All the good advises from my friend Etta (thanks to her !).
Un petit films pour se donner envie : ALBANIA - THE HIDDEN PARADISE. All the places he mentions at the beginning are the best places to go.
Un autre film de 2015, vu sur Arte : https://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/057455-001-A/surprenante-albanie-1-2/ et https://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/057455-001-A/surprenante-albanie-2-2/
Albania and Kosovo :
The region has a a rugged beauty and people are very hospitable and friendly, especially with foreigners.
Thereís very little high end tourism infrastructure but there are some good museums, Old Greco- Roman sites, mementos of socialism and beautiful natural sites.
The beach and the mountains are equally breathtaking.
Most Albanian towns and countless other places now uninhabited are very old (Illyrian, Greco-Roman). Some are from the bronze age.
Valdete is the authority on Kosovo but I think the monasteries of Gracanica (in the outskirts of Prishtina), Decan and Peja all are worth visiting (ironically these are all Serbian sites). Peja itself is worth a look around. Prizren is another town to visit. There is fantastic hiking in the Peace Park (a mountain range that crosses Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro).
Depending on how much time you have you might want to start in Kosovo and move to Albania or vice versa. Prishtina is served by a lot of low budget airlines from the major airports in Europe (more so than Albania). If you have time you can integrate Corfu at the beginning or the end of your trip (highly recommended-Corfu has a fantastic Venetian Old Town, Habsburg palace and gardens and the ever enticing British gardens). Corfu is only an hour on the fast ferry from Saranda, Albaniaís southernmost point.
You could conceivably start your trip in Prishtina and end it in Corfu or vice versa.
A car with an English speaking driver shouldnít be that expensive, around 100-150 dollars a day. Renting a car at the end of Sept in Tirana should be around 30 euros a day.
Hereís a quick itinerary suggestion :
- Day 1
Arrive in Tirana. (details below)
- Day 2
Sightseeing in Tirana including Dajti mountain
- Day 3
Go to Berat (with stops in Ardenica and Apolonia)
- Day 4
Sightseeing in Berat, drive to Saranda in the afternoon
- Day 5
Go to Butrint in the morning and Ksamil beach for the rest of that day
- Day 6
If staying in Saranda go to Blue Eye and then Kakome or Krorez beach / Day 6 (alternatively) go to Corfu for the day
- Day 7
Drive back to Tirana or straight to Shkodra (with a stop in Kruja).
- Day 8
Go to Theth and then to
- Day 9
- Day 10
Hike around Valbona
- Day 11
Drive to Prishtina (alternatively, skip Shkodra and drive straight from Saranda to Prishtina on Day 6 or 7.
Tirana is in the middle of the country and Prishtina is in the north.
Most of what is worth seeing in Albania is south of Tirana, so that might complicate slightly you trip
My favorite place in Tirana right now is a tiny little basement place called Happy Belly....Mrizi i Zanave is still good and there are two new restaurants 5 mins from my parents apt; an excellent fish one called Fishshop and another place -very meat heavy Estila. Another good fancy place near the Bllok is Otium I didn't go to Mullixhiu-my absolute favorite until this time b/c three different people said it's not the same (it's the same chef as Mrizi i Zanave but I was told he sold Mullixhiu-not sure if true...)
The museum, Gallery and the mosque are very centrally located, you canít miss them. You can see all these in one day.
If you have time go to Kruja or just relax.
- Go to the Bllok area in the evening-that’s where the action is, https://goo.gl/maps/mVBDbvbN6WJkBfL88.
- Restorant Te Xhovani,
Rruga Liman Kaba, T
+355 68 207 6347,
- Restorant Mullixhiu, ShŽtitorja Lasgush Poradeci, Hyrja e Parkut tek Diga e Liqenit Artificial, Tirana 1019, T
+355 69 666 0444, https://maps.app.goo.gl/RmZsHYAhPeCW48heA.
Make sure to have lunch or dinner at Mullixhiu by the Lake (fantastic food by an Albanian chef who trained with Rene Redzepi in Copenhagen). And so cheap you want to cry. The wine is also very good (everything served is Albanian). Food for three with wine is about 100 dollars. You would pay at least 1,000 in the West for that food.
- National History Museum (1-1.5 hours is enough. They used to have a great section on the history of communism but it has changed).
- National Gallery of Art (highly recommended, fantastic paintings from the socialist era)
- The house of a famous painter Sali Shijaku. This is a typical Ottoman era house (very few are left), full of his paintings. Itís a lovely place and not many people know about it, I can arrange for someone to take you there. Itís free to visit and thereís an adorable cafť in the courtyard.
Sali Shijaku House, Rruga Vildan Luarasi,
- The big mosque in the center (religious institutions were all destroyed, this one was kept as a Cultural Monument, now itís a functioning mosque). To the back of it itís the Clock Tower (not a big deal if you miss it). Around the mosque are some of the important ministries that were built in Mussoliniís time and still carry fascist symbols.
- Dajti-a mountain just outside Tirana. Thereís a cable car that goes there and you can see many sinking bunkers. You can see sinking bunkers everywhere in Albania, they are becoming hard to spot after 27 years of neglect. You can walk/hike around Dajti. Itís about 4,000 feet high.
- A day trip from Tirana is Kruja, where the castle of our national hero, Skanderbeg is. Itís worth a visit, especially because they have the only antiqueís market in Albania. There are lots of fakes so be careful. Kruja is about an hour drive from Tirana. Alternatively, you can stop in Kruja on your way north to Prishtina.
- Logement : Big Ben apartment air bnb, 41į19'58.8"N 19į49'03.0"E, Rruga Dervish Hatixhe 8-7, https://goo.gl/maps/HrJaepG7xsbkK1KP9.
NORTH (on the way to Prishtina).
- Thereís a new and very good highway Tirana-Prishtina and you can just drive there. Otherwise, you can make a stop in Kruja and then onwards to Shkodra/Shkodër. Shkodra used to be the regional market town until the highway came to Serbia. It was the most cosmopolitan city in that area (in fact, one of the most famous streets in Belgrade-the bohemian street in called Skordalia -for Shkodra-b/c all the artists came from there!). It was also the only town that was heavy religious (Catholic, Muslim and Greek/Serbian Orthodox). It was the most anticommunist place and for this it was heavily punished by the regime. They destroyed most of the city but the castle is still there as are remnants of old baths. Thereís a museum of early photographs-highly recommended-Fototeka Marubi. You can spend the night.
- Baignade sympa dans le lac : 42į03'37.9"N 19į26'57.5"E
Rues piťtonnes sympas dans Shkodër :
- If you have time I would highly recommend going to Theth, a beautiful village surrounded by 7 mountains. The road to Theth is bad-it is in fact the same one lane road Italians built in the 30s. It used to be quite a big village but now everyone has moved to Shkodra and is populated only in the summer. Thereís electricity problems but itís still a spectacular place. Thereís a bar/restaurant or you can arrange to have your meals in the house where you stay. You have to stay in someoneís house-there are no hotels. There are lots of hikes and waterfalls. You can still see the high towers where men used to lock themselves when they were in blood feuds. At night itís magical, the mountains loom in and it can seem like you are the only person alive in the world.
- From Theth you can hike to Valbona (about 5 hours) and hire a porter. Valbona is in the middle of the mountains and close to the Peace Park mentioned above. Valbona has more hotel options and great hiking all around. From there you can arrange to go to Prishtina.
- Depuis ShkodŽr, on peut aussi aller au Komani Lake,
https://maps.app.goo.gl/iXShSVZs9rFvZz9E7 et remonter la riviŤre en bateau.
- Mrizi i Zanave AgroturizŽm, Rruga "LezhŽ - Vau i DejŽs", FishtŽ, LezhŽ 4505,
https://goo.gl/maps/YERVnYDymjj9J2bt8. Un article sur le resto : https://www.courrierdesbalkans.fr/Slow-Food-a-l-Ombre-des-fees-le-renouveau-de-la-cuisine-albanaise.
- Skip Durres -where there is a big amphitheater -the city was always famous inn antiquity, especially famous in Roman times. Itís on the shores of Adriatic but itís worse than Rimini, too crowded and too polluted.
Si jamais en faisant une halte café en ville, il y a ce café très sympa : Studio Cultural Bar, Rruga Xhamia, DurrŽs,
- You have to rent a car and go to:
Ardenica. A famous monastery during the Middle Ages (Greek Orthodox-another of the very few buildings that escaped destruction in communism). Now itís again a monastery and school for Greek Orthodox priest but you can visit. Ardenica is about a two hour drive from Tirana.
- Further south, is Apolonia a famous town in Roman times. It was renowned for one of the best teachers of Greek. In fact, Augustus the emperor studied Greek there when he was young. Apolonia is about 40 minutes drive or so from Ardenica.
Itís only 5 miles from the Adriatic and I recommend you go to see the Adriatic there. There are many access point but the sea has advanced and the main road ends literally into the sea! It makes for a surrealist photo.
- From Apolonia you can drive to Berat (another 40 mins or so drive). A UNESCO city is called the city of a 1001 windows. The old city was inside a castle (the city is over 2,500 years old) and itís quite lovely. Thereís several good museums. One is of Onufri, a famous painter of icons that invented a red called Onufri red. Another good museum is the ethnography museum which describes daily life in the city. The castle and the old city are just lovely to walk around and see. You can see it all in one day/night.
- From Berat you can drive to Gjirokastra, another Unesco site and very similar to Berat.
If you are short of time, drive straight to Saranda from Berat. The whole area around Saranda is dramatic and breathtaking.
- You should especially see Dhermi, Qeaparo, Himara, Borsh (no need for special trips, you can stop on the way back to Tirana)
- Thereís a natural water gushing hole called the Blue Eye near Saranda in a tranquil park, worth a quick visit.
- Ksamil, near Saranda is a beautiful beach alas too crowded now.
- Krorez and Kakome are two beautiful other places, not sure if accessible now, before they were accessible only by boat.
- There are lots of clubs in Saranda but otherwise, not much to do other than the beach.
- People go up and down the corniche in the evenings and there are concerts sometimes.
- The highest place in town, called Kalaja e Lekursit used to be an old castle-now a restaurant. It was a stopping place of soldiers on their way to Crusades and it was said to have purifying powersÖ.
- The real reason to visit Saranda is Butrinti, another UNESCO site. A beautiful Greco-Roman town. Itís mentioned on Virgilís poem as the place where Aeneas stopped after Troy and that is one of the legends of creation of the city. It was famous in antiquity for its temple of Asclepius.
- As I said, you can take the ferry to Corfu. I would highly recommend it even as a day trip from Saranda.
On the way back to Tirana, you will drive through the coastal road. Some places to stop by and see are Borsh, Dhermi, Qeparo, Himara and Palasa.
- Dhermi in particular is nice to go up in the village and ask the old ladies (there are only old people left in those villages-the rest have all immigrated to Greece) to peek inside one of the houses. I am sure they will let you in.
- Borsh has the biggest beach in the area and itís at the confluence of mountain and sea water.
- Himara is the biggest town between Vlora and Saranda and it has a nice beach for a quick espresso break.
- Palasa has a strange beach, full of big stones, rather prehistorical looking.
- You can also stop at Porto Palermo where there is another castle where a famous Albanian general who rebelled against the Ottomans used to live.
- My absolute favorite place is Gjipeu (the needles eye bay). Itís off the main road, a 20 minute hike down to the beach. It used to be a military compound and off limits in communism but before that it was another Orthodox Monastery. Faint ruins of both remain. Itís a gorgous beach but what makes it special is the gorge that comes down by the mountain to the sea. Itís not crowded (unless they built a road in which case it will be ruined) and as I said, my absolute favorite place. You can go up and hike the gorge or just swim all day. You have to bring water and food.
- The coastal road from Saranda to Tirana goes through Lllogara, a high mountain that descends into the Ionian. There are fantastic hikes all around and they have the best honey (oregano and a wild sage that is endemic to Albania). You have to smell this honey, itís like the smell of ambrosia. Llogara is also famous for its young goat and lamb meat. Highly recommended-get it with fresh yogurt. The taste apparently comes from the salt that the animals leek (and that the wind blows in from the sea below).
Be careful on this road, the road is good but a two lane road that goes around the mountain and then down on the other side.
- At the bottom of the mountain thereís Oricum, another old Roman town and later Ottoman port where a famous Ottoman general is buried.
- Past Oricum you will arrive in Vlora, another coastal town and the divide between the Adriatic and the Ionian. You can stop for drinks at Hotel Kalaja where I used to jump as a kid. Itís a beautiful spot now too crowded but gorgeous views.
Kalaja Hotel, Rruga AleksandŽr Moisiu, VlorŽ 9403, T
+355 68 222 8289,
From Vlora is another 3-4 hour drive back to Tirana.
Very few tourists venture this way but the southeast (Skrapari, Permeti) have great water rafting and more mountains.
The mountains further up connect to a series of National Parks in Northern Epirus in Greece.
I would recommend you do this another time.