Albania is considered the last off-road paradise in Europe: demanding slopes, free wild camping, no other restrictions … But it is definitely not a playground for large 6×6 expedition trucks: the small mountain slopes generally are very tight. In any case, we are excited!
First of all, however, we pick up Shujaa safely from our long-term parking near Athens Airport. The grass around its tires has grown quite high in our two months of absence, the engine starts smoothly and everything else also fits. We refuel (which we should have done better before our travel break and thus before the diesel price increases due to the Ukraine crisis 😉) and have a car wash, then big shopping and finally we successfully repair our Blackwater macerator pump. Afterwards we go back to our great overnight space at the south end of the Attica Peninsula, which we discovered two months ago before our travel break. In the meantime, the taverns have opened and we go for our favorite menu in Greece: Greek salad, squid, Tzatziki. We have arrived again in our travel world so quickly, even though we were still in Mallorca this morning!
We rapidly drive to the north-west of Greece and enter into Albania via a very small border: Border crossings in Europe are so easy, also outside the EU or Schengen! The fantastic Vjosa valley gives us a first taste of the spectacular nature in Albania: snow-capped mountains, flowering meadows as well as trees and then the wild, clear Vjosa river over which various suspension bridges lead to remote farms. Everything works like 100 years ago – and that in Europe! Via the beautiful town of Gjirokaster – one of the best-preserved Ottoman cities – we drive back into the mountains on small streets. The so-called “Blue Eye” reminds us of Bonito in South America: Also, here up to 8 m3/second of crystal-clear water bubbles out of an extremely mineral containing source and forms a multicolored river landscape. Spectacular for the eyes.
From Butrint – an old Roman excavation site in the very south of Albania – we have nice views of the nearby island of Kos in Greece. Then it goes north along the “Albanian Riviera”. Due to the sometimes extremely steep slopes and the villages sticking on the edge, comparisons with the Italian Amalfi coast are quite justified. Shujaa sometimes seems a bit oversized on these small streets but keeps up well. The extremely remote Playa de Gjipesë, only reachable after a half hour foot hike, is an absolute highlight. The same applies to the peninsula north of Vlore: completely untouristic further back, after passing a long sandy beach and exiting over a few dunes. Here the real paradise begins: green meadows, unique sea views, cows, sheep … and only three expedition trucks with a lot of distance from each other. We spontaneously decide to stay on this dream place two nights.
After visiting the Roman excavation site Apollonia and the culturally interesting cities of Berat and Kruja, we drive again east to the mountains and our Albanian offroad adventure can begin. From our specially bought 4×4 tour book of Albania, we chose three routes that should be suitable also for Shujaa’s big rig dimensions. Conclusion of the next four days: absolute loneliness, fantastically landscapes with a very intact nature … but also intensive use of our cutting tools to cut the slopes free, extremely narrow tracks which are sometimes heavily washed. We reach an already collapsed bridge, on which we can neither turn nor drive backwards. When we go for the only remaining possibility – the “escape to the front” – the bridge continues to collapse. Thanks to the previously switched on diff-locks we have traction on four out of six tires and therefore Shujaa succeeds in escaping the fall into the river without any damage. We can hardly believe what happened to us! We drive 200,000 km through South America, Africa and the Middle East and then something like this happens in Europe!
On the remaining tracks, we adhere to the weight restrictions of the bridges very well (if posted at all) and prefer to drive through the beautiful river valley with our quad Shujoo. With this vehicle we have no weight problems and do not have to challenge upcoming bridges. When we think we have finally made it at the last offroad tour, many very tight serpentines are coming up again. After this adventure we were rarely so happy to have reached civilization again!
So for us the most challenging driving adventures on our 35,000 km through Middle East were not in the Llut desert in Iran, in the Wadis of the Omans nor in the endless sand deserts of Saudi Arabia … but in Europe in the mountains of Albania. Albania – a beautiful country with many surprises in every way!