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Staff review: My favourite Balkan countries

Product Manager Ali Butler gives an insight into her highlights of Albania and Greece, recalling her trips as a tour leader and most recently as a customer on Explore’ s cycling in Albania holiday.
I have had the pleasure of spending time in both Albania and Greece, which are similar in their Mediterranean diet, welcoming locals and warm sun.  Both countries are steeped in ancient history following from settlements of Illyrian tribes, the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Here are a few of my favourite things from these beautiful countries.


Boat Trips
I was an Explore Leader in Greece and my first ever trip was the Greek Island Cruise. On this holiday you take a boat around the beautiful Island of Evia and spend the week visiting quiet coves and harbours. Going on a boat trip was the perfect way to relax and visit tranquil fishing villages and local taverns. There is also plenty of time to explore the interior of the island.

Walking the Corfu Trail
I have also had the pleasure of walking the Corfu Trail while training new Tour Leaders in 2008. The Corfu Trail is one of the most beautiful walks in Europe with its undulating tracks through willow, cedar and juniper forest. The coastal tracks offer great views and variety. The trail allows you to explore on foot a landscape untouched by tourism.

The Cyclades
Naxos and Santorini are two of my favourite Greek islands. Santorini is stunning with its traditional white washed houses with blue roofs, and Naxos and its panoramic views from Mount Zeus. These volcanic islands rise from the ocean like a dramatic eruption. Both islands have ancient paths which enable you to explore the rural areas of these picturesque islands.


Cycling through the Albanian countryside
Albania was such a delight to cycle through and the varied landscape kept us smiling for the entire 320km we covered by bike. We cycled past farmers busy in the fields harvesting maize, olives and chestnuts, all of which can be found at the roadside for sale. Read more about Ali's Cycle in Albania trip.
Welcoming locals
When you enter a village you are welcomed by the local kids waving and running alongside hoping for a ‘high five’. Bledi was a wonderful leader an introduced us to delicious seasonal Albanian food as well as the fascinating history of this region. Restaurateurs are warm and hospitable and usually gave us a glass of Rakia, a local fruit brandy on the house.

Food and drink
Food in Albania deserves a mention as it’s a little know highlight. Delicious seasonal local produce, like the tomatoes and local cheeses were offered at each meal.  My favourites were the honeyed walnuts, cheese Byrek (a filo tart) and fresh pasties and biscuits you could buy in the village bakeries.

Albania and Greece combined make up the southernmost peninsular of the Balkans. They share a border of more than 450km and are surrounded by the Ionian, Aegean and Adriatic seas. They are also connected by a regular ferry that runs from Saranda, Albania’s southernmost town and the Greek island of Corfu.
Explore offers a wide range of trips and activities to both Greece and Albania. You can take a cultural tour in the Peloponnese, a week-long cruise in Greece for the family, cycle in the Albanian countryside, or walk on the islands of Andros, Naxos and Santorini.


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