Part 4 (7 April - 23 April) Montenegro - Albania



We booked a Ferry from Bari (Italy) to Bar (Montenegro), a 9 hour overnight trip on a shabby boat operated by a corporation with a pretty bad reputation. Safe to say, we were not looking forward to it. Getting on the boat was a 5 hour hassle, but once on board it wasn`t too bad as we were given a cinema-like chair in a pitch black room so we could get some sleep. As we took our seat we noticed the song coming out of the speakers: Sting – Message in a bottle (for those unfamiliar with the song, it is about a sending an SOS to the world) which we tried not to take as a bad omen J. The next morning when the sun lit up the room, we understood why the ferry company kept the lights off: the furniture was old, dirty, broken or ripped apart, but at least we safely arrived in Montenegro!


From Bar, we drove to the Bay of Kotor (a Norwegian fjord look-alike) on roads that were in a lot better state then most Italian roads are, where we found the most stunning views. At the best view along the coast, we stopped to take a picture and noticed a rusty sign that said ‘camping’. The term ‘camping’ was a bit of an overstatement, but we parked our car anyway and enjoyed the amazing view after which Jeroen went fishing. He didn’t have much luck; after being taught by a 100-year old local guy how to fish in this bay he caught 1 (very) small fish which was eaten by a cat when Jeroen wasn’t looking… 

There we met our first fellow ‘overlanders’, Swedish Emmelie and Kiwi Harley, who are on their way from South Africa to Sweden in their Land Rover Defender. It was cool to listen to their stories and to learn from their experiences and encounters along the way, they even went through Sudan and Egypt and crossed the border to Israel, something many people say is impossible nowadays. We ended up spending two great days together, saying goodbye felt sad and we hope to meet them again someday.

We left for a National Reserve south of Montenegro near the Albanian border, where we found a camp site where we could park next to the house of a Montenegro couple and use their facilities. When Nicolette entered the house to use the toilet she figured that we could have been a little bit pickier in choosing a place to stay. Flushing their toilet and cleaning anything in the house was apparently too much trouble, the dogs had constant itches and the couple smoked so much we had a hard time seeing the other side of the room.


The man was a very active moonshiner, making his own ‘Rakia’ from their plumtrees with which he kept filling our (and his own) glasses. After 1 sip Nicolette stopped drinking (bleh!), which as a woman is acceptable, but for Jeroen it wasn’t so easy to refuse, the man didn’t accept no for an answer. To return the favor Jeroen took out his precious whisky bottle, which he forgot to bring back to the car after dinner. The next morning Jeroen asked for his whisky, the man returned with an empty bottle, he had finished it by himself during the night! Oh well, we`ll just have to add it to the expenses J






The next day we managed to find an epic place to camp in nature with a view of the bird park. Check out the video and listen to the sounds of nature.


Also check out our dashcam video of Montenegro. 





Magical! That pretty sums up our impression of Albania. All our expectations were exceeded, roads are decent to very good, general safety is outstanding, the food is cheap and of excellent quality, and the hospitality and friendliness of the Albanian people has to be experienced to be believed. Albania is thinly populated and not yet discovered by tourism, which made us ‘the talk of the town’ passing the small villages; almost everyone waved and smiled as we drove by. Our opinion may have been influenced by our low expectations created by all the horror stories we have read and were told. 


Now there is some truth to these stories, as Albania has been through some particularly grim periods the past 60 years. After WWII, the country was plunged into isolation, led by Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha. After emerging from the communist era in the 1990's, Albania's weak economy was devastated by a series of pyramid schemes (partially backed by the government!) in which 70% of the population lost all their belongings. Civil war broke out in the entire country and it took almost a year before things settled down again. Then in 1998 the Kosovo war broke out, in which both the Albanians and the Serbs committed war crimes. From 2000 onwards the politics and economy of Albania stabilized slowly but steadily and nowadays a positive vibe can be felt in the whole country, as Albania is making it`s comeback!



We started our Albanian adventure in the mountainous north-east near Kosovo, where we drove on a brand new road to Bayram Curri. The sights we were treated to were straight from a Lord of the Rings set and jaw-dropping beautiful (picture from Panoramio due to a camera fail). 


We read about these mountains through a website “Journey to Valbona” created by an American named Catherine who came to Valbona, fell in love with the valley (and a handsome Albanian) and never left. She has created some excellent trail maps and marked each trail to promote tourism. In Valbona we were pointed to Camping Tradita where the views of the mountains were beautiful, the food in the restaurant turned out to be delicious and the people were very friendly. 

The Albanian mountains are home to many wild animals, such as brown bears, wolves, lynxes and venomous snakes. In other countries sightings are rare, not so in Valbona. We hiked a 13k mountain trail during which we encountered 3 horned vipers (the most venomous snake found in Europe), numerous lizards and birds and 1 unidentified 4-legged creature which stared at us for a while (we stared back!) and then slowly walked back into the forest. Exciting!



We also picked up 2 lovely dogs who stayed with us during the last 5K of our hike, followed us to the campsite and kept watch the whole night next to our car. Sounds cute, but throughout the night every mouse, lizard or fly got a five minute barking concert... The dogs turned out to belong to Catherine, so the next day we brought the dogs back and had a chat with her. She told us about her encounter with a mother bear and its cub last year which didn`t end too well. Upon noticing the cub she yelled enthusiastically for her boyfriend to come and see, which the mother bear didn’t like too much. The bear slammed her to the ground by whacking her in the face, after which it took off, leaving Catherine with a nice scar as a reminder.



We liked Valbona so much that we ended up staying for 4 days at Tradita enjoying the fresh mountain air, with a total bill of 56 euro’s (food, drinks, shower and tip included!)



Our next stop was the capital of Albania, Tirana. Our 2007 guidebook said ‘the most polluted city in Europe with trash everywhere and suicidal traffic, crossing the street in Tirana is only for extreme sports enthusiast’. So we were bracing ourselves for a genuine ‘3rd world country capital’ encounter.

Well, apparently the Tiranians (Tirans is probably not correct) have been spending the last 9 years cleaning up their city and taking driving lessons! Although busy we found the drivers in Italy far worse while cities like Florence are more littered then Tirana. Tirana is a lovely city with lots of young people visiting hip bars and with plenty of green to take a stroll through. There also are some very interesting museums, but the Albanians have a hard time figuring out what to do with their communist past. As wounds of this period run deep, most of their 'commie' history has been erased from view and the few remaining reminders are in pretty bad shape. 

We found the statues of Lenin and Stalin, during the communist era prominently positioned, now tucked away in the back yard of the national art museum, badly damaged, like they were garbage. We hope one day these statues will be restored and back on display as a reminder of this important part of Albanian history.

Jeroen was able to purchase a '35 years of prosperous socialism' propaganda book, pretty rare according to the 40yr old shopkeeper. He explained that he, after the 1990 fall of communism, joined in communist statue-demolishing and book-shredding which is why not many remain. Jeroen liked to believe him and probably paid way to much ;) but since the food and accommodation in Albania is so cheap it didn't really matter.

Divjaka-Karavasta National Park



After an overnight wild camp in the Karavasta Lagoon, we spotted the near-extinct Dalmatian Pelican.

(pictures by Nicolette, Jeroen is jealous)



Berat is an old Albanian town added to the Unesco heritage list because of its beauty.  And beautiful it was! 




Time for some beaches!


We drove through coastal mountains and over coastal roads with excellent views. We arrived at under-development and near-deserted Livadhi beach near the town of Himare and again were told by our 2007 guidebook to expect plastic-strewn beaches. We found nothing of the sort. Entrepreneur Dennis who manages the excellent Kranea campsite also does a fine job of keeping the beach clean and, more importantly, is a lamb-barbecue expert. Slowly cooked, it is amazing how good fresh lamb chops can taste (apparently our lamb was still walking happily in the fields with an Albanian Heidi that morning :).

Safe to say we had an excellent 4 days here! 

Blue eyed lake and Butrint


Before passing the border to Greece we had a relaxing picknick at the blue eyed lake (a natural 50+ meter deep spring shaped like an eye).


At our next stop we played Indiana Jones (Jeroen's BBB's know how much he likes this) at the Butrint archeological site, an ancient Greek and later Roman city in the middle of a national park, nowadays half submerged, overgrown and full of turtles, snakes, lizards, butterflies and birds. A perfect combination of Greek/Roman history and wildlife! 

In the afternoon we had another hassle-free border crossing from Albania to Greece and as we said in our Albania-dashcam-video, we will surely go back, hopefully to find the country in the same or maybe even better state than we left it!

Reactie schrijven

Commentaren: 4
  • #1

    Roy (vrijdag, 06 mei 2016 00:38)

    Super verhaal weer!! Succes en enjoy de komende tijd weer! Ik lees jullie verhalen met veel plezier! Grt Roy

  • #2

    Marc (woensdag, 11 mei 2016 20:27)

    Nu wordt 't pas echt buitenland :) Gaaf!

  • #3

    Barbara Elmore (woensdag, 18 mei 2016 23:07)

    Stunning countryside, wow I envy you! How do you get the time to put the story together, edit it and all that comes with it? You are pretty amazing! xx

  • #4

    Alexander (donderdag, 19 mei 2016 13:12)

    Leuk om jullie verhalen te lezen en vooral te zien!
    Veel plezier nog.



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