Impressions from Albania

An overview and some small insights into our journey through the still rather unknown Albania.


With these next lines (there are a bit more this time) we would like to give you some insights into the travel section in Albania. There were many new things to discover and some things were quite different from the previous countries.

Clichés. Probably almost all of us living in Switzerland have certain clichés in our heads about Albanians. We definitely have them. So it was time to find out if there was any truth in them. And lo and behold, the Adidas trainer pants as well as the Mercedes are objects that we have encountered very often, even in unexpected places. For example, the Mercedes is not to be missed in a mountain village, where perhaps a jeep or something similar would be more practical. Adidas slippers are also a frequently seen object, along with the trainer pants. We sometimes had to smile about this, as our clichés were clearly confirmed. Again, we were constantly warned that the Albanian driving style was particularly bad. We cannot confirm this at all. People drive quite decently at moderate speeds, of course reckless overtaking manoeuvres are an issue here and there, but on the whole we felt very safe on Albanian roads.

Roads. Albania is the country with the worst road conditions so far. The few main roads are in good condition, but as soon as it is a side road, which we try to use more often than not, the conditions are much worse. Moreover, it may be marked as a main road on the sat nav, but in reality the asphalted road suddenly turns into a hilly gravel road. If you want to be fast in Albania, you have to take the main roads, otherwise it can quickly become adventurous. For example, it once took us 4h to climb 12km because the road was in catastrophic condition. It involved a lot of pushing on the way up and the descent was a real single track. Luckily our bikes have good tread, so luggage and riders reached the finish in one piece. The road network is being diligently built, and in a few years the situation will probably look very different again.

History.  The history of Albania is completely different from that of the former Yugoslavian countries. Until 1992, Albania was ruled by a communist dictatorship, which completely closed off the country from the world. Now that the borders have opened, hope seems to have returned and the economic upswing is noticeable and visible. Nevertheless, compared to the other countries we have cycled through so far, there is still a clear gap in terms of infrastructure, etc. This may explain why the country is so far behind. Perhaps this also explains a little why there is still so much rubbish lying around everywhere in Albania.

Bunkers. These relics from earlier times can still be found all over the country. During the socialist regime, about 200,000 of them were built, because the government was very afraid of foreign attacks. We discovered one every now and then during our trip through Albania. Some are still quite intact, others destroyed, washed out, used as stables for animals, painted or slowly overgrown by plants. In Tirana you can visit the largest bunker. There would have been room for the entire government, but it was never used. In any case, the size of the bunker is very impressive.

Hospitality. As in the previous countries, we experienced great friendliness and helpfulness throughout the country. Not many people know English and especially in the rural areas the vocabulary is limited to a "Hello". But this is not an obstacle for people to talk to us. We are often addressed and exchange a few sentences with hands and feet. We are also cheered on diligently and if we stand around somewhere with a questioning expression, we are always offered help. Regarding encounters, there is one in particular to mention. In an earlier blog about Croatia, we wrote about Pablo, the Swiss pilgrim. By chance we discover him again shortly after Tirana at a road junction. While we have made many detours by bike, he usually walks the most direct route, so we meet again, what a coincidence. We are impressed by his performance and keep our fingers crossed that he will continue to persevere and reach his goal.

Contacts. After meeting rather few people at the beginning in Albania with whom we really get into conversation, we long for an exchange with other people. The two of us really enjoy chatting together, but we are also always happy to make new acquaintances and talk to other people for a change and for inspiration. We look for strategies to make more contacts again and lo and behold, suddenly our situation changes. We stay in hostels in Tirana and Gjirokaster, where the atmosphere is very convivial, and meet other campers and vanlifers while wild camping, with whom we spend cosy evenings. A lasting encounter is with a Swiss woman and her 4-year-old son. The two of them are also on the road with their bicycles and we are very impressed with how they manage. The little one has not lost the joy of cycling, on the contrary. He loves to do extra laps before leaving and after arriving at the campsite and already rides like a little mountain biker.

Favourite hostel. In Albania we also discovered our favourite hostel so far, the Stone City Hostel in Gjirokaster. It is located in the small but beautiful old town and is lovingly designed down to the last detail. Every morning there is a rich breakfast, including a sweet treat that the owner bakes fresh every day. Everyone eats at a large table, so it's easy to strike up a conversation with other guests. There is a peaceful and familiar atmosphere, so we allowed ourselves two days of rest. We felt so comfortable that we baked a "Zopf" (a Swiss bread), just like at home.

Wild camping. Albania is the first country on our route where wild camping is officially allowed. Although we have never had any problems so far, there is still some relaxation when looking for a place to spend the night. We also feel that we have become fitter since our departure and are more likely to take a small detour to find a nice place to spend the night. So we sleep next to olive groves, where we are watched with interest by the village children, spend the night directly by the sea or by the river, where the shepherds lead their flocks to water in the evening. In this way we catch glimpses of the everyday life of the inhabitants and are allowed to pitch our tents in beautiful places.

Landscape. Albania is also a hilly country and we continue to add to our vertical meters. Most of the time we ride inland, but after the detour into the mountains we take a boring route from Shkoder to Tirana. A wide, dusty, busy road through an unspectacular landscape leads to the capital. The larger cities like Tirana or Shkoder are lively and up-and-coming, the old towns like Berit or Gjirokaster pretty and well preserved. Where it is hilly, there are often gorges. One of these is the Osumi Gorge, for which we made an extra detour. We didn't see much of the coast, but the sea is clear and beautifully coloured, the beaches are becoming more and more overbuilt, unfortunately mostly with large hotel bunkers.

The end. That's it for Albania. We leave the country for Greece. We spent a few weeks in this one and it was definitely worth it. In this country, you still have the opportunity to discover un- or little-known corners and the friendly inhabitants make travelling easy.