Albania - "Where the Balkans meet the Mediterranean"
Albania is a place that most people overlook. After having been there, I am not sure why that is. There is history. There are mountains. There is the Ionian coastline. There is little traffic. And the food in Albania is ALL organic. And it is inexpensive by European standards. The people are friendly. There really isn't anything not to like.
So, we intend to take full advantage of it.
This tour starts in Tirana and then heads the long way around Lake Ohrid through Macedonia. We then cut South to the border with Greece riding in the valley below the the impressive snow covered Grommerz mountains before hitting the Ionian Coast and heading back north to Tirana.
The tour is 533 kilometers over 8 days of riding. We visit Unesco World Heritage Sites along the way. There also is substantial climbing.
It takes some effort to get to Albania. It is not on the beaten path, but for me, that is actually a big attraction.
Day 1 Tirana
We meet in Tirana. Depending on when you arrive, hopefully you can check out the town. There is plenty to see. If you arrive late, think about adding a few days after the tour.
Day 2 - Pogradec
We will transfer out of Tirana to avoid a busy road and then bike the descent towards the northern end of Lake Ohrid. We cross the Albanian-Macedonian border on bikes and continue down the Eastern side of the Lake thought the Macedonian town of Ohrid to the Southern tip of the Lake where we again cross the border. Our ride ends just outside of Pogradec, Albania on Lake Ohrid.
Day 3 - KorceWe climb away from the Lake onto a high plateau bordered by mountains. We will take some back roads into Korce, past a patchwork of fields. There also is a longer option of riding into Macedonia which would add a lot of climbing and another 20 miles. The latter would be unsupported, but there is nothing wrong with a little adventure.
Day 4 - Germenje
We leave behind the agricultural patchwork of Korce and climb steadily into the Grommerz Mountains bordering Greece. Our high pont will be through Barmash Pass at 1159 meters. This is rugged territory, but we have booked a comfy place to stay: some cabins on a trout farm. It is picturesque place with only nature around us. We will have trout for dinner. For single room folks, the space here is limited so we may have to double up, we will just have to see what the numbers are. There are some additional rooms a couple miles away.
Day 5 - Permet
We climb from Germenje to a high grassy plateau surrounded by snow covered peaks before reaching the source of the River Vjosa and descending through a gorge to Leshovik. We continue down to Cashove and then follow the corniche route high above the river to Benje situated on a bluff above the river. This day is intentionally short, so we can visit the nearby hot springs. After dinner, you have the chance to sample the strong raki for which this area is famous.
Day 6 - Girokastra
We continue along the valley past Permet to Kelcyra where there is a gorge that splits the mountains. We then enter a wide plain and make our way to Girokastra which overlooks the Valley. Girokastra is a lovely historic town with cobbled lanes and a citadel overlook everything. We have a chance to visit the citadel as well as some historic Ottoman homes.
Day 7 - Saranda (via Butrint)
We have a short section on the main road before a healthy climb and a nice descent on our way to Saranda, the southernmost city on the Ionian coast. We have an undulating ride on some backroads as we make our way to a small ferry that takes us over to Butrint, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Butrint is one of the areas most important archaeological sites, tracing its origins back to the Greeks and Romans. After Butrint, it is 16 additional kilometers along the coast to Saranda with the Ionian Sea and the Greek Island of Corfu to your left.
Day 8 - Himare
We ride North out of Saranda to to a rocky plateau. It is a roller coaster of a ride today, ascending and descending as the sun burns off the morning mist. We go over some cols and then around some bays and headlands. There are always big mountains to your right and the Ionian Seal to your left. After lunch, we continue up the coast to Palermo Bay, a communist era submarine base. We finish the ride with a final climb before descending to the long beach town of Himare, one of the top tourist destinations along the Albanian Riviera,
Day 9 Vlore
This is a big day. We have a fairly steep climb almost immediately upon departing Saranda. We go through Dhermi and then are confronted with the rather intimidating 1000m high Lloghara Pass. It is not steep, but you can see almost the entire climb in front of you and it does seem to go on and on. There are fantastic views during the climb of everything that you have left behind. Once over the top we descend through a pine tree forest. Our end destination is again on the coast, just outside the town of Vlore, in a spot where we can swim and dive into the Adriatic.
Day 10 - Tirana
We will transfer back to Tirana in time to meet up with departing flights. If your flight is later in the day, we will have time to check out the interesting market in Tirana. Even better, give some thought to spending an additional night or two in Tirana to explore on your own. You also might consider exploring the rugged and remote Northern half of Albania.
9 nites accommodations.
Dinners (except the first night of arrival in Tirana and in Saranda)
Transport of baggage
Stocked Sag Vehicle with driver and a local bi-lingual guide.
Transfer from Tirana to the ride start outside of Tirana.
Transfer from Vlore to Tirana Airport.
Beer, wine, booze
Lunches are excluded. There are many places to stop and eat along the way and food is inexpensive.
Immunizations from your doctor or travel clinic
Airport transfer upon arrival - not hard - we will give you instructions.