Cycling Albania: Great people, shit roads and killer mountains

We were excited to be cycling Albania – we entered the country from Montenegro, near Lake Shkoder in the North of the country. Enjoying the sunshine, we were taking the day at a relatively slow pace. Just taking in the scenery, stopping for coffee and snack breaks, and enjoying the day and the good weather. Then we decided it was a good night for an all-nighter. This is something we have both wanted to attempt at some point (though I probably shouldn’t let my Dad know this, as he will likely freak out).

Albania sign, cycling Albania
Albania sign

Attempting to do our first all-nighter

All nighter, all the way to Tirana (a total of 160km). Luckily the reality of this crazy idea hit home at about 100km, when we realized it was a stupid idea and we were too young to die. The road into Tirana was horrible and the drivers were crazy. Dusk was already upon us, and we began to feel a bit desperate. I read that wild camping at a gas station with the permission of the owner was the “done thing” in almost every country. So we asked at a station, they said “no” and pointed us in the direction of a campsite.

The campsite was only 5km away so we decided to head for it. 10km later, after pushing our bikes along a dirty beach, we arrived at the campsite. Just as the sun disappeared over the horizon. It turned out the campsite was still closed for the season. After about 10 minutes of hanging around, trying to decide what to do (I didn’t want to sleep at the campsite as there were a bunch of drunk guys hanging around). A guy appeared who was looking after the campsite while it was closed. He took us to a restaurant, introduced us to the owner, and before we knew it we had our own (rather smelly and old) hut. This is where we ended up spending the night – for free! This was just our introduction to the great Albanian hospitality.

The following day we said our goodbyes and hit the road again.

It was a long day cycling Albania, in hot sunny weather (a rarity of the trip so far). We decided to head off the main highway, which turned out to make the trip into Tirana significantly longer. The locals were so inquisitive. We got plenty of waves, a few high-fives, we even got given free bottles of water at a gas station we stopped at to shelter from the sun. I think most other  (sensible) cycle tourists took the more direct route to Tirana and stuck to the main road. This meant many of the locals we met hadn’t seen cycle tourists before.

I was also told by an Irish expat that local Albanians believe that only poor people cycle, so seeing foreigners traveling on bicycles is a very strange thing for them. The only negative run in we had, was with a teenage boy who tried to stop me cycling by throwing a bamboo stick in my path. I moved it out the way. He then hit Michael on the head with the stick. The boy then started throwing rocks at us. I guess there are douchbags in every country; luckily he is the minority.

Cycling Albania
Cycling with locals

It was at this point the road turned to shit

Some sections of the road we had to get off the bike and push them through knee high muddy puddles. We were happy when we finally made our way back to the main highway. Once on the highway we followed it the rest of the way to Tirana.

We were warned about the road into Tirana, and the warnings were true. The cycle was not fun. We had to battle with pot holes, gravel, mud, rocks, dirt, road kill, cargo trucks, loads of traffic, no hard shoulder and plenty of pollution. It was hard to believe this was the main road into the capital. The condition of some of the roads in the villages we cycled through were in much better condition. Eventually we did make it to Tirana, where we decided to set up camp in the garden of a hostel for a few nights.

Tirana has a bike bazaar (basically just a street with cheap bike shops on), which we wanted to check out. So we decided to hang around the city for a few days to fix up and clean the bikes.

Cycling Albania
One of the crap roads we cycled on

3 nights rest and feeling fully recovered.

We were ready to take on the next challenge on cycling Albania, the Albanian Alps. Stupidly we headed off at the hottest part of the day (yes, the sun was out again), and we started climbing straight away. Our aim was to hit Elbasan, which we surprisingly did, and even cycled through. About 10km outside Elbasan we asked a gas station whether we could camp out the back, and surprise, surprise, he said yes. Happy Days!!! Great view, free campsite and he sold beer on tap – score!

The next day we continued the climb up the Alps. Blue-sky day, no cloud cover, no breeze, just sun. We spent most of the day climbing over the Albanian Alps, it was a tiring day, but we eventually made it to Lake Ohrid (on the Albanian side), just as the weather changed. We then cycled down hill towards in the Macedonian border in the wind, rain and a thunderstorm.

Conquering the Albanian Alps, we made it to Macedonia. Soaked, tired and sun burnt! What is with this crazy weather?!? So, instead of camping, we decided to find a cheap hostel on the Macedonian side of the lake, have a shower and warm up.

A few cycling Albania stats

Accommodation: 1 night staying in a hut out the back of a restaurant, 3 nights camping at a hostel, 1 night wild camping out the back of a garage

Kilometers cycled in Albania: 314km

Total kilometers: 1750km (or there-a-bouts)

Days in Albania: 7 days (5 nights)

Total days cycling: 35 days

Average spendings per day: 12 Euros

Crash tally: 1* (Michael) – 1** (Kelly)

  • I left Michael for 30 minutes, and he crashed into a car – ok, the car pulled out on him, but luckily he was ok… Tirana drivers – CRAZY!!!

** My tyre got stuck in a tramline and I went flying off my bike (this was in Italy)

Puncture tally: 4 (Michael) – 0 (Kelly)

One Reply to “Cycling Albania: Great people, shit roads and killer mountains”

  1. I love this title so much! Perfectly describes Albania haha. Aside from that one jerk of a kid, I’m glad everyone else was so helpful on your trip through the country 🙂

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