Current as of: June 15, 2024 - 08:00

Cycling in Albania

Cycling in Albania Trip Notes

  • Ways to Travel: Guided Group, Private Group Adventures
  • Destination: Albania
  • Programmes: Cycling
  • Activity Level:

    4 out of 7 - Moderate / Challenging

  • 8 Days: Flight Inclusive
  • 8 Days: Land Only
  • Ages: 16+
  • Trip Code: MVA
  • Carbon Footprint: 21kg CO2e

Trip Overview

Discover the beauty of this previously isolated country by bike

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, 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 Macedonia border, 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 Unesco-listed Butrint and Llogara National Park, before relaxing by the sea at our hotel in Vlorë.

Cycling in Albania

At a Glance

  • Five nights in hotels, two nights in guesthouses
  • Six days cycling with full vehicle support
  • Group normally 4 to 16, plus local cycling leader and driver. Minimum age: 16
  • Trip can be combined with Cycle Macedonia & Northern Albania
  • E-bikes available for an additional cost
  • Option to travel by train to your adventure

Highlights

  • Immerse yourself in a previously isolated country
  • Cycle from mountain plateaux to the Albanian Riviera
  • Visit the Unesco World Heritage site of Butrint
  • Fishing villages, national parks and thermal springs

Is This Trip for You?

This trip is classified Road and Activity Level 4 (Moderate/Challenging). For more on our trip gradings, visit our Activity Level Guidelines page.

  • Average daily distance: 37mi (60km)
  • Number of cycling days: six
  • Vehicle support (with limited seats)

Terrain and route: 100 percent paved, where some sections are in a poor condition with potholes and some unsurfaced areas. The terrain is undulating with some long, gradual climbs. The optional climb on Day 7 (3,422ft/1,043m) is the most challenging, although there is always the option of the support vehicle to get you up to the pass. We aim to use quiet roads where possible, although on one occasion we need to pass busy sections to reach quiet roads beyond.

Group

Group normally 4 to 16, plus local cycling leader and driver.

Adult min age: 16

Min group size: 4

Max group size: 16

Itinerary

Map MVA

Land Only

  • Start City: Pogradec
  • End City: Vlore

Land Only Itinerary

Day 1
Start Pogradec

We start in Pogradec, at our hotel on the shore of Lake Ohrid. The afternoon is free to relax and enjoy this lakeside location.

Accommodation: Hotel Millennium (or similar)

Day 2
Transfer to Korçë; steady climb through a landscape of barren rock interspersed with wildflowers; cycle towards Grammoz Mountain and over the Barmash Pass to Gërmenj

We begin with one of the most demanding days of the tour. After a quick transfer to Korçë, we begin cycling and leave behind the agricultural plateau, climbing steadily into the border mountains through a landscape of barren rock interspersed with wildflowers. Numerous cols and valleys lie ahead, climbing towards Grammoz Mountain and over the Barmash Pass (3,802ft/1,159m) to Gërmenj, lying in a tranquil valley. Here we relax at our accommodation, Farma Sotira, which is also a working trout farm. Meals here consist of organic produce reared or sourced from the farm itself. Once you’ve finished your hearty dinner, sit and relax by the open roaring fire in the dining area with a glass of homemade wine or a bottle of Korçë beer (the most popular in Albania).

Accommodation: Farma Sotira Hotel (or similar)

Distance covered: 45mi (72km)

Ascent: 3,773ft (1,150m); Descent: 3,445ft (1,050m)

Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 3
Cycle through high grassy plateaux surrounded by soaring peaks before descending to Carshove and on to Benje; ride to thermal springs for a swim

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 Çarshove 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.

Accommodation: Guesthouse Coli (or similar)

Distance covered: 37mi (60km)

Ascent: 2,254ft (687m); Descent: 4,436ft (1,352m)

Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 4
Valley ride towards Kelcyra; after lunch at Tepele Waterfalls transfer to Gjirokastra for afternoon city tour

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 (approximately 30 minutes) through the wide plain toward the town of Gjirokastra (City of 1,000 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 narrow cobbled alleys and 18th-century Ottoman houses. We also visit a 13th-century castle and learn about the fascinating history of this town, which has seen many rulers and has inspired poets, authors and artists.

Accommodation: Hotel Cajupi (or similar)

Distance covered: 29mi (46km)

Ascent: 1,148ft (350m); Descent: 1,706ft (520m)

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 5
Transfer up the Muzina Pass, long descent to Sarandë via the coast and the Unesco site of Butrint

After breakfast, we load the bikes on to the support vehicle and transfer up to Muzina Pass (approximately 45 minutes), the gateway to southern Albania, for a spectacular downhill ride to Sarandë. On the Ionian Coast, Sarandë 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 very close to the Greek border and is one of the most important archeological sites in the country, with origins back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. We have lunch at the site and continue along the coast to Sarandë.

Accommodation: Hotel Nertili (or similar)

Distance covered: 44mi (70km)

Ascent: 2,379ft (725m); Descent: 4,216ft (1,285m)

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 6
Spectacular coastal ride to the long beach of Himarë Bay

Climbing steeply out of Sarandë to a rocky plateau, we enjoy a spectacular coastal ride over cols into bays and around headlands. Always with the mountains to the right and sea to the left, we continue along before descending to Himarë, 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.

Accommodation: Hotel Prinos or Hotel Dhima (or similar)

Distance covered: 34mi (54km)

Ascent: 3,491ft (1,064m); Descent: 3,491ft (1,064m)

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 7
Ride towards Vlorë; optional climb to the Llogara Pass; long descent through Llogara National Park finishing by the coast

Today’s route is as challenging as it is spectacular as 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 Himarë, which naturally is rewarded with an enjoyable downhill. We then have another climb before our coffee break. That’s followed by a nice downhill, but we must climb again before we regroup.

We then face a long, steady ascent to the Llogara pass. At 3,422ft (1,043m) above sea level, this climb is 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 (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 by the sea just outside the city. Here we can relax and take a dip in the sea, the perfect reward for a hard day’s cycle.

Accommodation: Hotel Coral (or similar)

Distance covered: 40mi (65km)

Ascent: 5,348ft (1,630m); Descent: 5,348ft (1,630m)

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 8
End Vlorë

This cycling tour of Albania comes to an end after breakfast. But if you’d like a muscle-soothing post-trip break, speak to your sales representative about extending your stay in our hotel by the sea in Vlorë.

Meals included: Breakfast

Accommodation

Hotels and guesthouses

Cycling in Albania

On this door-to-door cycling adventure, we mostly stay in three- or four-star hotels and guesthouses. These are comfortable and well located for our adventure but, with tourism still developing in Albania, relatively simple. Below are a couple of hotels our guests typically enjoy.  

Gërmenj: Farma Sotira (night 2)

Cycling in Albania

In a tranquil valley within Germenj-Shelegur National Park and with fresh water running down from the mountains, Farma Sotira is a simple, tranquil place to stay. It is also a working farm, so dinner is mainly created from homegrown produce and prepared using traditional methods. We sleep in two-room wooden cabins (each room has twin beds). Each cabin has a communal bathroom. 

Sarandë: Hotel Nertili (night 5)

Cycling in Albania

The waters of the Ionian take centre stage at the beachfront Hotel Nertili, where all rooms have a balcony with sea views. There’s also a private beach area with sundecks and parasols, plus a bar and restaurant with a sea-view terrace.  

Worth knowing 

  • Single accommodation is available on request. Please note, single rooms may not be available in the guesthouses in Germenj and Benje due to a limited number of rooms. 
  • The hotels we use in Himarë (Hotel Prinos or Hotel Dhima) and Guesthouse Coli are simpler than the other hotels used on this trip. While basic, all are ideally located for our adventures (the Himarë options are by the beach and Guesthouse Coli by thermal springs). 

Single supplement from £ 180

Accommodation - Pre Trip

In Pogradec, our hotel is on the shore of Lake Ohrid.

Accommodation - Post Trip

In Vlore, our hotel is located by the sea – a perfect place to relax and take a dip.

Food & Drink

All breakfasts and two dinners included.

Food in Albania is quite varied thanks to the many influences on the country and particularly Mediterranean combining Turkish, Greek and Italian tastes. Dairy products, especially milk and yoghurt, are present in almost every meal, usually locally sourced.

Under the leadership of Enver Hoxha (the communist leader of Albania from 1944 to 1985), Albania became a self-sustaining country due to its isolation to the world. However, owing to the fertile valleys, fresh mountain springs and Mediterranean climate, they are still very much a subsistence culture and show very few signs of changing. In the countryside, expect your food to have been reared/grown not too far from your plate.

Breakfasts are typically eggs, fresh bread, jam, honey, and coffee or tea. For lunch and dinner, meat dishes are often goat or lamb, while fish dishes might include trout or whitebait. Courses often come in meze form, complemented by a variety of vegetables, salad, freshly baked bread, homemade cheeses, local wines and, of course, raki. Your guide will recommend the best options when in the towns.

Transport

For the airport transfers and transfers to and from the activities we will use private minibuses.

Weather & Seasonality

Albania has a temperate, Mediterranean climate. The first day of spring is 15 March and things really start to hot up toward the end of the month when clear skies and balmy temperatures provide a nice way to ease into the heat of summer. Summer brings sunshine and maximum temperatures between 20C and 35C (68F and 95F). Summer days are long with sunrise before 6am and sunset after 8.30pm.

Joining Instructions

Key information

Start hotel: Hotel Millennium, Rruga e Drilonit 1, Tushemisht 7304
Phone: +355 68 228 3911
Recommended arrival time: You can arrive at any time today. There will be a welcome briefing in the evening, but if you miss it the leader will update you separately
Airport: Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (TIA)

Getting to the start hotel

The start hotel is approximately three hours’ drive from the airport. Your options for this journey are:

Take an Exodus transfer  

Exodus provides one group arrival transfer from the airport, which is timed to coincide with the arrival of a chosen flight from London, UK. You may join this transfer at no extra cost, provided you can be at the airport before the transfer leaves. Speak to your sales representative for the group arrival transfer times or to arrange a private transfer.

Make your own way

It’s possible to reach the start hotel by public transport, but the journey is complicated. We therefore recommend joining the group transfer where possible. If not, a cab from the airport to the start hotel costs €120 and should take three hours.  If you would like further information on joining this trip, please speak to your sales representative.

Catching your return flight

There’s a group departure transfer to the airport for customers who Exodus booked onto a chosen flight to London, UK. Please speak to your sales representative if you wish to join. If the group departure transfer does not suit your flight time, speak to your sales representative to arrange an alternative transfer.

Full joining instructions including local emergency numbers will be sent to you as part of our Final Joining Instructions. If you do not receive these at least a week before departure, or require them earlier please contact our office or your travel agent.

Location start: Pogradec
Location end: Vlore

What To Take

Essential Equipment

  • Cycling helmet (compulsory)
  • Gloves and padded shorts
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Sunscreen and lip salve
  • Sunglasses/eye protection
  • Warm jacket for evenings
  • Warm layer for cooler cycling days
  • Small daysack
  • Favourite energy snacks
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Beach towel and swimming things

Optional Equipment

Panniers are provided with the bikes. If you want to carry more with you during the day, we recommend a large bum bag (fanny pack) or small close-fitting daysack.

A first-aid kit is carried on each trip, but we recommend you bring your own painkillers, rehydration sachets, plasters and a blister treatment kit.

Equipment Hire

Included standard bike
The standard bikes for this trip are Giant Roam (men) and Giant Rove (women) hybrid bikes with front suspension.

We will take your height at the time of booking to reserve equipment. If you have a preferred bike size, please request when booking.

E-bike upgrade
Electric bikes are available on this trip; prices from £155/US$217/257 Canadian dollars. Speak to your sales representative for more information.

Accessories and clothing

Bringing equipment from home
You’re welcome to bring your own equipment, such as SPD pedals or clipless pedals, your own saddle (excluding the seat post), or gel saddle cover for the hire bikes. Your leader will help you fit these when bikes are distributed.

Helmets
Helmets are mandatory for everyone on a guided Exodus cycling trip. You must bring your own as, following best safety practice, they are not available for hire.

Cycling clothing
For all cycling trips we recommend:

  • Padded cycling shorts: For destinations with more modest cultures, we also recommend loose ‘over-shorts’ for riding or rest stops
  • Eyewear: Either sunglasses or eye protection with clear lenses to protect the eyes while riding
  • Cycling gloves: Especially for riding off-road or on rugged surfaces
  • Cycling shoes: Cycling is more efficient with stiff-soled shoes. We don’t recommend open-toed shoes or sandals
  • Small close-fitting backpack or bum bag (fanny pack): To keep spare clothing or essential items to hand during the ride

Practical Information

Passport

Remember to check the expiration date of your passport if travelling internationally. Many countries require your passport to be valid for at least six months after the date of your scheduled return.

Visa

Albania

Travellers from the UK, US and EU normally do not need a visa to enter Albania. Please note, visa requirements often change and it is your responsibility to obtain any required visas for this trip. Therefore, we recommend that you check with the nearest embassy or consulate of your chosen destination(s), including any countries you may be transiting or transferring through.

Some local governments provide guidance on what visas their citizens need. To help, we’ve gathered a selection of useful links below.

Vaccinations and Health

Albania

There are no required vaccinations. However, you may want to consider vaccinations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, tetanus, rabies and tick-borne encephalitis. Please confirm with your doctor or travel clinic.

You will, however, require a yellow fever vaccination certificate if arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever transmission.

The Travel Health Pro website recommends to have a rabies vaccination on this trip, as cycling is considered a higher risk activity.

Local Time

Albania's time zone: Europe/Tirane (UTC +02:00)

Electricity

Albania's electricity: Plug types C (two round pins) and F (two round pins) – 230V, 50Hz

Cycling in Albania

Money

Albania's currency: Albanian lek (ALL)

ATM Availability

Albania has a good network of cash machines, which can be used to retrieve lek. However, currency exchange shops provide a better exchange rate than ATMs – we take the group to an exchange shop on Day 1 or 2.

Many shops and restaurants in the main cities also accept euros, which are exchanged by the businesses on the spot at a disadvantaged rate (change is given in local currency). Visa, Mastercard and credit cards are widely accepted in shops for larger purchases.

Extra Expenses & Spending Money

There are no restrictions on the import of Albanian currency, though local exchange rates are invariably better than those at home. The exchange rate does fluctuate considerably, so it is best to check just before departure.

You’ll find that prices vary in Albania. In the mountains, you can expect to pay lower prices.

In the mountains, expect to pay approximately:

  • 800-1,000 lek (€7.95-€10) for a meal
  • 200-250 lek (€2-€2.50) for a local beer or glass of local wine
  • 65 lek (€0.65) for a large bottle of water in the markets and 120-150 lek (€1.20-€1.50) in restaurants

In the coastal cities, expect to pay approximately:

  • 1,500-2,000 lek (€14.90-€19.90) for a meal
  • 300-500 lek (€3-€4) for a beer
  • 2,500-3,000 lek (€24.85-€29.80) for a bottle of wine
  • 130 lek (US$1.20) for a large bottle of water in the markets and 200-250 lek (€2-€2.50) in restaurants

Optional visits

  • Castle of Gjirokaster: 300 leks (3)
  • Skenduli House: 200 leks (2)
  • Butrint: 1,000 leks (10)

Tipping

Tipping is entirely at your own discretion. Your leader will advise about tipping in restaurants but the general rule is to round up your bill. Our local leaders are paid fairly for their work with Exodus, however, if you wish to show your appreciation a tip of around 300-450 leks (3-4.50) per person per day would be appreciated. By definition, gratuities are not something that can be included in the tour price.

People, Places & Planet

We work hard to create trips that have a positive impact on the people and places we visit and look after the planet we explore. Learn more about our sustainable travel ethos and practice here and find out about the work of the Exodus Travels Foundation here.

Some sustainable travel highlights of this trip include:

People

How this trip helps improve life for local communities.

  • Local guides keep you well informed about local traditions and cultural-social sensitivities.
  • This trip brings income and opportunity to the destination community through the inclusion of locally owned hotels, restaurants, and other enterprises, and by championing locally produced food wherever possible.
  • On days 2 & 3 we stay in family owned guest houses. At Farma Sotira the meals are organic, sourced from the farm.
  • Read more about our other initiatives here.

Places

How this trip helps protect and conserve local landscapes and nature.

  • By travelling in a small group we ‘tread lightly’ to minimise our impact on local resources and the environment.
  • We work with our partners on the ground to proactively reduce waste; this includes eliminating all single-use plastic water bottles by providing refills for reusable bottles.
  • The payment of entrance fees to natural reserves and archaeological sites generates income which is used for upkeep and development of these important sites. On this trip we visit a 13th century castle in Gjirokastra and the ancient remains of Butrint a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • We rewild 100 square metres per passenger to compensate for all trip and flight emissions.
  • Read about our commitment to nature protection and restoration here, including our rewilding commitment for every customer who travels with us.

Planet

How we seek to keep the carbon footprint of this trip low.

  • Accommodation and restaurants in the itinerary use locally sourced food which has not been transported long distances.
  • As this is s cycling holiday it provides a low impact way of exploring the destination.
  • Read about our climate action here, including our carbon reduction and compensation commitments.

Tips for sustainable travel on this trip

  • Leave no trace: we do all we can to ensure we leave no rubbish in the wild and beautiful places we visit; we ask that you do the same. If there are no recycling facilities in-country, consider bringing recyclable materials home with you.
  • Plastic waste reduction: please bring a reusable water bottle on this trip, also consider avoiding single-use hotel toiletries, which generate a large amount of plastic waste.

 

 

Important Information

Water safety

This trip includes time by a lake, river or sea, where there may be opportunities to swim. You should always seek local advice before deciding whether to swim. Open-water or wild swim spots should be treated with extreme caution. Information on how to keep yourself safe while swimming is shown here.

Important Information

Your safe participation 

When booking this trip, you should be confident in your ability to participate in all activities described in these Trip Notes. If you have any doubt about your suitability, please call the Exodus office and ask to speak to one of the experts on this itinerary. 

Although our leaders are well trained to deal with different capabilities, if they have any concerns about someone’s ability to safely take part in an activity, or their impact on other people’s enjoyment, we authorise them to take necessary action which, in some circumstances, may involve asking someone to miss that activity. 

By booking this trip you agree to our Booking Conditions which clearly state that our leaders have the authority to do this. In these rare instances we will ensure anyone sitting out is safely provided for and offered alternative options where possible. Refunds will not be provided for activities missed and customers may be liable for additional costs incurred. 

How to Book

  1. Check availability: Go online to check availability, or contact us by phone or email.
  2. Secure your place: You can provisionally hold a place on this trip, usually for between three and seven days.
  3. Complete your booking and payment

When you’re ready to book, go to our website for online bookings, book over the phone or you can complete a booking form (available online or on request by calling us). We accept all major credit and debit cards, or you can pay be cheque.

After booking

You will receive your booking confirmation letter and invoice, which includes extra information and guidance about your travel arrangements.

Full joining instructions, including local emergency numbers and details of how to reach the start point, will be sent to you approximately two to three weeks prior to departure. If you do not receive these at least a week before departure, or require them earlier, please contact our office or your travel agent.

Trip Note validity

These Trip Notes are valid from the “Current as” date on page one. They will occasionally be updated after booking and before departure; if there are any updates that significantly impact the inclusions or itinerary, customers will be written to separately. They will also receive a link to the most up-to-date Trip Notes with their Final Joining Instructions before travelling.

The information in these Trip Notes is given in good faith. Where differences exist between the Trip Notes and our current brochure or website, the Trip Notes supersede the brochure and website. All holidays can be subject to unexpected changes; to enjoy them you should be prepared to be flexible where necessary. Occasionally, it may not be possible to follow the itinerary as planned. This may be for a variety of reasons – climatic, political, physical or other. In these circumstances we will make the best-possible alternative arrangements that maintain the integrity of the original itinerary.

Licensing

Exodus is fully licensed and bonded as a tour operator. We hold Air Traffic Organisers Licence (ATOL) number 2582, issued and bonded with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). We are also bonded to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and we are members of the Federation of Tour Operators (FTO) and ABTA – The Travel Association. This means you can book your Exodus holiday with confidence, as all money paid to us for your trip is fully protected.