Hi everybody! With the transition from May to June temperatures seem to rise strongly in Albania. While staying close to Permët our initial plan was to visit the hot springs the area is famous for. But with almost 30° C air temperature we think going to a cooler place might be the better option. Not to be misunderstood, we really like the summer but we got plenty of hot temperatures ahead of us. So what can we do to cool down a little? Going to places with with higher altitude is the fastest way to cool down. Luckily, Permët is close to some tracks leading to the Osum Canyon which is a must-see in Albania according to the internet – and some travellers. We have been looking forward to see the Osum Canyon and the nearby tracks for a long time and for our liking it is more fun to offroad while in a group. So we are extra happy to be joined by the belgian family we have met previously in Ksamil. Valerie, Geert and their two kids taking a one-year break from everyday life and work to explore Europe with their Defender 130 TDI. All set, let´s go.
Taking the long way to the Osum Canyon
A rather decent section of the road
A much needed break at a local farm
Food. Food. Food.
We enter a track close to the town of Piskovë. The Osum Canyon lies north of our little convoy and we have about 25 kilometers of dirt track winding through the mountains ahead of us. The unmaintained road is not really used by locals any more so we do not pass a lot of traffic as far as the village of Sevran i Madh on about 1.000m height. After about two hours of navigating our cars along the narrow paths we all could use a little break. We stop at a makeshift campsite with a little hut turned into a very simple restaurant. It looks promising and probably we won´t find an alternative up here. The local owner couple is super friendly and has a lot of local produce on offer: eggs, cheese, vegetables, honey, home-made pastries, wine and even raki. We are going for a big platter of eggs and cheese and a lot of what seems to be the albanian equivalent of donuts which are served with a honey topping. Delicious! After stuffing ourselves with all these local treats we are in the mood for more home-made stuff so we buy their self-produced Raki liquor which is filled directly into the bottles we have brought from our cars. In the end we are armed with all kinds of local goods but are also a little bit surprised about the bill. Seems like we have run into smart business owners who are well aware how to price their products according to the customers. We are sure we paid a tourist premium here but in the end you can´t shop more ecologically, right? After the lunch break we reach tarmac again after a 45-minute drive and are initially hit with a view into the famous Osum canyon. This was definetly worth the unusual approach through the mountain roads (a perfect tarmac road leading to the Osum canyon from Berat has been finished lately). Excited but also tired from a long day we search for a campspot along the Osum river. Albania lives up to it´s reputation as an overland-friendly country once again and so we find a cosy place directly in the river bed within minutes. A campfire is lit in no time and we find ourselves thinking about the adventures we have experienced so far while gazing into the flames with the cars which brought us to this amazing place standing behind us. The photos we take that day could also be from a Land Rover broschure. Sure, that´s a little bit romantic but look for yourself!
Camp spot heaven I
Camp spot heaven II
Bread on a stick
The Osumi river gorge is said to be one of the most spectacular natural attractions of Albania and it feels unreal to wake up in the middle of this natural scenery. After an easy breakfast at our camp we pack light backpacks and go explore the surroundings by foot. On that day it's not the cars who do river crossing but their passengers as we follow the Osum river upwards and stop at a natural pool which is perfect for swimming. Or for jumping in and climbing out a hundred times like the kids do. We are lucky that it is a sunny and warm day and our clothes dry within minutes while we walk on. When we reach the Osum Canyon it's the first time we see other people, but it is far from crowed due to the off-season. A little bridge can be crossed within the Canyon and the steep faces, which reach up to 70-80 metres, around us are quite impressive. Defintely a must-see in Albania! Back at the cars we light a campfire and end this nice day with grilled lamb chops, bread on a stick and some of the homemade raki we bought the day before.
After this day of rest we prepare to hit another offroad track quite close to our actual position. Being close to the river is relaxing but in Albania it is just too tempting to explore more of the mountain roads. After witnessing a river rafting group taking off into the Osum Canyon by boat we pack our stuff and head to the town of Çorovodë. North of the city center we enter a dirt track leading us up into the surrounding hills. Along the way we see quarries and heavy machinery used to extract a special kind of marble this region is known for. A few kilometers later we enter the Tomorr National Park and enjoy a drive through sleepy mountain villages in front of gorgeous sights of the Tomorr mountain range. In the afternoon we set up camp on 1.500m on a huge treeless meadow at the base of Mt. Tomorr. Just after we have arrived a local man stops by with his two donkeys in order to give the kids a free ride on the animal while the adults are invited to a glass of homemade raki. We want to thank him for his generosity and learn more about him but unfortunately the language barrier is too strong. So we wave him goodbye as he disappears behind the next hill and are once again amazed by albanian hospitality. After breakfast we prepare to reach the south summit of Mt. Tomorr which is to our knowledge one of the highest points in Albania which is reachable by vehicle. The 7,5 km road alongside the mountain takes us up through steep inclines and quite a lot tight hairpin turnes with sharp rocks to watch out for. Already along the way we realize that the rather challeging road is worth the detour because our surroundings are perfectly visible on this clear day. We reach the summit at 2402 m which is also an important pilgrimage site for the Bektashi (an alevi-islamic religious group). It is believed that the soul of Abbas Ali (a distant relative of Prophet Mohammed) settled at Mt. Tomorr before ascending into heaven. Every August 10.000 members of the Bektashi gather to celebrate a festival of sacrifice and almost all of them pilgrimage to the summit. Luckily at the time we visit the peak it is a lot quiter.
Entering Tomorr National Park
Our little base camp at Mt. Tomorr
Donkey rides for the kids, homemade raki for the bigger kids
Ascending Mt. Tomorr (south peak)
Made it - with 122 horses instead of one
I guess this is what they call a "scenic view"
Way down we go!
After our slow descend back to more easier terrain we take a larger dirt road leading us down again into the Osum river valley bound for Berat – the city of a thousand windows which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. We notice that summer is at the doorstep: With every meter we descend the temperatures rise and as we enter the city center of Berat the thermometer indicates almost 30°C again compared to below 20°C temperatures at the higher areas. We choose a camping site in walking distance of the historic center as our base for exploring the city and because we are in need of a shower and a washing maschine after days and days of wild camping. We spent two nights at the campsite. The first day we use to get everything sorted again (laundry, stocking up supplies, a little bit of maintenance) and the second day we spent visiting the major sites of Berat: The stronghold of Kalaja overlooking the city, the Mangalem district where the famous Ottoman houses are located and the riverside promenade. At the end of our little sightseeing tour we treat ourselves to a few delicious albanian dishes at Lili Homemade Food (check it out when you are in the city, it is really worth a visit). The charming host Lili has a few stories to tell and is a genuine guy to be around with. We´ll always remember his car related advice to „...buy a Mercedes when you´re back home because life is short!“ altough we are not planning to turn it into reality anytime soon. Back at the campsite the next morning it is goodbye time, unfortunately. We part ways with the Belgians because we want to head to the shores again while they choose to stay in the mountains a little while longer. Thank you for the memorable time and hopefully see you again someday. Safe travels & Godspeed!
Streets of Kalaja
Church of the Holy Trinity at Kalaja Castle
Berat - City of a thousand windows
Entrance to Lili Homemade food (notice the sweet menu in the back!)
Travel period: June 2021