We entered Albania by Ferry with our Campervan Milli-VAN-illi from the Port of Brindisi, Italy and arrived in Vlorë, Albania on the 20th of April 2023. We spent the next 15 days making our way south along the Albanian Riviera, visiting a few inland towns and villages before crossing into Greece at the Kakavijë Border crossing at the beginning of May 2023. This post is a recount of our day-to-day experience in Albania during our time in the country.
If you're wondering whether Albania is a suitable motorhome destination for you, make sure you watch our video below:
If you are looking for tips on the practicalities of visiting Albania by campervan or motorhome, see this post:
Best Season to Visit Albania
For a relatively small area, Albania has a high number of climatic regions. The country lies at a latitude subject to a variety of weather patterns throughout all seasons and with a coastline facing the Adriatic and Ionian seas along with its highlands along the Balkan mass, it creates remarkable diversity.
We visited Albania during the last two weeks of April. The weather was only good for about half of that time. When the sun came out, the temperatures were very pleasant, however, it was never really warm enough to want to swim. This was a real pity as the Albanian Riviera really has some of the most beautiful blue waters that we have ever seen!
Many campsites only open in the middle of May or the beginning of June, so this is probably a better time to visit. The peak summer season can get very busy with both local and international tourists, so we would suggest avoiding this time if you want to wild camp with a motorhome.
Find more details on visiting Albania see our dedicated destination page:
This was our route through Albania.
All locations mentioned in this post can also be found in the interactive map below.
The Ionian Star
Albania • 20 April • 19°
It was an early start to the morning! We were woken at 6 am by the intercom announcing our impending 7 am arrival at the Port of Vlorë, Albania. We hurriedly gathered all our overnight belongings and made our way up from our dark and windowless below-deck cabin out onto the already sunny outside deck. The early morning views that greeted us immediately suggested that we had very little preconceived idea of what Albania had in store for us.
Port of Vlorë
Albania • 20 April • 19°
Although we were the last vehicle off the ferry and the queue to get through customs was slow-moving, by 8:30 am we had our Albanian Insurance Policy in hand and were ready to head into Vlorë in search of local SIM cards.
VEHICLE INSURANCE FOR ALBANIA
We found very little information available online with regard to options for purchasing vehicle insurance. Just as we were exiting customs, we were asked if we required insurance. The very official-looking document was issued from a small booth right there and we were relieved that we did not have to deal with any touts or have to do any comparisons. The 3rd party only insurance cost 49 EURO (payable in EURO cash) for 15 days or alternatively 65 EURO for a month. Note that most European insurance policies do not cover Albania, whilst some can be expanded to do so for a limited period of time - so be sure to check with yours before your visit! We were kindly told that we could park Milli within the secure Port area while we walked into Vlore in search of local SIM cards and cash.
ALBANIA CELL & DATA
Both "Vodafone" and "One" have plenty of shopfronts within walking distance of the port and have similar "pay as you go" offers available for foreigners. We opted for "One" (https://www.one.al/) as they have a user-friendly app which shows updated usage information and also allows for recharging via the app. If you intend to use your SIM card throughout the rest of the Western Balkans, make sure to get a package that allows for this roaming. We took the "UNLIMITED L+" (1300 LEK) and the "UNLIMITED BEATS+" (1600 LEK) and they have worked well throughout the Western Balkans.
CARDS VS CASH IN ALBANIA
We immediately realised that Albania is a predominantly cash-driven society. Even when we did find a "One" cellphone shop that was prepared to accept our Mastercard, they did so very reluctantly. There is no shortage of ATM machines lining the main street of Vlorë. We found cash withdrawal fees (charged by the local banks) to vary from one bank to another, with "Credins Bank" having a zero local bank withdrawal fee. Note that you may be charged a withdrawal or conversion fee by your own bank depending on your own bank account.
After returning to Milli for a quick coffee and breakfast, we headed up to the Kuzum Baba Shrine and were rewarded with stunning panoramic views over Vlorë.
We wasted no time in tasting a local snack of Revani, a traditional Albanian sweet cornflour dessert (60 LEK), which we enjoyed at the newly constructed pedestrian area outside of the Vlorë Town Hall.
Walking back along Boulevard Ismail Qemali all the way from the Muradie Mosque towards the Port, we could hardly believe all that we had already experienced in our first 8 hours in Albania. We were thrilled with the affordable prices of ice cream (70-100 LEK) and coffee (50-100 LEK) and equally horrified at the prices of groceries in the brand-named supermarkets which appear to predominantly stock Italian products at approximately 3 times the price in Italy! The Boulevard itself is wonderful - wide and walkable, with sidewalk cafes and a pleasant, vibrant atmosphere. The well-dressed elderly gentlemen in suits that we had observed in the early morning hours were replaced with chatty youthful groups in the afternoon. The occasional beggar and busker crossed our path more than once. After just 8 hours, we were already very aware of once again being in unfamiliar territory, in a country so new to us that all our senses felt piqued - what a great feeling!
St Mary's Monastery
Albania • 20 April • 20°
An 11km scenic drive from the Port of Vlorë takes you to a floating timber walkway which leads to the Island Monastery of St Mary. The Monastery itself won't keep you busy for long, but the setting of the floating timber walkway in the Narta Lagoon is absolutely picturesque.
We were rather exhausted from our day's activities by now. Seeing as the Monastery closed to visitors at 18:00 and the spot is marked on Park4Night, we thought that it would be a beautiful and peaceful place to spend our first night. Beautiful it was, peaceful - not so much! We were woken several times by rowdy groups of youngsters who parked at the dead-end to socialise around their cars and on the pier. Eventually, in the early morning hours, we resigned ourselves to move.
Albania • 21 April • 21°
After a not-very-peaceful night's sleep, we headed out for a run towards Dalan Beach, where we got our first real taste of the incredible natural beauty of the Albanian landscape. Rolling green hills, white sand beaches and the bluest of blue waters. If only we had been brave enough to drive old Milli along the bumpy country roads, we would have found this stunning wild camping spot. Maybe next time we will seriously have to consider having a 4x4 vehicle to explore Albania!
Apolonia Archaeological Park
Albania • 21 April • 21°
Apolonia Archaeological Park is definitely worth the visit. You can purchase tickets at the entrance (600 LEK pp) or at a slightly reduced price (525 LEK pp) online. The Archaeological area is extensive and you can easily spend in excess of a couple of hours strolling around the various sites. There are also plenty of areas suitable for enjoying a picnic and the views over the valley are incredible.
We enjoyed a much-needed, very peaceful night in the lower parking area. Our only company were a flock of sheep around sunset and the neighbouring chickens just after sunrise.
Berat "city of a thousand windows"
Albania • 22 April 2023 • 22°
We decided to head just a little further north to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and city of Berat. Berat is a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman city where you find a variety of Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques reflecting the historical influences of the region and the coexistence of different religious and cultural communities. There are 2 prominent bridges which cross the River Osum and connect the southern traditionally Christian neighbourhood of Gorica with the northern traditionally Muslim neighbourhood of Mangalem. Berat is said to be one of Albania's most beautiful cities and is known as the "city of a thousand windows" due to the architectural style where buildings are constructed with a multitude of windows on a background of whitewashed walls.
We were really glad that we made the detour inland to visit Berat. Our experience of Berat was a fantastic combination of beauty, history, diversity and nature while still being a city going about its ordinary business. Be sure to head to "PASTICERI TORI BERAT" for an interesting selection of flavours of ice-cream. They had flavours such as green apple, yoghurt, walnut and many others. At only 50 LEK for 1 scoop and 100 LEK for 2 scoops, how could we possible say no!
The wide pedestrian boulevard, Bulevardi Republika, really comes to life after sunset. It's filled with streetside cafes and people strolling back and forth simply enjoying the evening. For something a little different, walk along the parallel "back street" of Rruga Antipatrea, where you'll find loads of little bakeries and fruit and vegetable vendors. Make sure you're there in the early morning to try some freshly baked Byrek (from "Sajdi Byrek") which you can sit and enjoy in the square at the Gate of the Pasha. We can recommend "BAKERY AND FOOD" for a variety of fresh bread and "Market Tomori" has the most decadent desserts.
Traditional Albanian Dishes
We had our first taste of traditional Albanian dishes at "Traditional food and Grill", just outside the Gate of the Pasha. The Tave Kosi (baked yoghurt with lamb) was one of the most delicious dishes we've ever had! The Spec i mbushur (stuffed peppers with rice) and Fergese (Albanian traditional dish of tomatoes, peppers and cottage cheese) were also very tasty and went well with our glass of red wine and local Kaon beer.
Campervan Parking Berat
We chose to park and overnight (note I do not use the word "sleep" here) at "Camper Parking Berat" which cost 5 EUR for 24hrs and is guarded during the day. While this was well suited to parking the camper in order to explore Berat, our night turned out less successful... We were jolted awake at midnight by 4 vehicles racing and drifting at top speed in the gravel parking area within 1m of our camper. We were equally afraid of them crashing into us as we were for the damage that the spraying of sand and rocks was causing to our vehicle. It was an extremely unpleasant experience and even long after they had left (abandoning one of the vehicles), we were not able to rest peacefully. Lesson learnt (and yes, we should have known this by now) - do not overnight in empty parking areas within cities!
Berat Castle rises high on a hill on the eastern bank of the River Osum. It was mostly built in the 13th century but with origins going back to the 4th century BC. It's hard to believe that about 200 people still live in this ancient neighbourhood within the old castle walls! It's free to walk around the cobbled streets and the panoramic views from up here make the steep walk well worthwhile.
Albania • 25 April 2023 • 17°
Despite the roadworks, we enjoyed the (slow going) 20km drive along the SH8 from the Vlorë Lungomare to Orikum Beach. After a couple of disastrous overnight park-ups, we were expecting the worst from this roadside parking along Orikum Beach. Hence, when we awoke after a surprisingly peaceful night's rest to this idyllic setting, we simply had to stay for another day or two.
We couldn't resist starting the day with a very refreshing swim (don't let that gorgeous water colour deceive you, it was cold) after which we took a stroll through the town to buy some vegetables, bread and of course fresh (and giant) Byrek! We also stumbled upon some Ballokume - a typical Albanian cookie originating in the city of Elbasan and which is traditionally eaten on Dita e Verës (Summer Day on 14 March).
When the weather changed for the worse and a storm rolled in, we decided to postpone our drive up the famous Llogara Pass for one more day.
There are plenty of places to park right along the beach and in this shoulder season, there were only a couple of other campers around. The police drove by regularly and we felt both safe and welcome. By now we were starting to get used to the coming and going of small flocks of sheep and of course, the obligatory stray dog keeping us company (meet Benni).
Albania • 27 April 2023 • 21°
The Llogara Pass is one of Albania's most famous attractions. This high mountain pass within the Ceraunian Mountains forms part of the Llogara National Park and is said to provide one of the most spectacular drives in Europe. It connects the Dukat Valley in the north with Himarë in the south as it winds its way all along the Albanian Riviera.
Needless to say, we were a little apprehensive about this drive. Our Milli doesn't particularly like steep uphills or downhills and the notoriously bad reputation of Albanian roads didn't help the cause.
As it turns out, despite the 11% inclines and declines, which Milli (and Andre) handled just fine, the road itself was in good condition and for the most of it, we were able to enjoy the scenic drive. Unfortunately, the wind was howling at the viewpoint so we quickly headed back down towards the coast.
The Albanian Riviera
Albania • 27 April 2023 • 21°
In our opinion, the drive along the SH8 south of Llogara Pass is even more spectacular than the pass itself. Grateful for the wonderfully sunny day, we remained continuously in awe of the bright turquoise waters which simply seem too blue to be true!
We would have loved to take our time and spend a night at each of the beautiful beaches of Dhërmiu, Gjipe, Jalë and Livadi. However, due to the current construction around these areas and with only a few good weather days remaining, we continued further south.
A day along the Albanian Riviera (which truly does deserve this title) would not be complete without an ice cream stop and Prinos Beach in Himarë proved just perfect for that (100 LEK for a single scoop cone).
Wild Camping & Beach Cows
Albania • 27 April 2023 • 21°
Just before reaching our planned overnight destination of Borsh, we stumbled upon the perfect wild camping spot at Qeparo Beach. By now we were starting to realise that Albania seems to be packed with loads of little gems like this!
You will most likely be greeted by an inviting beach and a friendly stray dog, or in this case some curious cows! Upon closer inspection, you will inevitably notice the somewhat scruffy surroundings and a scattering of litter. As with most places around the world, there are both good and bad aspects here. This is our finding of Albania so far and we are definitely enjoying the privilege of these stunning views from our little home on wheels!
The 1.5km long promenade made for a beautiful morning's run. While almost deserted at this time of the year, these crystal clear waters are no doubt teaming with tourists in the summer months.
Albania • 28 April 2023 • 22°
After our couple of nights of very disturbed sleep the previous weekend, we decided to go to 'Camping Ecuador' which appeared to be perfectly located right on the beach in Sarandë for the weekend (15 EUR per night, electricity included). Our plan was to spend 2 nights relaxing there and also exploring the adjacent towns of Sarandë and Ksamil.
While the location couldn't have been better, we were somewhat surprised by the fact that these resort towns are entirely that. Blocks and blocks of highrise hotels and apartment buildings, catering solely for the summer tourist season. We even struggled to find an open grocery store as the season is not yet in full swing! To be honest, although the sunny blue skies can be deceiving, it's not quite beach or swimming weather at this time of the year. We learnt that this is where the icy water from the Bistricë River flows into the Ionian Sea. Little did we know that we'd be visiting the main source of this river later the following day!
It felt strange to be at a 'campsite' once again. Since we are able to be completely off-grid, we rarely seek out campsites. It was nice to meet and chat with some fellow travellers but we are very happy to no longer be dependent upon camper services. In fact, we couldn't remember the last time that we had an electrical hook-up, so we simply had to make use of the opportunity to use our oven and make pizza! Followed by coconut and walnut Turkish Delight. The next morning, after some relaxing yoga on the beach, we headed off to explore a bit of Butrint National Park.
Butrint National Park
Albania • 29 April 2023 • 21°
Butrint National Park encompasses 9,424 hectares (94.24 km2) of hilly terrain with freshwater lakes, wetlands, salt marshes, open plains, reed beds and islands. It includes the protection of the lake and lagoon of Butrint, the natural channel of Vivari, the islands of Ksamil and as well the archaeological site, that provides valuable remains of ancient civilisations.
Seeing as we only had a few hours and considering that we had already visited Apolonia Archeological Park (600 LEK per person), we decided not to visit the Butrint Archeological Park (1000 LEK per person). Visiting at least one of these sites is definitely a must when you are in Albania!
Instead, we took the ferry across to the Venetian Triangle Castle. The ferry only costs 75 LEK (per person, per trip) and the castle is free and open to walk around and explore. Although a small site, it offers stunning views, especially with all the colourful spring flowers in bloom. This would be a great spot to enjoy a small picnic!
The Blue Eye of Albania
Albania • 30 April 2023 • 22°
The Blue Eye is an underground water spring, which is considered to be a natural phenomenon and has become a popular tourist attraction in Albania. The most unbelievably crystal-clear blue water originates from a depth of more than fifty metres. This phenomenon is also known as the "spring of Bistricë" as it is one of the main sources of the 25 km long Bistricë River, which just happens to end in the Ionian Sea south of Sarandë, right at the Campsite where we had just spent the night. The name Bistrica comes from Slavic, meaning "clear (water)".
We followed the winding SH99 all along the Bistricë River from Sarandë towards its source at The Blue Eye. Although by far the narrowest and worst road that we had driven in Albania thus far, it was a wonderfully scenic drive. We parked in the quietest (and muddiest) corner spot of the brand-new parking area where we would also overnight (for free).
The next morning we almost managed to beat the first bus of tourists to enter the National Park Area (50 LEK per person). It's just less than a 2km walk along a newly constructed path towards the main attraction of The Blue Eye. While the ferociously bubbling water source is smaller than expected, the river and natural surroundings are absolutely exquisite and most definitely a must-see when in Albania. You can spend as much time as you like hiking along forest paths, but unfortunately swimming in the river has recently been prohibited. The water is a constant 10-12 degrees Celsius, so perhaps not as inviting as it looks! There is a restaurant but they did not appear to be operational yet (seasonal?).
After a very pleasant morning walk, we headed back to Milli for a naughty little breakfast of French toast, bacon, fried banana and honey.
After all the negative warnings that we had heard regarding Albanian roads, so far we have been pleasantly impressed with the roads in Albania. Granted, we mostly travelled along the coastal SH8 from Vlorë to Sarandë, which (despite some roadworks along the way) is plenty wide enough and has a fairly comfortable road surface.
But now it was time to drive the narrower and even more winding SH99 through Bistrica and SH78 towards Jorgucat in the direction of Gjirokastra. Relieved that we were not travelling this road during peak season, we were able to enjoy the absolutely stunning scenery and were very content to have chosen this route. I would happily drive this road again just for the scenic views! The engineer in me also couldn't help but admire all the different types of old stone road barriers (which are strengthened with more effective barriers in the most needed places).
Albania • 30 April 2023 • 24°
There's no doubt in my mind that today tourists far outnumber the artisans in the streets of the Old Bazaar Area of Gjirokastra. With plenty of quaint and affordable places to grab a snack, meal or drink there's something to suit everyone.
If you have the time, meander a little further, through the steep cobbled neighbourhood streets to see people going about their daily lives and to get a better feel for the Old Town of Gjirokastra.
Let me start by saying that it's worth coming to Gjirokastra just to visit the Castle! The entrance fee is currently 400 LEK per person (despite the fact that their website states 200 LEK) and you'll need at least an hour or two to explore the extensive grounds. In addition to offering the most magnificent panoramic views, everything is so well signposted including English descriptions.
We were super lucky to get one of the two tiny tables on the balcony of Restaurant Tradicional Odaja, overlooking one of the quaint cobble streets of the Old Town Bazaar Area in Gjirokastra. We chose this place especially so that we could try the very typical dessert of Gjirokaster: A piece of Albanian feta like cheese which is battered and deep fried, then drizzled in honey and topped with sesame seeds. Absolutely delicious!
For mains we had 3 traditional dishes. My favourite was once again the yoghurt dish, very tasty meatballs covered with yoghurt. QIFQI is a traditional Albanian dish originating from Gjirokastra. These rice balls are usually made with a combination of rice, eggs, dried mint, olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Cooked rice is mixed with beaten eggs, dried mint, salt, and black pepper. These were light and fluffy with a very delicately delicious flavour. Last was a vegetable Moussaka which although good, did not nearly compare with the other dishes.
Even though we found the perfect free parking spot for Milli just below the Gjirokaster Castle (between all the giant tourist buses), we decided that it might not be conducive to the most peaceful night's sleep. So after exploring Gjiokaster for the day, we opted to move to the less scenic but much more peaceful "Parking & Camping Ksera" (5 EUR for 24 hr) for the night. With age comes wisdom they say!
The next morning, we took a leisurely (albeit steep) 1.5km stroll through the Gjirokastra neighbourhood back into the Old Town to taste some more local desserts!
It didn't take us long to realise that Mercedes is by far the most popular motor vehicle brand in Albania. The station wagon is also a very popular choice. But today we saw the first Mercedes hearse and convertible / truck!
Convincing ourselves that the 1.5km steep walk from our parking area into the Old Town would justify indulging a little, we set off in search of the traditional Oshaf dessert which Gjirokastra is famous for. This turned out to be more challenging than expected and we were "forced" to try a few other treats before eventually finding the elusive Oshaf.
"Snack Bar Simple" turned out to be the highlight of the morning, with friendly attentive service, carefully made Macchiato (100 LEK each) and the most delicious two desserts. Trilece (200 LEK), as the name suggests, is made with a combination of three different kinds of milk. It is a delicate soft sponge cake that is drenched in a mixture of sweetened condensed milk and covered with a caramel topping. The pistachio baklava (200 LEK) was also simply out of this world delicious!
We then moved just next door to "Kodra Sweet Hill" where we managed to track down what seemed to be the only Oshaf (250 LEK) in the village. Oshaf is a traditional dessert from Gjirokastra which consists of dry figs with sheep's milk. It's soft and sweet with a very unique taste! It was a challenge but I'm glad we managed to find it. While there we also tried a Tullumba (150 LEK) which is a very popular dessert in Albania which originates from Turkish cuisine. It is a deep-fried pastry similar to Spanish churros but soaked in syrup.
We ended it all with a little (muddy) Turkish coffee (100 LEK each) as this is also fairly common in Albania.
Kakavijë Border Crossing
Albania • 1 May 2023 • 20°
Our two weeks in Albania went by far too quickly and we unanimously decided that next time we will definitely purchase the month-long insurance! It was a quick and easy border crossing at Kakavijë and before we knew it we were in Greece. Hopefully, next time will also be at a slightly better time of the year, with warmer weather and maybe, just maybe a more capable vehicle to explore a little more "off-road"!