Albania Heritage Day 1
Po, we are in Albania! Day 1 of our Albania Heritage tour started in the capital Tirana where there was time to walk around and see the statue of the country’s hero Skanderbeg in the square named after him, the Et’hem Bey Mosque adorned with impressive artwork and the mosaic on the National Museum. This country of 3 million is very welcoming and after only a few hours here, one feels at home! Can’t wait to start cycling to see more of this beautiful country!
Albania Heritage Day 2
Our first day of cycling was full of downhills, and very little uphills, perfect to get used to the bikes and riding in Albania. After a last minute shopping expedition to the market we left Tirana and drove to the top of a hill. Here we had a glorious 18 km downhill to the steel town of Elbasani. Another lift up to the top of the next hill and then we had beautiful Lake Ohrid in our sights! With snow-cappe d peaks of Macedonia in the background it truly was a picture perfect ride along the lake. An easy 48 km day with lots of smiles along the way!
Albania Heritage Day 3
Our second day of cycling in Albania took us from the shores of Lake Ohrid through orchards and a patchwork of fields to the town of Korce. Along the way we stopped for a traditional Turkish coffee, our secret fuel to keep pedaling! We also passed many more traditional modes of transport, from horses to donkeys. After a feast of salad, feta cheese and lamb we reached Korce with plenty of time to wander around the old cobblestone streets. A visit to the Archeological Museum brought to life the long history of Albania, dating back to the Neolithic period. The house of the museum dates back to the 19th Century. Dinner was again a feast of traditional dishes, this time vegetables and lamb and all accompanied by homemade wine!
Albania Heritage Day 4
The scenery continued to be stunning today in Albania and we had a wonderful cycle through the countryside. The fields are filled with wildflowers and we even found some edible flowers that were also a nice snack, We also had just-picked cherries and again ate well at lunch with fresh salad and cheese. In the evening we stayed at a trout farm where we had very fresh grilled trout for dinner. It was a beautiful ride, not too taxing, and tomorrow promises to be even more spectacular.
Albania Heritage Day 5
Our first day of bad weather! After a stormy night we hoped for the weather to clear, but the rain strong winds kept coming so we gave up riding and enjoyed the scenery from our support vehicle. Our overnight was another guesthouse in the country and again we were treated to local delicacies. Grilled goat at lunch was followed at dinner by kukurec, basically organs on a stick wrapped in the intestines. In the afternoon we headed to the town of Permet and visited a small factory where they process fruit, our favorite was wild figs, and make it into a sweet preserve. After asking around we found a local collector who opened up his home to show us his treasures which ranged from old irons, Japanese tea cups to U.S. silver dollars. The rain finally let up enough so we could take a short walk to see the 14th Century bridge and thermal springs in Benja. Though the riding was cut short we made the most of our day!
Albania Heritage Day 6
The weather cleared today allowing us to have a scenic ride down a valley following the Vjosa River. There were photo ops at every bend and turn of the river! We next cut through a gorge where a spring made half the river completely clear. We have been riding on traffic-free roads, making the cycling very pleasant and bringing us close to those using horses and donkeys for transport. After another delicious lunch (sheep’s head, but only for those that wanted it!) we arrived at the steep streets of Gjirokastra that radiate out from the citadel. Time to start walking and we spent the afternoon exploring the citadel and then the unique 19th Century Ottoman houses that surround it. We visited two of the houses, and learned how the floors are divided into storage on the ground level, winter living quarters on the first level and then airy summer rooms on the top floor. The grey stone slate roofs are pieces of art!
Albania Heritage Day 7
More amazing scenery in beautiful Albania on day 7! Today we had another decadent descent and then an undulating ride to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Butrint. On the way we stopped at the Blue Eye a natural water spring that is moe than 50 metres deep, though nobody knows how deep! Visiting the fascinating site of Butrint is definitely a highlight of the tour! As the brochure puts it, it is a microcosm of Mediterranean history as there are monuments spanning 2,000 years, from Hellenistic temples to early 19th Century forts.It was hard to leave but we carried on, cycling to the resort town of Saranda. Our hotel was directly on the promenade and we joined the evening walk up and down before a seafood feast for dinner! An great day of riding 75 km, being wowed by history and ending the day on the sea!
Albania Heritage Days 8 & 9
We left the seaside of Saranda and were soon high on a coastal road that showed off the blue of the Ionian Sea as we rode north to our next seaside resort town. On the way we stopped for a beach lunch and caught some cows sunbathing! Cycling around the bay of Porto Palermo we stopped again to climb up to an impressively preserved Venetian fort. The next stop was Himare, a quaint town with a still vibrant fishing industry. The next morning it was off to start the toughest ride of the tour with lots of uphills. The views of the azure sea continue and then it was time to head inland to visit the UNESCO town of Berat. Known as the “Town of a Thousand Windows”, due to the many large windows of houses overlooking the town. After checking into our rooms in the very heart of Mangalemi we went for a steep walk up to the castle, that is still occupied by more than 1,000 families! We managed to enjoy one more feast of local foods for an impressive end to a wonderful tour of what is truly amazing Albania!
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