Discover Balkan - Gjirokastra

As you leave Saranda, the national highway will lead you to the unique city of Gjirokastra, only 56 km away. On the way, just 10 km away from Saranda, you will find Finiqi, the capital of the Kingdom of Epirus (and named Foinike at the time), which was founded in the third and second centuries B.C. in the territory of Kaonia. The historian Polybus called it "the most rich and fortified city of Epirus". Southwest of Finiq in the hilltop village of Mesopotam, you can also visit the Church of Shën Kolli, built during the Byzantine period. One of the most pleasant surprises along this journey is Syri i Kaltër (the “Blue Eye”), a powerful natural spring that has created a small lake of crystal clear water that looks like a giant human eye. The specialty of the nearby restaurant is the lake trout. Past Qafa e Muzinës runs the national Gjirokastër-Kakavijë highway. As you leave the villages of Dropulli on your left, the museum-city of Gjirokastra unfolds in front of you, built at the eastern slope of Mali i Gjerë. Due to its architecture, Gjirokastra is also known as the "City of Stone" or "City of a Thousand Stairs".
It is an ancient city with early inhabitants, above which was later constructed a fortress that served as the center of the city. What most attract visitors to Gjirokastra are the traditional tall houses made of stone, which resemble small fortresses that form a complex of architectural monuments. Due to its architectural value, Gjirokastra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The main object is the city fortress, called Fortress of Argjiro. (The renowned story of the famous princess Argjiro gave rise to the name "Argjirokastro" given to the city in 1336.) The Weapons Museum located inside of the fortress displays weapons from the Paleolithic period up until the Second World War. During your stay in Gjirokastra you also can visit the Ethnographic Museum.<
Gjirokastra is famous for its food specialties such as shapkat, laropit, different kinds of pies (byrek), and several dairy products known all over Albania. There are some more interesting objects and places you might visit, the Theatre of Sofratika, the ancient city of Antigonea, the Tekke of Melan, and the village of Sotira. The Theatre of Sofratika, belonging to the Roman city Adrianopoli from the second century A.D., held 4,000 spectators in 27 tiers. Antigonea is nowadays an archaeological park situated in the Lunxhëri area, east of Gjirokastra, close to the village of Saraqinisht. Antigonea is an ancient city of the second century B.C. It is thought that the city was founded by King Pyrrhus of Epirus who named the city after his wife Antigonea. The city was 35 hectares in size; its ruins are located on a hill at 600 m above sea level. Tourists can visit the remains and fragments of the surrounding wall, the agora (market), and the stoa of the city, which are 59 m long and 9 m wide. It’s worth mentioning that in the area archaeologists discovered a seven-inch bronze statue representing Poseidon, God of the sea, and the Sphinx of Antigonea. Both objects are displayed in the National History Museum in Tirana. Only 4 km south of small city of Libovoha, the Tekke of Melan is to be found. This religious object of the Bektashi sect is open to everyone and guests are welcome and treated with a special hospitality. The village of Sotira is located in the region of Dropulli, populated by a Greek minority. It is a mountain village of a rare beauty with little stone houses surrounded by the fir forest of Sotira and lots of water springs. The region of Dropull, is known all over Albania for its fine women’s’ folk costumes and their elegance dances.


As you leave either Gjirokastra or Tepelena, Gryka e Këlcyrës will appear in front of you. This natural gate of the Valley of Vjosa will be the first to say "Welcome", showing its natural beauty, the high colourful mountains and the magnificent Vjosa River, a rapid and blue river full of tasty fish and amazing cataracts. You should not continue your journey without eating in the restaurants of Gryka e Këlcyrës, set among picturesque views of nature, to taste their lamb and dairy specialties. Past the small town of Këlcyra, known in antiquity by the name Klistyra, as you travel through the Valley of Vjosa (Aoos, in antiquity), you will be able to admire the sight of the mountains Dhëmbeli, Trebeshina, Kokojka and on the horizon, Nemërçka ("a big, regal woman") cradling a valley "embroidered" by the people of this region through their wisdom and hard work.