Guest Blogger and my good friend John Seale bring us a four part series on his recent journeys, beginning with a brief layover in Vienna, a look at Kosovo’s capital city, and continues today with day trips from Prishtina into the countryside of Kosovo. John is one of my frequent travel partners, from across Texas to the other side of the world (2 trips to Kenya). From Texas to Beyond is excited to bring you his unique perspectives on travel, along with some fascinating locations in Kosovo and Albania.
Prishtina is where you will most likely begin your vacation in Kosovo, but it isn’t where your trip should end. Add some day trips from Prishtina to your itinerary! The rest of the country has plenty to see and do, perhaps even more than the capital city. While Prishtina is a very cosmopolitan city, where the culturally Muslim population looks and behaves much like the rest of Europe, as you get out to the smaller cities you’ll find great diversity.
Kosovo has beautiful sights and wonderful culture. While getting around to these destinations can be challenging (see the previous post), if you make these journeys, you will be rewarded handsomely.
Once outside of Prishtina, you’ll find that life slows down a great deal. Be prepared to relax and move slowly. If you rush through Kosovo, you’ve missed one of the greatest features of their culture. Perhaps it’s because unemployment is so high, but Kosovars are relaxed and focused on their relationships. When in Kosovo, be sure to do the same. There are plenty of places worth visiting in Kosovo, and tour guides are likely to point you toward historical monuments in Gjakova and Peja or mountain biking and hiking in Novobërdë. While these places may be wonderful, for this post we’ll venture off those beaten paths.
At present, northern Kosovo and the area near the disputed border with Serbia isn’t super safe, so we ventured south toward Gračanica, which is a Serbian enclave within Kosovo. Don’t be surprised to see the Serbian language and currency being used in the town. When you arrive in Gračanica, you have to visit the monastery from the 14th century, which was built on the ruins of a 6th century basilica. Nearby, you’ll find the even-older ancient Roman ruins of Ulpiana, which was in its splendor in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Scarcely any of the ruins have been excavated, which teases the mind to wonder how much still lies beneath the surface.
On this day trip, make sure to stop for a meal at the Ulpiana Hotel, in their restaurant called Ethno House. It’s a solid Albanian meal for a great price with excellent views of Gračanica. A short drive away is the natural caves Shpella e Gadimes, which you can tour for a nominal price. After you tour the caves, stop for a macchiato at the café at the entrance to the caves.
The next of many worthwhile day trips from Prishtina is west to Prizren. It’s the second-largest city in Kosovo, and the one with the most Turkish influence. Walk the streets around the time for the call to prayer, and your ears will be bombarded by the unique experience of dozens of echoing calls all at once. The first thing to do is to hike up to the Fortress. It overlooks the city and was probably first built by the Byzantines, expanded by the Albanians, and occupied by the Ottomans until World War I. You should also visit the town square, where an ancient fountain (now city water) provides the legendary promises of eternal youth, finding your true love, and more.
If you visit Kosovo in the winter, outside Prizren the Sharr Mountains are a ski resort. In the summer, it’s just a beautiful valley perfect for hiking. There are also a variety of mosques that are open to the public for tours of their magnificent architecture. While in Prizren, we had a meal at EGO, a quaint and lovely restaurant overlooking the square, and had dessert at Family Caffe House, which boasted a magnificent selection of delicious desserts and gelato.
If you want a different taste of Kosovo, you can head east to Gjilan, a beautiful smaller town nestled among the hills. If Prishtina is modern, and Prizren feels Turkish, then Gjilan is classic Kosovo. The main tourist place I visited was Vali Ranch, a unique all-in-one resort in the hills overlooking the city. You can play the most creative mini golf course you’ve ever seen, ride horses, have a spa treatment, and more. For a nice meal, dine at Bujana, an expansive restaurant overlooking the city that will serve you delicious Albanian and European food in a great outdoor environment.
If you are expanding your travel toward Skopje, Sofia, or Thessaloniki, Gjilan may be a good stop on the way. Be warned, however, that because Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo as a legal country. It has been known to be difficult to cross the border from Kosovo into Serbia. If the Serbian border guard isn’t in a good mood, he could consider your Kosovo entrance stamp in your passport to be invalid and deny you entry. Therefore, it’s best to travel to another country first, then into Serbia. From there, you can easily pass back to Kosovo (or even back to Serbia again, since you have a valid Serbian entry).
Kosovo is beautiful, but the shared language and culture with neighboring Albania means that you can continue your experience there, which is exactly what we did!
About The Author: John Seale might be called a “xenophile” – he loves geography, cultures, and people groups all over the world. He’s traveled through Central and South America, the Balkans, and East Africa with ministries that he volunteers with. He and his wife Katie live in Dallas, where he is the Director of Operations for LINC North Texas, a community ministry. He has a personal blog called Every New Day.