Most Inspirational Moment
There were a few moments that really stand out from the trip. The first was in Korce where upon visiting the oldest mosque in the oldest part of the city, an elderly man came over to our group and through the guide told us his story. Under the communist regime he wrote poetry in opposition to them and was promptly put in a concentration camp, along with his family. Whilst inside he saw the death of his parents and grandparents, and was not able to practice his Muslim faith. However, they would pray in secret and when his Mother was still in Korce she would sit outside the mosque which was being used for storage under the regime and just by sitting there, felt connected to her son who was secretly praying in the camp. Upon his release in the early 90's and then being able to practice his religion freely, the man had such a beautiful attitude to others. He didn't care if you were Muslim, Christian or other faith, he just wanted to live in freedom and love others. There were not many dry eyes in the group by the end of his story. It brought home how brutal the communist regime was, but also the religious tolerance that is now exemplified throughout Albania. Religion is practised but it doesn't divide their society, in fact their ability to worship religion in freedom is a powerful unifier across the country.
Gjirokaster which is a wonderful and beautiful village. The view from the hotel across the valley was amazing and only surpassed by the view from the hotel in Kruja! Driving through the mountains was very inspirational and the views were consistently breath taking.
In Berat some of the group were fortunate enough to eat a local restaurant that was just the courtyard behind the host, Lili's house. The food was amazing and he was a fantastic host. It was a wonderful experience.
Thoughts on Group Leader
Klodi was a great group leader and very knowledgeable. In the majority of places we visited he was the one to give us the tours and tell us the history of the different places and had a wealth of knowledge on Albania. The drivers on the tour were all friendly and the journeys were largely comfortable on some difficult roads.
Advice for Potential Travellers
It is advisable to take some bug spray with you as I didn't have any and got a few bites.
Whilst the country does accept Euros and Lek, it was only really the more touristy places that seemed to want Euros. From the start we were advised to get Lek and this worked well. There are so many places to change money in Tirana so it was very easy to do and there are lots of ATM's across the country.
Some members of the group either arrived in Tirana a day or two earlier, or stayed on for a day or two after. This is a good idea to consider to give yourself more time to do the things that there aren't time to do on the tour.
Think about the time of the year that is best for you to do this trip. I had originally planned to do it in July but given how steep some of the roads are when walking around and getting up to castles etc. the heat of that month would have been quite unpleasant. I ended up going in late September when the temperature was consistently in the mid 20's which was very pleasant. It is cooler up in the mountains however so another thing to consider.
Albania is a wonderful country and has so much potential for the future. It feels poised to really accelerate its development, especially if it gets in to the EU. This means that now is a great time to visit as you it is still relatively unknown and unspoilt.
If the sound of the trip interests you then I don't think you can go wrong, you will love it.
As a further note, I had to postpone my original departure date due to testing positive for Covid and Exodus were fantastic in moving the booking to a later date, so thank you again.