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Balkans 2023 - into Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania

After a stormy night wild camping on the mountains, we descended into the Theth National Park valley. A river flows through the valley, but the water level was quite low exposing the gravel river bed. We parked up and walked a short distance along the trails that lead further upstream. The Theth-Valbona mule trail is popular with trekkers, crossing the mountains toward the Valbona National Park, some 17 kms / 8 hours walk away.

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We picked up the old road / piste from Theth NP towards Shkoder via Prekal. The road is a 60 km single track trail of rock and packed dirt, with sheer drops through mountain and forest with great views. It's a brilliant trail, but sheer drops are precarious - a mistake could take you over the edge without leaving a trace. The road has claimed many victims, with many memorials at the side of the road listing several names for single accidents.

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Brilliant trail!
 
We stopped in Shkoder, the regional capital, to find a cash machine (we struggled to locate cash machines in Albania - mostly found in larger towns. Euros are widely accepted - but you must have cash as not everywhere takes card).

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Not many photos - once we withdrew some cash, we found a supermarket to stock up, then after refuelling headed back into the hills.

What I do remember of Shkoder is the chaotic traffic at the major intersections - it was a free for all with cars pushing in from every direction.
 
Stunning trip, Reinhard, looks amazing
There's a lot to see in the Balkans, and Albania has been described as the 4x4 adventure playground of Europe. There are loads of tracks and they seem pretty relaxed about where you go and where you camp.
 
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From Shkoder we headed south to pick up the SH5 heading towards Puke and Fushe Arrez to eventually join the SH22 to Bajram Curri and Valbona National Park. The SH22 is a mountain road with an excellent new surface and great views. It passes through forests of Mediterranean Pine and leads to the Drin river, which is held back by a series of dams.

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During the cold war the Hoxha regime were convinced they were going to be invaded by just about everyone - NATO, Greece, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. Between the 60's and the 80's they build over 750,000 pill boxes throughout the country.

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This is the other end of the walking trail from Theth.
 
We left Valbona NP early in the morning to get the ferry on the Drin through canyon to Koman. The ferry crossing takes about 2.5 hours. There seem to be two ferry operators - one running a larger ferry and the other running 2 smaller ones. Each ferry only does 1 round trip a day, so spaces are limited. We were on the larger ferry, more to do with timing and availability. The smaller ones seemed more 'adventurous'. The landing at Koman is a concrete quay at the mouth of an access tunnel - there is no other way to get to the quay. The quay was packed with parked cars, which had to be moved to let off the ferry.

The drive from Koman to the Shkoder - Durres motorway was severely potholed and once we got to the motorway, the traffic was very heavy. We turned off the motorway towards Cape Radoni, to spend time on the coast - camping on the slopes just about the beach. From there we headed toward Camping Tirana - Ginta had to fly back to the UK, while I would continue on my own.

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The drive from Tirana Campsite to Lake Ohrid takes you round the Tirana 'circular', the A3 towards Elbasan and then on to the lake. The border between Albania and North Macedonia cuts through the lake. I got to the lake but ended up not stopping - there seemed to be limited stopping places on the road that ran along the shore. Or maybe I wasn't in the mood. I headed towards the next lake - Lake Prespa with the intention of driving the track along the Greek border that connects this lake to Small Prespa Lake. It was raining when I started climbing the track. The surface was intitally stoney, but quickly turned into slippery mud - the wrong kind of mud. I slid a couple of times and not knowing what the track was like up ahead, called it a day. With a second vehicle, or even a second person in the car, I may have continued but being solo, decided against it.

I headed towards Korce, stopping to fill with diesel and cash. Shortly after leaving Korce I pulled up at the side of a dirt track to camp for the night. In the morning (around 5.30 am) an old farmer came to say good morning, offering me is flask of plum brandy - too early for me. He took me to his orchard and plied my with apples and plums, for which he refused payment.

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The road to Gjrokaster, the SH75, runs parallel to the Greek border. It is part new road, part not so good road and part abandonded old road where it is bypassed by a new road at Leskovik - an old farmer tried to discourage me from taking the now abandoned old road. Once past Carcove, the road follows the river Aoos.

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I arrived in Gjrokaster in the rain. After visiting the shops I decided to visit the old fort on the hill. It was hot and humid. Not pleasant. I decided to drive up, following the gps - big mistake, the road passed through the old town, with narrow streets and with cars parked at the side of the wider bits. It was just/barely wide enough for the land cruiser to get through and with no possibility to turn around. The was parking was full near the fort, and I managed a 3 point turn and headed back down.

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From Gjrocaster I headed into the Zagoria National Park to pick up a trail through the hills, a loop of some 80 kms. The intial climb was along a single track tarmac road, until it reached a high valley. There the road becomes track with a packed dirt, stoney pr clay surface and passing through plains, forest and hills. It is great track with sweeping views passing through remote villages, and loopiong back to Gjrokaster.

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I left Gjrokaster heading for Berat, via Kelcyre. The trail from Kelcyre to Berat is around 70kms. It is a moderate track with a packed dirt and stoney surface, but is suffering from erosion in places - in fact there was a road crew doing some roiad building in the first strectch. Part of it looks like it may have had some asphalt surface for a while, but that is mostly gone now. There were great views as the track climbed into the hills before descending into Berat.

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Berat sits on the Osum River and is known for it's white Ottoman buildings.

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From Berat I headed towards Svet Stefani in Montenegro, taking just before Shkoder to cross the border on the quieter SH41. Svet Stefani is on the coast and like many of the other coastal towns in the Adriatic is big on tourism. The islet just off the coast is a luxury resort. From here I carried on to the Bay of Kotor visiting the submarine tunnel at the entrance to the bay.

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The island of Sveti Stefan is a luxury resort, closed since Covid. Apparently it cost £6k per week when it was operating.

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My accommodation just across the bay, with a view of the island - £0 per night

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From here it was across the border into Croatia, driving past Dubrovnic and across the new bridge that now connects the southern part of Croatia to the rest of the country, avoiding having to drive through Bosnia. Motorway to Zadar. Like many other cities along the Croatian coast, the old town was built by the Venitians.

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After a few days near the sea I left Croatia, heading for Lake Bled in Solvenia and then on to Heidelberg in Germany. From there I headed on to Rotterdam to get the ferry across to Hull.


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Umweltzone - German equivalent of ULEZ

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Great pictures .. some quite familiar. Finished up a 6 month trip last month across the Balkans - Ireland to Greece and back. Meet up with Lorien in Albania and enjoyed some trips & 4x4ing. Will try and do a trip report over the Xmas break
 
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