thereafter, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244 (1999), which suspended Belgrade’s governance over Kosovo, under which Kosovo was placed under the administration of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), and which authorized a NATO peacekeeping force. Resolution 1244 also envisioned a political process designed to determine Kosovo’s future status.

As ethnic Albanians returned to their homes, elements of the KLA conducted reprisal killings and abductions of ethnic Serbs and Roma in Kosovo. Thousands of ethnic Serbs, Roma, and other minorities fled from their homes during the latter half of 1999, and many remain displaced.

The 21st Century: In November 2005, the Contact Group (France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) produced a set of “Guiding Principles” for the resolution of Kosovo’s future status. Some key principles included: no return to the situation prior to 1999, no changes in Kosovo’s borders, and no partition or union of Kosovo with a neighboring state. The Contact Group later said that Kosovo’s future status had to be acceptable to the people of Kosovo.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008. In its declaration of independence, Kosovo committed to fulfilling its obligations under the Ahtisaari Plan, embracing multi-ethnicity as a fundamental principle of good governance, and welcoming a period of international supervision.

The United States formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state on February 18. To date, Kosovo has been recognized by a robust majority of European states, the United States, Japan, and Canada, and by other states from the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Shortly after independence, a number of states established an International Steering Group (ISG) for Kosovo that appointed Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith as Kosovo’s first International Civilian Representative (ICR)

Food

The package includes daily meals during the tour. Only breakfast is provided during rest days.

The following meals are included:

  • Breakfast
  • Snacks

The following dietary requirement(s) are served and/or catered for:

  • Regular (typically includes meat and fish)
If you have special dietary requirements it's a good idea to communicate it to the organiser when making a reservation

What's included

  • 14 nights accommodation
  • Bicycle and panniers
  • Multilingual tour guide
  • Support van
  • All lunches and dinners (except on rest days)
  • All breakfasts
  • All transfers
  • Snacks on the road

What's not included

  • Single supplement
  • Electric bike
  • Transport to/from Albania
  • Lunch and dinner on rest days
  • Drinks with meals
  • Albania cycling jersey
  • Gratitude for guides
  • Airport shuttle service

How to get there

Recommended Airports

Cancellation Policy

  • A reservation requires a deposit of 100% of the total price.
  • The deposit is non-refundable, if the booking is cancelled.

Value for money
Accommodation & facilities
Food
Location
Quality of activity
Special offer Discount
This listing has a Special discount of 10% if you book between 2024-Jan-25 and 2024-Dec-31.
15 days / 14 nights
from --
Minimum group size

This trip requires a minimum of 6 participants

Thursday September 26, 2024
(15 days / 14 nights)

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