Albania

Capital:
Tirana

Currency
Lek

Best time to visit:
from May to October

In a word:
Faleminderit (thanks)

Vaccines
None

Essential experiences:
Enjoy a byrek strolling through the narrow streets of the capital Tirana while a muezzin sings his prayer; Wading the Osumi River during River Hiking; Enjoy the wonderful beaches of Vlora, Himare, Golem and Saranda; Admire the ancient villages of Berat and Gjirokaster; Sail the magnificent crystal clear waters of Lake Koman.

In the land of eagles

A journey by car from north to south along the magnificent Albanian coast among ancient villages, natural wonders and beaches for all tastes

In this adventure we started from Tirana, the capital of Albania, to discover this country with a still genuine and natural charm; by car we traveled more than 1000 km trying to grasp all the truest nuances of this interesting and intriguing country.

The discovery of Albania represents a complete immersion in the Albanian culture, to visit unique destinations such as the ancient city of Berat or Gjirokaster, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the bustling Tirana or Saranda, without forgetting the splendid landscapes of Scutari, Butrint, of Vlora.
This is a land to be discovered where you can organize a trip between seaside resorts, archaeological sites, historic villages and natural landscapes of rare beauty, in short, there are plenty of things to do and here is our travel story!

Our suggested itinerary (18 days)

four days:

Tirana (first taste of Albanian culture and its history directly from the capital); Berat (explore and fall in love with this ancient village); Corovode (cross the Osumi river for 5 km during the River Hiking with professionals immersed in 100% nature).

four days:

Vlora (enjoy the seafront and its beaches); Zvernec (visit the picturesque monastery and Narta Lagoon); Himare (spend a relaxing day at Livadhi Beach); Porto Palermo (visit its romantic castle, perhaps at sunset) 

four days:

Saranda and Ksamil (enjoy its beaches and nightlife); Butrint National Park (learn about its ancient Roman and Venetian history); Gjirokastra (daydream in its castle and ancient bazaar); Syri i Kalter (better known as Blue Eye, spend a morning wandering around this yet another natural wonder)

two days:

Golem, Durres (appreciate its beaches and quiet nightlife in relaxation)
four days:Shkoder (enjoy its sparkling atmosphere); Lake Koman (scour its crystalline waters between majestic fjords); Bajram Curri (day trip to Theth National Park or transfer to Kosovo or return to Tirana)
As soon as you land, we recommend:
  • Change euros into lek or withdraw from the airport ATM (consider that the credit card is not widely used in Albania but also that the commissions for a withdrawal vary from 5 to 8 euros, so decide carefully how much you will need!);
  • Buy a local SIM card because roaming is very expensive; at the airport exit there are various kiosks of both Vodafone and One and in 2 minutes you will have your card. We paid 23 euros for 40 gigs (we used only one card as a hotspot and that was enough!);
  • Collect your car, the rental is absolutely recommended to be able to move freely and comfortably to discover this new country, with local transport and with two children it would have been much more complicated. We have relied on Rental Car Shkodra finding us divinely thanks to their professionalism and competence! And so our faithful gray Golf took us for 1000 km around Albania making us appreciate this country even more.

19 july Tirana (Albania)

The red flag with the black two-headed eagle waves imperiously in Skanderberg square, we wander around aimlessly, eat a "byrek", and then slip into "Oda", a traditional restaurant, highly recommended by the Lonely Planet, with typical Albanian dishes, specialties from another time that delighted us, especially the excellent bbq lamb (mish qengji) and peppers with ricotta cheese (fergese tiranse)… delicious!

Here we are staying at the Doanesia Premium Hotel, a beautiful hotel with a swimming pool, SPA area and a beautiful and very comfortable room not far from the center of Tirana! Good choice!

20 july Tirana (Albania)

We begin our visit to Tirana starting from the Clock Tower, a real local symbol, built in 1820 and 35 meters high; we pass through Blvd Deshmoret Kombit where we see "the Pyramid", a structure that was the Palace of the Congress and today an important cultural youth center even if a little dilapidated.  

We sneak into every alley, market, eat lots of tasty street food and drink excellent local beer.
We turn the Blloku district far and wide, with its local fruit and vegetable markets. We run into a market in Shyqri Berxolli where we sell a little bit of everything, from beauty products, to costumes, from souvenirs to pots.

Meanwhile, outside, in the Et’Hem Bey Mosque, please. This mosque is one of the oldest buildings left in the city and certainly also the most particular mosque we have seen, the first with all glass walls, thus giving the opportunity to admire it without entering it.

We have lunch at "Zgara Korcare" where we eat excellent skewers accompanied by hot grilled bread and a mixture of Greek yogurt \ peppers \ delicious extra virgin olive oil.

We spend part of the afternoon at the National Hystorical Museum in Tirana, right in Skanderbeg square. 200 lek to immerse ourselves in the history of this country, from prehistory to the warrior to whom the square is dedicated, to the dictatorial regime of Hoxa, to Mother Teresa to the present day.

Most people speak Italian very well, they say it's thanks to television, but if you go a little deeper you'll discover that many have had life experiences in our country, directly or indirectly…

You can find some refreshment at the Parku i Madh, the largest public park in the capital, an oasis of peace and coolness on the sultry summer days of Tirana.

21 july Berat (Albania)

Here we are in the wonderful Berat! We are staying at the Castle Park Hotel, a very nice hotel managed by the nice Alma who will make us experience her beloved land intensely!

Berat is undoubtedly one of the most characteristic cities of Albania. UNESCO heritage city, defined as an "open-air museum", with a wonderful location on an inlet of the Osum river at the mouth of the valley as well as a large citadel-fortress still inhabited today by hundreds of families. Its white Ottoman houses dotted with a thousand windows that descend from the two sides of the valley are unique... at night, the skilful lighting gives it a magical touch making it look like a small nativity scene.

Lose yourself in its narrow streets with ancient floors among mosques, orthodox churches and its houses with the charm of another time ...
Start from the Mosque of the Bachelors, the mosque reserved for shop boys and apprentices (all unmarried) and walk along "Bulevardi Republika", from sunset the whole population will pour onto this long pedestrian street among sellers of grilled corn on the cob or popcorn, sciuscià , ice cream makers while all the clubs, cafes and restaurants are in full swing!

The children play football in the Town Hall square, old women dressed in black with scarves on their heads joke with their newborn grandchildren!
The atmosphere is that of an old town in Southern Italy where life flows slowly in a magical background where the scene is dominated from above by its old castle!

22 july Berat (Albania)

Today we leave for an excursion organized by Albania Rafting!
Early morning departure from the center of Berat, after an hour and a half by van, between unpleasant curves immersed in a unique background of its kind, especially when you get to skirt the wonderful Osumi river from above: here we are in Corovode, the our destination!

The highly efficient staff of Albania Rafting provides us with a wetsuit, life jacket, helmet and shoes and we run down the riverbed. We spend about three hours immersed in this unique ecosystem! If at the beginning we had some doubts about the feasibility of this activity with Jago, thanks to the help of the staff, Iken in the first place, and to our adventurous spirit, we dived headlong and everything came by itself.

Wading a river is a lot of fun, every now and then you stop to climb and dive from the highest rocks of the Skrapar Canyon, other times you rest in a natural quarry, still others you let yourself be carried away by the river current simply by lying down on your back. What a fantastic day!

Upon returning, after having climbed the entire canyon on foot, we stop in a local restaurant to enjoy a typical traditional lunch

23 july Vlora (Albania)

Time to move to the coast where we will spend the next ten days adventuring!

On board our car, in a couple of hours, we reach Vlora or Vlore. Although the Lonely Planet does not speak very well of it and despite the first impact of the not exactly welcoming city center (arriving at noon with 40°C and staying stuck in traffic for a long time) we finally cross the entrance to the wonderful Esbjerg LJ Hotel and everything changes!

We will only spend two nights here unfortunately as this hotel immediately impressed us!
17 rooms all with sea view, beautiful and super well-kept, a large balcony overlooking the private beach where each room has its own umbrella and sunbeds assigned on a postcard sea! Simply wonderful! Kudos to Fatjon for management!

It is so pleasant to spend a few days of pure relaxation here... there are all the right ingredients: a seafront full of equipped beaches on one side and clubs on the other, a very lively nightlife that will make you fall in love with this town!

24 july Vlora (Albania)

Today we enter the lagoon of Narta, the road passes through a pine forest to the island of Zvernec, a circle of land of 400m x 300m connected to the mainland via a picturesque wooden bridge.
The Monastery of Santa Maria is beautiful, a 13th century complex with a small church.

I advise you to stop at Narta Beach where an umbrella with two sunbeds costs 5 euros (free parking), a sandy beach with shallow waters and not particularly crowded, very pleasant even if the sea is not the best but it is absolutely worth it. especially if you are traveling with children!

25 july Himare (Albania)

We continue south through a National Park and along a coast full of very beautiful beaches! Here we are in Himare!
We will stay two days at Panorama Hotel, a couple of km from the chaotic center but, perhaps for this reason, even more pleasant! The hotel is family run and sweet Katerina welcomes us warmly!

There is a cool swimming pool that gives you the right break from the summer heat, especially after a car trip at high outside temperatures. The rooms are very nice with a large balcony and a superb view over the bay.

The pedestrian seafront is not very extensive but pleasant with Spile Beach (the public beach) a stone's throw from the row of restaurants and cafes ... beautiful!

The island of Corfu is just opposite and here there is a large Greek enclave that speaks Maniate, a dialect rich in Greek words; the young people of the area are all bilingual and have double passports!
Greek cuisine is, next to the Italian one, the most present along the pleasant Promenade; we recommend the beautiful Livadhi Beach to spend a day at the beach on a soft pebble beach with the most varied shapes that make the shoreline a small work of art! Free parking and umbrellas for 10 euros!

26 july Porto Palermo (Albania)

Don't miss the opportunity to visit Porto Palermo!
A small island with a very picturesque fort will materialize before your eyes! It seems that the Castle of Porto Palermo was commissioned by Ali Pasha at the beginning of the 19th century and it seems that to preserve and hide his treasure, the Ottoman governor had all the architects and workers killed so that they could not reveal the details.

During the First World War, the fort was occupied by Italian soldiers who transformed the basement into prisons; today it is a very interesting set, so much so that exhibitions and festivals are often organized!

27 july Saranda (Albania)

We continue south with our little car and this time we will stop for a few days in Saranda, this place that has become so famous in recent years!  

We stay at theAzure Inn Hotel, a beautiful hotel with a wonderful private beach just a few km from the chaotic historic center and the seafront.
This new hotel offers everything a tourist could wish for: an excellent restaurant (try the fish!), very elegant, bright and spacious rooms, a very nice staff and the carefree mood typical of places by the sea!

Saranda offers romantic sunsets, a very frenetic and lively nightlife and an always crowded promenade full of bars, restaurants and stalls selling handicrafts and souvenirs.

This can be the right home base to explore the interesting area consisting of locations like Ksamil, Butrint National Park, Gjirokastra etc.

28 july Butrinto (Albania)

15 minutes from Saranda there is another must-see location of today's mass tourism: Ksamil! Built in the 60s, the town has made itself known to tourists for the three small pristine islands just in front of its coast!

However, over time and with the success of tourism, bars and lidos have sprung up almost everywhere... then social media has definitively contributed to making it the most popular destination for young people... with all the pros and cons that this thing can bring!

It's true, the sea is Caribbean! It achieves incredible blue and green tones… on the other hand there is the total crowding of people… people everywhere that you can hardly see the wonderful background that surrounds you…

We keep driving further south and just 10 minutes later we are in Butrint!

Its ruins are located in the heart of the National Park of the same name, the only UNESCO heritage site on the Albanian coast (admission: 10 euros)!

The position of the archaeological site combined with the long history of the settlements it has hosted over the centuries make Butrint a fundamental stop in southern Albania!

Immerse yourself completely in nature, even on the hot sunny days here you will be comfortable thanks to its vivid flora that offers shade to all visitors, here you will hear the calls of birds, frogs and crickets while spectacular Roman and Venetian architecture will emerge: an amphitheater, Roman baths , the agora, a wonderful baptistery up to its castle which, from above, dominates the whole scene!
Absolutely recommended!

29 july Gjirokaster (Albania)

Not to be missed, near Saranda, is the Blue Eye Spring! (Syri i Kalter), a natural spring that generates a pool of intense blue waters tending towards lighter blue where it is deepest and, seen from above, it really looks like the iris of an eye!

From the parking lot (2 euros) just follow the 2 km path that will lead you directly to this umpteenth wonder of nature! Admission 50 cents!

It is forbidden to bathe even if the temptation is very strong! Wander around the area to gain access to as many viewpoints as possible, treasure for your camera and your eyes!

We set off again and in 45 minutes by car we reach Girocastro, this little gem of the Balkans which counts among its attractions the large castle from which the view extends over the wide Drin valley and its bazaar, the center of city life with its traditional houses in stone from the Ottoman era.

The Castle is from the early 1900s, very large, with a long gallery full of artillery pieces from the Second World War and more! During the visit you will come across a couple of museums, the notorious prisons up to even the tombs of two saints who lived here in the 16th and 17th century!

Time to immerse yourself in its ancient alleys between souvenir bazaars, mosques, restaurants and very characteristic views.

30 july Golem (Albania)

Today we change course also because Albania is finished and we head north.

First stop Golem, a stone's throw from Durres! Here we stay in the beautiful Atrium Deluxe Resort, a large modernized complex a stone's throw from the sea and equipped with all comforts: a beautiful swimming pool, a play area for children, an open-air and outdoor restaurant, even a stage where local artists play and they sing and very large and bright rooms! Good choice!

One of the most popular places to visit in Golem is the Golem Castle, which dates back to the times of Giorgio Castriota Skanderbeg, the Albanian national hero. Nearby there are also some volcanic caves, which have been used as a venue for religious cults. Golem is also famous for its ancient architecture, with stone houses and stone bridges spanning the Vjosa River.

Golem is a city with a friendly atmosphere and is an ideal place to spend time in peace and relaxation with children thanks to its sandy beaches and shallow waters ideal for children to play. Then a day at the beach is fun and folkloric thanks to the sellers of "petulla" (fritters), plums, roasted corn on the cob, blackberries, etc... a coming and going of people who send you back in time!

In the evening, its seafront comes alive thanks to the many fish restaurants and small shops for tourists that sell a little bit of everything.

01 august Shkoder (Albania)

We continue to climb north until we reach Shkodër!
Shkoder is a historic town, located in the north of the country, a short distance from Montenegro. The main attraction is the beautiful lake of the same name, overlooked by the houses of the city, creating a rather suggestive landscape.
Do not miss a visit to Rozafa Castle, the great Abu Bakr Mosque, the 19th century English Clock Tower, the Migjeni Theater and the small but interesting Oso Kuka Historical Museum.

In the afternoon it is really impossible to turn the streets, the heat is oppressive. With the fall of the evening the town begins to come alive and populate.

It seems to be another place than in the early afternoon. All the shops open, demonstrations, exhibitions... after dinner we go to listen to a French-Israeli group playing jazz music, all accompanied by an excellent local cold beer... what we needed on a hot Albanian summer evening!

02 august Bajram Curri (Albania)

Today we are in Bajram Curri, a very small village located in the Albanian Alps ... but it all starts at dawn: around 6:10 a van (10-seater mini van) picks us up and takes us to Koman in two hours , we embark for a crossing of about three hours.

The landscape left us really amazed, the mountains plunging into the green waters of the lake. The green of the walls became rock, reminding us at times of Halong Bay in Vietnam. We never expected such a background!

It was really pleasant to sit barefoot, lying on the roof of the boat and enjoying this wonderful unspoiled and not at all touristy nature.

Around 13 we arrive in Fierze, and on board a van we reach Bajram Curri, near the border with the Kosovo
It seems that the Far West has moved to the mountains ... not a soul around. Put the backpack in the room, we head towards the center of this microscopic country and throw ourselves into a restaurant, here they speak no other language except Albanian and even the menu is incomprehensible to us.

So the owner decides to take us directly to the kitchen to look inside two big pots ... if they say that in a restaurant kitchen it is better not to go in before eating ... there will be a reason, right? But we are not very scared and we do well! The stew in broth is good, but the legume and vegetable soup is truly exceptional! We pay 3.50 euros in total.

Throughout Albania we have noticed that the bars are full of men having a coffee accompanied by a large glass of fresh water, so here is a typical photograph of these days.

03 august Bajram Curri (Albania)

From here you have three travel options:

  1. Reach Thethi National Park and its wonderful peaks.
  2. Continue east to the border with the Kosovo, the youngest nation in Europe!
  3. Return to Tirana for the return flight after this wonderful trip to the Land of the Eagles!

In conclusion I must admit that a fundamental resource was that of car rental because thanks to it we were first of all able to experience this adventure in a more free and carefree way as well as having the opportunity to explore and discover places that we would never have been able to see if we had used public transport as we usually do, so: have a nice trip to Albania .

2 Responses

    1. Salve signor Battle, dipende se viaggia con la propria auto o con quella a noleggio perche’ la procedura è differente.
      Nell’articolo pero’ ci focalizzavamo sull’importanza di avere un’assicurazione sanitaria, aspetto che moltissimi ancora non prendono in considerazione o danno per superflua

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