Exploring Off the Beaten Path in Prizren, Kosovo

When I first decided to travel to Kosovo, I had no idea what to expect. Prizren was basically on my route between Tirana, Albania and Skopje, Macedonia. Bus tickets were only $10, so it was a natural decision to add it to my itinerary.

In Albania, I was told to take care how I entered Kosovo. It’s not a fully recognized country yet, so if you cross the wrong border you’ll find yourself in trouble with the Serbian government. Specifically, if you enter the country from Montenegro, Albania or Macedonia, you must not enter Serbia, as you won’t get a stamp on your passport that you’ve entered Serbia legally. When you try to leave you’ll have a problem. However, if you enter Kosovo from Serbia, you won’t have any problems, ether leaving Kosovo or returning to Serbia. Basically, if you don’t enter Kosovo from Serbia, leave through any country but Serbia.

City Hostel PrizrenI arrived in the evening after an 8 hour bus ride. The bus stop is a large depot on the western edge of the Old Town, a relief after the abysmal infrastructure in Albania. From there, it’s a little over half a mile to the city’s only hostel, Prizren City Hostel. It’s a very unique hostel, and honestly one of my favorites in all my travels. Built on a tiny footprint, it rises up five stories, with small rooms on each floor and 3-4 beds to the room. The two men who run the hostel are wild and crazy. The first night I was there, they were giving away free shots to all the guests until they had used up their dozen or so bottles of liquor!

Prizren is not the biggest town, and it only takes a couple days to explore. The next day I got up early and set off to see the Old Town. As remote as Prizren is, the town was packed! Restaurants were full and crowds filled the central square…at least at night. During the day no one wants to brave the heat.

Shadervan Square

Those restaurants are designed for tourists. As much as I don’t like tourist restaurants, these seemed to break the mold, as they did still have a large local crowd. The food was standard Balkan fare, meaning lots of delicious meats and a few veggies on the side. It might remind you of kebab, but in my opinion the quality is much better! I got the mixed platter with a sampling of the meats they serve.

Besimi-Beska Sample Platter

After that, it was time to find the fortress. Well, maybe not the best time, since Prizren is hot and sultry in the summer, but the fortress is the key attraction so I had to go. The path wasn’t the easiest to find, and the hike is half a mile up the hill.

Prizren Fortress from Below

Built nearly 900 years ago, it’s interesting to explore. It’s massive, and many of the original rooms are still in existence after nearly half a millennium of disuse and erosion. From the top, you can see the whole town and quite a bit of the surrounding landscape. Even better is going up later in the day to see the sunset. You don’t roast that way.

Prizren Fortress

Just down the trail from the fortress is the 700-year-old Church of the Savior (Kisha e Shën Shpëtimtarit). The gate to the church is locked, but that didn’t stop me from jumping over. Unfortunately there was an old security guard there, but he was quite happy to see me and give me a tour of the church with his limited English. Church of the Savior is a work of art in itself, although for completely different reasons than the masterpieces in Italy or Spain. The art is a lot more primitive, but a the same time fascinating to see, and the structure itself is very unique. You can see the sheer contract of stones used in different periods of its construction. Unfortunately Albania looted it a few decades back and stole the frescoes, but Kosovo got them back and now the church is under refurbishment.

Church of Saviour

Prizren has another church which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Our Lady of Ljeviš. Unfortunately that one really is getting looted, and you can’t get inside to explore. You can still pass by outside for a photo though.

Other than that, I explored Old Town’s Shadervan Square, the local bazaar, the many mosques and the Blue Bridge of Love, Prizren’s own bridge of locks.

Bridge with Locks

All too soon it was time to move on to Macedonia on another cheap bus. But Kosovo is a developing country, and I look forward to returning someday when the infrastructure is better, the churches are restored and the food is just as good!

View of Prizren from the Fortress at Night

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