Balkan Quartet: Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro
15 Day Balkan Bike Inn-to-Inn Tour
The Balkan Peninsula is the most eastern of Europe’s three southern peninsulas. Not that long ago, the Balkans were a place of conflict and continuously shifting national borders. But now peace prevails, and it’s become an extremely safe and inviting place for travelers. And for good reason.
Geographically, this part of the Balkans -- Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro -- are lush and mountainous, teaming with lakes, rivers and wildlife. Culturally, it’s a kaleidoscope of Ottoman and European histories, blending Muslim, Christian Orthodox and Catholic theologies with a multitude of ethnicities, including Serb, Bosniak, Turkish and Bulgarian.
We take two weeks to explore this breathtakingly beautiful and fascinating place by bike. It’s a physically challenging tour, but you can make it much easier with an e-bike.
The tour is filled, but call us. We may be able to squeeze you in.
Large rolling hills with some longer climbs. Moderate to Advanced cycling level. Leisurely level with an e-bike and/or shuttling.
14 nights lodging, airport transfers, 14 breakfasts, 11 lunches, 12 dinners, snacks, water, luggage transfer, SAG support, detailed cue sheets and GPS files, mechanical support, hybrid rental bike and trained English-speaking guides.
Giant Rove or Roam hybrid bike is included in the cost of the tour. Electric-assist ebike is $400.
Etno Selo Sljeme B&B
Fly round-trip to Tirana, Albania. There are no direct flights from the USA but there are many flights from other European cities and Istanbul. Arrive anytime on the first day of the tour. At the end of the tour, we will shuttle back to Tirana, arriving at the airport by noon.
Balkan Bike Tour Itinerary
Day 1: We will meet at our starting hotel in the center of Tirana, Albania’s capital city at 5:00pm. After an orientation, we will take a guided walking tour of this colorful city. It has undergone a fascinating transformation since Communist rule ended in the early 1990s. Among the stops is the nuclear shelter built for Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, whose 41-year reign (from 1944 until his death in 1985) drove the country into complete cultural, political and economic isolation. Afterwards, we’ll enjoy our first dinner together. 0 miles.
Day 2: Our first day of riding begins after breakfast and a shuttle to Lake Ohrid. One of the oldest lakes in the world and one of Europe’s deepest, Lake Ohrid is also a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its biodiversity. After a bike fitting, we will set off for Pogradec, an Albanian beach town.
After lunch and crossing the border into North Macedonia, we'll make our way along the eastern shore of the lake to St. Naum, an Eastern Orthodox monastery named for the miracle worker who was buried here in the early 10th century.
Our final destination is the city of Ohrid, known as the Jerusalem of the Balkans. Once the epicenter of Slavic culture and religion, this beautiful hillside town of cobblestone streets used to have 365 churches - one for each day of the year. 40 miles ±1706'.
Day 3: Today’s ride follows the Black Drin River which snakes north through gorges, dams and lakes. While the Black Drin crosses into Albania, we follow it just to Debar, a small North Macedonian city near the border, populated mostly by ethnic Albanians, and famous for its therapeutic thermal and mineral baths in its outlying regions. 42 miles ±1568’.
Day 4: This is a day of sweeping vistas and natural beauty, as we ride through Mavrovo National Park. The air is clean and crisp with the smell of dense pine forests. This is where North Macedonia’s highest peak, Mount Korab, stretches more than 9,000’ to the sky. We spend the night in the resort village of Mavrovo. 38 miles ± 3090’.
Day 5: The day starts with an early breakfast and a shuttle to the Kosovo border, where we cycle through the Sharr Mountains. The descent into Prizren, a city studded with minarets and bell towers, is magical. Picturesque Prizren is a fascinating weave of Christian European and Muslim Ottoman histories. 43 miles ±3303.’
Day 6: Let’s take a break from biking as we sightsee through the city of Peja and the nearby Rugova Valley. Once the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the 14th century, the region boasts the Patriarchate of Pec monastery from that era that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ll tour the site and spend time in the Peja Bazaar, a market humming with handmade goods. 0 miles.
Day 7: it’s time to get back on the bikes and cross another border. Our farewell to Kosovo takes us through the Rugova Canyon, one of Europe’s longest and deepest river canyons that is cherished by rock climbers and spelunkers. We will climb over mountains through forests on route to Montenegro, arriving at our Bernae hotel in the afternoon. 35 miles ±3401
Day 8: As we continue east through Montenegro, say hello to the Komovi Mountains, renowned for their beech and conifer forests. As we approach Trešnjevik Pass at 5135’, the view is expansive. We meet up with the dramatic Tara River valley, and then overnight in Kolasin, a quaint village encircled by beautiful mountains. 28 miles ±2942’.
Day 9: Our companion today is the Tara River, known as the “tear of Europe.” We’ll follow its turquoise waters as the mountain walls narrow around us and create Europe’s deepest canyon. Our lunch spot will overlook the famous Tara Bridge, looming more than 540’ above the river gorge. We also pedal through Durmitor National Park, where glacial lakes, rivers, alpine meadows and hills serve as the foreground to some spectacularly rugged mountain peaks. The ride ends in the ski resort town of Zabljak. 33 miles ±3365’.
Day 10: We spend much of today’s ride cycling through Durmitor National Park, reaching the road with the highest elevation in the country. We have two mountain passes today but you can always choose to skip them: Prevoj Sedlo Pass at 6256’ and Prijespa Pass at 6185’. Our home for the night is Pluzine, a small town on the shore of Lake Piva. 34 miles ±2952’.
Day 11: Today is devoted both to biking and sightseeing. First, we pedal to Niksic, Montenegro’s second largest city known for its laid-back vibe. We have lunch here, then shuttle to the Ostrog Monastery. Built into a vertical cliffside, this Serbian Orthodox monastery is a popular pilgrimage for Catholics and Muslims as well as Orthodox Christians.
We then drive to Cetinje, the former royal capital where the country’s current president resides. We’ll stroll the historic city center and relax at one of its centuries-old open-air terraces before retiring for the night. 38 miles ±2952’.
Day 12: Today starts with a gradual climb to Lovcen National Park, the dearest park to Montenegrins as it inspired the nation’s name, which means “black mountain.” It is in this park that the beloved 19th century ruler, poet and diplomat extraordinaire Petar II Petrovic Njegos is buried. After cycling or shuttling up the hill, we’ll have lunch in the town of his birth, Njegusi.
From here, the road is all downhill, with dramatic switchbacks and sweeping vistas. You’ll get many chances to ogle at the Bay of Kotor, a body of water flanked by dramatic cliffs. We overnight in Kotor, on the bay’s southern tip. 29 miles ±2132’.
Day 13: Today is all about exploring Kotor. The old part of the city, built between the 12th and 14th centuries, is a UNESCO World Heritage site featuring medieval architecture. It is surrounded by protective walls that welcome pedestrians. If you want to get out on the water, you can consider a boat tour or canoe rental. 0 miles.
Day 14: After a morning shuttle, our last cycling day takes us back into Albania along the western shore of Lake Skadar. The lake is one of Europe’s largest bird sanctuaries, with more than 270 species. Our final destination is Shkoder, which in Albania is known as the city of bicycles (due to its flat terrain) and rain. Hopefully, we will skip the rain part! We’ll celebrate our trek through the Balkans at our final dinner together. 31 miles, ±2000’.
Day 15: After breakfast, we will take a 90-minute shuttle to the Tirana airport arriving by noon. Then we’ll say our good-byes and head home or to wherever you’re traveling next.