The Republic of Albania or Albanian “Republika e Shqipërisë” (pronounced Shtipërëa), which stands for “Land of the Eagles”.
For most Bulgarians, Albania is an unfamiliar country with a bad reputation and our attitude towards it is skeptical. In our minds, this Balkan country is wild and underdeveloped. In fact, this is not exactly the case. Here is my journey.
Albania has been on my travel list for a long time. Although a year ago I was able to visit it for a little while, I wanted to go again and this time to take a closer look at the Land of the Eagles. The trip was delayed several times. After all, my parents and I decided that September was the right time to travel. The students went to school, most people went to work and travel, and the sightseeing was expected to be calm.
So on the 20th of september at 5 in the morning motorcycles were already out of the garage and we were loading our luggage. It was wet from the rain that had been raining all night and the previous days, but whatever, it would take us by water. And the thermometer on the bike was showing a single digit number, but we are going south, it will still warm up in a while. And we only had about 700km for that day
Day 1 Sofia – Igoumenitsa
The first day we decided to get to Igoumenitsa. It is located very close to the Albanian border and thus the next day we will go straight to Albania to have all day available.
There is nothing interesting along the way except Loutraki in Greece, which is worth a visit. However, the road is a long one and an hour or two in the hot mineral pool are worth the detour.
The journey from Sofia took about 12 hours with breaks, despite the rain around the border with Greece and the high wind.
Day 2 Igoumenitsa – Saranda
In the morning, we headed to the Albanian border. Soon we reach the ancient city of Butrint. The city is located on a peninsula and to reach it passes the Vivar Canal. It uses something like a wooden raft pulled by rope.
Butrint is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located near the city of Saranda. The Ancient Greeks once lived here, then the area was conquered by the Romans. It is thanks to them that Butrint is now a landmark that attracts people from all over the world. Here you will be able to see the true Roman theater and the sanctuary of the god of medicine Asclepius, dating from the 4th century.
The settlement emerges as a Greek colony of the inhabitants of Corfu. Later, it became the possession of the Roman Empire, where after the adoption of Christianity, one of the first Christian centers in the Balkans was formed.
The city became an important stop on trade routes and peaked in its development in the 4th century as one of the major maritime and commercial centers in the ancient world.
The next stop is Saranda, or rather, the Lecursi Fortress. The fortress is located on the hills above the city and offers beautiful views of Saranda, Butrint and Corfu.
After a long first day, we decided it was time to rest. We settled into the first working hotel, which has a garage for motorcycles and indulged in a vacation on one of Xamil’s beaches. Here is the point to say that Xamil is famous for some of the most beautiful beaches in Albania. It is located 10 minutes from Saranda. Thanks to the heavily jagged coastline, we were able to easily find a sheltered bay where the water was calm despite the strong wind.
Day 3 Saranda – Duras
The first stop of the day is the natural phenomenon “Blue Eye”. It is the largest spring in Albania. It is characterized by a circular shape, dark blue in the middle and light blue at the edges. The stream in it is so strong that its depth has not been measured so far. It is estimated to be between 45 and 80 meters.
We continue to Vlora. The road passes by the sea and after each turn new views are revealed. The most impressive part is the Logara Pass. For 10 kilometers, on steep coils, the road rises to the highest part of the pass (1025 meters) from where a magnificent view of the Albanian Riviera opens.
Next comes Vlora. The plan was supposed to be the last of the day. Well, the plans are about to change. We decide that the weather is not suitable for the beach (strong wind) and after a short coffee on the coastal street in town we head to Duras.
The previous day there was a strong earthquake (5.6 Richter) about 10 kilometers from Duras, thanks to which our hotel was slightly cracked. On the other hand, it was on the first line, overlooking the sea, and the view compensated for the overnight shakes.
Day 4 Duras – Shkoder
After a panoramic tour of the city with motorbikes, we head to Kruja. This is a city familiar to all Albanians. National hero Skenderbeg was born here. Cruy is not a big city, but there is a lot to see. In addition to the Skenderbeg monuments, there is a famous fortress built by him. It served as a resistance during the Ottoman invasions.
Dry and wet sections alternate along the road, in some places there was dizzling rain, but somehow we get away with the rain. The moment we found the parking lot, the sky opened so much that for about 30 minutes we were hiding in a improvised shelter.
The fort has a museum dedicated to the national hero of Albania, and once again a wonderful view of the city opens. It is worth seeing the small streets along the fort, where you can see how the locals practice different crafts.
A few wet miles followed to Shkoder. However, we were still on the water from Sofia, and for two days we had not worn raincoats. We found a hotel to stay for two nights and indulged in drying supplies and walking around the city.
Day 5 Shkoder – Komani Lake – Shkoder
It’s raining again. In about an hour and a half we reach Coman. This is the starting point of the ferries across Lake Comany. As there are only two courses for the day – at 9am and 1pm we decided to leave at 6:30am. The road meanders through the mountains and although they are only 50 kilometers away, it travels slowly. The road surface is also not perfect. Asphalt sections, holes and dirt roads alternate. As soon as they entered Coman, locals began to stop us, even blocking the road to stop us. Their idea is to sell tickets to the ferry, convincing us that all the staff is at the nearby coffee shop to which they will take us. Tickets are, of course, fake. As we have been prepared in advance, we delicately slip away and move on. The road climbs up the mountain and after a tunnel goes straight to the ferry terminal. Tickets can also be purchased in advance through the ferry company website. According to information on the Internet, the price is € 15 for a motorcycle and € 5 for a person if purchased in advance and € 20 for a motorcycle on site. We had decided that we would buy them locally, as we did not know if we would arrive on time and in general what day we would arrive. They surprised us by stating that the price was 30 euros per bike. After some dispute, we still paid the amount requested. Of course, we did not receive any document … Just before we left, the next person, who collected a terminal fee, appeared to us.
The lake is narrow but long and the journey lasts two and a half hours. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves here. Unfortunately they were made with the phone because I had forgotten the camera turned on and the battery was running low …
After we arrived and the ferry docked in the middle of nowhere instead of the concrete terminal, the crew set out to clear the way down. Apparently still had hangovers from the night before, and the captain had to help them. I suppose he had attended the gathering the night before, as he also had difficulty handling the shovel. After some of the camper drivers on the boat cleared the pile of dirt on the road, we were able to get down and move on. This was followed by 150 kilometers along one of Albania’s most beautiful roads (SH22 and SH5), multiple turns and almost no traffic.
Day 6 Shkoder – New Market
The first destination of the day was Tet (or Theti). According to preliminary information, this was supposed to be a small village near which are lakes and waterfalls.
The first option we tried to get through (via Prekal) was not very suitable. After one of the settlements, the asphalt was over and a dirt road started. It turned out to be about 50 km. We decided to go back and take the main road through Boge. The asphalt again ended right at the top of the pass, before Tet, but only 15 kilometers of dirt road remained. Overcoming them takes about an hour. After arriving, we decided to have coffee at the only restaurant and ask where the waterfalls and the lake were. It turned out that one was about an hour and a half walk from the village itself and the other about three hours. We missed their visit and headed back down the familiar road.
The next stop was the famous road SH20, which is on the list of the most dangerous roads in the world.
From there, we proceeded to the border with Montenegro, which we crossed quickly and entered Serbia. The first major city is Novi Pazar and that’s where we decided to spend the night.
Day 7 New Market – Sofia
There is nothing interesting on the road again, so we headed directly to Sofia.
We crossed the border relatively quickly, and by 5 pm, happy with the trip, arrived safely.