Some say that visiting Albania is as close as you'll get to travelling back in time. It wasn't until the collapse of the People's Socialist Republic of Albania in 1991 that the world got its first glimpse of the country within. Huge snow-capped mountains, inviting beaches, pretty rural villages, a genuine subsistence culture and an exceptionally friendly welcome is what you will find here. We cycle through the very best of Europe's beautiful unknown, beginning our tour on the border of Macedonia, biking towards the ancient town of Gjirokastra passing soaring peaks and lush green valleys. From here we begin our descent to the Albanian Riviera passing the UNESCO site of Butrint and Llogara National Park, before relaxing by the sea at our hotel in Vlor.
Start Pogradec. Those on the group flight will be met at the airport and transferred to our hotel in Pogradec, situated on the shore of Lake Ohrid (approx. 3hr drive). The afternoon is free to relax and enjoy this lakeside location.
We begin with one of the most demanding days of the tour. After a quick transfer to Kor, we begin cycling and leave behind the agricultural plateau, climbing steadily into the border mountains through a landscape of barren rock interspersed with wild flowers. Numerous cols and valleys lie ahead, climbing towards Grammoz Mountain and over the Barmash Pass (1159m) to Grmenj, lying in its own tranquil valley. Here we relax at our accommodation, Farma Sotira, which is also a working trout farm. Meals here consist of organic produce that is reared or sourced from the farm itself. Once youve finished eating your hearty dinner, you can sit and relax by the open roaring fire in the dining area with a glass of homemade wine or a bottle of Kor beer (Albanias most popular).Cycle approx. 72km, total ascent approx. 1150m, total descent approx. 1050m.
In the morning there is a climb out from Germenj to a high grassy plateau close to the Greek border, surrounded by soaring peaks before reaching the source of the River Vjosa and descending through its spectacular gorge to Leskovik. We continue descending to arshove and then follow the corniche route high above the river to Benje situated on a ridge above the river. After lunch at the guesthouse, we take a short ride to the thermal springs to relax and soothe aching muscles. Both lunch and dinner will be served on the peaceful terrace.Cycle approx. 60km, total ascent approx. 687m, total descent approx. 1352m.
Today is one of the easiest days. We continue along the valley towards Kelcyra with its distant shark-tooth peaks, which guard a further gorge. We ride between these gorges until the two rivers meet. After lunch at the waterfalls of Tepelene we drive (approx. 30 mins) through the wide plain toward the town of Gjirokastra(city of 1000 steps). The well-preserved town is perched on the steep side of the Drino Valley, overlooking snow-capped mountains. In the afternoon we take a cultural tour through the city and explore its narrow cobbled alleys and 18th Century Ottoman houses. We also visit the 13th Century castle and learn about the fascinating history of this town, which has seen many rulers and has inspired poets, authors and artists.Cycle approx. 46km, total ascent approx. 350m, total descent approx. 520m.
After breakfast we load the bikes on to the support vehicle and transfer up to Muzina Pass (approx. 45 minutes), the gateway to southern Albania, for a spectacular downhill ride to Sarand. Located on the Ionian Coast, Sarand is sandwiched between the high mountains and the sea and is close to the ancient remains of Butrint, which we visit on the way. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Butrint is located very close to the Greek border and is one of the countrys most important archaeological sites, tracing its origins back to the Greeks and the Romans. We have lunch at the site and continue along the coast to Sarand.Cycle approx. 70km, total ascent approx. 725m, total descent approx. 1285m.
Climbing steeply out of Sarande to a rocky plateau, we enjoy a spectacular coastal ride over cols into bays and around headlands. Always with the stunning mountain scenery to the right and sea to the left, we continue along before descending to Himar, a small communist-era fishing village with a small promenade filled with cafes, restaurants and ice cream stands. There is plenty of time for a swim in the Ionian Sea, and our hotel is a short walk to Potam Beach.Cycle approx. 54km, total ascent approx. 1064m, total descent approx. 1064m.
Todays route is as challenging as it is spectacularas we cycle the most demanding ride of the tour; it will show you how strong you have become. In the morning there is a climb out of Himar, which naturally is rewarded with an enjoyable downhill. We then have another climb before our coffee break. Our break is followed with a nice downhill, but we must climb yet again before we regroup. We then come face to face with the long steady ascent to the Llogara pass. At 1043m above sea level, this climb is completely optional, so if you think it is too much then you can jump in the support vehicle. However, if you are looking for an extra challenge, this climb comes with a real sense of achievement, and the views are fantastic. At the pass itself (which you will also see if you take the van) it is possible to see across to Italy on a clear day. We recommend taking a warmer layer for reaching the top of the pass. From here you enter Llogara National Park, home to black pine, Eurasian otter and golden eagles. The park is a scenic expanse of protected woodland that encompasses the forests on the northern side of the Llogora Pass. We begin to descend and have lunch in the National Park. In the afternoon we continue descending towards our hotel, which is located by the sea just outside of the city. Here we can relax and take a dip in the sea, the perfect reward for a hard day's cycle.Cycle approx. 65km, total ascent approx. 1630m (including the optional climb), total descent approx. 1630m.
End Vlor. Those on the group flight will be transferred to Tirana airport in the morning (approx. 2.5hr drive).