Secrets of Southern Albania
Vultures and Illyrians
A conservation tour with PPNEA & Balkan Tracks
Sat, 25 April - Sat, 02 May 2020
Few people know much about Albania. And fewer still have visited. Yet the Dalmatian pelicans on its Adriatic coastlines and the Mediterranean scrub awash with wildflowers are reminiscent of Croatia and Greece.
The home of the ancient Illyrians and a stone's throw from Italy, the region was on the crossroads of the ancient Greek, Roman and Ottoman worlds. Magnificent settlements flourished, both on the coast amongst the golden jackal, and in the mountains where Egyptian vulture circle overhead.
Join us on this intimate, small-group gallivant around the lakes, coastline and mountains of Southern Albania.
4 - 6
Narta and Butrint lagoons home to flamingoes, pelicans & jackals
Towered over by snowcapped mountains and their Egyptian vultures
Beaches and sub-alpine meadows
Early spring butterflies & dragonflies
Ancient cities of Apollonia, Byllis &
Buthroton (Butrint), surrounded
by nature, now in the middle of nowhere
Byzantine churches & wall paintings
Centuries-old mosques & tekkes
UNESCO protected town of Gjirokastra
Primary guide is a PPNEA ecologist
Meet park rangers, shepherds & other
local folks that PPNEA work with
By visiting, you help PPNEA raise awareness amongst rural communities of their natural and cultural riches
Below are the main natural and cultural sites that we visit.
For a detailed itinerary click here
How best to describe the tour?
It’s a ramble through the landscapes and life of Southern Albania in a small group with two guides. This means that everyone sits together for meals and you have the opportunity to properly chat with our cast of locals along the way.
We don’t rush the walks or visits, and there isn’t a checklist of species that must be seen. Instead, whilst the professional and various local guides are not experts in all creatures great and small, we’ll allow time for a deep look at every animal, plant or mineral that comes across our path. No stone is left unturned; whether it’s possibly sheltering a Balkan green lizard from the sun or it’s part of a 4,000 year old ruin.
Whether it's vultures or wall paintings, each day is packed full of new experiences, ready for friendly conversation over good food in the evenings.
With a PPNEA ecologist as your guide, this is a tour like no other through this unexplored country. A true tour of secrets.
You’ll see a range of landscapes, from the Adriatic coast to 2,000m peaks, in and amongst a mosaic of fields, Mediterranean maquis, rocky outcrops and sparsely grazed meadows. And whilst people have lived in the plains and valleys for millennia - in the fortified city of Butrint or amongst the vertiginous cobbled streets of Gjirokastra - the rugged landscape formed natural borders between ancient and medieval tribes. These are areas which still feel wild today and are full of birds, insects and plants.
In modern times, political events of the 20th century meant that Albania wasn’t cut-off solely by its mountainous terrain. And its isolation was a double-edged sword; horrific for its human populace, but in some ways, nature was spared the consequences of development. The 21st century has seen Albania truly open up though – to visitors and also a new economy – bringing with it another set of blessings and curses. No one is better placed than PPNEA to explain how all of these dynamics connect as you explore the natural and cultural wonders of this Balkan gem.
Day 1 – Arrival in Tirana
Overnight on the Tirana outskirts, ready to leave first thing.
OPTIONAL - arrive a day early for a guided tour around Albania's capital; a real unknown gem. See ADD-ONs above
Days 2 & 3: Adriatic Lagoons & Apollonia
Walks around the beaches and forests of the Narta lagoon and saltpans. Flamingoes and Dalmatian Pelican
The ancient city of Apollonia with a resident archaeologist
An evening excursion for golden jackal
Walks & an outdoor, grilled lunch with local fishermen
Visit Vlora and discover the role it played in Albanian independence from the Ottoman Empire
Two nights outside Narta, by a beach on the Adriatic coast
Days 4 – 6: Home of Egyptian Vultures
Leave the coast for the mountains of south-central Albania
Vulture feeding stations with PPNEA and park staff
'Victorious' visit to Byllis, King Pyrrhus's city
Morning walks, with eyes in the skies for vultures & raptors
Raki with the caretakers of a white stork nest
Day in an unknown canyon with two 4x4s
Outdoor dinner with transhumance shepherds, on a plateau high above the plains, and hear about the loss of traditional farming, carnivore conflict and why we need vultures
Explore the UNESCO protected city of Gjirokastra, walking its cobbled streets, crowned by the 'Silver Castle'
Three nights in Gjirokastra Old Town
Day 7: Buthroton (today's Butrint)
The gem of all archaeological sites, wedged between the sea and lagoons, opposite Corfu.
Visit the open-air museum of the ancient city
Take in the hoopoes, spring flowers and butterflies
Dinner by a ruined castle & overnight in Butrint
Day 8 – Departure - Tirana or Corfu
Drive the Adriatic coast, viaAli Pasha's castle, back to Tirana for evening flights, or you may choose to overnight in the city
ALTERNATIVELY, we could take you to the ferry terminal near Butrint and help you organise some days on Corfu before flying home. It's only half an hour away and an incredible island.
ITINERARY GALLERY SLIDESHOW
Take a virtual tour of the itinerary, by scrolling through the photos & descriptions
If you click an image it will load the slideshow in full-screen mode.
Balkan Tracks & PPNEA
a conservation tour
The director of Balkan Tracks has known the senior staff at PPNEA since 2011, when he was working near the Greek/Albanian border for the Society for the Protection of Prespa, one of PPNEA's regional partners.
Over time, an idea of a tour developed that would:
a) show foreign guests the areas of Albania in which PPNEA work, so that more people are aware of their importance;
b) allow guests to meet with local people, who then see PPNEA bringing guests to enjoy their national parks and rich nature, which enforces the work PPNEA are doing in these communities;
c) provide PPNEA with much-needed funds. Rather than paying guides like on a normal tour, Balkan Tracks donates this to PPNEA. Unlike project funding, which is very specific to that project's tasks, donations like this allow PPNEA to cover operational and ad hoc costs. We won't go into detail here (although by all means ask us), but finding funds for operational costs is a big issue for many NGOs around the globe.
So, who are PPNEA?
Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) is a non-governmental environmental organisation that operates throughout Albania. Founded in 1991, PPNEA was the country's first environmental organisation. It emerged in a period of turmoil and socio-economic change in the country and the wider region - a time where environmental issues were looked down upon and given marginal priority in governing and policy issues.
PPNEA's work is mostly within Albanian territory, but it is expanding all the time into neighbouring countries due to long-lasting transboundary collaboration with the main environmental organisations in Greece, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. Their major projects include work to protect the Balkan Lynx, Birds on the Adriatic Flyway, Monk Seals and Egyptian Vultures.