Road-trip in Albania.
Travel photographed with the analog camera nikon F3, Kodak 200 color plus & 400 tri-x.
Albania, known as one of the poorest country in Europe, survived to one of the hardest dictature that Europe experienced during the last century. And it will take still time before it fully recovers from its injuries… I could write a very long text speaking about how a country can unfortunately easily fall into tyranny. But maybe I should better speak about how beautiful Albania is, because yes, this country is hugely beautiful!
Traveling into Albania will lead always to the same conclusion: We didn’t plan enough time to see all of what we wanted to see!
Knowing the size of the country, we believed 12 days will be enough to make a road-trip across the whole country, from south to north and from west to east. Big mistake that we did! Albania is a country with huge landscapes diversity that needs to be discovered. It is two-third mountains, with many lakes and of course the riviera.
Also, the Albanian roads force you to drive at a very low speed (I saw a road sign which gave a limitation at 5 km/h…!!). Some roads are so dangerous that, in case you plan to visit the country, better is to check this website in order to prepare your intended route: dangerousroad.org. And little advice: More the road is dangerous, more beautiful the landscape is. A very simple conclusion we could make while spending very long time on these tight and cliff hugging roads! Oh and, beware of Albanian drivers. Rules are often forgotten (it doesn’t mean that you can break the rules!).
During our trip, we noticed one thing that will stay into our memory: How nice Albanian people are! We felt safe with them throughout the voyage. Although we had not a common language to speak (rare are the ones who speak English), we spent a very good time trying to understand each other. We ended our road-trip by picking up Albanian hitchhickers as a thank for their kindness.
We started by visiting the capital of Albania, Tirana. The communist architecture, still present, gives a certain charm of the city. But this only remains as a façade. And Ish-Blloku is the perfect example of this. This famous district, previously the heart of the Albanian politburo, is now similar to all trendy places worldwide.
As many places in the world, the country looks for revenue from Tourism. And as the French riviera did a few decades before, buildings are sprouting up all along the Ionian Sea coast. In few years, the unspoilt beaches will become unrecognizable. And what about unfinished building?! Two factors for this. First, it seems that Albanian doesn’t pay local tax if the house is not yet finished… Secondly, more on the coast side than on the back-country, we felt an atmosphere which is suitable to the mafia, but I am not here to judge… We have the same in such similar area in France.
Nevertheless, we found places close to paradise, gorgeous beaches with warm crystal-clear water. Gjipe Beach might be the most beautiful of them but you can find other ones that are still unspoilt and that personnaly we prefered. You will see all along the coastline, but also everywhere in the back-country, numbered of bunkers (about 750 000 communist-era bunkers populate the landscape). Albanians can say thanks to Enver Hoxha’s invasion paranoia…
Road SH75 (from Gjirokastër, Përmet to Korçë)
After leaving the Albanian riviera, we visited Gjirokastër, a medieval city that is absolutely magnificent and in the list of the UNESCO world heritage sites. We slept in a very old stone house, where the owner took care of our welfare with perfection. After this, we went to another beautiful sight of Albania, the blue eye.
The plan was to go to the lake Ohrid and different ways were envisaged. We finally choose the longest one: via the road SH75. We passed several abandonned gaz stations, old wooden bridges (aside the road). Some parts of the road were tricky, with landslides which recover partially the road or which partially cut it. Our effort was rewarded by stunning landscapes.
Ohrid, the mysterious lake
Ohrid lake is the deepest lake of the Balkan, one of the oldest lake of the world with the Titicaca and Baïkal lakes. Being on its border made us feel relaxed, peaceful. We stayed one night here. It was cold (the lake is at 700m above sea level and in October, it is already quite cold in the region), then unfortunately we were not able to enjoy swimming in the lake. But in summer, knowing how warm it can be on the coast, I imagine the pleasure people can have to be there!
The black & white picture is done thanks to a Rolleicord that my girlfriend authorized me to use during a short time (jewels are difficultly shared 🙂 ).
On the way to the Albanian Alp
We passed wonderful little bridges from Byzantine & Ottoman periods, again abandonned factory and buildings not finalized. As well we met very nice people as the elderly couple I shot portrait of.
We noticed a significant lack of infrastructure that seems basic for us. Indeed, the waste management seems totally inexistent. Or the system is similar to the waste trafficking in Naples… Who knows… I hear also that Italy is providing their own waste to Albania for “recycling”… An interesting reportage in case you want to know more about this lucrative biseness: www.france24.com. Of course, the impact is huge: polluted water, health issues,…
Typical in Albania, you will find wild dogs everywhere in the streets and in the nature. But never we felt in danger with them. We avoided to touch them, not by fear, but more because we don’t know if they carry an infectious disease. Nevertheless, it is sad seeing them abandonned and it hurts not helping them.
Koman lake, the Albanian fjord
An ecological disaster from the dictature, which is now one of the best spot to visit in Albania. After decades, the nature well adapted all around the artificial lake (golden jackal, fox, bear, …). By taking the ferry to go from Koman village to Fierzë, we saw during 3 hours (the lake is huge) rugged mountains that recall us the Norvegian fjord. It is stunning! The busboat I took picture of is not the one we took, as we had the car with us.
Valbonë, the Albanian Alp
Valbonë is a valley that can be reached by 2 different ways: With 4×4 car from the west (the road is not paved) and a long trekking (from Theth). Or by the east with a normal car. As we didn’t have a lot of time at the end of our trip, we took the east one and stayed one day in the valley for little treks. The valley is developping quickly for tourism. But in October, we were alone in the hotel, almost alone in the valley. I advice you to come there. The landscapes are fabulous. It has nothing to envy to the Dolomites or other pearls of the Alps.
The last but not least, our most beautiful meeting during the trip:
During a little trek, we met a shepherd who is deaf-mute. He proposed us to follow him in the montain. Although communication was difficult, we understood he wanted to describe his mountain. And this was a never-to-be-forgotten moment. We ended this little tour with him to a superb cave with stalagmites & stalagtites.
The last picture shows myself on the border of Ohrid (picture shot by the famous Vanessa MADEC)