Suggested Balkans Itinerary: Podgorica to Corfu Town the Long Way
(Montenegro) Podgorica – Kotor – Ulcinj (Albania) – Shkoder (Shkodra) – Tirana (Kosovo) – Prizren – Decani – Pristina (Macedonia) – Skopje – Bitola – Ohrid (Albania) – Berat – Gjirokastra – Saranda (Greece) -Corfu Town
The Montenegro capital of Podgorica is not the most exciting of places, but Ostrog Monastery on the outskirts of the city is worth seeing, as is the old royal capital of Cetinje. On the other hand, Kotor was a place that we found difficult to leave. The old town is relatively free of tourists once the day-trippers have left and it’s also a good base for exploring more of the Bay of Kotor and the Adriatic coast. We visited nearby Herceg Novi and Perast using public transport in both cases.
In order to get across the border into Albania from Kotor, it is necessary to change buses in Ulcinj. Most travellers head straight for Tirana once they are over the border but we would recommend a couple of nights in Shkoder – not only has it got an impressive fortress, it also happens to be one of the oldest cities in Europe. Shkoder is also the jumping off point for the scenic Lake Koman ferry ride but pick your season if you want to experience it. We were too early (April) and the ferry wasn’t running. Tirana is a lively city that is worth exploring for a day or two and from there we took a direct bus to Prizren in Kosovo.
Our introduction to Europe’s newest country was a good one and after a few days seeing what Prizren had to offer, we decided to visit the controversial Visoki Decani Monastery en route to Pristina rather than go the direct route. As for the Kosovo capital, parts of it were OK but the most interesting thing that we did was visit Gracanica Monastery on the outskirts of the city. So-so is certainly not how we described Skopje when we first clapped eyes on it. An expensive facelift has turned parts of the city into a neoclassical Disneyland and our camera was working overtime. Away from the centre, though, the city is quite normal and certainly the nicest of the three capitals we visited on this trip. Bitola, with its regal architecture and interesting old town, was an unexpected discovery and seeing Lake Ohrid for the first time confirmed our suspicions that Macedonia is a real find with lots to offer.
From Ohrid we returned to Albania using several means of transport (including our feet) to get to the splendid city of Berat, the highlight of our time in Albania up until that point. But then we moved on to Gjirokastra which was, dare we say it, even nicer than Berat. Reluctantly, we left Gjirokastra and took a bus south to Saranda, which was not the most exciting city but then, to be fair, we were there out of season. We were impressed with the UNESCO-listed Roman ruins at Butrint plus the views back towards the coastline from the ferry to Corfu were memorable. As for Corfu Town – expensive compared to the towns and cities in the Balkans but stunning nonetheless and well worth the cost of a pricey hotel room for the couple of nights that we stayed there.
Number of countries: 5
Number of UNESCO sites: 6
Best time to travel: May to September
Recommended duration: 4 to 5 weeks
Best places to slow the itinerary down: Kotor and Ohrid
Mode of transport: Buses and minivans (known as furgons in Albania) plus a ferry between Saranda and Corfu Town
The view of the Bay of Kotor from the town’s city walls
Berat and Gjirokastra
Watching the sunset over Lake Ohrid
The old part of Corfu Town
The Roman ruins at Butrint
Clambering around Rozafa Castle in Shkoder
The journey between Lake Ohrid and Berat
OPTIONS FOR EXTENDING THE ITINERARY
Several low-cost carriers have services in and out of Corfu Town
Explore more of the Ionian Islands
Getting from Corfu Town to mainland Greece via the Peloponnese presents an interesting route
Corfu has regular ferry connections to southern Italy, with Brindisi and Bari being the main tow ports of entry
You may also like to read some of our blog posts featuring the region…
OTHER TRAVEL PLANNING RESOURCES
Balkan Viator is a useful resource for finding bus and train schedules in the region, although it’s not 100% reliable so double-check timings locally.
Depending on our itinerary, often we just find our accommodation as we go, particularly in smaller places. In big cities, we tend to make a reservation in advance using Booking.com.
There are a lot of guidebooks to this part of Europe available but we’ve always used Lonely Planet and it’s hard to change a habit of a lifetime! READ: Lonely Planet’s Guide to Eastern Europe
And if you need a few more reasons to follow our Balkans itinerary…
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia
Gjirokastra Castle, Albania
Corfu Town, Greece
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