Until 1991 Albania was still a communist dictatorship and only accessible for group tours. Only at the end of the 90s the political system collapsed. Today, public order is stable and everything goes its more or less regular course. Christians and Muslims live in peaceful coexistence and everywhere you are welcomed with warmth and helpfulness.
We cross the border at the Shkodra lake and put us there first on a camping site. The lake does not invite to swim because of the many seaweeds, but to compensate the restaurant offers a delicious Albanian cuisine at prices like we had 20 years ago, such as a pizza Margaritha for three, and a large beer for 1.50 euros. No wonder the MOMO kitchen stays cold with this offer.
After a few days we continue to an agricultural farm near the small town of Fishte. Here is a huge farm and everything that comes on the table is from their own organic cultivation, or comes from the surrounding villages. With over 90 employees, the farm is an important employer for the region. Here we also meet the Swiss Christian who is currently traveling through Albania without his partner Sybil. He documents his travels very professionally via YouTube video which you can watch here. Benny goes overland We spend a few beautiful days together and enjoy extensively the delicious cuisine, the good wine and the homemade cheese.
Now we head up into the mountains to Lake Koman, where an adventurous ferry ride awaits us. It takes a good two hours over a bumpy slope at the end of which a 300m long tunnel must be crossed. The tunnel ends in a small square that serves as a ferry dock. One should think, everything no problem, but the small place is completely parked up and even in the tunnel vehicles stand. Since we fit with our 3.60 m just so by the tunnel and then on the place also still have to turn, because it goes only backwards on the ferry, we have to wait for the right time. In the evening at 19:00 it works almost without problems, only the tunnel guard did not want to let us through, because he thought we are too high. Well, it was close and we should not have been much higher. The night we spend then on the ferry and in the morning more cars and motorcycles are loaded whereby we actually thought, except us fits there hardly still what on it. But far from it. One still goes and it is shunted millimeter exactly and in the end also still another car is put in front on the ramp which of course remains open. It is beautiful summer weather and we enjoy the 2.5-hour passage through the picturesque canyon. The ride is marred only by the many garbage that consistently lines our path and is chopped by the propellers.
In Fierze we leave the ferry and drive high into the mountains to Valbona Park, the most popular resort in the highlands with up to 500,000 visitors a year. We feel transported back to the Bavarian Alps and spend the night in a pine forest next to a dry riverbed. After the good 30 degrees at the sea, it is now a cool 7 degrees at night and we have to get out the thick wool blanket. For the 150km signposted hiking trails we lack the motivation and so we leave the place the next day.
After a few hours we are already back at Fushe Kuqe by the sea and drive to Patok Lagoon. On a narrow strip of land the fish restaurants are lined up here and everywhere there are free overnight places. At sunset we take the boat to an island restaurant and enjoy the delicious Albanian cuisine for the second time, this time of course with freshly caught fish.
From the sea it goes uphill again to 600m to Kruja. There, two Germans have been running the Mali Camp since May 2021. Nearby is a restaurant with excellent cuisine that you should not miss. The visit of the castle with museum, the city and the oriental bazaar can be done comfortably on foot. The castle of Kruja is considered a national shrine by the Albanians, since it was from here that resistance against the Ottomans was organized.
We make a detour to the fortress of Bashtova, south of Durres. Crenellated walls enclose a completely empty area measuring 90 by 60 meters, in which we can place MOMO quite photogenically in the middle. The castle is said to have been built in the 15th century by the Venetians.
On the way to Berat our MOMO suddenly loses compressed air and it smokes from the engine compartment. Luckily we pass an abandoned gas station where we can stop in the shade and inspect the damage. We tilt the cab and see that the insulation mats have caught fire and are burning. We extinguish the fire with water, but the heat melts a cable and the compressed air doesn't hold anymore. Now good advice is expensive. We have no idea what the cause is and only know that we can't go on like this. A young Albanian stops and drives away without much fuss and comes back with a mechanic. He repairs the compressed air hose so that we can drive with him the 4km to his workshop. The problem was a leaking turbocharger that got too hot and ignited the insulation mats. After an hour and 30 euros poorer, we can fortunately continue. Once again we have experienced an incredible helpfulness, as so often in the more than eight years of our journey.
A little late, we arrive in Berat and stand at the top of the castle on a place by the restaurant. Berat, or the city of a thousand windows, was named a museum city in 1961 and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. We visit the castle and then go down a very steep path into the 2000 year old city which we like very much with its beautiful houses and narrow streets. Unfortunately, we have to go back after the city tour, which is a small mountain hike with a good 150m altitude difference. The Raki, which our friendly host then serves us at the car, we have earned after this exciting day.
Apollonia is the most important archaeological site in the country after Butrint and was founded as early as the 6th century BC by emigrants from Corinth and Corfu. Subsequently, it developed into a large trading post, which in its heyday had up to 60,000 inhabitants. The first excavations took place at the beginning of the 20th century. The best preserved building is the great stoa with its four large columns. Also worth seeing are the monastery and the museum, which was restored and reopened in 2011 with the help of UNESCO.
We spend the night at Vlore directly on the beach. Actually a very nice place, if, yes, if the garbage would not be, which, by the way, is a constant companion in all of Albania. But here it is really bad. Otherwise beautiful places directly at the water with pine trees for Manni's hammock are completely garbage and let one not even think to camp here. With effort and hardship we find a small piece for our night camp, but the garbage also attracts a lot of very annoying flies and so our enthusiasm is limited.
Now we go on the steep and winding coastal road over the1000m high Llogara Pass further and further south. We are as always on mountain routes at the head of the queue and experience lots of very risky overtaking maneuvers. Near Himare is a beautiful bay which is probably well visited in the high season. But now at the beginning of September the hustle and bustle is manageable and we put ourselves on a small campsite on the beach. Ksamil, on the other hand, is much more touristy. Here, at this time of year, many Eastern Europeans are still on vacation and one deck chair is lined up next to the other.
We follow the coastal road to Butrint, the most important archaeological excavation in Albania with a 2500 year old history. Here, around 10 o'clock, there is already a lot of activity and a queue has already formed at the entrance. Many ruins are still very well preserved and a visit is really worthwhile.
We spend the night at Syri i Kalter, or the blue spring. Amidst lush vegetation, a spring bubbles here with a constant temperature of 10 degrees Celsius. It is a popular destination, but once the daytime visitors have left after dusk, it is a wonderfully quiet place to spend the night.
Our last stop in Albania is Gjirokaster, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an important cultural center in southern Albania with its beautiful town houses. We take a guided tour of the 17th century Skenduli House and learn a lot about life at that time.
Once again we fill up the tank and have the car washed and then we drive the few kilometers to the border to Greece.
Because of Covid we have to fill out an online entry form 24 hours before and get a QR code. Thus, the entry without traffic jam is done in 15min and on us and MOMO waits the 45th country that we travel, since we started in 2013. What we experience there you will learn as always in the next blog. Until then, enjoy reading and looking at the pictures.