A road trip in Albania: what you need to know
Albania had been calling us for some time, the nice looking beaches, the mysterious air around it and the lack of information about traveling the country, influenced a lot in our inspiration to visit this place and talk to you about it.
We’ve all seen it in the movies, Albanese people are “dangerous people”, but are they really? The answer is no, absolutely not.
As a matter of fact, Albanese people are one of the most welcoming and friendly people we have met in our travels around the world.
We spent 9 days traveling Albania, this time we decided to skip the north part, with the Alps, to have our shot of vitamin D on the Riviera. And before that, a visit of the Capital, Tirana.
So, here we present to you some interesting and useful facts about the country, as well as our itinerary.
Like that when you plan your road trip in Albania you’ll have an idea of the best places to visit.
Prepare your road trip in Albania
The Albanian Lek.
At the time of our visit (July 2019) the exchange rate was 1€ = 122 Lek / 1$ = 108 Lek.
Credit or debit cards are not very popular along the country and there are only a few places that accept this type of payment. Be sure to always have enough cash with you.
Watch out for Raiffeisen Bank as they charged us a total of 14 euros for a cash withdrawal with an N26 card that is supposed to not have transaction fees.
This happened in a small beach town that had just two ATM machines.
Most importantly, make sure to take cash in major urban areas only.
Albanese is the official language, of course. This is a difficult language to learn and understand. However, we found out that lots of people speak or understand Italian, likewise, French and English are common in tourist areas.
Albanese people get very happy if you can learn some words in their language and try to speak to them. Therefore, grab a pen and prepare yourself for a quick lesson:
Mirmengjes = Goog morning
Mirembrema = Good evening
Faleminderit = Thank you
Te lutem = Please
These words will get you by during all your road trip in Albania and will gain you lots of smiles in return. Be sure to use them!
The Capital city, is where we started our travel and the exploration of the “other Europe”.
We learned about the country’s dark history with the communist dictatorship and got the opportunity to taste the actual and very modern way of living of the Albanese people.
Krujë, Berat, Gjirokastër
Albania has a very long and interesting history that was influenced by the Ottoman empire with impressive castles and constructions. We can appreciate this in the architecture of these cities mentioned above.
After Tirana, we drove north to the mountain town of Krujë, where the Alps begin (or end). Then, we went south to the UNESCO city of Berat.
The last inland city that we visited was Gjirokastër, but between Berat and Gjirokaster, we traveled on the coast.
Riviera: Dhermi, Lukovë, Ksamil & our secret beaches
The beaches in Albania were definitely one of the highlights of the road trip, starting with the town of Dhermi and going south along the coast, discovering wild beaches in between. Here you can find more information about our days in the Albanese riviera.
How to move inside Albania?
Renting a car
Now the country’s most important destinations are well connected by very decent highways or roads and you can get to all of them by bus (but it could be dangerous…).
While it is possible to travel like that and even hitchhiking (we saw some people doing it), we completely recommend to rent a car. It opens up possibilities for exploration and mobility, that otherwise, you won’t have.
We rented a car with the help of Vacances Albanie, a travel agency run by French and Albanese people. They speak French, English, German and Italian. The process was the simplest we ever had to rent a car (with the help of their partner).
They were always in communication with us to make sure everything was going alright.
Before the travel, Adrien called us to reassure us regarding the warranty of the car and to confirm everything was perfect.
We choose to rent the car from Tirana to Sarandë and the team coordinated everything perfectly, to take and drop the car where we wanted.
Don’t be afraid if the car you receive is dirty, most of the time the cars from local rental agencies are not really clean, but that’s just how it is done there!
On the other hand, if you do decide to rent a car and make a road trip in Albania, be advised, Albanese people are not the best drivers, going fast most of the time and displaying a lot of bravado on the road all the time. Traffic and speed signs are merely a suggestion and most of the time are not respected by the drivers.
Our favorite roads
SH8, the road that runs from Vlorë all the way down to Sarandë, crossing a breathtaking chain of mountains with stunning views of the Adriatic sea and the turquoise waters of the Albanian riviera.
SH99, the road between the Blue-Eye and Gjirokaster. Not all the way, but there is a curvy part going down (or up, depends on your direction), that any adrenaline junkie will enjoy!
SH81, that makes half of the turn of Butrint National Park and offers views of the little blue bays of Ksamil, the Island of Corfu in Greece and the amazing lagoon of Butrint.
The small road going from the little town of Lukovë to the beach of the same name, passing through fields of planted olive trees. We found goats running free all along the way.
What to eat and drink in Albania?
➞ Albanese cuisine has a lot of Mediterranean influence. You will find lots of Greek specialities as well as Turkish and Italian. Pizzerias are all over Albania and being so close to Italy, Albanese people damn sure know how to cook a good pizza!
➞ About the local gastronomy, you should not miss the byrek, which is a savory pie made with filo pastry usually prepared with spinach or cheese; the fergese which is a veal stew; and in dessert you will find loukoums, baklava or sweet orange cake!
➞ The traditional breakfast is composed of an espresso, bread and jam (cherry or fig), feta cheese and a Greek salad!
➞ You can have good coffee (and by coffee we mean espresso) everywhere. Albanese love to spend time at the terrace sipping on a coffee.
➞ For alcoholic beverages you will find wine as in Albania there are lots of vineyards, beers, and raki, a strong alcohol made with the grape.
Where to sleep in Albania?
We slept mainly in hotels and guest houses. The average price we paid was between 20-30 € for the night in a double room with a private bathroom. These prices can vary depending on the area you visit.
We bought a sim card at ALBtelecom. For around 15 € we got 6 go of internet with one month expiration. We had our own number and we used it to make some phone calls and to spend some time on our social networks.
Is Albania expensive?
The answer is no. Actually, it is very attractive for people of western Europe to spend some time vacationing in Albania because of the exchange rate.
➞ price of a beer: 200 Lek for a pinte
➞ price of a coffee: varies from place to place 70-150 Lek
Is Albania safe?
Completely safe, as safe as traveling in any other destination in Europe, France, Spain, Portugal. We never at any moment of the trip felt threatened or insecure. Not in big cities or in smaller towns.
Like any other country in the world, there are places not to visit, or not to be around during night time. Use your best judgment and stay safe.
➞ Stay hydrated, if you visit during the summer months, the heat can be tough and your body will loose liquids through sweat. Keep always a big bottle of water with you.
➞ In Gjirokaster we were attacked by a gang of transparent small mosquitos, that usually live in this type of rock construction. Be sure to have some kind of repellent.
➞ Don’t panic if you see a teddy bear hanging in front of the door of people’s houses! This is an Albanian tradition and is meant to put away the bad vibes and the envies of jealous neighbors.
➞ Mercedes Benz seems to be the official car of Albania. We kid you not but we calculate that half of the cars of the country are Mercedes, going from old models from the 80’s to brand new shiny models. Walking in Tirana’s city center is like walking in a catwalk of luxury cars.
➞ There is a peculiarity in how the houses are built, they seem to never be finished and there is always the structure ready for a new floor to be built, this is to expand the house as the family grows in members. All the edifice and the floors are connected by an exterior staircase.
➞ During the communist regime, a total of 173,000 concrete bunkers were constructed all around the country, that means 5 bunkers for every square kilometer. Now, the vast majority are abandoned and mix with the Albanian’s landscape.
Disclaimer: this article expresses the views, opinions, and experiences of Cobalt State, the studio does not take responsibility for the bad use of this advice. Any activities and decisions you take are under your own risk and you alone will be responsible for them.