We arrive in Albania from the north in the town of Skhoder which gives its name to the lake that straddles Montenegro and Albania that we saw earlier in the article on Montenegro
We spend 1 night in Skhoder before heading towards the Albanian Alps.
Lake Koman, Valbone-Gjelaj
We take the ferry to cross Lake Koman. Emerald-colored water, turquoise, high rocky cliffs line the lake. It's just beautiful.
Arriving on the other side of the lake, still 2hours of bus before joining our hotel for the night. The hotel is located in Valbone, at the bottom of the valley. The village is the starting point of the famous hike to the village of Theth on the other side of the mountains. By road to reach the 2 villages it takes about 12h and "only 6-8h" climbing through the mountains. We planned to do it but before we spend 2 nights in the small village of Gjelaj. Village consists of 3 or 4 farms, without electricity and accessible after 3km of track following the river bed.
We arrive at Danielje guesthouse. We meet the head of the family : Kola and then his wife, his daughter-in-law, and the XNUMX little kids who live in the house, as well as the the dean of the house: Kola's mother.
We are treated like princes. The comfort is basic, the communication rather difficult but the kindness of this family is incredible.
Their days are rhythmed by farm work, milking cows, taking sheep and horses out of their pens so that they can graze peacefully, return them at night, water the garden and the crops that Kola planted, which allows the family to be practically in self-subsistence. (corn, cucumber, salad,...). The homemade cheese is also delicious. There is also the laundry which is a time-consuming activity and is done manually by the women who boil the laundry in a pot over a wood fire and then beat it all the afternoon.
The making of Raki is the work of Kola helped by his wife and sometimes by ourselves! They harvest the plums in the trees on their vast land, macerate them. Then Kola boils macerated fruit in the lower part of the still. It takes 2 distillations for the raki to be good, and mainly drinkable otherwise it's a XNUMX% alcool that he can only drinks!
Looking at them working so hard all day made us realizing what's real life !
After these 2 days spent with them, it is now time for us to say goodbye and go hiking 11.5km to the village of Theth on the other side of the mountains.
We have our backpacks and not to have them on the back we use a mule. surprise! It's Kola who will comme with us with his horse.
The hike is sublime! Difficult because you still have to pass the pass which is more than 1800m altitude and it climbs seriously!
72 years old Kola is riding quietly in his suit likd it was nothing while we are sweating crazy and a little behind!
The climb was painful but much less than the descent to reach Theth. After XNUMXhXNUMX walk we finally reach the village. The time to say goodbye to Kola who makes the same ride in the opposite direction to get back home before it get dark.
We are resting quietly from our hike to Theth in a nice guesthouse where we should spend XNUMX nights. Unfortunately the XNUMXst night does not go very well! There is a whole local family celebrating a birthday, dancing and singing all night! Thomas did not sleep! So we shorten our stay in Theth and leave in the direction of Skhoder to take a bus to Tirana, the capital of Albania.
We had planned a single night in Tirana but arriving in the city and discovering our room and the city center we decided to extend our stay!
Tirana is a big city of almost 1 million inhabitants on 3 that counts Albania.
The city center is extremely modern and lively! Full of shops, bars, restaurants! Not to mention the museums!
We started with the National Historical Museum which Thomas did not love at all! (Me either!), We then visit the museum: House of Leaves. This museum is located in an old maternity that under communism has become a secret police building. This facility was used to interrogate and torture people who were suspected of enemy of the regime in place.
This museum explains in a remarkable way the climate during the communist era where the mass surveillance was one of the first weapon of the party.
The next day we go out of town to visit the Bunk'Art 1 Museum.
This is a real bunker built during the communist era by President Hoxha, During that time (XNUMX-XNUMX) the president had asked that more XNUMX bunkers to be built. At the end of the communist period there were still more XNUMX scattered throughout the country! The theme of this museum is the history of Albania after the 1st World War until the end of the communist period.
We learnt many things in this museum like Albania was under fascist domination of the Italians, then under German domination. Very interesting tour in a surprising setting!Must do if you go through Tirana.
It is now time for us to leave Tirana and go down to the South!
Berat is a small town that owes its popularity to its fortress dominating the city and its typical houses that border each side of the river and thus give Berat the nickname of: the city with XNUMX windows. We spend one night there. Note that Berat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This site is twinned with the city of Gjirokaster which is XNUMXkm South. We decide to make a stop there!
The bus drops us off in the new part of the city. We walk to our hotel in the old village. On the map there are not many kilometers but our hotel is at the top of the hill on which is the old village! It was difficult !!! It was very hot and our bags on our backs didn't help! We could not see the end! Hills after hills, steps after steps, then another street, one more! But we got there! soaked in sweat! XNUMXm of elevation in less than one kilometer, so yes, it's steep!
The next day we could visit the site of the fortress and the old village of Gjirokaster with its old bazaar, small steep streets with uneven cobblestones! Really charming!
Then last of our stop in Albania, we are taking a XNUMX hour bus ride to Sarande, where we should take the ferry to Greece in few days...
Sarande is a pretty little seaside resort. We did not do much but took advantage of the beach and wash our laundry before continuing our adventure to Greece.
Albania is a destination that we liked a lot! The variety of landscapes of the north in the mountains passing by the coast, the kindness and the welcoming of the locals. The fact that it is not a very touristy destination for the moment was also very enjoyable.
Falemdemerit Albania! Merci Albania! Thank you Albania!
All good, we had planned 1092 EUR for 13 days, we spent 13 days and spent 1154 EUR but we are expecting the refund of 50 EUR for a last minute cancellation, so we are very close to the budget with 1104 EUR for these great 13 days in Albania. We did a few parties, lot of activities and lot of visits to museums.
Local beers (and wine ...)
A lot of beer still, and little wine (not that great but ok). The white wine remains drinkable, but the local red is disgusting! At least the ones we tried.
For the beers we tasted 3 beers, Tirana, Elbar and Kugalashe.
My favorite is the Elbar, less bitter than the other two.