Welcome to Balkan

August 31, 2017

We decided to spend our summer vacation exploring Balkan Peninsula and enjoy our time-off at Albanian Riviera. In two weeks journey we drove across Croatia and Serbia, made a short stop in Belgrade, and continued to Macedonia. Our first destination was the capital of Macedonia – Skopje, which was recently reconstructed and after that partly lost its charm. We stayed in Skopje for three days and made a round trip to Kosovo on the second one – explored Ferizaj, Gračanica Monastery, Priština, Peja (Peć), Patriarchate of Peć Monastery, Monastery Visoki Decani, Gjakove and Prizren (Prizren Fortress). Kosovo might be a young and diverse country, with open ethnic conflicts and very poorly developed tourist infrastructure, but offers a unique view on traditional life at the Balkans. A great destination for any adventure traveler.

After Kosovo we drove to Ohrid and around Lake Ohrid (on Macedonian and partly Albanian side). The town itself was quite crowded (we traveled there in high season), but we found couple of small villages around the lake and lots of deserted beaches. Water was crystal blue and cold .. and that’s all you need at 40°C (besides cold macedonian beer). We tasted some of local culinary specialties (mainly fish), visited St. Naum and drove thru National Park Galichica to Stenje, where we swam in Lake Prespa. Later in the afternoon we continued our journey by driving around Lake Prespa and into Greece.

Our final destination in Greece was town called Kalabaka, which is situated right in the heart of Central Greece (Trikala region) and on the foot of the Meteora peaks. We planned on camping in Camping Vrachos, which we visited and can highly recommend, but changed our planes and reserved a room in a small guesthouse (Guesthouse Arsenis) right by the road to Meteora monasteries. After making all the plans (with the help of the guesthouse owner) for exloring the area, we drove to a viewpoint near the guesthouse .. amazing ! Exploring Meteora monasteries and the area around them was definitely the highlight of our journey.

Next day we drove to the greek-albanian border, enjoyed some beach time at Sagiada (Παραλία Κεραμίδι) and continued to Sarandë (Albania). We booked an apartment at Heaven Beach Apartments, which are located around 6km south of the city, offer a private beach and great sunset / city view. Sarandë is a touristic city, lot of hotels and restaurants, so we didn’t expect to see much, but nevertheless found couple of sights worth visiting. One of them is Lëkurësi Castle, which is located above the city and offers great sunset view. Beaches around Sarandë are beautiful, but very crowded. That’s why we also explored the coastline from Sarandë to Ksamil – we recommend checking Pulëbardha Beach and Plazhi i Pasqyrave – and Ksamil itself. We also planned to see Buthrotum, an ancient Greek/Roman city, but changed our mind (because of the summer heat) and headed up north instead. Our next stop was a water spring named Blue eye, which we also recommend visiting, and after a swim in the cold water we continued to drive over Muzine pass and to Gjirokastër, where we explored Gjirokaster Castle.

We continued our journey along Albanian Riviera, visiting different beaches (Krorezit BeachLukovës BeachBorshit BeachSpile BeachGjipe BeachDhermi Beach and Palasa Beach), over Llogara Pass and to Vlorë, where we booked a room in Vlora Backpackers Hostel. The city is very modern, lots of shops and cafes. Best beaches are located a bit outside the city, at Zvërnec Peninsula, which is located near Zvërnec Island. The bridge connecting both ends is being renovated and is not safe to pass, so you can only admire Zvërnec Monastery across the bay. Our next stop was Berat, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities. Quite a charming city, with old stone houses, couple of museums and the Holy Trinity Church. We escaped the summer heat by making a side trip to Cobo Winery, which is situated near Berat – great wine and rakia, highly recommended – and later continued to Durrës, where we explored the Old Town and Durrës Amphitheatre. After a long day we took the highway to the capital of Albania – Tiranë. We stayed at Hostel Grande House for one night, which was probably the cheapest option with free private parking (around 3km from the center). Tiranë (Tirana) is a huge city and we only had one day to explore, so we started really early. City streets were almost deserted at 5am and got really crowded at around 9am. The Skanderbeg SquareEt`hem Bey MosqueEnver Hoxha Pyramid and Mother Teresa Square are just a short walk apart and worth visiting. After a long morning hike across Tiranë we drove to Shkodër, around Lake Shkodër, to the border crossing with Montenegro and to Podgorica. Quite small, but lovely city, with just a few sights and a great restaurant – Pod Volat – where we had lunch and can highly recommend a visit.

Montenegro in summer? Beach time! We headed south to Budva and found a camping spot at Crvena Glavica, which is located near Beach Galija and St Stefan islet. Beaches, restaurants, hotels, bars, streets, .. in wider Budva area were very crowed. Charming old stone houses, little churches, restaurants and bars with breathtaking views and delicious food are probably best to explore outside the main season, that’s why we didn’t stay long and quickly headed up to Bay of Kotor. Our first stop was the city of Tivat, where we booked a room at Tivat Apartments. A small town with couple of restaurants, shops and a wealthy neighbour – Porto Montenegro. We didn’t take the ferry across the bay, but rather drove around it. Old villages, small beaches by the road and breathtaking landscapes. Kotor and Perast are amazing little cities and well worth a visit.

We ended our journey by visiting Dubrovnik .. which we didn’t like. The town itself is lovely, but crowds are indescribable and prices are rocket high. We watched the sunset by the Old Town and drove to Slovenia via Bosnia and Croatia.