Looking out of the window at a blanket of grey cloud I am struggling to begin this blog about my recent trip to Albania. The sky there was always blue. Perhaps that is somewhere to start. High summer and very busy. Temperatures up to the early forties. A car that overheated not once or twice, but up to three times per day.
Roads with potholes deep enough to almost swallow my little Skoda. But adventure at every turn and a real sense of excitement. In just shy of ten days I roamed about 1200km in my hire car and saw azure seas, grey brooding mountains flecked with black and white, green fields, turquoise rivers, bright orange and pink apartment blocks, beige Roman ruins, and always a bright blue sky overhead.
Warm, kind hearted people helped me when the GPS on my phone couldn’t, or the cap on the water compartment under the bonnet got stuck. Patient shopkeepers plucked shiny gold coins from my palms as I got to grips with the Lek. Days started with strong coffee, eggs, crumbly goat’s cheese and tomato salad, fresh bread, and juicy ‘in season’ watermelon. The day usually ended with a beautifully cooked pork chop, or a pizza that Naples would be proud of. In between meals, hours of exploration and adventure. Scrambling up dirt roads to abandoned monasteries, snorkelling, clambering around castles and fascinating Roman ruins, negotiating hairpin bends on the mighty Llogara Pass, or trying to explain to Albanian waiters why I drank non-alcoholic beer.
Albania isn’t yet a country for self-drive touring. The huge importance of our recce trips is that as well as showing us many wonderful things and arming us with great experiences to share, they also tell us when something isn’t viable. Driving in Albania is not for the faint-hearted and not recommended. Instead let us book you a good driver, and a knowledgeable guide, or join our terrific group tour led by Carolyn Perry. I feel like I saw a lot but only scratched the surface and there are undoubtedly things I missed. I will go back, maybe in May or September when it isn’t so hot and will spend some time with a guide.
However, Albania was enjoyable and rewarding, with some jaw dropping views. 80,000 Brits travelled to Albania in 2017, compared to over 3 million visiting neighbouring Greece. My top tip is to go soon before Albania changes too much and the word fully gets out.