“So” I thought to myself while behind the wheel of my rented Suzuki Sidekick. “I’m actually driving a car through the back roads of southern Albania, this is where my life has taken me”.  Not only was this a thought along the journey, but also discussed with my passenger on multiple occasions. Albania is just one of those places that doesn’t show up on your travel radar, especially the thought of renting a car and cruising the rugged back roads.

Saranda Albania

I covered a good amount of roadway today as I drove from sea to sky. The beach side town of Saranda was left behind along with my amazing airbnb as I headed into the hills to check out southern Albanian history, along with some UNESCO historical sites thrown in for good measure. The roads in Albania can change from excellent to absolutely horrible in the blink of an eye. I experienced this many times throughout the day, but luckily these less than ideal road conditions were no match for our little red Suzuki with its drop-top roof and non-existent radio.

Finiq

The Suzuki was rented late last night in preparation for an early start this morning. I left around 9am, and headed south in search of beach. The first stop was Ksamil beach, and at this point it was a little cloudy and actually quite cold out. Not ideal beach weather, but this is Europe in November, what did I expect? It has been sunny and hot everyday since I have arrived, but it seems that not even Albania is immune to the changing seasons. I reached Ksamil beach after a few wrong turns, and some help from moderately friendly locals. Upon arrival it was clear that beach season had come and gone. Everything was shut tight and one lone fisherman stood on the pier. I moved on rather quickly.

Ksamil Beach

The next stop was Butrint. Butrint is a Unesco world heritage site and actually pretty cool. Getting there was a bit of mix-up however. It turns out it’s only a few minute drive from Ksamil. That wasn’t expected, and I drove onto the small cable driven ferry and across a river. When on the other side I asked which way to Butrint and the young man looked at me and pointed back to the other side of the river. “Well that’s fantastic” I sarcastically thought to myself as I stood looking at the castle of Butrint, peaking out above the tree line from across the water.

Luckily the short ferry trip back to see this ancient city without a vehicle was at no charge, and I was soon inside the old ruins. I spent a good couple hours exploring before once again heading back across the river on the ferry to retrieve the Suzuki and continue on. *Look for a full detailed post about Butrint in the next few days.

Saranda Albania

This is where the road conditions took a turn for the worse. These roads are not roads that a non-local would travel on for any reason. This has FTF style written all over it. The little Suzuki was pushed to its limits as it bumped and jumped it’s way through rough roads and small southern Albanian villages. There came a fork in the road at one point; left was down a beat up dirt track that you would never think to be the main road (see picture below), and right was a more civilized brick road leading up into a village. Being quite the civilized gent myself I of course chose the high road and headed into the narrow lanes of a random village.

It wasn’t long before I realized that this didn’t seem right and when I asked for directions I was told that I must head back down and take the dirt track. After a 13 point turn I was cruising back in the direction I had just come from and then down the dirt track on the way to the Blue Eye.

Saranda Albania

The trip to the Blue Eye couldn’t be defined any other way then a lovely drive in the countryside. After the initial dirt donkey trail was over, it was back to paved roads and mountains. No other cars were on the road and cruising in the mild weather with the top down on the Suzuki was a pretty cool feeling; seeing how its November, and I’m in Europe. An hour’s drive later and I was at the Blue Eye. This “natural occurring phenomenon” as the they call it here is a hole, that has the bluest fresh water you have ever see bubbling up from with in it. It is said divers had dived 50 meters down and still don’t know how deep it actually is. Read about my trip to the Blue Eye here!

Blue Eye Albania

Usually the end of a story is a good time for one of those “and the icing on the cake of all this was..). If today were a cake, without icing it would remain. The last part of the Albania back country trip would take me to Finiq. The drive up the winding hillside was fun, the view was spectacular, the ruins of Finiq itself was something left to be desired. There will be no blog post about it. If in the area, I would still say go. Simply because of the view. Albania sits right at the eastern very edge of the European time zone so by 4pm it’s dark, the time then was 2:30pm so it was time to call it a night.

Finiq

 

 

 

5 Responses

  1. Nick

    This looks absolutely gorgeous! I like visiting places that aren’t touristy and Albania is one of them (besides Georgia)
    Where did you stay for the nights?

  2. Iq0

    Haaaa go in Saranda on August and i am sure you both will re consider the albania is off the beaten path comments . I was in Saranda this summer , and i can say to you it was fully packed with foreigners ( swedes , norwegians , germans , balkanians and of course albanians ) , to that extend that there was no rooms available . Quick fact , there are 4.3 milion estimated tourists for the year 2014 . You just chose the wrong month .

    As for the roads , although it is in a way true that they are not the most ideal , you obviously have taken the wrong roads as well . Because there are paved roads for those places you wanted to be , you just somehow chose by accident the dirt roads .

    Greetings from an albanian

    • Alex

      Yes I imagine that it must be packed there in the summer.. it was nice to be there away from the crowds though! I do however want to return and see it in full swing

  3. Anca | Globaloud

    I visited Albania two years ago for the New Years Eve 2014. We mostly spent our time in Tirana and Dures and we really enjoyed it. But the thing is it was in the middle of winter and we didn’t meet any tourist along the way. I know that Albania is mostly summer holiday destination, but still if it gets too crowded during that time I definitely prefer visiting off season. I hope I’ll manage to make a huge Albania trip next spring and will definitely consider visiting some of the places you mentioned in this article as well as renting something as adorable as a red Suzuki to explore even the rural part of the country.
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