Ep. 13: Albania - The queen of offroad tracks!

Hi there! Welcome back to the blog, we appreciate you reading about our adventures. After spending a lot of time on mountain trails around the Osum Canyon and in Tomorr Nationalpark we both feel the urge to head back to the ocean again. So we push west and meet the sea somewhere at Spille Beach 20 km south of the large harbour town Durrës. We quickly learn that the beaches around here are not really what we are looking for: lots of beachside restaurants with sun chairs everywhere which are accompanied by a huge amount of trash. Well, this might be a place to relax for some people but we decide to return to the main road. On our way out we see a bogged down delivery van. The driver and two of his friends are trying to push the Mercedes Sprinter out of the mud but to no avail. The car is stuck and we learn from the english speaking driver that he was busy looking on his phone while taking the wrong turn and ending up deep in the mud. We reverse Rosie and back up to the Sprinter, attach our recovery strap and pull the car out of the mud. Glad we can return at least a little bit of the local friendliness we continue our way searching for a beachside spot. After a few failed attempts to localize a nice spot along the nearby coast we decide to head all the way up north - almost to the montenegrian border - and end up in the town of Shëngjin. As we are determined to find a wild campspot we try to make our way out of the city heading north. The view on the map looks promising because we spot a large patch of sand. Nevertheless we are not lucky this time: Large holiday resorts and apartment hotels are being build like crazy on this patch of land and cars are parket everywhere at the reachable spots on the sand. Bugger!

Rosie to the rescue!

We remember a place recommend to us a couple of weeks ago by two german travellers which is close to the spot where we are. As it seems impossible to find a wild campspot and as it is getting dark we decide to head there. Bar Ledh is a small, cosy bar and restaurant at the seaside which welcomes travellers on their sandy parking lot. When we arrive we spot two vans already being parked here – we later learn that two guys have stayed here for several weeks already. We meet the owner and he invites us to stay – which we do. There is no parking fee and we can use the premises, the toilet and Wi-Fi. Sounds like a cool deal so we are happy to buy some much needed cold beers in return. The bar crew and other guests attented an electronic music festival in the area the days before so everybody still seems to be a bit tired from partying. Fine for us as we spend the day relaxing as well. After two nights, an awesome fresh fish and king prawn dinner, a failed kitesurfing attempt (as quickly as the wind picked up it disappeared again) and our first Netflix session of the trip we have recharged our batteries and say goodbye to the pleasant people of Bar Ledh.

Bar Ledh - our little sanctuary for a few days
Ocean views and the bar crew´s Mad Max vehicle
The humans are enjoying the sunset...
...and so are the cars.
Fish, prawns, cheese - as fresh at it gets

We are excited. The queen of Albania´s offroad tracks is on our schedule for the upcoming days. A 60-minute drive later we end up in the city we first departed into the mountains after crossing the border into Albania: Shkodër. A petrol station and a supermarket visit later we are well prepared to leave civilization behind. The south route to the mountain village of Theth is well-known in the overland community as it promises demanding offroad driving, mesmerizing mountain views and adventurous remoteness. It is only accessible in summer – the first time we have been here with our friends in the G-Wagon and the Pajero the path was still closed due to weather conditions. Now we can give it a try! We head west from Shkodër, leave the city and follow a small paved road about 20 km to Prekal where the road turns into a rocky path. From here until Theth the offroad trail winds about 50 km through gorgeous northern albanian alps. We have scheduled two days to reach Ndërlysaj – a tiny village shorty before Theth. We take it slow while we follow the Kir river as we slowly ascend into the hills. The first kilometers are easy to drive but as soon as we climb up the mountain side we are lucky that it didn´t rain for a while. The surface of the road turns from rocky to muddy and we have just about enough grip for Rosie to make it up some of the steeper steps. It's not only exciting for our Defender but also for the passengers. Being inches away from a rock formation above and at the same time from a cliff at the side sometimes distracts you from enjoying the amazing view. Nevertheless we manage to do so and reach the highest point of the route on the first day at about 1.200 m. A platform with a promising campground on the map is located only a few meters after the peak, but arriving there isn't welcoming at all. Looks like we reached the place of origin of the high number of Peja beer cans we sadly saw along the road – two men in a little hut are having some drinks and want to take a fee for staying the night. It is always a risk to move on as you never really know when you may find a spot, but in this case we deifnitely took the right decision. After a few rocky serpentines down we find a lovely campspot for the night – free of charge and cans. A sheperd watching his cows passes and gives us a thumbs up when we try to ask if it's okay to stay. We crack open a cold one and are happy to share a can with the local. For a few minutes he disappears into the woods just to come back with some firewood he collected just for us to return the favour. This night we pull out the dutch oven and cook a campfire meal while watching the sun set betwenn the mountains.

Theth south route - the approach (still on tarmac)
Theth south route - tarmac no more
The road less travelled - literally.
This picture does not convey that we tackle the road with great caution
Lighting up a fire

The next morning we start a slow descend leading us through tight bends, muddy waterholes and passages almost overgrown by trees and bushes. One time we met rare oncoming traffic: A 4x4 police van and a Hyundai Galloper with more police men suddenly appear from the thicket and we are forced to reverse a longer distance until the next dent of the path allows us to let them pass. We have no clue what they are up to but judgeing by the expression on their face it was rather serious business. The remarkable waypoint we pass is an unusually large bridge over the Shala river. We stop the car, have a little break and walk around to admire the clear and light blue water of the river. It´s the perfect spot to do a drone flight as well. At this point we have about 20 km left to our destination. We hit the track again and pass through a stream where we fill up our water supplies: Cold and fresh directly from the spring. Luckily, the weather has been quite friendly for the whole trip, nothing but sun and blue skies. But as we are approaching Ndërlysaj more and more clouds are gathering above us and with every kilometer they turn more black. Is there a thunderstorm in the making? Indeed, there is. Right when we are looking for a campspot along the river bed rain starts to pour down heavily followed by lightning and thunder. The thunderstorm seems to be right on top of our heads so we do not dare to get out of the car. To pass the time we drive around a bit and find ourselves at the entrance of a river crossing which leads to a café on the other side. We decide to tackle the crossing as it seems to be the official road. The crossing turns out deeper than expected and the water just stops shorty below the doors. Luckily the car has full grip on the bottom of the riverbed and pulls us out again nice and dry. We wait to let the rain pass and after half an hour we look for our final campspot. Just meters away from the river we find a spot and set up camp for the night and with the calming sound of water flowing by we fall asleep after an exciting trip. We have (almost) made it all the way up to Theth.

No need to explain the phrase Albanian Alps

Bumpy ride

Crossing the Shala river...

...as well as little streams.

Thunderstorm incoming!

Riverside Hilton

But there are sights we want to see in the valley first. Do you remember the Blue Eye we wrote about a couple of posts earlier? Well, there is another one in Albania. It´s sometimes called the Blue Eye of Theth or the Blue Eye of the North. Regardless of the name: We want to see it. So we depart for a hike to the site the next day. The place is not a secret anymore so we are joined by a lot of travellers wanting to explore the Blue Eye as well. We quickly get to know a few people from Kosovo who are on a day-trip to Albania on their public holiday. The Blue Eye itself is similar to the one in the south except that it is not a spring but the large pool is fed by a waterfall. Most of the water reaching the Blue Eye is snowmelt coming right from the mountains and it´s icecold. We wait until the larger groups leave and dare to swim in the pool. We are forced out again after just a minute by the bone-chilling cold (The water also serves as a natural fridge for the local vendor selling cans of beer and softdrinks). Do we recommend going there? Well, as every known attractions it can get crowded but the little hike and the Blue Eye itself are a stunning piece of nature in the area. So, yes! You should visit it if you are in Theth anyway. In need for a quiter place we continue driving towards Theth a little bit more. On the way we pick up a ukrainian hiker who is looking for a short lift. Turns out he is a huge football fan and even knows smaller teams from Germany – the ones from our hometowns as well and has already been to the area. Wow, what a coincidence and small world, we think. After dropping him of the find a decent place on a large meadow just in the valley between mountains on either side and right next to the river. It is just 20 minutes from our last campspot but so pretty we just have to stay. Not just one day but two we spent in this awesome place bathing in the refreshing water, backing bread, playing card games, doing a little bit of maintenance and go for another hike to nearby Grunas waterfall. As we reflect on what has happend the last days we once again come to the conclusion that Alabania is a true paradise for overlanding. We are thankful to be able to spent so much time here and it´s not over yet.

The Blue Eye of the North

2.5 seconds after this picture was taken I was out of the water
The most ecological fridge in the world
Further crawling towards Theth
Bush TV in Theth Valley
Grunas waterfall


Travel period: June 2021

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