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Albania - North to South


Day 1: Tirana

You will be met on arrival and transferred to your joining hotel. Tirana's small centre is easy to navigate. Sites of interest include Skanderbeg Square's 1789 Et'hem Bey Mosque, the 1830 Sahat-Kulla (Clock Tower), the puppet theatre, once home to King Zog's puppet parliament and the Peace Bell made from old cartridge shells, remembering Tirana's tempestuous history. There are many restaurants and bars in "The Block" (Blloku) the area where communist leaders once lived under strict protection. This evening we will have a group meeting and tour briefing.

Accommodation: Hotel (D)

Day 2: Tirana - Dardhë

This morning there is an early start with a vehicle transfer to Komani Lake. We will board a ferry here for a dramatic trip through the jade coloured waters along a narrow twisting route with sheer cliff and high water falls around us. In places there are gentle slopes where livestock are reared by communities who live in relative isolation, with boats as their only means of travel. We can keep our eyes peeled for herons and maybe a golden eagle or two. We disembark at Fierza where our cycling begins with a climb as we head away from the lake onto the high plateau. Our route follows an ancient Roman trade route, the Via Publica. We pass through beautiful valley, woodland and lakes towards Dardhë on a steep ascent with hairpin bends aplenty. As we reach Dardhë we see fortified houses stretching up from the lakeside all the way to the hilltop.

Cycling Distance: 40km (25 miles)
Total Climb: 1,225m (4,019ft)
Total Descent: 575m (1,886ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 3: Dardhë - Kukesi

We cycle today with high mountain peaks to one side of us and below us to the right Fierze Lake which we crossed yesterday. The route, traverses beautiful countryside dotted with traditional stone houses. We continue along Fierza Lake until we reach a damn, which is part of a huge hydroelectric system constructed in the 1970s. The original Kukësi town site was submerged when the Liqeni i Fierzë reservoir lake was created. In dry summers the water level drops low enough for the rooftops of the old town to be visible, drawing to locals to sit at the lakeside looking at their former homes.

Cycling Distance: 81km (50 miles)
Total Climb: 1,560m (5,118ft)
Total Descent: 2,030m (6,660ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 4: Kukesi to Peshkopi

Our route continues alongside the Valbona River through gorges and past cascading waterfalls. We begin the day cycling through woodland for about 20km. Our surroundings change with dramatic views for the next 20km, the river far beneath us and mountain streams tumbling downwards. Fortified houses cling to the hillside on one side of the riverbank and dramatic white cliff tops loom above on the far side. We may catch sight of birds of prey. As we approach Peshkopi the countryside becomes more populated. This is apple farm territory and we pass many orchards and waterfalls. Peshkopi has an interesting museum, an old quarter with a few surviving Ottoman houses and lovely mountain views. Just a short distance from the town centre are Llixhat (thermal springs) where you can relax with a therapeutic soak in the sulphurous spring waters.

Cycling Distance: 72km (45 miles)
Total Climb: 2,050m (6,726ft)
Total Descent: 1,710m (5,610ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 5: Peshkopi to Ohrid

We cycle a short distance of a few km this morning before we cross the border into Macedonia and on to the beautiful UNESCO town of Ohrid. The road going from Peshkopi to Ohrid is very scenic and has little traffic. Ohrid has 365 churches, one for each day of the year. Ohrid was formerly known as Lichnidos (City of Light)

Cycling Distance: 91km (56 miles)
Total Climb: 925m (3,035ft)
Total Descent: 850m (2,789ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L)

Day 6: Ohrid - Rest Day

You have time today to discover Ohrid: Macedonia's most popular tourist destination and a UNESCO world heritage site that combines history with outstanding natural beauty. Walk around the old town, visit Sveta Sophia Cathedral: Ohrid’s grandest church. Located in the old town is Samuil’s fortress; a medieval castle believed to rest on the site of a 4th Century BC fort. It overlooks the 300m deep, three million year old lake bordered and shared by Macedonia and Albania.  Tonight, you can stop off in a bar or dine in a restaurant with lake side views. 

Accommodation: Hotel (B,D)

Day 7: Ohrid to Korçë

This morning we cycle out of Ohrid following the south-eastern side of the lake back into Albania. The tectonic Lake Ohrid is one of the deepest and oldest lakes in Europe. After about 12 km we begin a climb for a few km, once over the hill top we head back down to the lakeside. We will cross the border back into Albania at Tushemisht. From here we follow wide, open road cutting a path through farmland southwest to Korçë. We will pass abandoned gun bunkers built under the communist regime, that are a regular feature of the Albanian countryside. The route gently undulates for 20 km before a final flat stretch into Korçë. Paved with cobbled stone streets and many single-story villas, Korçë has Illyrian and Ottoman origins. Near to the Greek border it is Albania's cultural capital, the town has a traditional bazaar and several museums and galleries including a museum of medieval art.

Cycling Distance: 80km (50 miles)
Total Climb: 1,035m (3,396ft)
Total Descent: 955m (3,133ft)

Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 8: Korçë to Sotirë

Heading into the mountains, the landscape changes from an agricultural collage of fields into rocky mountainside scattered here and there with forget me nots and other wild flowers and the odd shepherd's hut. We climb the Gramoz Mountains, with snow-capped peaks in the distance, cycling over the Bramash Pass and head down into the valley beyond to reach the remote and beautiful Sotirë. Located on the edge of Tomorre mountain national park our stop for the night is an organic farm hotel where we will sample the produce at dinner this evening.

Cycling Distance: 77km (48 miles)
Total Climb: 1,470m (4,823ft)
Total Descent: 1,375m (4,511ft)
Accommodation: Cabins (B,L,D)

Day 9: Sotirë to Benje

The day begins with a cycle uphill away from Sotirë through dramatic mountain scenery onto the verdant plateau. We then descend on a steep ravine road to the River Vjosa; the pathway, which was originally created by waterfalls, bends and curves dramatically down into wide open valley where animals graze. The Vjosa is one of Europe's last existing wild rivers. Along its entire course it is free flowing and in some areas the riverbed expands over more than 2 km. Sadly, it is under threat from hydropower development, although opposition groups are campaigning for the area to be given national park status.

We continue uphill on a tiny road cut into the mountainside up to Përmet perched on the cliff high above the river. The town is famed for its cuisine (especially sweets, 'gliko'(preserves) and its wine and strong raki. Named the "city of roses" it is said to be the greenest and the cleanest town in Albania. Përmet is also famous for its folk music. We cycle on a little further to nearby in Benje where there are popular thermal springs - a perfect antidote for tired cyclists' legs.

Cycling Distance: 59km (37 miles)
Total Climb: 675m (2,215ft)
Total Descent: 1,425m (4,675ft)
Accommodaiton: Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 10: Benje to Gjirokaster

Today we continue along Kelcyra valley through a scenery of peaks and gorges, cutting westward through a gap in the mountains. We reach a wide plain; high above us sits the majestic Gjirokaster (known as the Stone City because of the many roofs covered with flat stones). Built by wealthy landowners, Gjirokaster is a beautifully preserved Ottoman town with steep cobbled streets. The town has UNESCO world heritage status. Gjirokaster Castle at the heart of the settlement, dates all the way back to the 4th century. The fortress overlooks the plateau, and route along the river valley with an imposing presence. Gjirokaster is the birthplace of Albania's former communist leader: Enver Hoxha.

Cycling Distance: 70km (43.5 miles)
Total Climb: 325m (1,066ft)
Total Descent: 350m (1,148ft)
Accommdation: Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 11: Gjirokaster to Sarande

We head west today up over a 700m pass in the mountains followed by a twisting descent down into the coastal plain. We pass villages, farms and roadside fruit vendors. You will notice more concrete bunkers dotted in the hillsides. Sarande is described as the gateway to southern Albania, nestled between the mountains and the Ionian coast. The city is close to the ancient remains of Butrint, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Butrint is one of the county's most important archaeological sites, tracing its origins back to the Greeks and the Romans.

We can relax this evening and enjoy panoramic Mediterranean views in this lovely coastal resort.

Cycling Distance: 96km (60 miles)
Total Climb: 1,035m (3,395ft)
Total Descent: 1,315m (4,315ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L)

Day 12: Sarande to Himarë

We follow the coastal route northwards today towards the resort of Himarë.  The day begins with a steep climb we continue cycling a series of climbs and descents with mountains and of stunning sea views. Himarë. is a popular beach side town stretching along the white sanded shore line. Terraced hills where olives and citrus trees grow reach down to the sea. 

Cycling Distance: 51km (32 miles)
Total Climb: 1,075m (3,526ft)
Total Descent: 1,080m (3,543ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 13: Himarë to Orikum to Tirana

Our final day's cycling takes further north to Orikum. We climb up to the famous Llogara Pass (Qafa e Llogarasë), a winding road, rising up to 1,043m with spectacular views of the Albanian Riviera and pine forested hillsides. This is the highest point on the main coastal road between Vlore and Sarande. Down over the pass we cycle one hairpin bend after another in the Dukatit Valley. Towards the end of today's ride, we re-join coastal road with views of gravel beaches and lovely clear blue seas. Late this afternoon we will transfer to Tirana and this evening we will celebrate the end of our Albanian cycling adventure with a farewell meal.

Cycling Distance: 61km (38 miles)
Total Climb: 1,810m (5,938ft)
Total Descent: 1,820m (6,010ft)
Accommodation: Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 14

Transfer to Tirana Airport for your journey home. (B)

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. Tomorre mountain national park UNESCO town of Ohrid in Macedonia . . UNESCO town of Ohrid in Macedonia . .