Travel period: May 2021
Hi there! As Albania is not a huge country it is not a far distance to travel between mountain ranges, large cities and the ocean. We drive towards the coast and pass the big habour city Durrës, which we quickly leave behind us to find a rather remote spot to relax for the next days. One to-do along the way is to fill up fuel and if you think everything always works fine - it doesn´t. Rosie's fuel tank is rather empty so we fill it up with well over 100 liters. Point of the story: our credit card is not working. We've used it several times before and cannot imagine why it strikes this time. While searching for our back up card Jonathan bargains with the petrol station guy whether we can pay in EUR (of course this time we do not have enough cash in albanian currency with us) – so luckily we get a deal: we can pay with EUR! You can imagine from that moment on we carry our back up credit card on us all the time to be prepared and also stock up our cash reserves. Cash always works. Our next destination is Divjaka Beach, which is located around a nice foresty nationalpark and is a long beach with a lagoon behind. Probably this would be good place to kite surf, but as there is no wind forecasted and the beach is not a cozy bay we are looking for, we move on.
Cows on the beach, burgers & beers.
It turns out we have made the right decision to drive a bit further as we reach one of our favorite spots on the Albanian coast: Porto Novo. Driving to it from Nartë you reach a larger beach at first, where we spot some campers. We do not have much time to enjoy the scenery as there is work for us: The attempts of a BMW and an Opel to drive on the beach failed and we pull them out of the soft sand to a more solid surface. Checking out the small path leading to the next little bay, we are once again happy to have a 4x4 as we can reach it and get to a lovely remote place to camp. We set up Rosie, make a campfire we cook on using our spare wheel grill, listening to the waves and watching the sky full of stars.
Bay of Porto Novo with a camouflaged Defender
This is the view
Dutch oven deliciousness with self-baked bread
We stepped into a cow wellness area
Starting your day with a morning swim in the sea is one of the things we like the most about campspots right at the beach in summer. Just before breakfast we get some non-human visitors: A goat herd crosses the beach to change their grassing spot for the day. We figure out that this is their daily routine as we see them again the next days. After breakfast the next herd is coming, not to pass through but to have a proper beach day. 15 cows and their calfs look curious who we are and enjoy the cold water around their legs until sunset, when they move on calmly. Frankly, it is a surreal scenery when you are only used to the sight of cows in stables or farm land at home. We spend this lazy day to bake a bread in the dutch oven, relax in the sun and cook our favourite one-pot campfire meal: A stew of chicken and vegtables. Cooking it for over an hour creates the perfect, thick sauce for dipping our homemade bread in which is the perfect end of the day. The next morning we got company again from the goats and cows who are apparently doing their morning wellness routine on the beach. Around noon the wind picks up strongly so Jonathan is able to do the first kitesurfing session of the trip. Ripping through warm, blue waters with a view on a beach we have for ourselves is priceless. This remarkable day gets even nicer when our friends Rebecca and Marcel show up in their Pajero in the evening to sit around the campfire while killing a few beers and burgers to go along with it. We are sure that this will be a hard goodbye in the morning as we are leaving the bay to get further down south while our friends stay in the bay one more day to enjoy it on their own. Goodbye guys – it has been an awesome time with you in Albania. See you somewhere again, someday.
Lonesome kite surfing
Coincidence & new encounters
Brushing off the sand from the bay we move on further down south in the direction of the greece border, ascend and descend the Llogara Pass shortly after the national park with the same name and drive through Himarë while looking for a campspot close to the beach. A spot we have found on Park4Night sounds promising. We check it out just to find that it is already occupied with some guys on bicycles and tents. We like Park4Night but in summer it often happens that nice spot are crowded because they are easy to find with the app. Especially when its a spot that is reachable by 2WD cars as well. We move on and find another great spot close to a steep cliff in the Porto Palermo area – just after Jonathan is being chased away by dogs barking close to a building which turns out to be an old military property. We pop up the roof and treat ourselves to a nice grilled dinner and enjoy the magnificient sunset which takes place just in front of our camp spot. In the morning we check out an old submarine bunker on the other side of the peninsula when suddenly a Defender 90 stops by. The couple from Austria is spending a holiday in Albania and recognizes us from Instagram. It turns out that we have also exchanged some messages in the past. Small world, great community!
Llogara pass with a view on the albanian riviera
One of the campspot gems we found
When we arrive in Ksamil we decide to overnight on a campsite again to do some laundry and to re-attach our step which has fallen of while driving the Lura National Park. It turns out to be more time-consuming than we thought but after two hours and a lot of swearing the step is back in place secured with additional stainless steel bolts. As it turns out it was a pretty good decision to stay on the campsite because of two other reasons: As a welcome gift we are served on of the best iced coffees we have ever tasted and we meet a lovely belgian family of four in their cabin-equipped Land Rover Defender 130. After having little walk-arounds of the cars we decide to explore the tracks around the Osum Canyon together during the upcoming days. Our plans to already cross into Greece vanish and so we find ourselves staying in Albania even longer. The best plans are those which get disrupted on the way, right?
First "repair" on the trip: The rear step fell off
The Blue Eye of the South & Greece, Almost
With a few days to pass until we meet with the Belgians we decide to head up into the mountains around Gijrokastër but not without a small detour to the popular so-called „Blue Eye“ (Syri i Kaltër in albanian, not to be confused with the other „Blue Eye“ all the way up north in Theth National Park). The blue eye is a natural water spring close to the town of Muzinë. The water emerges from a karst hole in which divers have made it to a depth of fifty meters. However, it is still unknown how deep the water system beneath the spring really is. You can also take a swim in the perfectly clear water which reaches the surface with a temperature of approx. 12°C and a discharge rate of approx. 18.000 l/s. So you certainly get an idea of how long we stayed in there – not for long, we can tell you.
Syri i Kaltër, the "Blue Eye"
Fully refreshed after the ice-cold swim in the „Blue Eye“ we enter a mountain round track close to the city of Gijrokastër – we choose the entry point through the village of Libohovë. While ascending through a narrow gorge with the track close to the cliffs created by a river we pass large trucks carrying wood out of the forests. It gets narrow from time to time but the roads are in good shape so we almost find a place to squeeze Rosie to the rocks when a truck comes in sight. As we are just within a few kilometers from the greek border (there is also a border crossing close by but we heard that only locals can use it) we pass through tiny greek-style villages, beautiful rivers and a like and finally end up on a huge mountain plateau with lush meadows and large sheep and goat herds framed by mountains on either side. We realize that we have to set up our camp somewhere around here. We quickly find a nice spot close to a Partisan monument and make our first unpleaseant encounter with livestock guardian dogs which do not like our presence at all. Six dogs are circling our car and barking like crazy. We wonder why they see us as a threat as we are not close to the animals at all. We have no choice other than to retreat into the car and after closing the doors the dogs disappear one-by-one. That was scary but luckily no one was hurt. And we surely learned a lesson.
Close to the greek border we head into the mountains
Approaching our campspot for the day
First task: Setting up the fire
Cosiness level 2000
After breakfast we move on on dirt tracks, seeing a helicopter carrying equipment and Mitsubishi L200 pick-ups (with a roll-cage) exploring the area. We can´t find out exactly what they are doing here but they seem to belong to an italian company which is looking for natural resources around here. Let´s hope we can still discover this place virtually untouched like it is in the future. Nearly reaching a paved street again at the Cajupit plateau we realize that we have lost our water jerry can lid – the search for it takes us all the way back to our campspot, a detour of almost three hours. A harsh reminder to check everything is tightened properly before you leave camp. We fill up our water tanks with fresh spring water before we move on see the medieval city of Gijrokastër (the old town and ottoman houses are a UNESCO world heritage site) and to buy a hand-made rug for Rosie. We find one we like a lot but it is too long to fit into Rosie. But the albanian lady running the shop knows her craft: She shortens the carpet in no time at all. Great! An authentic piece of albanian culture which will make the interior of our car a little bit more cosy from here on. The last couple of days we spent close by the Vjosa River on the outskirts of Permët. At first we wanted to visit the hot springs the city is known for but it is definetly too hot for hot springs and we are sure that spending the day by the cool mountain river water is a far better option. Good choice!
Historic center of Gijrokastër
Mandatory selfie from the castle hill
Place to refresh by the river...
Two local boys teach us how to fish with a net
We fail, so we have to eat pasta
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