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You're probably thinking 'WOW 20 hours of driving... but when you break this down it's only around 2.5 hours a day and when you're stopping and exploring it really doesn't feel like a long time.
Our first stop was Gjirokaster and while the town may not be huge it is absolutely beautiful and one of our highlights of our trip. and the old town is a UNESCO world heritage site The streets are cobblestone and all lead to the central bazaar which is a hustle and bustle of cute eateries and cafes
Dominating the town is Gjirokaster Castle, sadly we arrived late and didn't have chance to go inside but the views outside and around the castle were beautiful.
We stopped by a small restaurant and enjoyed a pizza each, 3 sides (we were hungry) and 4 drinks, the total cost of which was just £15 and it was incredible.
We stayed at the Denis Guesthouse which was a nightmare to find but was absolutely adorable and they owners were fantastic. The cost for 1 night was just £29!!
The prices in Albania are insanely good so far...
We headed all the way down to Butrint National Park via the field of bunkers which is exactly as it says on the tin and then onto The "Blue Eye" which is a water spring and natural phenomenon occurring near the village of Muzinë. The entrance fee is only 50lek (40p ish) and 100lek for parking.
The pool is hidden inside the forest so there is a bit of a walk to get there that takes about 20-25 minutes. The water is incredibly clear.
There is a cafe/restaurant nearby which again is really cheap and cost us less than £10 for food and drinks for two.
We spent around 3 hours at The Blue Eye before continuing south to Butrint National Park.
We continued our travels south heading and arrived at Butrint National Park, we went on the 'ferry' to the other side which is quite literally a plank of wood floating across the water, a ticket cost us just 45p and was worth it just for the adventure. We left the car and walked onto the 'ferry' and sailed across to the other side to check out the Venetian Triangle Castle which we had completely to ourself as there were no other visitors and it was free!
After our little trip back across on the ferry we then started heading back north towards Ksmail, there is a lot of hype about Ksamil but personally I was pretty disappointed, it' s heavily overpriced, overcrowded with constant crowds and if like me you enjoy places with character then you will want to keep heading north. We left soon after arriving and headed further north to Sarande which we enjoyed, we stayed in a hotel which we won't be recommending after being very misled however Sarande itself was a charming town with a really laid back vibe, we headed to Moma Pasta for some of the best pasta we have ever tasted cooked by an Italian who has lived in Albania for the last 20 years.
The beauty of keeping your plans unplanned is that you can make last minute changes along the way. This is great for times when the weather isn’t exactly what you wanted for a specific activity or place. On this particular day we were due to drive over the Llogara Pass however by the time we got to the start of it we could see a storm moving in over the top and we knew it would be a waste to continue.
We instead found a hotel nearby called La Brisa that was in fact a very very nice hotel, it cost us more than we would usually spend (around £90) however for that price it was absolutely stunning and the service was amazing. So for the rest of that day we enjoyed some time in the hotel pool and on the beach where JP managed to lose his glasses….
We got up bright and early, it was a beautiful cloudless day and we knew straight away we had made the right decision to wait.
The Llogara Pass is one of Albania’s most famous places with the road providing one of the most spectacular drives in Europe. A drive along the coastal road from Saranda to Vlorë taking in the Llogara Pass should take three hours, but allows plenty of extra time to stop and take lots of photographs as there are some spectacular views along the route.
After spending an extra night somewhere unplanned we had a bit of time to make up so after crossing the Llogora pass we headed north towards Vlorë to see if we could get JP some same day prescription glasses.
At this point we were still torn about whether we would be able to drive to Theth, it was a lot further north and it would take a lot of driving so we decided to head north to Komani Lake and decide from there. It was a big drive towards Komani Lake but it was worth it. We left it right to the last second to book a hotel called Vila Franceze and paid just £26 for a basic but clean and comfortable room near where all the lake cruises go from.
We booked a Shala River Tour with Komani Lake Ferry who were great. Sadly, a few days before we did the tour there had been a storm and the water levels were low which meant we were unable to sail all the way to Lumi i Shales.
A few people on our tour clearly didn't know about weather being unpredictable and were less than kind to the driver who couldn't take us any further so please bare in mind if you book this tour it is weather dependant however the boat trip without the visit to Lumi I Shales was still breathtaking.
Because the boat driver was unable to sail us all the way to Lumi I Shales we got back a little quicker than planned at around 2pm, so after a 5 minute discussion we decided this was our sign to drive towards Theth and spend our last full day in the mountains.
It was a 2 hour 40 minute drive from the ferry terminal to a hotel we had found which right at the beginning of the 'road to Theth' we took it steady and stopped along the way to some amazing views, views which he hadn't managed to see on the way to the lake as it had already started getting dark.
While we were driving back towards the main roads we stumbled across a family of PIGS just galavanting around the road which quite literally made my day. We stopped and spent far too long with the pigs and so had to make up some more time.
We arrived at Hotel Kulla e Bajraktarit a couple of hours later, it was absolutely stunning and the surrounding scenery was out of this world, it had a swimming pool with floor to ceiling windows and only cost us £78 for the night.
We had a meal in the restaurant that evening which was our most expensive meal of the trip but it was also our most tastiest!
I don't even know where to start.... if you're reading this because you're thinking of going to Albania then please don't skip Theth, since 2022 the roads have undertaken huge improvements and are now tarmac instead of the very dangerous barrier-less gravel road they were before.
From our hotel it took around an hour to drive to Theth however we made a fair few stops for photos and so it probably took us around 90 minutes.
Once we arrived in Theth I was surprised at how alpine it felt, I was genuinely waiting for Julie Andrews to come flying over the hill to tell me that the hills were alive.
We parked up and walked across to the little church and then just spent a few hours strolling round, we took a path next to the Lumi i Thethit river and down to a red bridge where we took some more photos. There are some amazing hikes that you can do from Theth which we sadly didn't have time for the most popular being the Theth to Valbona which has some truly spectacular sites.
We probably spent around 4 hours in Theth before heading back the way we came in...
*Please note you can only drive the Theth road in the summer as it is closed during winter due to the snow, check online for opening dates as it changes depending on the weather.
We left Theth early afternoon and had a 3 hour journey to get back to our airport hotel, we weren't flying until the day after at tea time but after all the travelling we thought it would be nice to spend the last day by the pool before flying home.
We set off from Theth around 2pm and decided to head for the small historic village of Krujë, it makes a great stop on your way back to Tirana from the north.
From the castle to the country's oldest bazaar there is plenty to see and do and almost feels like another world.
At 608 meters above the sea you can see for miles and on a clear day (like we had) you can even see the adriatic sea.
We spent around 2-3 hours exploring before finally heading back to where our journery started at MK Hotel Tirana.
The next day was spent sipping cocktails around the pool before our tea time flight back to Liverpool.
Total £968 for 2 people including everything approximate depending on exchange rates
Take out some annual excess car insurance, it's about £50 for the year for Europe only or £85 for worldwide and gives you peace of mind in every car hire. It's also a lot cheaper than getting it with your hire company.
Driving in Albania is not for the faint hearted when in the busier areas however if you're sensible and stay calm it is easy, that being said most of the places we drove were incredibly quiet and so we had no issues at all.
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