Bicycle Touring Albania
We cycled the length of Albania in late December, mostly following the EuroVelo 8 with a handful of detours. We had very different experiences bicycle touring Albania in the north versus the south. The northern part of the EV8 travels through flat agricultural land that’s densely populated, while the southern part is more remote and hilly. If we had been in Albania during warmer months, we would’ve explored more of the mountainous regions, but due to weather we mostly stuck closer to sea level.
Download the GPX track of our bicycle tour through Albania.
The northern agricultural areas of Albania were fairly challenging to cycle through, mostly from a road quality and wild camping perspective. Even the smaller roads were busy and didn’t have a shoulder, so we wore our reflective vests and took alternative routes when we could. On the positive side, Albanian drivers and pedestrians are very friendly, and we got lots of waves, thumbs up, and greetings as we made our way through the country.
Mud in Albania is Unforgiving
One day early on, we were dealing with a busy road and decided to try out some smaller farm roads. It had rained quite a bit recently, and we were quickly bogged down in a muddy clay disaster. We passed a farm house where a father and son saw that we were in over our heads, and the son walked us through a grassy olive grove to bypass a particularly horrendous section of road.
We pushed our bikes the rest of the way back to the pavement, with huge gobs of mud lodging in our fenders so that our wheels couldn’t even turn. We had to stop every few feet to scrape the mud out of our fenders with sticks. After that, we were pretty wary of side roads.
Camping in the North
Wild camping was difficult in the agricultural areas, as this part of the country is populous even between towns. Our Christmas Eve campsite was located behind a stone wall in a field right off the main highway. Farmers’ fields were really the only option here, so we just looked for grass fields that weren’t currently growing anything and tried to be as hidden as possible.
We stayed in Tirana a few days to wander around Albania’s capital and wait out some rain. The city was enjoyable to walk around, and the Christmas Market was still in full swing with lots of beautiful light displays. Eating out in Albania was much cheaper than anywhere else we’ve been in Europe, so we splurged on some fancy restaurants and even found an American-style breakfast place!
While there were difficult aspects of touring in Albania, there was never a dull moment. One minute we were on a busy highway, and around the next curve a flock of sheep blocked the road. A group of children we passed would be incredibly nice and excited to see us, and down the road another group would shout curses (usually in good fun, but still).
South of Vlorë, the route gets much less busy and more scenic. The coastline is hemmed in by tall mountains, and the hilly riding is rewarded by beautiful views of the sea and spectacular descents down impressive switchbacks.
We absolutely loved this area, and we got lucky with perfect weather to ring in the New Year. Wild camping was also much easier in the south, and one of our sites even featured a friendly stray dog that kept us company in the morning.
We spent a night in Sarandë, a beach town near the border with Greece, where we got our Covid tests in preparation for the ferry to Corfu the next day. Luckily they were negative, and we didn’t have any trouble crossing the border.
Final Thoughts on Bicycle Touring Albania
While northern Albania was a somewhat challenging place to bicycle, the beauty in the south and the friendliness of the Albanian people warmed us to the country in the end. We would very much like to return and explore the mountains during warmer season!