AlbaniaMore Southeast EuropeThe northwest

Albania, the northwest. Magnificent places!

In November 2018 I travelled through northwest Albania (and a piece of Montenegro), to different places, according to the following route and means of transport:

Travel route and means of transport

Tirana (31/10 – 02/11/18)

Tirana International airport.  The start of my journey into Albania. Buses from the airport into town stop running at 6pm. If you arrive after 6pm you’re basically forced to take a cab. The fare is hefty (EUR 30,-), especially for Albanian standards, but it seems that prices of petrol are hardly cheaper than in my own country, so relatively very expensive. But driver Alfred is very polite, makes an effort to speak english and explains about the city while passing through. His ‘00 Mercedes C-class is aged but does the job well. All in all a very convenient way to get to your accommodation.

Although i had no big expectations about Tirana, my impression is good. Tirana is a small city and feels cosy. There are nice restaurants and bars, good and very affordable food and drinks. It’s not strikingly beautiful (compare to other European cities), but Tirana is a safe and clean city, especially around the city’s main square Skanderbeg. Yes, there is traffic, as a couple of main roads virtually cross the city centre, but it seems organised and definitely no jam. The regular beeps of the horns can be seen more as a safety warning rather than a sign of annoyance. And the people are generally very kind and friendly, and, if they feel comfortable enough to speak English, willing to talk.

Skanderberg Square
Modern orthodox Church

One of the strangest buildings you find in Tirana is The Pyramid (see image gallery below). It seems decayed and abandoned but at the same time one big piece of art and a joy for photographers! Information about background, history and possible future you can find on:

Tirana-Koman-Fierze-Valbone (02/11/18)

As a true morning person, collecting at 4.50 am at the bus stop near the Gazheli fuel station is not a big effort for me. And so wasn’t the 30 minute hike from my guesthouse, passing the market hall and right through the heart of the city, Skanderberg Square, with it’s monument and the national Museum. A good opportunity to see the city at night in all it’s quietness.

Market Hall
National Museum

The old white Mercedes van heads for Koman Lake. Besides the driver and me, in the bus only locals, hopping on and off at the (for me) unmarked bus stops. After 2 hours, on the road towards the Koman there is a 15 minute coffee break in a small village. Soon after the break the road proves that a 4×4 isn’t a bad choice. The road is getting bumpier. Winding on half paved roads into the mountains, along edges and with beautiful views of the lakes and rivers, we continue our way to Koman. After about an hour we approach the tunnel which takes us to the small parking area at the ferry terminal at the lake. Total travel time from Tirana a bit over three hours, long but well worth.

About 9am the ferry towards Fierze, and through Koman Gorge, departs. The ferry literally is a platform with an ‘autobus’ welded on top with a toilet area stuck to it at the back. Albanians are very practical people, proves this  ‘beautiful’ creation. I like that!

On the ferry about half of the people are tourists (mainly Albanian) and the other half consists of locals who use the boat for relocating themselves as well as their goods. The journey is absolutely stunning, winding through beautiful gorges and along green mountains ranges. The boat stops at several places, to drop off or pick up people. Some of the stops are not more than a small dirt track leading into the mountains, without visible signs of civilization. And occasionally men with mules are waiting for the load to pick up. 

After 3 1/2 hours the ferry arrives in Fierze, where me and some other tourist (from Australia and Panama) got picked up by the driver to bring us in about 45 minutes to our accommodations in Valbona, a beautiful quiet valley. This is the starting point tomorrow of the Valbona-Theth hike, right through the mountains and part of the Peaks-of-the-Balkans trail. 

Here I order a big lunch, enjoying the quietness and views.

Hiking Valbona to Theth (03-11-18)

After a big breakfast i left Valbona at 7.30 pm. Destination Theth, at the other side of the mountain range, crossing the Valbona Pass. The first part of the hike follows the wide river, which is currently dry, due to the lack of rainfall. Although it’s November now, the weather is still very nice and bright. But forecasts say temperatures will be dropping soon and rain will come in within a couple of days. Usually tourist season closes in the beginning of November, but luckily the weather is with me and i can still make it over to Theth today.

After about an hour of moderate hiking, the real ascent towards the pass starts. The steep and winding track takes your breath away (virtually and literally). But just before you reach the point of exhaustion, the track flattens out more. Soon afterwards you reach the summit, 1800 meters above sea level, with magnificent views of Valbona towards the north as well as Theth, towards the south.

Valbona Valley
At the Summit
Theth Valley

Reaching the summit while hiking a pass is always an experience. It feels like a victory as well as a relief, knowing that you finished the hardest part and that the track ahead of you will mainly descent. All good recipes for a good mood, not only for yourself but also for fellow-hikers coming from the same or opposite direction. And that’s exactly what makes hiking so appealing! So the atmosphere on top, where i met Albanians, Australians, South Americans and other Europeans, was very good. Everyone was happy and chatted with each other, like being good friends or family.

After a bit of rest and eating some sandwiches, i continued the path to Theth. A long but rewarding hike through mountain site and forest, along deserted cafe’s and water streams and over donkey trails and gravel roads.

The real reward is the view of and the arrrival in the Theth valley, what a beautiful place! (And a good reason to stay an extra night, as I did). And the cold beer when you arrive in Theth’s only cafe, after 7 hours of hiking, is unforgettable!

Theth (04-11-18), hiking through the Valley (pictures only)

Theth to Skhoder (05-11-18)

Driving to and from Theth is recommended by 4×4 vehicle, although the German guy Jonas managed to get his ’05 Mercedes C-class over there. On the way back to Skhoder he gave me a ride.

The first part was very bumpy and rocky. Fortunately later on we got to an asphalted road (with sheep).

Fortunately later on we got to an asphalted road (with sheep) to Skhoder.

We stopped at the historic Ottoman Mesi bridge near Skhoder

Then we moved on to Skhoder Castle

Skhoder City and Lake (06-11-18)

The next day I visited the city and the lake.

That was a short story of my trip through beautiful northwest Albania. Tomorrow i go to Ulcinj, Montenegro (see the Montenegro section).