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THE HIDDEN ALPS

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THE HIDDEN ALPS
A Jack Wheeler Hidden Adventure
Saturday July 20 – Saturday July 27, 2013
$7250

Most people equate "The Alps" with Switzerland and spilling across the Swiss border into France or Austria.  Yet there is another range of Alps in Europe, the Dinaric Alps of the Balkan Peninsula.  The most stunningly dramatic of these are also the most unknown:  The Hidden Alps of Albania.  For centuries, people in the Balkans called them Proketije, the "Accursed Mountains" due to their inaccessibility.

In 2011, Lonely Planet named Albania as the #1 of the Top Ten Countries to visit in the world.  One main reason is the Albanian Riviera, with the Mediterranean’s most unspoiled beaches.  Another is the staggering mountain scenery so remote it’s rarely visited.  Then there’s millennia of history resulting in a number of UN World Heritage sites.

The problem is access.  Albania’s infrastructure had to be built from scratch after its subjection to Medieval Communism from 1945 to 1991.  Today, Albania is an increasingly prosperous free market democracy, yet experiencing it from World Heritage Sites to the Riviera to the Hidden Alps would take weeks over poor roads and hiking trails.

The solution is to see Albania by helicopter – a 30 passenger Eurocopter AS532 Cougar.  We’ll fly to and land at remote villages deep in the Hidden Alps, hidden pocket beaches along the Albanian Riviera, to raft and hike through the amazing Osumi Canyon, and more – all by helicopter, making it possible to see far more than most any visitor has ever seen and in just a few days.

As a prelude, we first visit one of the world’s newest countries, Kosovo.  All of this is made possible by Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, a personal friend of Jack Wheeler’s, with whom we will meet.  (We’ll also meet Hashim Thaci, Prime Minister of Kosovo.)

This is a highly exclusive VIP experience of the most extraordinarily unknown part of Europe.  We hope you will join us.

Daily Itinerary

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Saturday July 20

Note:  All participants are responsible for arriving in Pristina, Kosovo by mid-day July 20. We suggest a Friday overnight flight from the US to Vienna, Austria, connecting to Austrian Air flight 777 departing Vienna at 10:10am arriving Pristina at 11:55am.  Participants are free to get to Pristina when and however they wish, but we begin in Pristina today.

Upon arrival, be met at the airport, transfer to Hotel Swiss Diamond.  After lunch, a VIP tour of Kosovo’s capital, followed by a briefing on Kosovo by government officials, discussing why Kosovo has been recognized as a sovereign state by 99 UN members, and why the remaining 94 refuse to do so.  Dinner with Kosovo business leaders.

Sunday, July 21

After breakfast, we drive to Peja to visit the Pec Patriarchate World Heritage Site, then drive through the spectacular Rugova Gorge, whose walls reach 2,000 feet straight up over the White Drini River:

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After lunch in Peja, we drive to the divided city of Mitrovica. We’ll visit the UN troops guarding the bridge over the Ibar River, but we won’t risk crossing into the Serbian area.  We return to Pristina for a late afternoon meeting with Prime Minister Hashim Thaci. 

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  Jack Wheeler with Kosovo Prime Minister Thaci

Dinner is at the Home Restaurant in Pristina.

Monday, July 22

After breakfast, we fly to Tirana on Belle Air flight 516, departing at 11:20am, arriving 12:10pm, and transfer to the Sheraton Tirana Hotel.  After lunch, a VIP tour of Albania’s capital, followed by a meeting with Prime Minister Sali Berisha. 

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Jack Wheeler with Albania Prime Minister Berisha

Dinner with key government officials and business leaders.

Tuesday, July 23

After breakfast, we board our Cougar Eurocopter to fly to the World Heritage Site of Lake Ohrid, Europe’s oldest and deepest lake.  We land at Pogradec, and drive along the lakeside to relax and have lunch at the resort of Tushemisht:

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From Lake Ohrid, the Cougar flies us to the World Heritage Site of Berat, where we visit Berati Castle:
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We then fly along a dramatic geological formation called the Tomori Ridge to Corovode for a 2-hour raft and hike through the slot canyon of the Osumi River:

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The Cougar then takes us to the World Heritage Site of Gjirokaster to explore the astounding Gjirokaster Fortress:

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At day’s end, we fly to Saranda, the jewel of the Albanian Riviera:
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We stay on the beach at the Konti i Montechristos Hotel, and have dinner overlooking the city at the Likurski Castle.

Wednesday, July 24

This morning we have the option of relaxing on the beach at Saranda:

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or visiting the nearby World Heritage Site of Butrint. Late morning, we board the Cougar for a flight along the entire coastline of Albania.  We’ll stop at hidden pocket beaches that almost no one sees, like this:

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And have lunch at Ali Pasha’s Castle (actually a Venetian fortress):

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After lunch, we fly up to Vlora, a city originally founded by Greek colonists as Auron in the 6th century BC.  It’s now famous for its small resorts dotting the coastline with crystal clear water:

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Then on to Durrës, founded as Epidamnos by Greek colonists in the 7th century BC.  It has been continuously inhabited for 2,700 years by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Ottoman Turks, and now Albanians.  We’ll visit the Old City with the Roman amphitheatre and forum, and the Venetian Tower.  We stay at the Avri Hotel.

Thursday, July 25

After breakfast, the Cougar flies us past Cape Rodomi:

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to the city of Lezhe, birthplace of Albania’s national hero, Skanderbeg (1405-1468), who fought off the Ottomans, rejected their religion of Islam, and befriended the Popes of Rome, who named him Athleta Christi (Champion of Christ) for his protection of Christians.

We’ve seen the statue of Skanderbeg in the center of Tirana’s main square:

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Here we pay our respects at his memorial and tomb in Lezhe:

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We then continue to the historic city of Shkodra at the base of the Albanian Alps.  After lunch and a tour of the city, we board our Cougar to fly up into the Hidden Alps following the Komani Gorge:

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to the mountain town of Bajram Curri, at the entrance to the incredible Valbona Valley:

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We stay at the new Hotel Vllaserimi, and have a fresh-caught dinner at the Fish Restaurant.

Friday, July 26

Always save the best for the last.  This will be a day no one will forget.  Our Cougar takes us up the Valbona Valley with the towering Hidden Alps on either side:


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We negotiate the entire valley:
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The Valbona River is famous for its turquoise clarity:
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We’ll stop here at Dragobi for a hike and swim.  The panorama of the head of the valley at Valbona village is simply breathtaking:
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We’ll have lunch with the villagers and talk to them about life in the Proketije, the Accursed Mountains.  We are in the center now of the Proketije.  The highest peak, indeed the highest point of the entire Dinaric Alps, Maja Jezercë at 8,839 ft, stands directly above us.

On the other side of the head of Valbona lies an even more spectacular valley called Thethi.  There is no road connecting Valbona and Thethi, only a steep and arduous trail.  But the Cougar will effortlessly take us over the Valbona Pass.  We may even be able to land at the glacial lakes underneath Maja Jezercë:

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The view will be staggering:
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The beauty of Thethi is legendary:
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We’ll hike through the valley to swim at the base of the Nderlysaj waterfall:
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Inspect Thethi’s famous Lock-in Towers that protected families from raids:

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And meet the hardy folk who live here.

We depart on our final Cougar flight, lifting over the Thethi Pass and down into the Boge Valley:
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Past Boge, we continue down the Proni-i-Thate River Valley:

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To the Natyral Razma Resort where we can relax and unwind after such an extraordinary day.

Saturday, July 27
Morning at leisure at the resort. After lunch, we drive the 60 miles from Razem to Podgorica, capital of Montenegro, and the airport for the Austrian Air flight 728 departing at 3pm, arriving Vienna at 4:40pm. We end in Montenegro to give participants the opportunity to visit this intensely interesting country as well if they choose, rather than immediately returning to the US.

Cost: $7,250

Cost includes:
*All accommodation, meals (breakfast/lunch/dinner with group, including bottled water and soft drinks), transportation (ground, helicopter, and Belle Air flight Pristina-Tirana), and activities (including entrance fees and guides) as specified in the itinerary.

Cost does not include:
*International air travel to Pristina, Kosovo and from Pogorica, Montenegro.

*All personal expenses for incidentals, tips for guides, and alcoholic drinks. Note: Although Kosovo and Albania are predominately Muslim countries practicing moderate Islam (Sufism), beer, wine, and alcohol are widely and publicly available.

Important caveat:

*Every effort will be made to adhere to the itinerary above. Due to the vagaries of travel in this region and of adventure travel in general, the itinerary may be altered in any way necessary. Any scheduled meetings with government leaders and officials cannot be guaranteed. Participants are expected to accept this.

Deposits, Payments, Cancellations and Refunds
*Non-refundable deposit of $725 must be received by April 20, 2013
*Balance in full – $6,525 – must be received by June 01, 2013.
*Refund of balance in full on the condition of a fully-paid acceptable replacement for you. Note: You may want to consider trip cancellation insurance.

Please send all inquiries and make payments payable to:

GLOBAL VENTURE HOLDINGS
5810 Kingstowne Center Drive
Suite 120-333
Alexandria, VA 22315

phone: 202- 656-3008

email: hiddenalps@gmail.com

Bank wiring instructions on request