Don’t go to Albania (in August)

Illuminati & nanochips


Many years ago I swore to myself never to go on a holiday during high season again. However, after being locked up for 1 1/2 year I was ready to break any oath I made to go walk about again. As soon as I was injected twice with Illuminati nano chips, I was ready for a road trip. After reading travel stories and blogs with titles like; “Wild camping paradise” and “An overlander’s dream destination” I was convinced that Albania was just what I needed.

Depending on where you live, getting there will test your patience and persistence. For me it was a long drive crossing many borders and traffic jams. Especially the border between Bosnia and Montenegro deserves an honourable mention as it took 4 hours to cross it. Don’t believe what Google maps tells you regarding travel times.

Be prepared for long waiting times at some borders. Pack a lunch, a dinner, and maybe breakfast for the next day

Trash and Gucci

Albania has a 300 km coastline and the water is crystal clear and blue. That is, if you can get to the beach. Horrible traffic jams, beaches filled with umbrellas and sun beds, tourists, summer bars, blasting sound systems at maximum distortion. If you like the Costa del Sol in July, this will be a dream come true. For me, there’s only one thing I hate more than bad red wine and that is “loungy” summer bar music. Unfortunately, Albanians are addicted to high powered bluetooth speakers and don’t mind their direct neighbours blasting out some Balkan pop for 16 year olds. I should have had a little more patience to leave, as I was told that from September on the beaches are empty. We searched long and hard and found relatively quiet spots and camped on the beach a couple of times. Now, where in Europe can you still do that…

For the responsible gentleman chauffeur, Albania can be quite a culture shock. You’ll be confronted with zigzagging luxury cars and a total neglect of basic traffic regulations. I don’t really mind, since I live in Switzerland where extreme “Höflichkeit” in traffic is the norm and I was ready to relish in the joys of anarchy and lawlessness. I feel at home driving in India or Mexico, where the drivers are truly suicidal and lack any respect for human life. So compared to them, Albanian chauffeurs are very well behaved.

For a developing country the amount of super deluxe cars is absolutely astounding. The drivers are usually alfa macho’s with Gucci print t-shirts and Armani sunglasses with golden frame.

The backroads

Leaving the coast, this is where the Albanian experience really starts. Beautiful valleys without houses, amazing canyons, crystal clear rivers and gorgeous lakes to swim in, national parks to go hiking, endless forest roads to kill my car suspension and scratch the lacquer, historic sites and wild camping anywhere. This was what I had been reading about. I visited 4 national parks, 2 were worth the effort of getting there. All visitor’s centres were closed (high season remember?). There’s no efficient network of highways and most roads are in very bad shape. Beware of potholes and don’t be surprised that main connecting roads are small mountain paths. Many people live in extreme poverty and mule and carriage is still an essential way of transport in Albania. Be vigilant for animals crossing the streets, stray dogs, cats, sheep, goats, cows,…Albania’s got them all. Could this be Europe’s last non hyper regulated, wild destination?

After decades of complete isolation the borders opened up in 1991 and many Albanians  emigrated the country.  Understandably, because  Albania was in a horrible state. To this date the country has virtually no industry and most agriculture is small scale and fragmented. More Albanians live in foreign countries than inside its borders. With a population of only 2.8M it’s a dream destination for those who seek disorder and solitude. Albania is a relatively safe country and most Albanians are very friendly. Except for middle aged women, they’re always in a bad mood it seems. The general mood is relaxed, no pushy vendors or persistent parking lot hustlers. You do have to be on your guard for pick pockets in large crowds.

Castles and coffee

There’s a peculiar fascination in Albania with fairy tale castles and palaces. You’ll see them everywhere. They serve as wedding locations or just as show off and are built everywhere in true Las Vegas style. Golden statues of eagles and Roman emperors, check. Very cool! Almost everywhere you look there’s construction going on. In fact, unfinished buildings are more numerous than finished houses. Probably for tax cutting reasons but if you want to start a business here, then contracting is the way to go. Also, I’ve never seen a country with so many gas stations and coffee bars. It seems everybody’s preferred side hustle is a coffee bar. For those who can afford it, combined with a gas station and a small hotel. The coffee is usually really good and easy to order because most Albanians speak English fluently.

Sadly, also in abundance: trash. On all beaches, in national parks, near the roadside. Trash is omnipresent. I’ve witnessed people dumping their cigarette buds in dry bushes with forest fires burning on nearby hills. At the time I was visiting, forest fires were the main topic on most TV channels! I guess if you are worried about how to pay for basic commodities, you cannot afford the luxury of being an eco warrior. I won’t go into how the country is managed regarding biodiversity and wildlife management because this kind of policy is simply non existent in Albania. There’s a general 2 year hunting ban because of structural poaching and fishing in marine reservation is the norm… 

Food is good, but not great and cheap. A salad, grilled fish or lamb with rice, fries or Byrek (layered dough with different fillings) and grilled vegetables. A small plate of Tzatiki ties it all together and combines perfectly with any meat or fish. Rakja is often served with your meal but I don’t go there anymore after having suffered the consequences of this satanic home brew too often. You will be invited many times for a glass of Rakia and declining is not really an option. I’ve learned to stand my ground and say no, but it takes willpower. 

Don’t go.

As far as I’m concerned, stay away from Albania becauseI like it just the way it is. Either way, Albanians will welcome you wholeheartedly in their beautiful country. Just stay away from the coast in July & August.  

Camping on the beach, where in Europe can you still do that…