Driving the Albanian Coastline and Around

Driving the Albanian Coastline and Around

Posted by on Mar 26, 2016 in Albania, Europe

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Driving in Albania is just plain insane! I had read about it before we arrived there, but I just assumed it would be crazy like Bali (Indonesia). In a way it is similar: Drivers cut in front of you, they pull out quickly, no-one looks where they (or you) are going, and it is very busy and manic. The difference is Bali does it all at 30km an hour, while Albania does it at 130km an hour!

We drove the entire length of the country, arriving from Montenegro and then exiting through Greece. We also came back in through Macedonia and then flew out of Tirana. The terrain was quite varied and even though the roads were often incomplete, muddy, unsafe and ghastly. Despite all this, it was actually quite fun to make our way around. We used Google Maps and an app called MAPS.ME which was surprisingly up-to-date and very handy as you can download the maps for each country as you need it and then you don’t need to be online in order to use it. This was particularly useful in Albania as the Internet access was terrible.

On our way from Tirana to Berat we stopped and had lunch in the very touristy sea-side town of Durres. It was full of high rise, poorly maintained buildings and was rather unattractive. There is no way I would choose to have a holiday there (FYI). We found an equally unattractive restaurant on the beach and had quite yummy lunch, although we did wonder whether we would feel the same way about it the following day!

The road from Tirana to Durres and then out of Durres is fantastic, and for about 40km you think you might have hit the “industrialised” part of the country. Then it stops. Literally stops! One minute you are doing 100km and hour on a state highway, and the next you are doing 20kms an hour on a gravel road with potholes, complete with donkeys carrying watermelons.

One of the upsides to going slowly is that you get to enjoy the stunning scenery. As we made out way to Berat we drove through mountains and it was quite stunning. I would love to see them during the winter when they were all green and luscious.

This was one of my favourite views taken half way between Durres and Berat looking back towards the beach.

Berat to Himarë was another adventure. The road that heads from Berat out to the ocean is pretty bad. I wouldn’t want to be driving on any of these at night! There are lots of lumps, bumps and potholes, it is more like a farm road. Every now and then you come across a good bit where it appears someone has upgraded the road but they are fleeting and in no time you are back on the terrible gravel. We drove the the coastal city of Vlora which looked OK, but like Durres I don’t think I would choose to stay there.

Then you hit the Adriatic Sea and it is like you have found paradise! Giant sweeping mountains fold into the water and you can see for miles. In fact, for quite a long time you can see all the way down to the Greek Island of Corfu. We stopped to take photos a lot as every time we turned the corner a better view came up.

The land is also filled with Bomb Shelters and bunkers which are left over from when the country was under communist rule (1945 – 1990). There are over 700,000 of these scattered throughout the land and were never actually used and served little value, despite draining a large amount of resources from the country’s military budget.

Rather unnervingly, the sides of the roads are also frequently adorned with graves and crosses. It can only be expected with such poor road quality combined with crazy drivers. We must have seen over 100 little vigils along the coastal roads.

On our drive down to Himarë we came across a herd of wild mountain goats. They climbed up the sheer cliff walls like they were on flat roads! All of them had bells around their neck and when they walked they all made the most beautiful sound. Check out our video of it. Naturally the kids thought they were mesmerising and they kind of were. They came up one side of the cliff, crossed the road in front of us and kept climbing all while making music that sounded similar to wind chimes.

The drive from Himarë to Greece was actually on pretty good roads. Once we hit Greece the roads were fantastic, well signed and huge, although we did pass a few “bear crossing” signs which were a big surprise!

We arranged a car through Eurocar Rentals in Tirana. It was a reasonably new Dacia Logan, easy to drive and large enough for the four of us! We were able to pick up in Tirana and then drop off at the airport which was very handy and easy for our airport departure. Plus they let us take the car across borders into Greece and Macedonia, although we had to pay extra at the border to buy a “green card” whilst out of the country. For two weeks including insurance the cost was around $400€, plus the cost of the green card (around 80€).

Tourism around Himarë, Albania

One day while we were in Himarë we went for a drive to a nearby beach and took photos on the underwater camera we had bought Tom for his birthday in July. They turned out surprisingly well. We had a lot of fun playing around under the sea. You can’t see what you are doing so you just have to point, shoot and hope they turn out.

Here is the best of the lot!

Another afternoon we drove to a different beach called Dhërmi and had lunch and a swim. Every restaurant offers Greek/Albanian salads which always include tomato, cucumber, onions, olives and feta. Unlike Australian Greek Salads, these ones would come with one large chunk of feta instead of cubes. They were absolutely delicious, however by the time we left Albania I was ready to not see feta again for a while!

All the beaches were beautiful. One of the downside is they often had large pebbles that hurt your feet. However once you were in the crystal clear water it was all worth it.

Another little gem of a beach is Jala. We stopped here for lunch one day and had quite a few restaurants to choose from where we could eat with our feet in the sand and enjoy more grilled calamari and fish.

The little seaweed huts, men hauling fish and seafood, the aquamarine colour, clear water and white sand/stone pebbles; It was all so dreamy. We had a wonderful time and loved every minute we spent in the south of Albania.

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