TIRANA, February 21
Albania is turning into a first-rate destination that sometimes exceeds the expectations of tourists. From backpacking to cruise ship tourism, the country is making the headlines as one among the best places to visit in 2017. Forbes says it, National Geographic too.
But what about those who just like Kerouac believe that the road is life?
What are some of the best roads that Albania can offer to expert driver, cyclists, and bikers that look for exceptional road trips? Besides lesser known destinations that are difficult to find in other parts of the Europe, there are some breath-taking roads. Driving is the easiest way to see Albania. You can hit the road in a car or campervan and travel from the Ionian coast in the south to the Alps in the north.
Road safety in Albania
Traffic in the country can be chaotic, especially during the summer as it is the time when Albanians living abroad and tourists flock to the country. The road infrastructure is good while the trails for cycling and biking are well-marked.
Traffic jams are a problem mostly in Tirana while in other parts of the country traffic is often caused by a passing herd of sheep. Almost the entire country is safe to drive or cycle as people are friendly and nice.
The most beautiful roads in Albania
It is difficult to tell which is the most beautiful, Llogara or Leqet e Hotit? One takes to the sea and the other to the heart of the mountains.
1. The road to Vermosh or Leqet e Hotit
Photo by Adis Shera
Cyclingabout.com says that if you are going to ride a bike, this one is among the 40 most beautiful roads in the world. The road winds in the Albanian Alps also known as the Accursed Mountains and along the Montenegrin border. The road ascends to a mountain pass at 730 meters above the sea level, but the reward is the view from the glass balcony at the top
What to see, where to go?
The road to Vermosh begins in Shkodra, one of the largest and most interesting cities in Albania. It is famous for Rozafa Castle and its legend, the stunning waterscape created by Shkodra Laka, Buna and Drin River and the impressive number of bicycles. This is a city of rich history, traditions and cultural heritage.
It is home to Marubi National Photo Museum, which comprises more than 150,000 photos from three generations of photographers. Shkodra is also famous for its delicious cuisine and artisans. Meanwhile, Shkodra Lake is one of the largest bird reserves in Europe.
Photo by Hynesha Belinci
After crossing Leqet e Hotit Mountain pass the road heads to Tamara, Kelmend and finally Vermosh. These and the villages of, Lepusha, Selca, Broja, Nikc, Vukel, and Kozhnja are part of a magnificent region of majestic landscapes. Tourism is developing in the area and guesthouses offer shelter to mountaineers and hikers that come to explore the area.
The best time to go: from April to September. Best for driving, cycling, and biking.
2. Llogara Pass
If you come to Albania, Llogara must be part of your trip. The winding road descends from the highest peak at 1,043 meters above the sea level to the Ionian coast. It connects the Albanian Riviera with Dukat, Orikum and Vlora. The north part of Llogara pass is part of Llogara National Park.
It includes a wide area of forests and natural monuments of forever bent pine trees such as Pisha Flamur.
The dramatic view of the blue Ionian Sea as far as the eye can see is the highlight of this mountain pass. A paragliding launch platform is located at the top of the mountain pass offering visitors the chance to try one of the most unique experiences during their stay in Albania.
What to see, where to go?
If you’re coming from Vlora, the best places to visit along the road are the beaches from Uji I Ftohte area, the amazing coast of Karaburun Peninsula, and Sazan Island, a derelict military base that during the recent years was open for tourists and visitors. Boating trips are the only way for visiting the island and the hidden beaches in Karaburun such as Grama Bay, Shen Vasili, Shen Jani, Dafina, Ravena, as well the beautiful caves of Haxhi Aliu, the Doves Cave, the English Cave, Duke Gjini cave, etc.
Moreover, a stop at Oriku ancient city on Paleokastra hill is totally worth it. The city was established at the sixth century BC while during the middle ages it was recognised as Jericho. Vlora area is home to numerous ancient settlements such as in Amantia National Park, in Dukat and Tragjas villages.
The best time to go: Llogara National Park is a year-round destination yet the best time to visit the area is from April to October. The peak season is from mid-June through August. Best for driving and biking.
3. The coastal road on the Albanian Riviera
The Albanian Riviera includes the area from the Ceraunian Mountains to Tongo Island. The road runs along the coast and in Palasa, Dhermi, Vuno, Himara, Qeparo, Borsh, Piqeras, Lukova, Saranda, Ksamil, and Butrint. Each of this places is a paradise destination for summer vacations. The road runs amid olive and citrus tree groves and small coastal villages. The most beautiful beaches of Albania are found along this area. There are famous destinations such as Drymades, Jali and Ksamil beaches, which have started to feel overcrowded and other still overlooked beaches like Livadh, Lukova, Krorez and Kakome.
Further on, Saranda may be considered the capital of the Albanian Riviera. Even though the city has been seriously damaged by so-called urban planners and chaotic construction, it still offers plenty of personality. The city faces the Greek Island of Corfu, which can be reached for 30 minutes by hydrofoil boats or one hour and a half by ferry boat. Saranda is one of the sunniest cities in Europe.
During the centuries the city was called by several names. Ancient documents say that it was mentioned by Cicero, Strabo and Ptolemy as Onhezmi.
Meanwhile, the name Saranda was mentioned for the first time in 1412 and it was related to Agii Saranda, the Forty Saints ancient monastery. The last name of the city was Porto Eda. It was named after the daughter of Benito Mussolini during World War II.
Where to go, what to see?
Almost any place mentioned so far has to be visited if you have time but the jewel in the crown is the ancient city of Butrint. Located in Butrint National Park, in an inland lagoon, this is one of the three UNESCO World Heritage Sites found in Albania.
“With its hinterland, it constitutes an exceptional cultural landscape, which has developed organically over many centuries. Butrint has escaped aggressive development of the type that has reduced the heritage value of most historic landscapes in the Mediterranean region,” unesco.org says.
The best time to go: The Albanian Riviera sees the largest number of visitors during the summer season. Yet the area and Butrint National Park are year-round destinations. Numerous people, mostly hikers come out-of-the-season. Yet the best time to visit varies from April to October. Best for driving, cycling and biking.
4. Muzina Pass
The Riviera certainly isn’t the only attraction in southern Albania. The next road is from Saranda to Gjirokastra through Muzina Pass. The road runs along Bistrica River and begins to climb up to Muzina Pass up to 580 meters above the sea level. But before starting to climb there are some places to visit.
What to see, where to go?
The first one is Saint Nicholas church in Mesopotam. Built over the ruins of a pagan temple, it survived destruction during the Communist regime. The monastery is a majestic building of major importance. It is located a few km away from Phoinike Archaeological Park. Back in the ancient times, Phoinike was the centre of Epirus.
Moreover, the next stop is at Blue Eye Spring. This is an uncommon natural spring set deep in lush vegetation in Delvina area. The colour is deep blue at the centre of the spring and light blues in the sides. Local people say that the origin of the Blue Eye Spring is found in an old legend. Various expeditions have explored the underwater cave, while scuba divers that reach the depth of 20 meters can sign their names in an underwater notebook. The area around is a green paradise. Water seems to flow everywhere and the park is at the same time blissfully serene and buzzing.
The road to Muzina pass runs under shady vegetation until it reaches Muzina village. This is a typical Albanian village, mostly abandoned but interesting to visit. The area is famous for its cherries and chestnuts. About two km away, the road begins to descend in Dropulli area. Once in Jorgucat village, there are only two ways that go in opposite directions. One takes to the Greek border and the other to Gjirokastra, the second UNESCO World Heritage Site in Albania. This is the kind of place where one can stay a week or the entire life.
When to go?
The best time for taking this road is in spring and summer time and the colours that you see are only blue and green. Best for driving, cycling and biking.
5. The Road to Rodoni Cape
Photo by Leo Kelmendi
The perfect place to start this trip is in Lalzit Bay. Located on the Adriatic Coast, north of Durres city, Rodoni Cape is a great option for a day-trip from Tirana. Lalzit Bay is visited mostly during the summer season by Albanian and international tourists.Rodon is the best escape from Tirana’s hustle and bustle.
The cape is related to ancient myths and legends. They say that it was named after the pagan Illyrian god of the sea, Redon. The road to the cape winds among small coastal villages and hills and down to the sea.
What to see, where to go?
Besides natural beauty, Rodon Cape has two important sites to visit. They are Skenderbeu Castle and Shna Ndou Church. The castle was built around 1451 by the national hero. Nowadays, most of the castle is under the sea water, while the remained part was damaged by erosion and lack of intervention. On the other hand, the church is in a better shape.
Photo by Jetlir Izairi
Rodon Cape is a great destination for the people looking for spiritual and unusual places.
Best time to visit: from May to September. Best for driving, cycling and biking.
These are only five of the best road trips in Albania.