The survival guide to driving in Albania
Driving in Albania is a challenge similiar to navigating the desert in the Wild West, back in the prohibition era. There are many hazards to test your patience, skill and endurance, so I’ve put together this handy survival guide for driving around Albania.
Beware of Albanian drivers
Albanian drivers have no respect for road rules. The highway is crammed full of bruised and battered premium cars which have seen better days. This is hardly surprising considering the reckless road manoeuvres we repeatedly witnessed.
Drivers overtake on blind corners, they abandon their cars rather than park them, and use their horns with relish. Those entering the roundabout have right of way, creating some pulse raising moments.
Beware of animals
Rural Albania abides by a simple way of life with subsistence farming, goat herding and more traditional forms of transport, such as horse and cart or donkey, a frequent sight.
Driving around Albania, you will frequently slow to a crawl, as scores of goats are herded across the road by a weather beaten farmer. If it’s not goats, don’t be surprised to see cattle grazing by the roadside or roaming freely through town centres. Then there’s the pigs, sheep, donkeys, dogs and occasional cat to avoid.
Beware of blindly following your sat nav
The term ‘road’ is loosely interpreted in Albania. Once you leave the main highway, you will often be on narrow, cliff hugging roads which offer more hairpin bends than a Formula One course. Oh Top Gear, you would be envious!
Then there’s the roads that are really tracks. A quick look at Google maps makes you realise that Albania is far from googled as even Tirana does not show. My best tip here is simple: the roads that show as yellow on Google maps are the ones you want to be on. Under no circumstances opt for one of those little roads that join the yellow roads.
Day one: Tirana
They are perilous, tiny tracks where the surface is frequently reduced to rubble, dust and stones with little semblance of safety barriers or tarmac. They weave their way over the mountains and are only suitable for battered old Mercedes or 4WD. Definitely not for our Betsy, although she did a marvellous job of proving her adventurous spirit.
We spent a terrifying hour on these tracks, seemingly driving in circles, whilst praying that we would not lose control and slip into an abyss.
Beware of the mountains
Albania is two-third mountains and driving here takes time. Lots of it! If a journey is 100 miles, then you will need to allow five hours. The constant winding around mountain after mountain takes time (any may threaten to resurface your breakfast!). Admittedly, it is stunning and there’s plenty of interesting stuff to capture your attention but plan accordingly, especially if you have a flight to catch.
Beware of drink driving
Albania has a zero tolerance policy for drink driving. To be perfectly honest, you need your wits about you on these roads, so even if this were not the case, I would not recommend even a thimble of alcohol before jumping in the car.
Why you should drive in Albania
All this may make you think that only a fool would voluntarily hire a car, however please don’t let this put you off. Hiring a car will allow you to see much more of the real Albania. You will be able to take detours to hidden springs, waterfalls and quaint towns which dot the landscape.
You can travel on your own schedule without worrying about carting luggage on public transport. You will see beautiful mountains, stunning coastline and communities enjoying evening chats and drinks or grilled corn on the cob. In short, you may gain a few grey hairs in the process, but you will also leave with better insight into this small nation and almost certainly a few stories to entertain your pals back home.
Have your say
Maybe you have hired a car in Albania. What was the highlight of your trip and do you have any advice for other people considering a trip to Albania?