Often after returning home from trips, people ask which place we liked the most. And usually I never don’t have the answer to that question. But this time it´s different, because this time we can both give a clear answer, Albania. There were many moments when we felt like at home. Also, I have been wanting to go to Albania for such a long time now, but there was always something that we couldn´t go. Therefore it was even sweeter now, when we finally took the time to do a 3-week long road trip through the Balkan countries out of which we spent the longest in Albania. We could have easily stayed longer and not get bored too and we have many reasons to go back some day. It was another great destination for our LR Defender camper, especially since wild camping is allowed and there are many possibilities for off the beaten track explorations. From the hills to the sea, sleepy villages and modern cities, great roads and super off road options, mountain passes with dizzying views, mysterious bunkers, beaches with a Caribbean touch, turquoise rivers and lakes, friendly locals, animals and more and more. There is a little bit of everything in Albania. In this post, I write about our journey, from north to south and back to the north, including lots of photos for those who either don´t have the time to read or prefer the visual posts. Here we go!
Places: Mrizi i Zanave, Berat, Zvernec, Narta lagoon, Vlore, prelaz Llogara, Gjipe, Jale, AkuariumitLivadhi, Himare, Porto Palermo, Borshit, Bunec, Sarande, Paysqyrave, Ksamil, Butrint, Syri i Kalter, Gjirokaster, Permet, Langarica kanjon, Vithkuqit, Peshkopi, Kuckes, Valbona, Fierza, Komani, Shkoder, Theth
How: with our Defender
Stayed in: wild camping, guesthouse
First impressions? Everything is sooo green! Surprising to us, as we were expecting a somewhat drier landscape. There is a gas station every few kilometers. And a car wash. A mosque here and there. And either a goat, sheep, donkey or a horse. If not, at least a cat or a dog. Mila is in heaven. Roads are great. Communication with hands rather than in English makes more sense. Everything is somehow more exotic, compared to Montenegro and Croatia, which we visited the week before. We are loving it!
Mrizi i Zanave | a well-known Albanian agritourismo
We arrived in Albania in the early afternoon, without having had a proper lunch, and spontaneously decided to stop at the internationally known AGROTOURISM MRIZI I ZANAVE, which is located about half an hour’s drive from the city of SHKODER. We have heard many good things about their home-made delicacies, organic produce and delicious feasts and couldn´t give this place a miss. In addition, they also have a special PLOT FOR CAMPERS on the property, where anyone who has lunch or dinner with them can spend the night free of extra charge. Otherwise, they also have rooms available. I don’t know how it is on weekends, but in the middle of the week it was not a problem to get a table without prior reservation, and we still had enough time until dinner to have a look around.
THE CAMPERVANS AREA is still a fairly new acquisition, so next year there will certainly be pleasant shade above, when the greenery grows a little more. It is really nicely arranged, there are also several taps with running water on the plot, it was completely quiet at night. An excellent choice for our first night and introduction to Albania, where we later on mostly WILD CAMPED. We also had time to tidy up and cleaned the car a bit before the dinner.
Our first ALBANIAN FEAST set a high standard for all upcoming meals, and we simply couldn’t decide which dish we liked the most. We basically didn´t choose anything from the menu, instead we let the staff bring us a little bit of everything, so the table was full of small plates and cups with delicious local goodies. From pickled vegetables, to dried meats, excellent homemade cheeses, olives, corn pies, roast meat, and and and. Once we finished we also got a dessert. And to top it all off, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset, with a glass of tasty Albanian wine while Mila was busy observing the animals nearby. When the bill for €28 arrived, I was sure they had forgotten something, but they hadn’t.
Because everything was so good we decided to have BREAKFAST the next day for €8 per person here as well. Which, in terms of deliciousness, was as tasty as the dinner was. Homemade yogurts, jams, cheeses, cakes, eggs, fresh fruit, the choice was big. I totally recommend it! Before leaving towards the coast, we also bought some goodies to take home in their little shop.
BERAT | the City of Thousand windows
Before reaching the coast, we stopped in the interesting town of BERAT along the way, which is also called the CITY OF THOUSAND WINDOWS. The city is an important cultural center and with its unique architectural style, influenced by several civilizations, it is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list. In addition to the picturesque houses in the old part, we also had a quick look at a few interesting churches and mosques.
On the way to Berat, we didn´t stop in TIRANA, the Albanian capital, and we also left out a smaller town called KRUJE, which otherwise seemed like a nice place from what we´ve heard. This time, as usual, we focused more on natural attractions and therefore skipped visiting some of the cities.
ZVERNEC & NARTA LAGOON | our first wild camping experience in Albania
Based on our previous research we were not blown away by the northern parts of Albanian coastline so we made our first stop just very close to VLORE. Just a little bit more to the north we found a beautiful NARTA LAGOON where we first visited the ST. MARY´S MONASTERY which is located on ZVERNEC island.
A little further down the road from the monastery, we arrived at DAILAN BEACH located in a beautiful, peaceful bay, surrounded by cliffs and a large meadow on which a few campers were already parked. Looked like a perfect place to spend the night. WILD CAMPING is allowed in Albania, and we happily took advantage of this. In the middle of May, the day was already quite long and we still had a few hours of light left, just right for a longer walk and exploring the surroundings, a calm dinner and a glass of wine at sunset.
It’s hard to say what the situation is like in the months of July and August, but this May it was really nice and quiet, and there was plenty of space so that each of us could easily find our own place. The bay is also accessible without a 4×4.
Another view from the top of the neighboring hill, while a herd of goats with a friendly shepherd came by to say hi in the evening. I’ll say it again, if you happen to be going to Albania with children who are crazy about animals, it will be a real paradise for them.
The next morning we enjoyed a little drive along Dailan beach, to the next bay, PORTO NOVO, where the route ends at the water channel that connects the open sea and the Narta lagoon. Just a little bit to the south of the by where we stayed at you can also find a large PUBLIC BEACH sheltered by a nice pine forest and full of restaurants and beach bars, there is an official CAMPSITE too.
LLOGARA PASS | panoramic mountain road through Lologara national park
Albania is not only a paradise for animal lovers, but also for everyone who loves winding roads, mountain passes and unforgettable views. LLOGARA NATIONAL PARK, through which the mountain pass road takes you from the north to the dreamy beaches of southern Albania, will surely become one of your highlights of the road trip.
Countless bends brought us up to 1043m above sea level and offered plenty of wonderful views of the white sandy bays of the IONIAN SEA down below. Albania is also famous for PRODUCING HONEY, and this is a good place to buy a jar or two at one of the many stands along the road over the pass.
GJIPE | one of the best beaches in Albania
GJIPE BEACH is famous as one of the most beautiful in this part of Albania, but it is also especially known among 4×4 overland travelers for its difficult and challenging access on a very bad and bumpy road. Usually one would leave their car on the parking above (fees apply) and walk down to the bay for about 20minutes but if you have a good 4×4 and a bit of courage you could try driving down. In this way you can also sleep on the beach and I have to say, it is most probably a great experience to stay down there while the rest of the daily visitors are gone. But, we let this adventure out without a bitter aftertaste this time. Mainly for two reasons, the first is Mila (by the way, I always advocate that “everything” is possible with a baby, but sometimes that maternal instinct that says “don’t do this” prevails), and the second was the stormy forecast overnight. We were a bit sceptical about how the road would look like after the rain when we had to go back the next day.
So after a quick look at the road we decided it was better to leave the car at the parking and go down like most of the other people. Otherwise there is also a small ECO CAMPSITE with a bar in the bay, plus if you are into climbing, you might know there is also the GJIPE CANYON near by and it´s supposed to be awesome.
JALE, AKUARIUMIT, LIVADHI, HIMARE, PORTO PALERMO, BORSHIT | beautiful bays and beaches in Himare area
The day was still long and in search of a place to stay, we visited a bunch of bays and beaches, threw ourselves into the sea here and there and prepared lunch. Unfortunately, we had to leave both locations we had in mind for an overnight stay after just a short visit, because there were other campers already occupying the best spots. These were super quiet bays accessible only by a 4×4 and the other more easily accessible beaches we visited were fine but not what we didn´t feel like spending the night on any of those. In any case, we had a day full of beach sightseeing and if I had to pick the most beautiful one, it would be the AKUARIUMIT bay.
BUNEC BEACH | two days of relaxed seaside holidays
Towards the end of the day, we finally found our place in the quiet BUNEC BAY, on a grassy area right next to the beach, where one of the two existing beach bars was already operating, and the other was being renovated for the upcoming main season. The friendly owner of the functioning bar left the toilet and shower on the beach open for us, and in exchange for this nice gesture, we treated ourselves to seafood lunch and a cold beer the next day. Since we have driven a lot in the last few days, we decided to have a full day of complete rest and therefore spent two nights on this spot. Spectacular sunsets, morning coffee on the beach, swimming in the refreshing sea, afternoon rest and barbecue dinner, yes, we definitely didn´t suffer.
It wasn’t Mila’s first time at the sea, but I think that only this time, when she was 11 months old, she understood everything better and distracted herself for a quite some time on her own by playing with pebbles, which fortunately she no longer mindlessly shoved in her mouth. For playing on the beach, a collapsible bucket, which we have been using for washing the dishes for many years now, turned out to be super practical. The only downside to Albanian beaches may be the lack of shade, so sunscreen and hats are really a must. Also, there maybe some trash on some of the beaches so do take care when travelling with smaller kids.
Our meals are usually quite simple, but even when camping we try to eat a variety of different foods, incorporating fresh and local products. With a little imagination, you can prepare many things – I published a whole bunch of ideas some time ago in a special post, so for a little inspiration on this topic, you can read it here.
There is no shortage of bays like Bunec in Albania, and at least outside of the main season it is also quite easy to find an overnight spot at the beach if you are travelling with a camper, especially if you arrive before the late afternoon. In the time of our visit there were already some vans in Bunce but we still each had enough space.
SARANDE | lively seaside town
We continued towards the southern parts of Albania and shortly stopped in SARANDE on the way. This famous SEASIDE RESORT on the ALBANIAN RIVIERA seemed quite nice and we wree surprised how clean everything was. There were many really nice hotels, shops and restaurants and even the beaches looked inviting even though the city is quite big and busy.
I think it is a good choice if you enjoy a little bit of entertainment in the evenings and it is also a good base for DAILY TRIPS around the southern parts of Albania.
PASQYRAVE BEACH | gorgeous “Mirror beach” between Sarande and Ksamil
We discovered this beach in the morning hours later on when we still had it all to ourselves and only later found out it is actually a very popular and well known place. The MIRROR BEACH as it is called in its English version offers a larger parking area, a nice looking beach bar, amazingly clear sea, beach chairs and umbrellas for shade (fees apply), interesting rock formations and cliffs surrounding the bay and beautiful views on the coastline down south.
This wonderful bay is located approximately 15 minutes south from Sarande and 10 minutes north from Ksamil. In the off-season, you can sleep at the beach in a camper without any problem, but in the middle of the main season it’s hard to say how crowded it is.
KSAMIL | amazing beaches with Caribbean vibes
The last coastal town before the border with Greece really positively surprised us, especially with its charming beaches, which, without exaggeration, really are like those of the Caribbean and similar dream destinations. The most famous and extremely popular is the main KSAMIL BEACH, which is located in the center, otherwise north and south of the latter you can find a whole bunch of small, pleasant sandy bays. In addition to lying on the beach and culinary indulgence in numerous restaurants, you can also enjoy a few-hours long BOAT TRIP to the nearby KSAMIL ISLANDS.
The photos below are from PARADISE BEACH in the south of the city of Ksamil, where we enjoyed a few hours of sunshine with the best views. Surprisingly, the sea here was a little colder than on the previous beaches, but we still managed to take a couple of quick jumps into the water. There are also several bars and restaurants in the immediate vicinity, as well as hotels, for those who would like to spend the night right here, and for those who prefer to camp there is also a CAMPSITE close by.
This is the view from the parking lot at PARADISE BEACH, literally a few meters from the sandy strip of the coast, where it is also possible to spend the night with a camper, at least outside of the main season. Due to the lack of shade on a really hot day, we decided to drive on and sleep elsewhere though.
BUTRINT | one of the most important archaeological sites in Albania
Just a few kilometers south, we wanted to see one of the most important ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES in Albania, which is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the ancient Greek city of BUTRINT located in the BUTRINT NATIONAL PARK. Unfortunately, it was Sunday, which is apparently a popular day for bus school trips, which were taking over the whole parking lot just as we arrived. Accompanied by loud teenagers we struggled to get to the gate without getting too annoyed but as soon as we realized this is not going to be an enjoyable experience in this heat we aborted the mission. Also, the entry fee was around 10€ so we didn´t feel like trying it out and ending up leaving after the first 500m or so. We´re going to come back one day I guess.
SYRI I KALTER | “the blue eye” springs
At Butrint, we also completed our journey along the coast and turned towards the interior of the country. As the first stop, we chose a popular tourist place about half an hour drive from Sarande, the “BLUE EYE” spring or as it is called in Albanian, SYRI I KALTER. We decided to spend the night near the entrance, as we found a great place in the shade right next to the stream.
Not long ago you could almost reach this famous BISTRICA RIVER SPRING by car but at the time of our visit, this was not the case, because right now a large new parking lot, a brand new road, new gates and new street lights were being built. So we had to walk for about half an hour, which I really don’t recommend in the middle of the day because of the heat. In the end, we were rewarded with the beautiful green cool surroundings of this NATURAL MONUMENT. We didn´t swim though, although some others did. There is also a restaurant and bar near the spring, though a tours tic place it is stil a very pleasant location for lunch or a quick snack.
This was one of the biggest tourist spots in Albania, judging by the number of visitors, but we still thought it was quite a good place to visit. Mainly because we slept very close to the entrance and could visit the place in the late afternoon, when we were not in a hurry and most of the crowds were already gone.
GJIROKASTER | charming old town from Unesco´s World Heritage list
The next morning, the road led us to GJIROKASTER, with its charming old town that is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Again, the landscapes during our drive were simply beautiful.
After less than an hour’s drive, we found ourselves among OTTOMAN BUILDINGS, strolled through the streets of the old town without a particular plan, enjoyed excellent coffee with baklava, resisted buying all those wonderful pillow covers, carpets, boxes, dresses and other handmade products, had a look at the FORTRESS and slowly moved on.
Admittedly, on our road trips we mostly prefer to spend our time in nature, between the mountains, by the sea or anywhere along a panoramic road, but this town completely enchanted us and I warmly recommend a visit to Gjirokastra to anyone who takes you to these parts. It also makes a good day trip destination if you are spending holidays in one of the seaside resorts in southern Albania.
BENJES & LANGARICA CANYON | Kadut stone bridge and swimming in hot springs
From Gjirokaster, we continued our journey towards HOT SPRINGS, which are located in the LANGARICA CANYON, right next to the beautiful old stone bridge, KADUT BRIDGE. The journey to the largest place in the vicinity, PERMET, took us about an hour, and then another half an hour to the spring.
This is just another of the many locations in Albania that I really highly recommend visiting. True, during our visit in May there was already quite some people over here so I can only imagine how full it gets in the main season, but still it´s a wonderful place. It is probably a great idea to find an overnight spot close by (if you have a camper there is many possibilities very close to the spring) and visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Otherwise, the path leading to the main hot spring takes you over the old stone bridge and you can find a few spots in the shade close to the circular shaped pool with warm water. If you wish for a little bit more privacy you can try your luck in finding a place in the smaller pools just left from the bridge once you cross it.
ROAD SH75 | lesser-known road towards N. Macedonia
Since it wasn’t that late yet, we decided to continue our journey in a rough direction towards North Macedonia after swimming in the springs. Of course, it was still quite far to the border, but we wanted to get at least a little closer. We drove on the SH75 road, which runs along the border with Greece, in the direction of KORCA.
The road is absolutely beautiful! Otherwise paved, but quite narrow and you won´t see a soul around for quite some time. Pine trees, shepherds with flocks of sheep, crazy hills, blooming meadows, goats, horses and donkeys. Definitely a non-touristy route, the kind we usually like best.
VITHKUQIT | spending the night at a beautiful peaceful lake on the way to N. Macedonia
In the late afternoon, we landed at a beautiful lake, which we had never heard of before and we certainly would not have visited it if we had not been looking for a place to spend the night right here in the area. Maybe the lake itself is nothing special, but this silence, these reflections on the calm surface of the water, these green colors and these snow-capped mountains in the background filled us with a very special inner peace and gratitude to be able to enjoy all this. All alone in the middle of this beautiful nature, which (even though we’ve never been there) reminded us of scenes from Georgia or Armenia.
Just at our dinner time nature served us a kitschy sunset and we drifted off to sleep with a light refreshing breeze through the tent windows. The next morning we were leaving Albania for a couple of days in order to explore parts of N. Maceodnia, starting with lake Ohrid.
Unfortunatelly we were not particularly impressed by the places we visited in N. Macedonia so we returned to Albania sooner than expected. This time at BLATO border crossing. Fun fact, we have entered and exited Albania on 5 different borders during this trip.
BACK IN ALBANIA | amazing mountain road from Peshkopi towards Kuckes
From Blato border crossing we continued our journey in the direction of KUCKES, pass the town of PESHKOPI on the panoramic road SH31 and spent the night in a guethouse somewhere on the way. It was also the first (and last) time on this trip that we slept in a guesthouse, and we decided to do so because I wasn´t feeling very well that day and sleeping in the middle of nowhere didn´t seem like the best option. We ended up paying 50€ for a lovely room with shared bathroom in BUJTINA GJANA, including a hearty dinner and breakfast with local delicacies, and we’re also richer for a really authentic experience with a local family that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. We felt like home here and can only recommend staying in this place!
VALBONA VALLEY | amazing Albanian Alps
The next morning we set off relatively early, as we decided to drive to the famous VALBONA VALLEY through KOSOVO and not on the SH23 road that leads from Kuckes up north on the Albanian side. Both routes would have taken us a similar amount of time, but we’ve never been to Kosovo before, and after all, why not. We returned to Albania in the afternoon at the border crossing west of the town of GJAKOVA and continued along the SH22 road to VALBONA.
First impressions of the Valbona valley? Wow, we felt like home since the landscapes with the turquoise river reminded us a little bit of the Slovenian Soca valley. As soon as we reached the end of the paved road we caught the first glimpses of the ALBANIAN ALPS and it felt really good to be up here. We also got the chance to explore the dry river bed upstream with our Defender which added a bit of extra satisfaction.
But don´t worry, you can totally make it to Valbona valley with any normal car, the main road is paved and in a good state so there is no problem getting to most of the guesthouses and main parking lots which are starting points for the hikes in the area. But if you do have a 4×4 and the lust to explore off the beaten track the dry river bed (when it is actually dry of course) is a perfect place to do so.
PROKLETIJE, a mighty mountain range that stretches across the areas of Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo, geographically belongs to the DINAR MOUNTAINS, but in terms of its appearance, with its glacial valleys and typical mountain peak shapes, the area strongly resembles the Alps. For this reason, this beautiful mountain massif is also known as the ALBANIAN ALPS. The highest peak is MAJA JEZERCE, at 2694 m, but there are a whole lot of 2000m peaks in the area too. The most famous hike, at least if we are talking about the Albanian part of Prokletije, is probably the HIKE FROM VALBONA TO THETH, or vice versa. The journey will take you an average of 7 hours, if you are an experienced hiker probably an hour less, otherwise you can also stay the night somewhere in between. The hike is easiest to do as part of an ORGANIZED TRIP, where you are taken from the town of Shkoder to Valbona and picked up in Theth. If you would like to go on the journey yourself, or better said, with your own vehicle, you must return to the starting valley on foot along the same route or organize transport back in some other way. There was still a lot of snow on the mountain trails in May, so the summer months are probably more suitable for longer hikes, and September is probably great too. This time we enjoyed the views only from the valley areas, because with Mila such treks are not yet possible. But as you can see, the views were still awesome from down below.
There are many places to set up a camp over here and not be bothered by other fellow tourists as there is enough space for everyone. We also “celebrated” Charlie’s birthday that day, which meant we prepared a slightly better dinner, put a candle in a piece of baklava and opened a slightly better bottle of wine while enjoying the sunset view over the mountains. Mila was happy to explore the surroundings and play with all those pebbles tones while of course not sitting on any of the blankets we put out for her explicitly.
To Mila’s delight, a herd of cows came to greet us in the evening, and while ringing their bells, they curiously looked towards the group of motorhomes in the larger parking lot.
We felt great in Valbona, if we had decided to do proper hike, we could have easily stayed a couple more days, but this time we left the next day around noon. I can’t say that the valley is still some remote hidden gem, as it probably was a decade or two ago, but it is still authentic enough and simply beautiful. I recommend it to all lovers of hiking, as well as to those who like to enjoy such views without being extremely physically active. The sunsets aren’t bad either.
KOMANI LAKE | spectacular ferry ride on lake Komani between Fierza and Koman
After about an hour’s drive from the Valbona valley, we arrived to the docks for the FERRY ON LAKE KOMAN, near he own of FIERZA. Our next destination was the Theth valley, which can be reached by road past Shkodra. From Valbona to Skodra, you have roughly two options, either you take the winding road (SH22 and SH5) which goes quite a bit around, or you embark the ferry mentioned above, which takes you to Koman, from where you continue on the SH25 road. We decided on the ferry, and despite the price of €80, I warmly recommend this scenic voyage to anyone who comes to these parts.
If a few years ago “ferry” over here meant some kind of larger raft, today’s lake ferries are quite comfortable and in the form of smaller ships. Since we were traveling before the main season, we bought the tickets on the spot without any problem, arriving about an hour before departure. We therefore only looked at the sailing schedule and chose a provider which offered an afternoon departure. There are a couple of companies available – it’s hard to say anything about the differences besides the different ferry sizes.
During the almost three-hour-long sailing on the turquoise Koman Lake, which is otherwise an artificial reservoir on the DRIN RIVER, we couldn’t help but marvel at the beautiful surroundings, which, without exaggeration, reminded us of the Norwegian fjords rather than anything Albanian. The narrowest part of the gorge measures only about 50m, and there are also small villages on the slopes, we also noticed interesting lodgings that are only accessible by small boats or kayaks. If you decide to stay around the lake for an extra day, it must be wonderful to RENT KAYAKS and discover the lake on your own, or to treat yourself to an organized excursion with a smaller boat – we heard that it is wonderful to go up the SHALA RIVER.
I should also mention that many visitors embark on this voyage in the opposite direction, i.e. from the town of Skoder towards Valbona. And it is in this direction that the piers and docks for the ferries are located on an extremely small area, which, on top of that, is located at the end of a really narrow and poorly lit tunnel. I can’t really imagine how boarding the ferry from this direction goes in the high season, when the convoy of vehicles winds through the tunnel, but we heard that it’s really quite chaotic.
After landing in the town of KOMAN at the other end of the lake, we continued along the road and for some time searched in vain for a place to spend the night. It is quite difficult to find one here, as the road leads along a steep slope on one side and the lake on the other side. But then we agreed on a different solution that satisfied two problems at once, namely our hunger and the location for the night. At LEDI´S PLACE, you can spend the night with a camper in a nicely arranged parking lot if you have dinner or lunch with them. Extremely friendly hosts, delicious food, wonderful views of the lake, loads of domestic animals and more – a visit to this family restaurant or lodging (they are currently building cute houses by the lake) is something I really highly recommend, before or after leaving for the ferry.
And because we were so impressed by the delicious dinner, we also had BREAKFAST here the next day, which was not far behind in terms of taste. I really really recommend a stop here, you can see that everyone works with heart. With full stomachs, we said goodbye, promised to come again sometime and continued towards the city of SKODER.
SHKODER | the cpital of northern Albania
We didn’t stay too long in the capital of northern Albania. Just enough to buy some fresh goodies, because it was Saturday and the streets were full of markets, and we also treated our Defender to a thorough cleaning in one of the many car washes. A couple of hours later it was already concretely dusty again, but for a while it was polished like a new one. And that for only €5.
THETH VALLEY | our last stop in Prokletije mountain and in Albania in general
Just a little less than two hours later we arrived in THETH VALLEY. If, until recently, Theth was considered a mystical, hard-to-reach place, where only the bravest can come to with their own vehicles, this year it is definitely no longer the case. On the one hand, this is good, because access is also provided to those who would like to visit the valley with an “ordinary” car, but on the other hand, this cause the place losing a little bit of that special charm. The road from the top of the pass to the valley is completely newly asphalted and really nicely arranged with protective fences and viewpoint areas on the scenic sections. For a very special road adventure to the Theth Valley in terms of difficult driving, today you should take the winding route east of Maranai Park, which takes at least 5 hours.
The Theth Valley was our last stop in Albania, and we were a bit sad to leave this interesting country, which really served us some beautiful adventures. At least for this year. We spent the night on the meadow next to a restaurant we had dinner at, at the very end of the valley, somehow between the ruined church and the famous stone tower that once served as a prison.
After a short break upon arrival, we walked for about 45 minutes to the nearby GRUNASI WATERFALL and had a refreshing stop at the river on the way back. We skipped the visit to the Blue Eye spring this time, as it would not have been possible for us on the same day, and worse weather was forecast for the day after.
So our visit to the Theth Valley was not extremely uneventful in terms of hiking and adventures, but no less sweet due to this. Although we hesitated a little whether it would even be worth coming here as we have already seen so many beautiful places in Albania, or if the landscape might be too similar to what we´ve seen already in Valbona, but we can now say that there is still a slightly different atmosphere here and we definitely don´t regret our visit despite the long way on yet another mountain road.
One last dinner in Albania. We treated ourselves to the last plates of local delicacies, which we washed down with local beer. If we started our trip through Albania on a rather culinary note, we ended it that way too. It was certainly not the last time we were here and we already have some ideas for the next visit. Who knows, maybe we will be able to return next spring. Albania really impressed us and (I know I’m repeating myself), I recommend a visit to anyone looking for a slightly different cultural vibe, beautiful nature, “wow” beaches, hospitable locals, excellent cuisine, affordable prices, wild camping and remote roads and offroad adventures.
USEFUL INFORMATION FOR TRAVELLING IN ALBANIA
WHERE TO SLEEP IN ALBANIA
With the exception of one night in a guesthouse, which are called BUJTINA over here, we practiced WILD CAMPING, which is completely allowed here, and we slept in the parking lots of restaurants where we ate dinner twice. This is also a common practice in Albania. Otherwise, you won’t have any problems finding rooms as you go, as there are enough offers in terms of HOTELS and PRIVATE ACCOMMODATIONS everywhere, there are also many CAMPSITES.
This might come as a surprise but Albanian roads are excellent. Of course, there are still some old narrow ones with potholes and without protective fences, but those on the main tourist routes are really new and modern. However, on all roads it is necessary to watch out for goats, sheep and other animals.
COSTS OF TRAVELLING IN ALBANIA
Albania is still quite an affordable destination, but it’s hard to say that everything is ridiculously cheap. The fact that you can sleep for free with a camper makes a big difference, but on the other hand, in May 2022, a liter of diesel cost almost €2, making it the most expensive of all the countries visited on this Balkan road trip. FOOD is cheap, even in restaurants the prices are moderate. The most expensive ADMISSION FEE was for the archaeological complex in Butrint, around €10, but otherwise there are many attractions without an entrance fee. Among the bigger expenses, I also count the Komani lake FERRY, which was €80. There are otherwise no ROADTOLLS.
ALBANIAN SEASIDE & BEACHES
Albanian beaches are the most beautiful in the south of the country, I would say south of the Llogara pass. You can easily find one where you could stay for several days and not get tired of the view. If you want extraordinary turquoise sea and extraordinary white sand, you must go to Ksamil, where the bays are truly dreamlike. On most beaches, you can rent umbrellas and lounge chairs during the high season, usually there is also a beach bar or restaurant, parking is generally free of charge, and the beaches are public and accessible to everyone, but you sometimes haveto walk a little bit to get to them, except if you have a 4×4.
THE NOTORIOUS TRASH PROBLEM
Albania is often associated with piles of garbage, and unfortunately I have to confirm that this is actually a real problem. We came well prepared and the situation did not shock us. We also heard that they clean up the beaches and towns before the main season so the situation might be different depending on when you are visiting. And yes, there are clean beaches and there are beaches where you can just shake your head. The cities we visited, the garbage situation did not seem terrible though. On the contrary, for example in Sarande and Vlore we even thought it was extremely clean. So come prepared, bring an extra trash bag or two and pick things up along the way, including your own trash of course.
It may be true that Albania is a paradise for meat lovers but there is a whole bunch of amazing vegetarian options as well. Many dishes, such as burek, can also be found in other countries in the Balkans, but Albania still has a lot of its very own specialties. Grilled vegetables, pickled or stuffed vegetables, feta and other homemade cheeses, honey, olive oil, homemade yogurts (which are often found in the main dishes as well), fish, meat stews, koftas, lamb, interesting bread pies, and of course baklava and other desserts. Albanian wine is also good. Some of the most traditional dishes you have to try are TAVE KOSI (roasted lamb with rice and yogurt), FERGESE (pepper, tomato and cheese from the oven), FLIJA (gratin pancakes), or plates of cold meats & cheese with typical bread.
HOW TO GET TO ALBANIA
It is almost 1000 km from Ljubljana, Slovenia, to Tirana, and the journey takes around 13 hours, if there are no special conditions at the border crossings. It is then about 300 km more, or 5 hours, to the south of Albania. You can do as we did and get to Albania more slowly, with stops in Croatia and Montenegro, alternatively you can fly to Tirana and rent a car there, you can also come by ferry from Italy, or fly to the Greek island of Corfu, from where you can take a ferry to the city of Sarande.
We visited Albaniaduring our 3-week long road trip through the balkan countries. You can read the first blog post with all the details about this trip in a separate post over HERE.