I’ve done escorted tours with Gate 1 Travel a few times before and have not been disappointed, so it was time for another one. What I love about tours like this is that the planning is done for you. Flights, hotels, even optional excursions. Sometimes it’s nice to just take a planning break and let someone else do it. The beauty also is that you can pick whatever dates you want. So I decided that before my tour starts in Albania I wanted to do some exploring in Southern Albania that my tour didn’t cover.
There was a lot of ground to cover so I rented a car and hit the ground on day 1 after I arrived at 10 am. Before going into detail I would actually give a warning against driving in Albania. What I came to find out is that because of communism ending rather recently, Albanians just starting buying cars 30 years ago. And, on top of that, everyone there just bought a car at the same time. So driving there is pretty insane and dangerous. And, besides the drivers there are some crazy mountainous roads (and I’m experienced with this) and roads that shouldn’t even be considered roads. I found out that Albanian has some of the world’s most dangerous roads, and it’s no joke. Another Albanian tip, things are pretty cheap, but get cash. Most places don’t take credit cards. Ok, back to my day 1. My first stop was Divjaka-Karavasta National Park:
It wasn’t what I expected, and I’m from Florida so this beach was no biggie for me. I’m sure if I drove further in (although it was a sand road) I might have found some nicer areas, but I had places to go. I then drove to Llogara National Park on Llogara Pass which was a gorgeous (but dangerous) drive. It was slow because of the curves around mountains, but views for days. I stopped along the road for dinner and a view:
I stayed at an AirBnB in Himare. The place itself was fine and clean, but I wouldn’t stay there again, so I wouldn’t recommend the place itself, but the town of Himare was a cute little beach town. This is Himare at sunset:
The next morning there was a lot more exploring to do. I went to Sarande first, which was this very cute, populated beach town. The drive and the stop reminded me a lot of the Amalfi Coast in Italy, but significantly less expensive. Driving and parking was crazy so I just made a few stops for photos and moved on:
The next cool stop I made was the Lekursi Castle. It wasn’t open when I got there, but I went exploring and got treated to some amazing views of the town below. There was a restaurant inside the castle if you wanted to eat there:
My next stop was the Blue Eye, which is a pretty spring. It took some driving effort (long dirt road) to get there and being in Florida with plenty of springs, I was not all that impressed:
After that my plan was to drive to see the Osum Canyon. My google maps took me the fastest route, which turned out to be quite the treacherous trip (one lane dirt road that ended into a “road” only a 4×4 could have survived). After awhile I ended up having to turn around and go the long way, but I was rattled, so I drove straight to my hotel (Hotel Osumi) in Berat. This room was adorable and the location was perfect. Plus, there was a home cooked breakfast included in the price. Once there, I wondered around visiting the sites and then hiked to the top of the town to see the Kalaja (castle):
On top of the castle there were a few restaurants and I stopped at one called Onutri because it said traditional food. Although there was a language barrier (somehow the owner thought I spoke Spanish) and I recognized some words so I just said Si!! He noticed that because I couldn’t decide he just made me a little of everything from his menu!! It was all so good and I think I ended up paying less than $6 for everything. What a treat:
This was the last day I had on my own before meeting with the tour group for dinner. In the morning I drove back into Tirana and around downtown before returning the rental car and meeting up with the rest of the tour group. I met up with a friend for lunch and gelato and then some exploring. We went to the Bunk Art museum which goes through Albania’s history from independence, WWII, and Communism. After that we wandered around town:
We had a welcome dinner at the hotel (it was delish) with the tour and then got to catch up with my friends before we went to bed. The rest of the hotels are booked by the tour company, but some were definitely better than others, the Rogner Hotel in Tirana was a nice room, awesome amenities, and in a great location.
On the first official day of the tour we had a guided tour through Tirana (including a history musuem and decided to skip the optional tour and ride the cable car (Dajti Express) up to the Dajti National Park. While up there we had drinks at the Sky Tower Bar (rotating bar), some hiking, and then dinner at the restaurant (Ballkoni Dajtit) with some amazing views:
At dinner (the portion sizes are HUGE) we got a greek salad, bruschetta, ravioli with pesto sauce, and a sour milk dish (it was like alfredo sauce) and shared everything. All of it was great. We spend another night at the Rogner Hotel, and then it was off to Montenegro the next morning.
We departed for Shkodra, then had a small stop at the Moraca Monastery:
After that we stopped at the Tara Canyon which had breathtaking views and we ended up zip lining across the river:
After this stop we got to Kolasin. We had dinner with the tour (at the hotel) and spent the night at Bianca Resort and Spa which was unique. The next morning we had a guided tour with the group to Durmitor National Park:
We saw Glacier Lake, many stops within the National Park, Black Lake, and Tara Canyon. We stopped as a group and had lunch at The Enigma Hotel where we got Moussaka that was very delicious. Lunch included rolls dipped in traditional local honey. We had dinner back at the hotel with the tour group and spent another night at the Bianca Resort and Spa.
The next morning we passed by Podgorica and Centinje and wandered around with a quick stop in Kodor. This town was adorable and we had the best lunch at Konoba Scalasanta. My friends and I enjoyed a cheese plate and the sea bass and pesto gnocchi.
Kodor would have been nice for a longer (full day) stop. From there to Dubrovnik in Croatia. We had the evenings to ourselves and since a few of us are huge Game of Thrones tour we did a self-guided Game of Thrones tour in Dubrovnik, seeing “King’s Landing” (old town Dubrovnik), the “Shame Stairs” (Jesuit Stairs), Pile Gate, “The Red Keep” (Fort Lovrijenca), “Black Water Bay” (West Harbour), Rector’s Palace, The Stradun, and St Dominic Street:
After that we wondered around and got lost and then watched sunset at Buza Bar a literally hole in the wall, where we watched guys cliff jump and the sun set:
We spent the next two nights at the Rixor Hotel. This place had amazing views of the city and even a free orchestra show one night over the water:
We then did a guided walking tour with the tour group the next morning and bought tickets to walk the City Walls which cost 150 Kuna each ($30) and I would highly recommend doing it first thing in the morning at opening (usually 8am) because of the heat and the crazy crowds. If you can beat the cruise ship crowds you’ll have a much more enjoyable walk. There are three entrances to the walls, the main entrance is from the Pile gate and the other entrances are located by the St Lucas Fortress and the St John’s Fortress. Here are some amazing views from this walk:
Then we did the optional tour for a boat ride and sunset dinner, getting to know some other group members better. Dinner wasn’t so great, but the views couldn’t be beat:
We walked around the city after that to see it at night:
It was off to Split the next morning. First was a walking tour of the city with the tour group and we saw Diocletain’s Palace (another GoT filming spot), the Bell Tower, and many other sites. I loved this little town:
Randomly, a friend from home was also in Split so I met up with her at the cutest little wine bar (Diocletian’s Wine House), did some night wandering around and called it a night. We spent the night at Hotel Atrium Split:
This day was definitely one of my favorite days on this trip. We took off for a visit to Trogir, which was small, but a very cute place to grab a coffee or breakfast:
Then Plitvice Lakes National Park which was amazing!!! This was another one I’d recommend doing really early or really late to avoid the crowds. But check this place out for sure:
Then we had dinner with the tour group and spent the night at Hotel Jezero. The hotel was an older one, but it was directly in the national park, so the location couldn’t be beat.
The next day was also gorgeous and busy. We were off to the Bay of Kvarner, then Opatija, Postojna Caves, and finally Bled in our last county, Slovenia. The drive was amazing and we saw some amazing sites. The following is from the Bay of Kvarner and Opatija (and the road to and from) where we wish we could have spent at least 24 hours in:
Then it was time for the caves. We took a train and then a walking tour, and then a train back out:
Then we finally got to Bled, my favorite place of the trip! We went into town for the optional tour for traditional Slovenian food, dance, and wine. What a fun night. Afterwards a group of us met a the Devil’s Pub right by our hotel then rested at the Park Hotel.
This hotel had the most amazing view of Lake Bled and I would definitely recommend it. In the morning we had a guided tour up to Castle Bled:
It was breathtaking! And up on the castle you could bottle your own wine, print old time paper, and get a bite to eat. Then it was time for an awesome excursion (booked through Gate 1), taking a boat on Lake Bled and up on the island and then to Lake Bohinj:
After the tour we had a few hours of free time so I decided to walk around the Lake Bled to do some more exploring before dinner:
I loved this lake and the colors. For the last night of the tour we had the treat of having dinner and wine back up at the castle, watching sunset and the lake from above:
It was the perfect way to end the trip. We spent another night at Park Hotel and the next morning we had a transfer to Venice for our flight out of Venice. I would say this was the one negative from the tour. I’m not sure why we had to do this, but it wasn’t too bad. And then it was time to go home. What an amazing adventure!