Cycling in Albania
Posted on: April 21, 2014, by Jill Murwin
Albania is opening its doors to cycling adventures & tourism! Home to the Balkan Mountains, Adriatic and Ionian Coasts, this formerly hidden culture of welcoming people is truly fascinating. Chasing Atlas is constantly uncovering new areas for you to discover and Albania is more scenic than we imagined. We began our trip in the bustling capital city of Tirana where the locals are re-energizing their city with endless enthusiasm. Traditional restaurants serve delicious local cuisine and we discovered a surprisingly active nightlife.The first leg of our cycling adventure began with spectacular view of snowcapped peaks in front of us. The roads in Albania are variable but we had quality hybrid bikes supplied by our gracious Albanian host. Clean and new, these bikes are practical, functional and the best means of bike travel around this rugged countryside. Although the country is making improvements everywhere, using a hybrid over a road bike, is currently suggested.Descending the stunning mountain pass took us to the charming fishing village of Lin, located on Lake Ohrid. Home to over 200 endemic species (those local to a particular area), this unique lake is one of the deepest and oldest in Europe. A feast of fresh fish, grilled vegetables, local cheeses and wine awaited us at our private dinner table. Good food in Albania was fresh and delicious and wine was always at the table, usually a local vintage. We came to anticipate the exciting post-meal ritual in Albania, the presentation of Raki, a traditional local liqueur. It varies in quality and flavor from place to place, and packs a punch, always with a distinct Balkan sting that will make you sing. Celebrating a spectacular day of riding, we raised our glasses each evening and said “Gezuar” (Albanian for “cheers”).Traveling the countryside we rode unobstructed by traffic through tiny villages, small farms, the ever-present communist era bunkers, and amazing views. Pedaling further south we visited ancient Greek ruins at Butrint, overlooking the Vivari Channel and the famed Greek island of Corfu. Albania’s richly layered history shares its secrets at every turn. Reaching the coast we stayed in the charming city of Saranda. Fishing boats were returning to harbor as we cruised down the boardwalk to our hotel. Feasting on the fresh catch of mussels and sea trout, we soaked in the scenery and the sublime feeling of having traveled by bike for the past week.The final leg of our journey took us up the coastal road to the city of Vlore. The quality of roads were greatly improved and the quiet scenery made this the ideal cycling experience. A thousand meter climb greeted us on the final day; its 7% average gradient and many switchbacks felt more like ascending an Hors Category climb in the Alps than rustic Albania. From the top there were spectacular views of the Ionian and Adriatic Seas, a sight to remember.Traveling to a country that has been largely cut-off from the outside world until recently, my expectations of Albania were surpassed in every way imaginable. Everywhere we traveled throughout Albania, the people were welcoming, kind, humble. This is an incredible destination for the traveler who wants to experience a country emerging from its past into today. Exploring this unique region makes for an experience like non-other. Gezuar!
Photo Credit: JP Gendron