Albania is one of the most beautiful countries we have ever been to. Its nature is incredible and the landscapes often have a sense of exotic and peacefulness. We travelled around for one week in Albania. From Tirana we started to the west coast, then to the south, the east and back. Unforgettable moments! In this blogpost we will give you the highlights of our road trip about landscapes, people and special accommodations.
On the road again
After already many cities on our trip we knew it was time to rent a car again and see more of the countryside of a country. We didn’t plan to do this in Albania but looking back on this trip it was the perfect moment and the perfect country.
We started our trip from Tirana, had some issues with the provider there but soon we were on our way. We crossed Elbasan, but had no impuls to stay here due to the fact that we were looking for nature, the sea and more remote places. Leaving Elbasan behind us we were on the way to Gjinari. Nils had seen a possible way through the mountains on google maps, at least it looked like that...
Off the road
Leaving Gjinari behind us on a small street we directly were surrounded by beautiful nature and very small villages. After a few minutes the road got really bad. But if Google tells you that it is possible to take the road, why not try? We did not regret this thought, but it was much more challenging to make through than we anticipated. Nils was driving the whole time, Anna was too scared to drive. The more beautiful the landscapes got, the worse the road was. We have lot of experiences from Scandinavia to take tricky roads or paths with the car in order to find the perfect place. This was definitely more challenging. The road just got worse and worse. After 1 hour we had made 2 kilometers, had some discussions and frustrations, many ‘uuhs’ and ‘aaahs’. We made a break, discussed what to do and decided to continue our path because it probably couldn’t get worse. It got worse. A few times at least.
At the same time it was exciting, driving around somewhere in the backlands. We saw people living and working quite remotely. It seems, that they still live a life from 100 years ago in Western Europe. Everything is done by hand. Hard work. Sometimes we had the feeling to be the first ‘tourists’ ever taking this road. We had many ‘wow’ moments naturewise. It was a blast to take this risk.
And we were quite happy that the car survived it, too. Because many situations were really difficult. For those adventurers of you who want to try it out yourself: Take the small road from Gjinari to Bizhdan. Not many kilometres, but around 3-4 hours. After all the bumpiness it almost felt strange to be on a normal road again. We drove through many nice places and slept in Fier, already closer to the sea. It was a long day, a lot had happened, so many impressions and such a difficult and in the end also long day.
The Adriatic Coast of Albania
Next day we finally drove to the Adriatic Coast. Roads are good again and you can drive faster. It gets way more busy at the coast. You see huge hotel buildings. Empty ones, old ones, new ones. You never know here whether they are just building something or whether it is already an abandoned place.
We spend some time on the tip of Zvërnec, where you have a wonderful view on the old farm house, located on a small island. They built a new nose-piece, so you can go there by foot again. It says that it is not allowed to take pictures, but everybody does. So did we.
Ruins and way of life
We already have the experience from Bosnia and Herzegovina that there are many ruins, everywhere. We stopped again at one, due to its impressive structure. The astonishing thing is that quite often people still live close to the ruins or often also in the ruins. They find a way to make it as comfortable as possible. Impressive, sad and probably there is no other way. As often on our world trip, we feel so privileged and humbled. These people live owning almost nothing. And still they work hard. Everyday.
Surroundings of Borsh – the villa Alba
We were lucky to being able to stayat the villa Alba for a few days. It is located directly at the cliffs and you have your own little private beach. For us that is paradise and we are normally not used to this luxury standard. But we enjoyed it. This villa is located perfectly. Directly at the water, four terraces and a nice place to swim. Thank you Lori for this awesome opportunity. It was hard to leave this place again, that’s for sure!
Parku Kombëtar Llogara
To go south you have to cross the Parku Kombëtar Llogara. Beautifully located and higher than expected. Weather conditions made it hard to cross the mountains. But we also were lucky and had a short moment where we could capture some nice pictures, high above the sea. Due to the bad weather there weren’t so many people.
Saranda – busy town in the south
We arrived in Saranda with lots of rain. It was actually more than just rain, stormy winds made it hard to drive the road. Saranda is huge. Bigger than we thought. We had the chance to stay in a nice luxury apartment, everything quite stylish and well functioning. We have had nothing like that before on our trip. So we decided to stay at our lovely place, after having had a bad lunch in town, which was the most expensive one so far on our road trip through Albania. We met some really friendly local people, enjoyed each others company for a while and even got some presents from them. We have to say – Albanian people are super friendly, helpful and nice. We are deeply impressed by their hospitality! Ah, and Germany won the game with an awesome last minute goal.
On the road again – Saranda to Permet
From Saranda we drove back into the countryside. And again – so nice landscapes. We were taking pictures here and there, were eating really good and honest local food and enjoyed our road trip with good weather and a cloudy sky, which was at least beneficial for the temperature. We were impressed by the old castle Kalaja e Argjirose in Gjirokastra, a lovely city with a really nice old town part. It is really uphill, so have that in mind if you have to go up there by feet.
Traditional Guesthouse near Permet
We saw on booking.de a really nice “Traditional Albanian Guesthouse”, so we just booked it. It turned out, that the road leading there was almost as difficult to take than the one on our first day. We managed it safety, but it was tricky. What we can say now: It is worth the trouble. The guesthouse and it’s surroundings look just wonderful. It looks like from a movie, from ancient times or from a good book. It is really basic, so for us it was a huge difference to the places we went before on our road trip through Albania. But we loved it anyway. As a welcome we got a Raki. Then Albanian coffee. Then a fige in sugar - a local speciality! The owners Kristian and Florida - a lovely couple and really friendly people - were serving us traditional Albanian food in the evening. It was super delicious. And plenty of food. The best food we had have on our whole world trip through the Balkan Countries so far. Their hospitality really moved us. We felt like home. Immediately. Before we left, we had to take a look at Kristian’s private museum, which he carefully collected over the last centuries. It was interesting, funny and weird at the same time. But definitely collected with passion and love!
On the road again
After leaving Permet we found the place that you can call ‘heaven on earth’. We immediately fell in love with this place. If we ever will come back to Albania (and we will), this is the place where we would love to hike. The place is called Termbec. Take a look yourself. Isn’t it beautiful? So many layers, rough and soft landscapes combined to a subliming mix. Mother earth, you are dope!
After almost driving to Greece, the main road goes next to the border for a view kilometres, we have had a nice drive through the landscapes there as well. Many bunkers, many abandoned places. High buildings (we never get, why people build such high houses and then don’t finish them) that are half empty, half occupied.
Korca – Merit Boutique Hotel
Next stop on our journey was Korca. People in Albania call it ‘little Paris’. We do partially agree on that ;-) . It is a nice town, in the middle of Albania's southern part. It looked quite modern and people were proud of living here. We had the chance to stay in a little but pretty boutique hotel - thank you Jolenza for that opportunity! The Meri Boutique Hotel is quite new and they are building a second house at the moment. The standard is high and the rooms adorable and beautiful. So if you ever go to Korca, this is a good option!
The old Ohrid lake
This lake is a really old lake. Actually it is one of the oldest lakes on this earth. Scientist say it is 2-5 million years old. It is a lovely and huge lake, around 200k people live around it. One side belongs to Albania, one side to Macedonia. We made a break in Pogradec, which is a city at the south end of the lake. But we were aiming for something more quiet for the night. So we drove along the lake way north, until we couldn’t go further due to the border. We found a really lovely place, next to Lin, where we stayed. It is a relatively small hotel with a huge garden. You have a superb view on the lake and we were just sitting there for hours, observing the weather, the movements on the lake and the birds. A perfect place where you want to build a house. Thank you Erald for your hospitality!
From here we drove back via Elbasan to Tirana. Sadly this was already the last day of our roundtrip. But we had one highlight planned for the last day as well. We weren’t sure if we could get there but if google maps says it is possible, why not trying?
So we went to the Parku Kombëtar Mali I Dajtit, which is located closed to the Capital Tirana.
Bovilla Lake – a paradise for nature lovers
You take the road to Kamza, from there the road gets really really bad, but doable if you are skilled enough to manage it. We cannot emphasize enough: It is so worth it going there. The colours of the lake look like somewhere in Canada or in tropic countries. It reminds us a little of the Maldives as well. We went swimming, ate at the only mini café there and enjoyed our last day of the road trip. Next time we would try to go there for wild camping or so. From here we were heading back to Tirana, full of impressions and quite happy about our trip.
Additional insights and tips for a Roadtrip through Albania
- Renting a car in Albania: If you have a smartphone don’t take a navigation system. It is expensive (around 8 euros per day) and it is really really old and not updated. Google maps makes way more sense and we learned it the hard way.
- Get fun fact about Albania: If you travelling with kids let them count the bunkers. We saw more than 70 on our trip! And it’s a funny thing to do during long hours in the car.
- The evil eye of Albania: There are often toys hanging somewhere around houses on the countryside. This a traditional belief that it keeps the evil spirits away. Looks weird and a bit spooky. Maybe you can let the kids count the toys, too!
- On tour in Albania: Gas is almost the same price as in Western Europe. Big streets have a good quality but keep your focus on the street, you never know when the next dangerous pitfall will come. And it will come.
- Taste of Albania: Water is drinkable almost everywhere and it is delicious, too. Only in the bigger cities it is not drinkable.
- Drink or food in Albania: Many places serve drinks and coffee, but no food. It was a few times really hard to find a place, that also serves food. So different to what we normally know.
- Be in Albania, be patient: Plan your trip in the way that you have buffer time. You will drive slower than planned. Especially small roads are in really bad shape. So keep that in mind.
- The ugly side of Albania: Garbage and especially plastic garbage is a huge problem in Albania. You have seen places where it is all fine but in most of the places you have plastic waste everywhere. This is really sad and you can at least take care of your own waste. We experienced - like in many other countries before - that the local people still don’t understand the bigger problem when it comes to plastic. They just throw away everything without any hesitation and get a new plastic bag at the very next shopping.
Conclusion - Road Trip through Albania in a nutshell
We are full of joy and many great impressions.
We met wonderful people, helping us wherever they can, making us feel like home.
We have seen some of the nicest landscapes we have ever seen.
We experienced very tricky and a bit dangerous ‘roads’ but we managed to make it through. Weather was more rainy than usual this time of year but for the trip it was helpful, otherwise it would have been hard to stay in the car with such high temperatures.