My eleventh day in the beautiful Balkan country of Albania began in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Gjirokastër. Come along with me as I try Albanian food and visit UNESCO attractions in Gjirokastër, Albania!
My day began at Hotel Argjiro in Gjirokastër, a city in southeastern Albania. It’s about a one-hour drive from Sarande and 4 hours from Tirana. It has a beautiful Old Town with a bazaar and a castle high above the city.
My boy Erjan from Travel Media EU and I started with a massive breakfast on the rooftop terrace on the second floor. Our breakfast included petulla, byrek, cheese, fig marmalade, cheese, and more! My first dish was the pispili, which is a spinach and corn pie casserole. It was fluffy, almost like a quiche! I also loved the eggs, bacon, and the goat cheese byrek. The fig marmalade and crispy petulla was also great!
Right outside the hotel is the Old Bazaar, but we’d be starting our tour of the UNESCO attractions of Gjirokastër, Albania with a trip to Gjirokastër Castle. It was 9 a.m., so the bazaar was pretty empty. People start coming later, and it’s the most crowded in the afternoon.
We walked through the bazaar and continued uphill toward the castle. Along the way is a bunker—one of 200,000 built by the former leader. This Cold War tunnel has 80 rooms inside and it’s right under the castle. At the castle, we had beautiful views of the whole city. It takes about 5 minutes of walking to get to the castle. Along the way, we met a woman selling fresh figs, blackberries, and mountain tea leaves!
There were more vendors selling handmade tablecloths. Then, we arrived at Gjirokastër Castle. There, I learned about the legend of Princess Argjiro, who sacrificed herself for her baby. The castle is named after her! On Sundays, the castle and most other attractions are free to enter. Inside are Italian and German cannons from WWII along the corridor. There’s an Italian Fiat L6/40 tank, which dates back to 1940. There are only 3 left in the world!
Further along is a garden terrace where you can see stunning views of Gjirokastër, where you can see the UNESCO attractions, typical Ottoman homes, and bazaar of Gjirokastër, Albania. The cannons there date back to the 18th century when Ali Pasha ruled Albania.
He also built a huge aqueduct that brought water from the mountains! He made the castle a safe place to life for many years. There’s also a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star U.S. Air Force plane. There are two versions of the story of how it got there: the Communist regime’s version, the U.S. version, and the actual truth.
Then, we headed to the clock tower, another of the UNESCO attractions in Gjirokastër, Albania. On the way is a big square where a traditional festival is held. There’s a huge stage where dancers perform. At the end of the castle is the 18th-century clock tower, which was also built by Ali Pasha.
There’s also a plaque telling the story of Princess Argjiro, who jumped from the top of the castle with her baby so they wouldn’t be captured by Ottoman invaders in the 15th century. According to the legend, her child survived and milk flowed from the rocks to feed the baby.
From the castle, we headed back down to the bazaar to continue our tour of the UNESCO attractions of Gjirokastër, Albania. We stopped at a handicraft shop where a man makes beautiful stone carvings. He uses a chisel to make gorgeous, one-of-a-kind carvings of everything from animals to attractions to Jesus Christ!
He was making a welcome sign when I visited. I bought two: one of the eagle on the Albanian flag for my office and a square one for my assistant for 20 Euros/$23.45 USD. He gave me a little discount. Everything he makes is so beautiful!
Next, we visited a woodcarving shop, which is another specialty in Gjirokastër. Everything the man makes is so precise and gorgeously made. They’re three-dimensional carvings. He has Albanian eagles, lockets, carvings of the castle, and more! I found a carving of my oldest daughter’s name, and he adjusted one of “Sienna” so it would match my youngest daughter’s name. He charges $1 USD per letter! They’re beautiful gifts! I also bought the double Albanian eagle for 3,000 lekes total, or about $30 USD.
Further on is Edua, another shop, where they sell artisanal goods including mountain tea, oil, liquors, marmalades, rakija, wine, soap, and more! We could also try some grape rakija there. It was strong and had a barrel taste. There was also a strong cherry one! I bought some honey and artisanal soap for 1,000 lekes/roughly $10 USD.
In the center of the bazaar, are two of the biggest traditional houses, which were rebuilt when the bazaar was renovated about 3 years ago. The stone floors were all fixed and clean, but it still had a traditional feel. The UNESCO attractions We went inside a building that was being restored. It had a brand-new wood ceiling and beams. It also had a slightly unstable terrace above the bazaar.
One minute walk from the center of the bazaar is Bar Restorant Hotel Kodra, whose name translates to “hill.” They have a beautiful terrace. In the kitchen, they prepared a Gjirokastër chicken tava dish with green peppers, tomatoes, goat cheese, herbs, cream, and onions. They pan-fried it first and then baked it in the tava. It looked unreal!
On the terrace, Erjan and I toasted with some nice, smoky rakija and then started on the tava! Next to it, we had a huge salad with parmesan cheese, mushrooms, cucumbers, spinach, balsamic vinegar, oil, raisins, and more. The salad was crunchy and fresh and perfect for a hot day!
The tava was super creamy and full of yummy herbs. It was my first chicken tava. The herbs brought out so much flavor! The dish was even better with some crunchy focaccia bread. It was too delicious!
We ended with a creamy dessert called oshaf, which is made with sheep milk and fig juice. It’s super thick and creamy and reminded me of panna cotta. I loved the cinnamon in it! I’m not a big dessert person, but I loved it!
Our final stop was an 18th-century home called Skenduli House to see how life used to be in Gjirokastër. There’s a courtyard and a first level where the family would cook for themselves and their animal. The second level was their winter room and the top room was for the summer. On the first level is a storage room. In the stone walls is chestnut wood, which helps with stability in earthquakes. There’s also a bunker for earthquakes.
There’s a room that serves as a natural refrigerator, where they would store their food. Behind the room is a water storage tank, which helps cool the room. The second floor is the winter room, where there is a living room with a couch and a large rug. There are also small holes where the inhabitants could shoot arrows at invaders. There’s also a simple kitchen and bedroom.
On the third level is the summer residences. It’s open-air and lets the breeze in. There’s a veranda with a couch and some bedrooms. It’s a beautiful, amazing house. What a stunning piece of history that’s still alive today!
What an awesome morning exploring the UNESCO attractions in Gjirokastër, Albania! I have to give a huge shoutout to my friends at Travel Media EU, Balkan Pearls Tour Operator, and Rental Car Albania. This trip would not have been possible without them!
I hope you liked coming with me to check out the amazing UNESCO attractions, food, and bazaar in Gjirokastër, Albania! If you did, please give this video a thumbs up and leave a comment below. Also, please subscribe to my YouTube channel and click the notification bell so you don’t miss any of my travel/food adventures around the world!