Albania may not be top of your bucket list, but if you would like an affordable Mediterranean holiday with a hint of seductive innocence, look no further. This secretive enclave, tucked in between cosmopolitan Montenegro to the north, and languishing Greece to the south, has 224 miles of coastline and plenty of sights to merit a 8 day self-drive Albania tour.
Your 8 day self-drive Albania tour
You are unlikely to find Albania in any package holiday brochures. Getting there can be a challenge, not to mention expensive but this eight day self-drive Albania tour shows you can enjoy a stylish break, without breaking the bank.
Albania has yet to appear on budget airline timetables. The only direct flight from the UK is from Gatwick with British Airways. Fortunately, I have collected AVIOS for years, so for just £70, I booked two award flights including bags.
Our friends paid £490.05 for the same flights excluding luggage. If you don’t have enough airmiles, check Skyscanner as there are indirect options for those with more time on their hands. Or, if you want to discover how I earned over 332,000 airmiles in a year without flying, check out the 14 week travel hack plan. Why pay £490 if you can pay £70?
We hired a car for ease but be warned, Albanian drivers have no respect for road rules. The highway is rammed full of battered, scratched ancient BMWs, Mercedes and other premium cars that have seen better days. The roads are bumpy, dusty and winding, and you will be astonished and aggrieved on more than one occasion by Albanians’ blatant flouting of any kind of road etiquette.
So, here is what we packed into our eight day tour of Albania.
Day one: Tirana
Check out the pumping nightlife of Tirana. Even for the modestly middle aged like us, it’s lively enough to keep you awake beyond pumpkin hour.
Blokku is smoking hot on a Saturday night, with live music, and pumping DJ beats. Start with cocktails on the rooftop of the Sky Hotel at sunset, followed by more colourful creations at Whisky Bar or Charl’s.
Stay: Hotel Mondiale
This hotel is a cross between vintage and boutique and costs just £79.63 per night for a double room including breakfast. It’s in a great location, surrounded by lively bars, and only fifteen minute’s walk to Blokku.
Day two: Saranda
Once your hangover weans, drive south to Saranda, the heart of the Albanian Riviera. Be warned, this 102 miles will take between four and five hours.
To break your journey, stop off in lively seaside towns such as Durres or Vlore with its Sorrento style coastline. Alternatively, there are a range of restaurants scattered throughout the National Park lining the Llogara Pass. These have stunning views of the park and coastline and make for a pituresque stop.
We selected a modern two bedroom apartment, perched on a cliff overlooking the bustling town and picturesque bay. It was a great base for exploring the beaches around Saranda, and the nearby sights of Butrint and Blue Eye. It was also a bargain at £221 per couple.
Day three: Lukove
Drive fifty minutes north to Lukove beach, pick your sunbed and relax under sunny skies. Bars and restaurants line the beach but thankfully the shoreline has not been ruined by hideous construction. You have to admit, these dazzling aquamarine waters are divine.
Day Four: Butrint
Visit the ancient ruins of Butrint, around 30 minutes south of Saranda. It is a pleasant spot with far-reaching views over the estuary and a very unusual ferry which we hitched a ride on! It is little more than a few wooden planks, stuck on a rusting hulk of steel, pulled back and forth by cables. It may not pass health and safety inspections, but makes for an interesting crossing!
Day Five: Blue Eye Spring
The Blue Eye Spring is inland, around 40 minutes from Saranda. If you follow the signs to Gjirokastra, you will spot the sign for Blue Eye on the left, a few miles after the Butrint, riverside factories.
You can take a dip in the refreshing waters, but be warned it is seriously cold! Look how clear it is though!
Day six: Borsch
Borsch is another beach town around 75 minutes north of Saranda. Its long, 7km stretch of beach lazes in the shadows of the rocky hillside above. A little village sits on the plain leading to the beach, and is currently largely unspoiled. Hurry though, as there were signs that construction is planned, and Albania does not develop aesthetically pleasing tourist lodgings.
The beach offers a selection of bars and restaurants and some rather fancy sun loungers. We never paid more than 500 Lek (£3.30 ) for two beds although we did not opt for the posh ones shown here.
Day seven: Gjirokastra and Berat
Drive to Berat via Gjirokastra, an ancient town perched on a hillside, just 38 miles north of Saranda. It is a world away in atmosphere with colourful, overflowing flower pots adding a splash of colour to the whitewashed houses lining the cobbled roads. The castle on the hillside is worth every penny of the 200 Lek entry fee (around £1.30) offers sublime, panoramic views of shimmering mountains, farmland and the UNESCO world heritage town below.
Berat is a photographer’s wet dream. Whitewashed stone houses cling to the hillside, scrambling to escape the river below. Peering ominously down are the battered remains of the castle, more than 2,400 years old. Small, crooked cottages are tucked into nooks and crannies in the walls, and grapes dangle from makeshift vines strung across narrow alleyways.
The castle is a charming place to spend an hour and as there is no semblance of health and safety you can get pictures like this. Note, if travelling with young children please keep a tight hold on them. There are many hazards on this site, including sheer drops and slippery cobbles.
Stay: Hotel Muzaka
We stayed at Hotel Muzaka which is a fabulously renovated ottoman house. They have painstakingly recreated beautiful carved ceilings and its thick stone walls are a refuge from the summer heat. Request room six for a truly subliminal view of the old town, river and castle, like the one below.
This hotel is hard to beat for friendly service, reasonable prices and location. It is just a few minutes’ walk over the bridge to riverside cafes and bars. It also has a lovely courtyard bar and restaurant but don’t expect late drinks as the bar closes early.
It is a complete steal at £70.76 including breakfast.
Day eight: Tirana airport
For your last day, take a leisurely drive back to Tirana, and book into the Best Western Tirana airport. It is perfectly located, just a few minutes walk from the terminal with a swimming pool, spa, two restaurants and a bar. Given the early morning flight back to London, it is the ideal place to enjoy some last minute relaxation before your trip ends.
Our total costs
How does all this stack up compared to a package holiday or tour?
|Airbnb (50% of cost)||£221|
|Car hire (50% of cost)||£98.35|
|Total without car:||£588.26|
These prices are for peak season in July and come out at just under £300 per person (excluding car hire). This is considerably less than what you would pay for a package. Admittedly, it involves more DIY travel action but surely that is part of the fun?! For anyone wishing to visit Albania and wondering how to do it independently, hopefully this has given you some ideas.
What do you think?
Have you visited Albania or know anyone who has? What are your top tips for visiting the country?
Or maybe you have been considering a trip to Albania and have questions about what to expect. Feel free to have your say below.