Christianity in North Macedonia and the wider region dates back from apostle times. During his missionary journeys, Saint Paul the Apostle visited this region, due to a vision known as the Macedonian call. Christianization begun during the first 3 centuries AD, and by the 4th century Macedonians already had a church. They are also distinguished as the very first nation on the European continent that have invoked and accepted the Christian religion at the very dawn of this era. Lidia, a young Macedonian woman from Philippi in Macedonia, was the first-ever baptized Christian on the European soil. The Archbishopric of Ohrid was established in 1019, though political turmoil would have it suppressed throughout the centuries.
Albania, a formerly Christian country – the very first document written in Albanian is a baptismal formula of 1462, was invaded by the Ottoman Empire and converted to Islam for five centuries. As such, Albania’s religious identity has seen extremes and known periods of no religion at all. The Communist period in the country, with its ban on religion, unfortunately had many significant religious objects destroyed. Yet, this period paradoxically served to bring people together regardless of their calling. Fortunately, monuments still stand in order to testify to the miraculous perseverance of all religions in the country. No wonder that North Macedonia and Albania are the lands of birth and faith of Mother Theresa.
Day 1, Skopje-the birthplace of Mother Theresa, North Macedonia
We start the day with the visit of the Memorial House of Mother Theresa exhibiting her personal belongings and showing her life path. The desire to pay respect to Skopje’s most famous person and the only Nobel Peace Prize winner from North Macedonia culminated in the realization of a long-standing vision – building a Memorial House for Mother Teresa. Accordingly, the foundation stone of the Memorial House was laid on May 9, 2008. The building, dedicated to the most humane woman in the world, was completed in just nine months. For visitors, the Memorial House was open on January 30, 2009. The location of the museum is not randomly chosen. That is to say, on this exact place the old Catholic Church “Sacred Heart of Jesus” used to stand. It is where Mother Teresa, then Gonxha Bojaxhiu was baptized just one day after her birth. Unique opportunity for you to be presented by the Catholic Church in Skopje, where with their assistance we will see the relicts of the Saint of Calcuta, Mother Theresa. After the divine morning experience, a guided city tour will follow. You will visit the Stone Bridge, Medieval Fortress Kale and the most recent buildings of the Skopje 2014 project, all resembling the great baroque style settled along the main capital Square Macedonia. The tour will also include the Old city Bazaar for close exploration of the everyday life of different ethnics thru coffee or tea break and mingling with the locals. You will visit the Museum of Macedonian struggle where detailed presentation of complex Macedonian life is presented. The rest of the day is free so you can simply enjoy the city center many restaurants and cafe bars. Dinner and overnight in Skopje.
Day 2, North Macedonia: The Jerusalem on the Balkans, Ohrid
The “Jerusalem of the Balkans” as Ohrid is called, is our destination to discover as after breakfast you will head on towards the town of the Lake. We`ll start with the most rewarding city tour and visit just a few of more than 365 churches, fortresses, ancient sites, museums, UNESCO protected monuments of nature. Our professional guide will speak about the legacy of this most visited city in Macedonia, hearing facts about the dawn of Christianity in Europe and spreading it from here to the rest of eastern lands….about first Slavic University, Cyrillic alphabet, ancient kingdoms, and the heritage of the 19th century era of Romanticism. We will pass by the charming monastery at Kaneo enjoying the breathtaking scenery, we will visit the birthplace of the Slavic literacy at St. Clements University built in X century, we will see the Golden mask from VII century BC in Robevi House. You will discover the secret making of Ohrid pearls, handmade by only two old Ohrid families, luckily for us they will share its passion and devotion in making this unique and one in a kind pearls out of the Ohrid fish skin in a half hour presentation. You will be chanted by Ohrid Old town narrow alleys full of history and mysterious legends during few hours of free time exploring its hidden corners and charming Old bazaar at the very same route of Via Egnatia. Traditional Macedonian folklore music night and dinner follow in Ohrid.
Day 3, North Macedonia: The monastery of the beating heart of Saint Naum
This day starts with the boat trip to the breathtaking monastery of St. Naum, sailing by the prehistoric Water Settlement - Bay of Bones. You will have unique opportunity to see from the boat the replica of a millennia old settlement, one of the first in this area. After half an hour more sailing, we will reach the monastery; located on a cliff at the shoreline of Ohrid Lake offering perfect views to the lake and National Park Galicia. Apart from its historical, cultural and architectural importance, the monastery is also a touristic hot-spot because of the tomb of St. Naum, where most profound believers even today do witness Saint`s heartbeat. The “backyard” of the monastery is the springs and the “entrance” of the Drim River into Ohrid Lake - a protected natural legacy. The surroundings of the monastery are arranged as touristic-recreational zone with beach, cafes and restaurants, and you can use it to simply relax and lunch. After this divine experience we sail back to Ohrid for free afternoon and souvenirs shopping in the old town. Dinner and overnight.
Day 4: Podgorica – the capital of Montenegro
Today we cross borders to Montenegro passing thru Albania. We will make a stop at a very nice place near Skadar Lake to enjoy lunch of free choice. It is a longer drive but the scenery along the way is beautiful and will make the trip worthwhile. Arriving in Podgorica we will have the second half of the day free to rest and stroll thru the pleasant city center. Dinner and overnight.
Day 5: Ostrog – the Monastery of the Living Saint
Built into a sheer cliff, Ostrog Monastery is one of the most beautiful and revered holy sites in Montenegro. It’s visited by up to a million tourists and pilgrims every year. It’s also revered and visited by Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and Muslims. From afar, Ostrog looks like it defies gravity. It’s built right into a sheer cliff face way above the plains below. You can see the white of the building shining like a beacon against the dark rock from miles away. It is a place where a living Saint of St. Basil lies as the story tells that when believers after a dream told by the nearby Monastery abbot got where he was originally buried, they fasted and prayed for seven days. On the seventh day, they opened the grave. St Basil’s body was perfectly preserved and smelled of basil. So they took it to the upper monastery, to the Church of the Presentation, which is where it still lies. From Ostrog we continue on our way to Trebinje for dinner and overnight.
Day 6: Megjugorje, where Heaven touches the earth
Since 1981, in a small village called Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing and giving messages to the world. And that these years She is spending with us are a time of special Grace granted by God. In Her own words She tells us, "I have come to tell the world that God exists. He is the fullness of life, and to enjoy this fullness and peace, you must return to God". Since the apparitions began in 1981, over 40 million people of all faiths, from all over the world, have visited Medjugorje and have left spiritually strengthened and renewed. Countless unbelievers and physically or mentally afflicted, have been converted and healed. We will spend the night at this divine place. Dinner and overnight.
Day 7: Neum, at the Adriatic coast
Today we start our break during this trip at the Adriatic coast in the resort town of Neum. Bosnia and Herzegovina is proud to have its own little slice of the Adriatic, even if it is only a 24km strip. The Adriatic Sea from Split to Dubrovnik is crystal clear and simply gorgeous, Neum included. The closed bay here, shielded by Pelješac Peninsula, is protected from many of the strong winds of the open sea making it great choice for beach time. Dinner and overnight.
Day 8, 9: Beach time, free time, dinner included
Day 10: Dubrovnik – the Adriatic jewel
Dubrovnik is one of the world’s most stunning cultural jewels. Clinging to a rock, encased by a girdle of ramparts and lapped by a turquoise sea, Croatia’s most famous town is fully worthy of its title “pearl of the Adriatic”. Over one thousand years old, this stone oasis first appeals by its architectural harmony. Yet Dubrovnik is far from frozen in the past. It is particularly lively and dotted with terraces from which the visitor can observe the unending fresco of life in the city. We will have the opportunity for a short city tour of Dubrovnik on our way to Albania, the land of the forbidden religions. Late arrival in Skadar (Shkodra) for dinner and overnight.
Day 11: Shkoder - where faith survived against all odds
We start the day with getting to know Albania’s history. Many religions co-exist in the country, something that is especially noticeable after the fall of communism. Religion was banned during the latter and many holy places either became nonfunctional or were destroyed. While many of these places were restored, along with the general faith of the Albanian people, their road to reinstitution has been challenging. Shkoder, the city of all religions is our task for the day. An astoundingly high number of religious monuments honoring disparate faiths are scattered around the beautiful northern city of Shkoder, testifying to the rare religious harmony of the region. Diocesan Museum Shkoder – Pult is a must see point in Shkoder, being one of the most fascinating museums in the city, if not the entire Albania. It brings to the visitor’s attention the presence of the Catholic Church and faith especially in northern Albania, revealing the history of its survival in the face of hostility during the five-century-long Ottoman rule and the Communist period, which lasted for almost half a century. Thanks to the ecclesiastical objects, various archaeological discoveries and works of art exhibited in its 16 halls, the museum takes you along the unique journey that Christianity has undergone in Albania. Created on the July 15, 1940, the Cross of Dukagjin is one of the most historically and spiritually valuable objects found in this museum. It commemorates the victory of 300 Albanian soldiers against the Montenegrin army of 3000, sent by King Nicholas I to invade the region of Dukagjin during World War I. The names of eighty-one fallen heroes are carved on this cross, an object that was all but forgotten during the Communist period. In fact, parts of it were used for other purposes. Fortunately, the cross has been restored to its original shape and can be admired by the public in this museum. We will visit of the Great Church, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, built in honor of Shkodra’s patron saint. Like most churches, it was transformed into a mosque during the Ottoman invasion. However, after a few hundred years and toward the end of the Ottoman period, Shkodra’s catholic community officially requested the Sultan to reconstruct it. The church was built in 1858. The Franciscan church and convent were destroyed immediately upon the Ottoman invasion in 1479. It took more than 400 years for the Franciscan community to return to the city and open the first Franciscan elementary school in Shkodra in 1861. Having barely secured the permit from the Sultan, the construction of the church and convent began in 1905. Severely damaged during Communism, the church, convent, and school complex were rebuilt and renovated post-Communism. One of wings of the convent, designed by the famous Franciscan friar and renowned national writer Father Gjergj Fishta, is the only one that has survived entirely in its original condition. Free time to stroll in this beautiful city and explore other monuments of religion or complex history. Late afternoon drive to Tirana for dinner and overnight.
Day 12: Albania, Tirana the city of forbidden religions
Today, after breakfast, we explore the first secular state capital. "They said God didn't exist. I couldn't come to church or pray or speak of God at all"….. are some of the stories from the time of the communist regime that came to power in Albania soon after World War II and lasted until 1990. The regime made worshipping increasingly difficult and finally imposed a ban on religion in the country in 1967, making Albania the first and only constitutionally atheist state. We start this day with a visit of the Catholic Cathedral in Tirana, St. Paul`s. St. Paul’s Cathedral has quickly become a reference point for the entire Catholic population of the capital, and even beyond. Although the structure it relatively new, it is immediately recognizable by its unique architectural style, making it a memorable religious icon in the city. The striking structure attracts both local believers and visitors alike, in celebrating their faith. A statue of Mother Teresa – the Albanian Catholic nun and missionary who was proclaimed a saint by Pope Francis – stands in the main courtyard. Another noteworthy element of the church’s architecture is the cornerstone laid by Pope John Paul II during his visit to this site in 1993. You can have a mass in the cathedral as well. We continue with a guided city tour in Tirana following bus sightseeing of the capital including Skanderbeg Square, the 18th-century Et’hem Bey Mosque and the statue of Albania’s national hero. Visiting Bunker ART museum (real bunker) will present us with the difficult communist regime and the thousands victims of the disturbing past of Albania. We will visit the Blloku district; Enver Hoxha’s dictator Villa was located in this neighborhood and during his dictatorship, making this area an exclusive enclave of government. Free time in the afternoon to explore the city on your own. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.
Day 13: Departure
Check out of the hotel/departure.