Dubrovnik via Montenegro and Albania to Greece

The last part of our European journey took us from Albania to Greece.  We had thoroughly enjoyed our time in Croatia culminating in the beautiful and historic town of Dubrovnik. Along the way we passed through the small country of Montenegro and worked our way down the length of Albania, before experiencing the relief of arriving in Greece.

Our ride descriptions give an account of the ride that we completed. As part of the description we also provide links to google maps and elevation profiles based on mapping data available through the internet. The ride profiles are smoothed to give what in our opinion is a more beneficial view of the profile. We use paper maps, GPS and on line data to plan and conduct our rides. We are happy for you to use our descriptions, but be aware that we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided as situations surrounding any ride change over time.

Albania to Greece - Day 1 - Dubrovnik to Zalenika

  • Distance           54km
  • Max Elevation    210m
to Zalenica Ride Profile

Albania to Greece - Dubrovnik to Zalenika Ride Profile

Ride Description

Today we would start the final stage of our European tour from Albania to Greece, but we couldn't leave Dubrovnik without visiting the old town first.

We packed our gear and toiled up the road to get to the top of the old town. From here it was all steps so we had to lock the bikes and leave them, never an easy thing to do. This really is a beautiful city. At the entrance was a street plan showing all of the buildings that were hit and damaged during the fighting in 1994. All of that has now been repaired.

Dubrovnik Cathedral

The bikes were untouched when we got back to them and from there we had a long climb to get onto the main road which is high above the city. The road was busy with traffic, mostly buses and taxis heading for the airport, 15km south of Dubrovnik.One of the buses passed so close to Steve it almost brushed his panniers.

Dubrovnik Main Street

Even at 9am the city was full of tourists, mostly large groups, which made taking photos difficult as it took ages to get rid of a large group of 'red caps' before the next group of 'green hats' came along.

Dubrovnik

It was a relief to get past this, and the traffic calmed a little. But about 10km from the border the smooth tarmac ended. They were resurfacing the road so it was just a rough gravel surface. To keep down the dust from the passing traffic there were sprinklers at regular intervals. Most of them weren't working properly and were just spurting water in the air so we got a regular drenching. At least it slowed the traffic down.

We crossed the border without a hitch into Montenegro and had to dig out the euros again. It seems less affluent here. Coming into the first major town, Hercig Novi, we started to look for accommodation. A  lot of properties looked very run down and some were closed down and vandalised. No-one seemed to want to rent a room for only one night. The campsite had also closed down. We tried a restaurant/taverna and the family were very rude and wanted 45Euro for a smelly damp room.

We gave up and continued down the road, through a short tunnel. At the other side was a lovely little campsite, with an elderly gent owner who spoke quite good English. He said we were crazy cycle through Albania to Greece! We put up the tent and brought food for breakfast then splurged the money we had saved on a nice meal and a good bottle of wine in a local restaurant.

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Albania to Greece - Day 2 - Zalenica to Sveti Stefan

  • Distance           60km
  • Max Elevation    110m
Zalenica to Sveti Stefan Ride Profile

Albania to Greece - Zalenica to Sveti Stefan Ride Profile

Ride Description

We decided that the traffic in Montenegro had the least respect for cyclists of all the counties of Europe so far. Everyone moves very fast. They come up behind you and sound their horn. This means 'get out of the way, I'm coming past' however narrow or dangerous it is.  We didn't see anyone else on a bike on a main road.

The road follows the banks of a large sea lagoon and there is no bridge, although at one point the gap between the banks is only a couple of hundred meters. So most of the traffic uses the frequent ferries plying the waters between Kamenari and Lepetani. Once on the other side the road was quieter, with the traffic passing in groups as each ferry unloaded.

The road turns inland at Tivat, climbing and descending. It was hot and the fast traffic made it a very tense ride so we were both shaking with the stress. Starting the descent into the next major town, Budva, we had to stop and switch on our bike lights to go through a 300m tunnel, with an impatient motorist pressuring from behind, and then a steep descent to sea level. Budva was heaving with traffic and holidaymakers. We decided we hated Montenegro so much we would just get on a bus. But the bus station was a shambles, the man in the ticket office unhelpful, and there only seemed to be small buses running to local places.

After a sandwich and a beer to settle the nerves we carried on along the coast. At the top of one climb there was a hotel with a terrace looking out over the little village of Sveti Stefan. We had a drink and decided to stop there for the night. Steve negotiated the price down to 50 euros but that meant they gave us a room four floors down and there was no lift.

Sveti Stefan Sunset
Sveti Stefan

That evening we dined on the terrace, drank another bottle of the rather delicious Montenegran wine and watched the sunset over the ocean. Maybe this place is not so bad.

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Albania to Greece - Day 3 - Sveti Stefan to Shkroder

  • Distance           81km
  • Max Elevation    231m
Sveti Stefan to Shkroder Ride Profile

Albania to Greece - Sveti Stefan to Shkroder Ride Profile

Ride Description

Our Albania to Greece ride continued along the coast, climbing and descending at regular intervals and still very busy. This part was less developed, with attractive  pine clad slopes and small coves. After 20km we came into the port town of Bar where we at last escaped from the busy road, turning off to the border crossing at Sukobin.

This narrow, poorly surfaced road climbed steadily into the mountains, passing through many small, poor, villages. At the top of the climb was a short descent and then a long flat ride across a plateau. The rock formations at the side of the valley reminded us of the Stone Forest in China.

There was a most unexpected picnic area at the roadside, complete with water well, tables and chairs where we had lunch. It had been Karen's turn to buy at the supermarket. There were bread rolls which were too dry to eat, cheese spread which was inedible and nectarines that were too mushy. Luckily we had kit-kats and fig biscuits.

Just before the border, in the middle of nowhere, there was a huge new supermarket with a cafe so we didn't starve. The border crossing into Albania was uneventful. There was a long queue of cars but one of the border officials waved us through to the pedestrian gate and straight through to Albania.

The northern area seemed to be one of the poorest, with subsistence level farming, little mechanisation and lots of unused land. There was evidence of previous land management with terraced, now unused, hillsides and irrigation channels no longer functioning.  Local transport is mainly old bikes or ponies and carts. We cycled towards Shkoder behind two young men on delapidated bikes carrying sacks full of old metal for re-cycling. On the way into the city was the first roundabout and we were unsure of the road rules. We never did sort out if it was priority to traffic on the roundabout or joining it but everyone just did their own thing.

The road into the city centre is lined with low rise concrete apartment blocks. Hidden behind them we found an amazing little hotel in a renovated 16th century building. We just had to stay there whatever the cost. The owner spoke very good english and was a keen cyclist.

Shkroder - Main Street
Tradita Hotel - Shkroder

Later we walked into the town centre which was an amazing contrast to the rest of the city, a long street of traditional buildings all fully renovated lined with restaurants and bars. There was even a Tourist Information office but it had closed.

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Albania to Greece - Day 4 - Shkroder to Lac

  • Distance            78km
  • Max Elevation     106m
Shkroder to Lac Ride Profile

Albania to Greece - Shkroder to Lac Ride Profile

Ride Description

Before continuing our Albania to Greece tour we made a short diversion to Tourist Information where a very helpful girl sold us a map and pointed out places worth a visit on our route. She told us there was a campsite at Milot, about 50km south, so we decided to head there.

Our hotel owner suggested we take a back road to the east of the main road which was a good suggestion. It was quiet and went through lovely scenery at the foot of the high mountains and many small villages.It had a good tarmac surface and everyone was friendly and waved as we went past. Some of the children tried out their English speaking skills. One of them invited us to stay at his home. We wondered what his mother would think when presented with two unexpected guests.

Lac - Qrysac

Along the road there were many newly built Christian churches, some Greek Orthodox, others Catholic. Ouside one of them was a row of the old concrete bunkers that line the roads all the way through Albania and they had been put to good use. We stopped once at the top of a hill to adjust Karen's gears and three cars stopped as they went past to see if we needed any help.

It was a long wait for lunch as there were no restaurants so it was a relief to reach Lezhe, the first sizeable town, and some doner kebabs. From here the old main road deteriorated dramatically to sections of very poor, rough tarmac  to no surface at all and the traffic was heavier also. We arrived at the outskirts of Milot and a young teenager was at the roadside who spoke a little English. He didn't know of any campsite.

Bunker Sculpture

We searched in the town for accommodation but found nothing so continued down the road to Lac. On the outskirts of Lac we passed an absolutely huge, derelict factory which must have employed several thousand workers in its heyday. No wonder we see so many men of working age sitting around in bars all day.

Here we found just one hotel and they gave us a room with a bed, walls and furniture all lime-green. At the local bar we noticed several men who were carrying great wads of Leke around and were either paying or receiving money from the others. In a search of the whole town we found only one restaurant, a pizzeria with no-one in it so it had to be pizza and we ate alone.

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Albania to Greece - Day 5 - Lac to Durres

  • Distance           62km
  • Max Elevation      71m
Lac to Durres Ride Profile

Albania to Greece - Lac to Durres Ride Profile

Ride Description

Trying to find somewhere to get breakfast was just as problematic. In the hotel we asked for breakfast and were given a dinner menu to choose from. In the town there were plenty of people drinking but no-one eating. The only place we found was a fast-food cafe where we had another doner kebab.

This was the most unenjoyable ride of our Albania to Greece trip so far. We were now in the central plain area of Albania where most of the population and industry is centered.  For the first 25km we continued on the old main road which was just as poorly surfaced as yesterday afternoon and much busier, with heavy tankers and building material lorries all crawling over the loose gravel and pot-holes.

Road between Lac and Fushe Kruje

At Fushe-Kruje we found the campsite, right at the side of the busy main road to Durres, just 35km from where we were told it was. There was no alternative route so we got on the hard shoulder and tried to get to Vore as quickly as possible. It was very busy with a strong head wind and the road was lined with endless petrol stations and yards selling pieces of accident damaged cars.

At midday we arrived at Vore and a chaotic, rough surfaced roundabout with no signage. We turned left but then realised there was no access to the town and a much needed lunch. So we had to turn round and ride the wrong way up the hard shoulder. At least from there we could ride on the old main road again, all the way to Durres, an equally rough, busy and thankless journey.

Coming  into Durres the road breasts a small hill and there below is a mass of concrete housing  blocks stretching to the sea with the huge cranes of the port beyond it. The road was lined with more derelict factories and the wind was increasing as another thunderstorm came in. This caused a dust storm which choked and blinded us and covered us with dirt.

Hotel View Durres

There were a few hotels on the sea front, north of the port and we found a small, older one tucked away behind some large apartment blocks. We got a room with a 'sea-view' but it was hardly appealing.  Rows of half completed tower blocks, a scruffy car wash and a half completed pier.

That night it rained very hard so we ate in the hotel. The hotel owner spoke very good English and served us a really delicious  meal with and a nice bottle of wine but, at 42 Euros, it was an extravagance. The rain filled the balcony outside the room with water and then ran under the french doors, soaking the bedroom carpet too.

Albania to Greece - Durres - Day Off

It was forecast for more thunderstorms today so we stayed put and visited the few Roman remains close to the hotel.

Ampitheater Durres

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Albania to Greece - Day 6 - Durres to Fier

  • Distance        104km
  • Max Elevation    82m
Durres to Fier Ride Profile

Albania to Greece - Durres to Fier Ride Profile

Ride Description

The south part of Durres is the main resort area with a wide beach and many hotels. We expected to ride along the beach but instead the road runs at the back of the buildings. At the south end of the beach we came onto a newly built dual carriageway. There was a service road on our left but large crash barriers preventing us escaping onto it. We rode for about 4km before coming to a section with  only a low barrier that we could lift the bikes over.

Kastrati

The service road ran parallel to the new road for most of the way  to Rrogozine where there is a road junction. Turning towards Lushnje, we came onto a motorway section with a big sign banning bicycles. We were confused as our map showed no alternative to this road. We asked some road workers but they didn't see any problem with us cycling up the motorway.  It was only later in the day that we realised that the roads shown on our Albania to Greece map were in fact the old roads and these new motorway sections had not been added yet.

Whenever it was possible we took detours along the side roads through the small villages. The local children were excited to see us and often followed us on their bikes. Those without bikes had to double up with their friends.

Lads on Bikes

The pace of building development here is unbelievable, all along these small roads, everyone is starting to build a house and the villages all now run into each other. Nothing is ever completed and many of the concrete shells are abandoned.

For the rest of the day we followed the old road which was quiet and mostly flat all the way to Fier. This place is a major transport hub with buses going to all parts of Albania and many travel agents selling flights and ferries to Italy. It also seems to be the wedding dress capital of Albania with at least 30 shops near to our hotel full of dreamy creations of net and sequins. For the men there are endless sports bars and betting shops. The square was crowded with men playing table games; cards, chess and dominoes. Presumably the women stay at home on Saturdays.

Our hotel room had a balcony overlooking a small river. Could have been idyllic except, like all the waterways here it was no better than an open sewer, full of everyone's rubbish including the spare pieces of net and lace from the wedding dress makers.

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Albania to Greece - Day 7 - Fier to Vlore

  • Distance          53km
  • Max Elevation     82m
Fier to Vlore Ride Profile

Albania to Greece - Fier to Vlore Ride Profile

Ride Description

About 10km west of Fier are the ruins of Apollonia an ancient Greek city. It was well signposted from the centre. The minor road to it was full of local life with sheep, geese, cows, turkeys and donkeys sharing the space with the cars and pony carts. A large wedding party drove past in convoy blaring their horns but nothing batted an eyelid.

After a short steep climb we came to the gates of the ruined town. The entrance charge was 300 leke, about 2 euros and hadn't changed since 2005. The ruins were fascinating with some reconstructed parts, spreading over a large area, dating back to the Greek and Roman ages as well as an old monastery.

Apollonia Monastery

As we looked around, the wedding party that had passed us earlier arrived to take photos of the bride and groom in the ruins.

Wedding at Apollonia
Potholes

When we were ready to leave we decided to take a 'short-cut' along an unsurfaced track which would save us having to ride back to Fier. It started off ok with a rough, stoney track along the side of a drainage canal. Following all the rain of the last few days there were a lot of puddles and after a few kilometers it became a quagmire, churned up by small trucks. Our bikes,shoes and bags quickly got covered by thick, greasy mud.
Eventually we came out on a gravelled track with no mud but lots of big puddles. Each puddle had its own population of small frogs that all dived as we approached forming streams of little bubbles.

Once back on the road we made fast progress towards Vlore. The road was lined with shady old plane trees and it was like being in France, except, as always there were piles of rubbish and rubble dumped at the sides of the road. Our intention was to continue towards Orikum, another 20kms south but as we arrived in Vlore a heavy thunder storm started. After waiting in a bar for nearly an hour it was not abating so we decided to find accommodation.

As always the bar owner knew someone with rooms to rent just down the road. It was not exactly luxury and the walls were so thin that they provided no sound insulation at all, either from the road or the other rooms but at 12 euro it was cheap.

Albania not France

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Albania to Greece - Day 8 - Vlore to Dhermi

  • Distance            55km
  • Max Elevation    1042m
Vlore to Dhermi Ride Profile

Albania to Greece - Vlore to Dhermi Ride Profile

Ride Description

We planned an early start today as this section of our Albania to Greece ride involved  we a big climb, but a puncture in Steve's back tyre delayed us. The road still had a lot of standing water after the storm and there were piles of gravel and stones washed off the tracks. At least the skies were blue. As we left town we encountered a large male pig wandering along the road. We gave him a wide berth.

 Coast Road FromVlore

For the first hour of our Albania to Greece ride we followed the coast along the east side of the large bay. This has gravel beaches and lovely clear blue seas with lots of hotels and resorts being developed. At Orikum the road turns away from the sea to follow the Dukatit valley, climbing 1,027 m to the col of Logarase.

It started slowly, gently climbing along the river valley but then there was a sudden shock as we hit a section of newly built road, replacing a part that had collapsed in a landslide. After that there were more rebuilt sections, straight up the hill, unrelenting at a continuous gradient of 10%.

Further up there were some hairpins but here, despite the signs insisting it was 10%, the gradients were often much steeper and we were physically unable to cycle up them. So there were several sections that we just had to push. The steepest section of all was immediately before the summit where we struggled even to push! The compensation was the fabulous views back down to the sea at Orikum and the beautiful pines forested slopes.

Dukatit Valley
onning our Windproofs

At the col we had to change out of our sweat sodden t-shirts and put on windproofs in preparation for the 1,000m descent down the hairpins on the other side. This side of the mountain was much more barren with pale, bare rock sides and a deep canyon.

There were more concrete bunkers up here, one kitted out in fine style to enjoy the view over to Corfu.

Luxury Viewing
View from the Top

The 10km descent was a real buzz but we had to keep stopping to appreciate the wonderful views. By now hunger and tiredness forced us to head for the nearest food and accommodation.

This meant dropping down from the road to the resort of Dhermi at sea level. there was a nice hotel with bar and restaurant where we had a welcome meal and a room with a sea view.

Dhermi Hotel

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Albania to Greece - Day 9 - Dhermi to Serande

  • Distance           71km
  • Max Elevation    378m
Dhermi to Serande Ride Profile

Albania to Greece - Dhermi to Serande Ride Profile

Ride Description

The hotel owner took us and the bikes up to the village in his van, saving us a 45min steep climb at the start of the day. We set off quite looking forward to the ride along the coast to Sarande. We knew there was a bit of climbing ahead but hadn't anticipated just how bad it was going to be. It was certainly the hardest 71km ride we have done with fully loaded bikes.

On this part of the coast the mountains plunge into the sea and are intersected at intervals by deep gorges. So the road climbs up one side then plunges into a gorge, climbs out the other side and then repeats. The road was well surfaced and the climbs all 10% but the sun was hot and it never stopped all day.

Military Bay

By 11.00am we had reached Himare, only 20km from the start. The two cash machines there both refused to take our bank cards so we had to phone the bank to make sure there was no problem with them. We had to exchange euros for leke at the bank. By 1.00pm we were at the bottom of yet another long haul climb which we could see going on for miles in front of us. We needed to eat and the next town was halfway up. Steve stopped and declared he couldn't carry on. Karen felt just as bad but fed him a banana and persuaded him to continue to Borsh and have something to eat.

After a good meal we considered trying to get a lift or a taxi to Sarande.  Neither of us being willing to admit defeat, we carried on. That afternoon all the climbs were signed as 9%. We think the sign makers had run out of 1's and 0's after using them for all the previous signs. They were certainly no less steep.

Qeparo
Tortoises Crossing RoadThe slow lane on the Albania to Greece ride

By 4pm the clouds came over so at least it was cooler. It was becoming a race against the sun to get to Sarande before dark. Steve was able to rescue another two tortoises, in danger of being flattened on the road.  As we came into the town there was a final cruel steep climb before the descent to the sea and the search for a cheap hotel with internet.

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Albania to Greece - Day 10 - Sarande to Sagiada

  • Distance           48km
  • Max Elevation    168m
Sarande to Sagiada Ride Profile

Albania to Greece - Sarande to Sagiada Ride Profile

Ride Description

After the traumas of the last 2 days today held nothing worse than a gentle 175m climb to the Albanian border. We had a concern because we were heading for the southernmost border crossing near Konispol. Our chosen route from Albania to Greece, although shown as a continuous road on our paper map, was broken at Butrinth on the google map.

As with every other ride in Albania, today we went past endless new building construction, piles of rubbish and building waste. Some of them hadn't stayed up long enough to be completed. There are some attractive small resorts here but it is questionable how many can be successful given the rate of construction. We saw two other touring cyclists during the morning bringing the total for Albania to just 5.

Collapsed Building
Butrint_Ampitheater

The road drops down to the shores of a lagoon at Butrinth which has some of the most impressive remains of a city with a history from before 7BC. We enquired about the entrance fee, which was 4 euro. We only had 7 euro in change or a 50 euro note so got a bargain admission of 3 euro each. The ruins were impressive but the Albanians show little respect, the tour groups clambering all over them.

One ruin has one of the most ornate and undamaged mosaic floors in the whole Med area but it has to be covered with plastic and gravel to protect it.

Butrint_Baptistry

From there we had to get the chain ferry across the river. This was a very basic affair, just wooden planks nailed onto a steel hull and flimsy rails on the side. This part of Albania is very remote and there is hardly any traffic but still development is racing ahead. The narrow road is partly unsurfaced but a large petrol station is being built.

There followed a long slow climb up to the border point in the hot midday sun. Karen was feeling distinctly unwell and struggling to carry on. The border itself was almost deserted with no cars or queues. We were straight through both passport control office from ALbani to Greece and then speeding down to the sea at Sagiada.
Everything here in Greece was so manicured and perfect. Lovely green olive groves, no rubbish and every building complete. Arriving in the little harbour town of Sagiada we rode down to the harbour edge where there were a line of little restaurants at the side of the water with shady tables and tempting menus.

We had planned to continue to Igoumenitsa but Karen was feeling so unwell that Steve had to leave her at the restaurant and set off in search of accommodation. There was nothing advertised but word of mouth led him to a one bedroom apartment. The friendly owner drove down to the restaurant to pick up Karen and she went to bed for the rest of the day.

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Albania to Greece - Day 11 - Sagiada to Igoumentisa Lefkas

  • Distance           20km
  • Max Elevation     35m
oumentisa Ride Profile

Albania to Greece - Sagiada to Igoumentisa Lefkas Ride Profile

Ride Description

Feeling slightly better by the morning, Karen decided she could manage the short ride to Igoumenitsa. It was a pleasant, gentle ride through rolling Greek olive groves and marshes to the lovely port town of Igoumenitsa and a room at the Acropolis hotel. This was the nicest accommodation of our trip so far with a newly decorated, quiet room and lovely friendly, helpful staff. We decided that having lost a day and a half through illness it would be better to get the bus to Lefkas town, where we had planned to meet our friends Krystyna and Phil for a week's holiday.

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Albania to Greece - Day 12 - Igoumentisa to Lefkas by bus

The bus to Lefkas departs at 11.30 from the bus station. When we arrived the bus to Athens was being delayed by the police, who were checking the passengers, apparently they are clamping down on illegal immigrants. Luckily there were only about a dozen passengers on our bus, so plenty of room for the bikes and luggage in the boot.

The two hour ride was enjoyable with lovely views of the sea. The road was very quiet with little traffic and no heavy lorries and gentle gradients. By 1.30 we arrived in Lefkas town and found a newish apartment to rent for 40 euros a night, in the quieter, residential part of the town.

That night Steve was unwell and spent the next 24 hours in bed. Such a good job we got the bus!
For the next week we shared a luxury villa on the outskirts of Nidri with our friends and had a lovely, relaxing break.

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Link back to our Tours page from Albania to Greece

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