This was actually a trip I did at the end of 2018 (October). We've traveled as a group of 4 friends. And here's what we did.
Day 1 - landing in Tirana
So we took a flight with Pegasus airlines and landed in Tirana airport and took a minivan. That's the time to tell you, don't travel to this country without a car. Our trip started at Shkoder which is a city in the North of Albania near Shkoder Lake. The driving to Shkoder is about 1:30 hours.
We've checked in to our hotel - Petit Hotel Elita. That was really nice and the staff even made us a packed breakfast because we left for a trip early in the morning.
In the evening we sat at a restaurant called "Bar Restaurant Elita", which apparently owned by the same guy that owns the hotel we stayed at. It is a great place to sit and eat. And we also drank there too much wine.
Somehow we found ourselves sitting at the table with the owner of the restaurant and his brother that came to visit him from Canada. We had a really long conversations with them for more than 2 hours. They told us a little bit about life in this country under communism and how hard life was. They even told us about the times of WWII that a lot of families in the city hid jews to save their lives.
Day 2 - Trip to Shkodra Lake
So as I was saying earlier, we woke up really early and left for a tour. we had a ride that we booked in advance. We took a boat trip and sat to eat there in one of the little islands. The Lake is really nice and I really recommend you to go there.
In Albania a lot of people make their own kind of alcohol called "raki" and in a lot of houses, you'll see them make raki from vines.
After the trip to the lake, we went back to the hotel (and napped on the way). Our next destination was the Rozafa Castle. You should take your car there and preferably be there before dark so you can see the view!
After that, we got back to the city to have a good meal and walk the city a little bit to get to know it better. It's nice to walk a bit in the center although it seemed a bit sleepy. But if you're already there take a little walk, have an ice cream and go to meet some new people. We ate dinner at a place called "Peja Grill" it was nice and not expensive. I highly recommend ordering the grilled feta (maybe you ate the same thing if you've been to Greece).
And as you can see we really like to eat and always order more than we can eat. So we went to Bar Restaurant Elita again for Deserts and wine.
Day 3 - From Shkoder to Kruja, Durres, and Gjirokaster
We woke up early for a nice breakfast at the city center, a quick stop at the supermarket and we went our way.
We went back to the hotel, grabbed our luggage and started our drive for the day. The first stop was a town called Kruja. If you ask me, the market was too touristic and not very interesting, you can just mark it out of your trip. But the thing to see in Kruja is the Kruja Castle and the views.
We continued our trip and looked for someplace to eat (obviously). We stopped by a town called Durres which was a nice stop. We had a nice lunch, walked a little bit by the sea and even took a ride on a chair carousel by the sea!
We continued our drive south - Destination Gjirokastër!
But you wouldn't believe it - we stopped to eat at a roadside restaurant and they even showed us their kitchen and how they make the food.
This was the time to get to our hotel. Not before getting it too narrow streets, almost getting the car totaled and smashing it a bit in a wall. But everyone was fine at the end so that's what important. We got to the hotel "Hotel Gjirokastra" which was really nice with a nice breakfast. This is some kind of a small family hotel and they were really nice (Oh and I forgot that the owner of the hotel came to help us with the car when we got stuck). So It was really nice.
We've put our stuff in the room and went for a walk in the city center. The center is nice and full of young people going out. There are many places to eat and drink. So we've tried some of them. We sat at one of the restaurants and somehow found ourselves sitting and talking with the owner of the place, we called him "Baba". apparently, his whole family works there. He also told us a lot about the time this country was under communism and living in bunkers. And about the army service, they had to do. I can tell you that anywhere we went the people in Albania was always nice and tried to tell us about their history and their life. When you're there - try to connect with the people around you and not just the people you traveled with!
Day 4 - The Blue Eye and Gjirokaster Castle
So another day just started, we ate our breakfast and headed to the Blue Eye which is a natural water spring. If you're in the area you should check that out! you'll even get some nice photos and you can sit, drink coffee by the water and relax.
After the Blue Eye, we went back to Gjirokaster, not before stopping to eat in some fancy roadside restaurant. How do I know it was fancy? first of all, all of the cars outside were some expensive cars. Second, the prices were higher than the regular cheap of Albania. The restaurant's name is "Piceri Ndrico". And as you can see from the photos, we didn't have any meal without wine! The wines we drank were usually local or Italian and it was really cheap usually.
After lunch, we drove back to Gjirokaster and went to Gjirokaster Castle which is a fortress at the top of the city. And as a country filled with fortresses and castles, you should visit. Read about it on Wikipedia (click here). It's also nice to just sit by the view of the castle.
As we were going back down from the fortress to the center and the hotel, walking by old stone houses and parts of the old city. Suddenly we start to smell the scent of Raki in the making, We look where it comes from and see an old man in his yard. We wave him to say hello, he sees us and invites us with his hand to come into his yard (What did I tell you ? the people of Albania are super nice! and not just in touristic centers). He gives us a few shots of his Raki, and then his brother joins him. Their English was kind of broken but they asked us where we are from, we told them we are from Israel (and apparently Albanians really like Israel). And they started telling us about a jew named Solomon their family hid during WWII. There's nothing like the conversations with locals, and the Albanians really gave me more faith in humanity.
We continued our way down, and sat again with "Baba" at his restaurant, ate and drank with him and heard more of his stories. He was really nice and interesting. Those conversations with locals (especially the old ones) really changed the way we think about this country and what it went through. Oh, and the food was great!
Day 5 - Butrint and the beaches of Ksamil and Sarande
We woke up, grabbed breakfast and drove to Butrint. Butrint is an ancient Greek city, ruins and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's nice if you're in the area. But for me, it's not a "must-have". It depends what you like, for me the trip is mostly about the human connection so usually ruins don't do that for me. Having that said the history of those sites is important and interesting so read about them!
After we left Butrint we stopped for a coffee and snacks on the beach of Ksamil. And went to one of the beaches of Sarande. And before we went back to Gjirokaster we stopped by the Lekursi Castle in Sarande, If you're already there go for the views!
In the evening we ate again and went out for drinks. But I'm sure you're really tired of food photos, so you're not gonna get any this time. But you will get ones for the drinks.
Day 6 - The way to Tirana, local Winery (Cobo Winery) and Berat Castle
So we started our morning early, with a nice breakfast at the hotel, packed our luggage and got into the car. Our first stop was a Winery named "Cobo Winery". Check out their site. We had a little tour in the winery, walked between the vineyards and did a wine tasting. They make their wine mostly from grapes called "Shesh" (black and white). The wine was great, and the family that owns the winery is really nice. They told us about how the communism affected their winery and destroyed a lot of it. They also showed us the wine cellar. Highly recommend going there if you have the time. Also, we thought about it spontaneously in the same morning. But it's better to book a tour in advance!
Our next stop after drinking too much wine was a town called Berat, and don't worry there's a castle to see there too! Berat Castle. Getting to the castle requires walking a lot uphill, but that's just part of the trip, isn't it?
So we got down back to our car, And after a long drive got to our hotel in Tirana! Hotel Oresti, The hotel is nice and cheap, not the best hotel we had in Albania but it was great for the price and had breakfast included.
After a quick stop at our hotel room, we were hungry as usual. So we went to explore the city a little and had dinner. We sat at a restaurant called "Era".
After we ate, we went for a walk in the center to get to know the city better. We met some Israelis that arrived in Tirana the same day and went with them to a cocktail bar. After a walk in Tirana, I can say it's a lot more modern than other places in Albania, like two different countries. It's nice to be in civilization again, but it's different and doesn't have the same effect. If you come to Albania, You definitely should go outside of Tirana. The cocktail bar was "Small Tirana".
And some photos from Tirana at night which is a really beautiful city.
Time to go to sleep people!
Day 7 - Tirana - BunkArt and some other stuff
Remember how I told you about the number of bunkers in Albania? So in Tirana, there's something called BunkArt which is some weird kind of bunkers museum and you should definitely go there.
Did you notice something missing about this day so far? Oh yeah, food. So we ate KFC for lunch before the BunkArt so it's not worth uploading those photos.
So we tried to have another stop before it gets dark - Dajti mountain. there's a cable car to go up&down and a great view of the city!
Now it was time to find someplace to eat. So we found one. We sat at a place called Artigiano. The food was nice and I recommend it. It was also packed and we had to wait a little to get in.
Day 8 - Tour & Some more food
If there's something I like to do in almost every big city I go to is - Free Walking Tour, which is not really free - you should tip at the end! But because the tour is tip-based, it's usually good!
So our walking tour started from Skanderbeg Square in front of the National History Museum. Check out their site for more information!
Now is the time for some more food! So we sat at another branch of "era" in the Blloku area. And after that continued to walk in the city, took a lot of funny photos that you won't get. But it was really fun and Tirana is great, just take the time to get lost in the city!
And some photos of the city.
And after a lot of walking during the day, we were pretty exhausted and hungry. So we found some grill restaurant and ate a great meal at a place called Zgara Korçare 2. I'm getting hungry again from looking at the photos. Oh and I think it was the only time in Albania that we drank beer and not wine.
Day 9 - Going back home
What? You liar! you said 8 days in Albania! 8!
Ok ok I lied, But the last day was only a half-day so I counted that out. It wasn't that interesting. We had Coffee in the park and Pizza at someplace on our way to the airport. That's all, but here are some photos of that "day".
So if I need to conclude Albania in a few words, I would definitely say that Albania is the people of Albania. Wow, it was a great trip and it was like that not because the country is beautiful (it is), but because of the people. They were so hospitable, nice, helpful and always tried to make us feel like home. So we did feel like home.
Until next time, Goodbye Albania - hope to see you again.