Day-by-day on the Bike Tour of Southern Albania
September 5 - September 17, 2022
September 19 - October 1, 2022
- Hike to “The Black Cave”
- Cycle on the shore of Lake Ohrid – the deepest of the Balkans
- Cycle the magnificent South Eastern Albanian highlands
- Cycle to “The Blue Eye”
- Cycle the Albanian Riviera including Llogora Pass
- Visit 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the tour plus the ruins of Apollonia
- Great variety of healthy food and wines
Welcome to Albania
Our tour starts in the capital of Tirana, the largest city in Albania and the country’s centre of culture, education, finance, and government. Tirana, as a city, has a long history dating back to the 1600s though people have lived in the area since antiquity. One of the largest cities in the Balkans, it is also one of the sunniest in Europe – a good reason to start our tour here. Located almost in the geographic middle of the country, it provides us with a good launching point for our tour of Southern Albania. The average temperatures in Tirana in September are day time highs of 27 degrees and night time lows of 14 degrees.
Day 1 – Tirana
Meet and Greet in the Hotel, Bike Fit, Dinner
For those who are interested in a pre-tour group activity, we will meet mid-morning to join a walking tour of Tirana led by local volunteers. The official tour starts mid-afternoon with a meet and greet. We will introduce the staff and over a cool beverage, distribute jerseys and handbooks – a useful guide and memento of the route you will be following over the next 12 days. And, of course, we will answer any questions that you may have.
You will have time to meet and chat to your fellow adventurers, and for those who are renting bikes, we will walk to the bike shop and get you set you up on your rental bike. This is the time to have our staff put any personal items you may have (pedals, saddle, racks) on the rental bike.
In the evening, we will transfer by van to a local farm for a meal of locally produced meat, veggies, fruit and wine.
Day 2 – Tirana – Elbasan
Breakfast, Transfer to Pellumbas Village, Lunch, Hike to Pellumbas Cave, Transfer to Elbasan, Dinner
Our second day starts with a late breakfast in the hotel, load our luggage into the van, and then transfer to Pellumbas where we will have lunch in this small village just outside Tirana.
After lunch we will do a 2 – 3 hour hike up the mountain to Pellumbas Cave (the Black Cave), one of 6 karstic caves in Europe. The cave is 360 metres long with many columns, stalagmites, and stalactites. Remains of ancient human culture from the Paleolithic era have been found in this cave. The Black Cave is most famous for the extinct cave bear which lived there between 10,000 and 400,000 years ago. You will need a head lamp to enter the cave.
After our hike, our van will take us to our hotel where we can relax.
Dinner will be in our hotel.
Day 3 – Elbasan – Pogradec (73 km)
Our first day of cycling starts with a short warm-up flattish section before reaching our first and only big climb of the day - Thana Pass. The climb to the top is gradual and it is at the top that traffic to Macedonia veers off to the north and we will descent to Lake Ohrid and lunch at a restaurant on the lakeshore.
Our afternoon ride along the lake into Pogradec is fairly flat and you will be at the hotel in plenty of time to explore the lakeside and even venture out to the National Park of Drilon.
Supper will be at a local restaurant.
Day 4 – Progradec – Korca (52/90 km)
We start cycling from the shore of Lake Ohrid, and then climb to an elevated plateau enjoying some great views of the blue waters of the lake surrounded by mountains. On the plateau, we will be treated to rolling hills and agricultural countryside. There are many signs pointing to historical sites as there are many ruins in this area and all over the country.
You will also catch your first views of many of the 175,000 bunkers which were built in the 1970s by the Communist regime worried about nuclear war. We may have a chance to stop at an apiary on our way into Korce.
After lunch in Korce, you have the option of cycling onto Voskopoja (38 km return), or proceeding to your hotel and relaxing/exploring Korce. The van will also be available to transfer riders to Voskopoja. Voskopoja, at its peak in the 18th century was a cultural and commercial centre and today is considered to be a holy place by local Orthodox Christians.
Dinner will be at a local traditional restaurant.
Day 5 – Korca – Farma Sotira (70 km)
We leave behind the agricultural plateau of Korca, and continue cycling on an undulated road through a landscape of barren rock interspersed with wild flowers. Numerous cols and valleys lie ahead, along the silhouette of the Gramoz Mountains and over the Barmash Pass till reaching the forest of Germenj, in its own tranquil valley.
As we cycle through the mountains, we will stop at a lovely farmhouse for a short coffee break and carry on to the small town of Erseke where we will have lunch.
The road over the Barmash Pass is one of the most beautiful cycling roads of Albania. Be sure to keep your eyes open for the various war memorials along the route.
We will stay for a traditional dinner and overnight at the wooden bungalows of ‘Farma Sotira’ - a family-run business in a beautiful and quiet setting by the road.
Day 6 – Farma Sotira – Permet (70 km)
To start the day, we climb out from Germenj Forest to a high grassy plateau surrounded by soaring peaks before descending through a spectacular gorge to Leskovik. Here we have the choice of taking the new highway or travelling on the old road through a magnificent gorge. The pavement is the worst we will encounter, so it may not suit everyone, but the visitas are incredible.
We will stop at Çarshove to re-group and have a break before following the route high above the river to the turn-off to the thermal pools at Benja.
Along this road, we will stop for lunch before we carry on to the Ottoman Stone Bridge of Katiu and the thermal pools. Be sure to pack your bathing suit for a dip in the pools.
The final part of our ride takes us back along the river into the small town of Permet. Famed for its cuisine and raki spirit, Permet provides us with an opportunity this evening to enjoy some traditional Albanian entertainment and local delicacies in a local restaurant.
Day 7 – Permet – flex day
We have chosen Permet for a 2-night stay because of the variety of activities to be undertaken here and its natural beauty. Surrounded by mountains and sitting on the river, it is a wonderful place to whitewater raft, hike, canyon, or just hang out. We offer guided rafting or hiking (small additional charge – must be booked in advance).
Lunch, for those on the guided tours, will be outside of Permet. For those who choose to spend the day exploring or relaxing in Permet, lunch is on your own.
Dinner is in a local restaurant.
Day 8 – Permet – Girokaster (60 km)
We continue along the tranquil valley of Vjosa, towards Kelcyre where we will re-group. From here, we will enter a picturesque gorge bringing us to the confluence of river Drinos.
We will stop for a break along the river, before joining the highway. Here the road opens out into a wide plain aligned by rounded mountains till reaching historic town of Gjirokastra (UNESCO World Heritage List)high above us.
After lunch at a local restaurant, in the afternoon we will have a chance to explore its narrow cobbled alleys and characteristic stone build houses. There are good shopping opportunities here plus a plethora of interesting sites, in addition to the castle.
Dinner is at a local restaurant.
Day 9 – Girokaster – Sarande (60 km)
Our day starts out with a gentle ride on smooth pavement along the flat valley of Drinos until we start to climb the Pass of Muzina. The views from the top are breathtaking.
We will stop to re-group and have a short break before descending the other side of the pass. At the bottom, we will take a gravel road into “The Blue Eye” – a unique natural phenomenon. This very deep karst hole is representative of an extensive underground drainage system.
Afterwards we continue cycling through lovely little village, you will notice the Greek influence in this area before reaching the coastal town of Saranda.
The gateway to southern Albania for many travellers arriving from nearby Corfu, Saranda lies sandwiched between the mountains and the sea and close to the ancient ruins of Butrint.
We will stay overnight in a hotel near the sea and dine at the waterfront.
Day 10 – Sarande – Qeparo (70 km)
Today we cycle to the Archaeological Park of Butrint just south of Saranda. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Butrint is one of the country’s most important archaeological sites, tracing its origins back to the Greeks and the Romans.
We will have coffee near the site before cycling back up the peninsula taking a different route to continue north along the coast road. We cycle inland a bit before returning to the seaside and its wonderful views.
Passed Saranda we encounter to a rocky plateau, followed by a rollercoaster ride on the hills. Our lunch stop is a small village along the Albanian Riviera and in the afternoon, we will have a chance to cool off in Borsh. Here there is a unique restaurant built over top of a stream which flows into the sea. This provides a natural air conditioning effect.
Then it’s over cols into bays and around headlands, always with the stunning mountain scenery to the right and sea to the left before descending to the long beach and the bay of Qeparo, where we have dinner and stay in a small family run pension by the sea.
Day 11 – Qeparo – Llogara Pass (53 km)
The penultimate day is also the most difficult but the most beautiful part of the Albanian Riviera. We cycle north while climbing over several cols through woodlands, narrow fresh gorges, forests and hairpin bends. We will stop in Himara to re-group and have a break.
On the way up the coast, we also pass through the middle of the old villages of Vuno and Dhermi, where we stop for lunch on a shady terrace where the relaxed local elderlies play domino, sipping Turkish coffee and raki. The Llogara Pass is 18 km long and rises 1000m but offers some of the most beautiful mountain and sea panoramas of the Mediterranean.
It is here that we will stay overnight in a mountain hotel next to the dense pine forest, enjoying a tasty traditional dinner with local specialties.
Day 12 – Llogara Pass – Vlores – Apollonia – Berat – Tirana (35 km)
After breakfast we start our final ½ day of cycling, mostly downhill through the fresh air of Llogora, before reaching the plateau of Dukat. Watch for the beautiful mosaic as you descend out of the forest.
Continuing north, we cycle into Vlora, where our cycling route ends at the beach of a hotel by the sea. Here we load up the bikes, change out of our cycling gear and have a short break, before climbing into the bus to visit Apollonia where we will have lunch. Here we will say good-bye to our faithful driver and mechanic.
Apollonia (Illyria) was originally a harbor and Apollonia was a major city founded in the 6th century, known for its school of philosophy. After lunch, we transfer to Berat, a city on the Osum River known for its white Ottoman houses and distinctive wooden windows. The Castle, a UNESCO heritage site, is a huge compound still inhabited by townspeople.
Our final leg will be a transfer from Berat back into Tirana. After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we will have our final dinner at a local restaurant with our guide.
Day 13 – Leaving Albania
We will have breakfast in the hotel and then say farewell to our travelling companions.