From Ohrid we travelled back to Albania to explore the South. We took the SH75 and oh my is that a beautiful road. Okay, it didn’t start so great, through the outskirts of a small town, slaloming in and out of stalled cars, horses and holes in the road. Then going up a winding road, through a valley and there we were, in small Albanian paradise. Mountains with snow on the top, green lush valleys and shepherds with their sheep crossing the roads. 

For what seems like hours we travelled through the riches of Albania until we reached the border with Greece. But we were not to cross the border, no we haven’t had enough of Albania yet. So we went back up. Still driving this wonderful road, now the green lush valley made place for a river as blue as our van and as clear as a starry night. And at te back of the river we got to enjoy the incredible wall of the Nemercke mountains. 

Thermal baths of Benja

But still we didn’t stop here. Our destination for today is the springs or thermal baths of Benja. Not really hot, nor smelling that good but apparently very healthy and with medicinal powers. If you want to visit the springs make sure to hike through the gorge, there are several springs inside the gorge. We even relaxed inside the river as the water was warmer than the spring itself. We made a campfire, baked some sausages on it and watched a sky full of a thousand stars. Even saw a falling star so of course we made a wish. 

The road from Permet to Berat

The next day we checked out the gorge, spend some time in the thermal baths and were all zen when we started our most advanturous journey up to now. On the internet people warn for the road from Permet to Berat due to the horrible conditions of it. Some sources say one needs a 4×4, others said they turned around after trying and few write one would be crazy to drive it. But none of those sources drive Alexine, a VW T2 with 45 years of experience. So, we headed towards this dangerous road with confidence. Also, we are still in Europe and this might be a good try out for the roads that we will face in countries like Georgia, Turkmenistan and Tadjikistan for example.

The beginning was alright. I would describe it as a dirt road but not too difficult, even a Mini Cooper would stand its ground. But then… when we turned left, hunted by dogs guarding, we don’t really know what, the road changed. From dirt road to very big stones in the road. Not sure if you are familiar with the song “Sandy road, Sandy road, grind road, grind road, stony road, stony road, hole in the road”, it’s a Dutch children song/game, but it felt like that. All the types of roads in the song came by. From stones to sand to mud to grind to many many holes in the road. Up, up, up we went and even though my eyes were mostly on the road the views were magnificent. I’m really out of ways to describe the amazing views we witness. We’ve seen so many breathtaking landscapes that my English vocabulary of adverbs isn’t enough. Ok, back to the road and the views. 

So we drove up the mountain and on top of ridges with deep cliffs on both sides. Scary? Not at all! Amazing? Hell yeah! I must say I was happy that only once we had an oncoming car because the road was so narrow and with the abyss on both sides, not a great place to pass another car. We crossed some tiny villages where the locals were cheering us along, coming to say hello, amazed that a woman was driving the van. And while I was driving, Yuri was quite nervous at times. But I think he was also proud, saying that I and Alexine are a good team. Of course we are! 

As I told you my vocabulary isn’t enough to describe the view so here are some images that we were able to make along the road. 

Half way through we were stopped by a lady who told us she had delicious petula with mielt, or baked dough with honey. You say honey and I stop. 

We parked Alexine in the meadow surrounded by five sheep and a horse. Oh and countless of bees! So after the petula with mielt – RECOMMENDED!! the beekeeper asked me for my help. His bees have diarrhoea, a well known disease amongst bees and unfortunately easily transferred between colonies. So we checked it out and I told him what antibiotics he should give the bees. We drank some home made raki together and had a delicious börek (Albanian pizza) for diner. 

In the middle of the night we woke up to check out the Milky Way. It was so incredibly clear, so dark, so quiet. Really feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but nature and the planet how it should be. More animals than people, no pollution from lights, technology or anything human made and the feeling of being alone on the planet. 

The friendly people we stayed with showed us how life should be. Living with not from nature around you, being almost all self-sufficient, knowing all about nature and animals. It gives me the feeling to change my life when we get back to Holland. I’m even thinking of becoming a shepherd and starting beekeeping again. 

But then, there’s also a darker side. Cause, even though the people live like hundred years back there are some things that changed since then. One is the coming of plastics and other types of waste. This waste is not biodegradable but the people do not know how to dispose of it. Thus they throw it all on a big pile near a river or on a slope. There it often gets carried away by wind, rain or snow and at other times get burned thus ends up in the air. On our journey east we’ve seen so much waste thrown in nature, filling river bends and polluting the area. It makes me realise that we are making the same mistake over and over again. One can live so ecological and sustainable as one thinks but as long as we keep producing destructive products like single use plastics we will never be sustainable and we do continue to destroy the planet. I’m not one to talk about this too much because we drive with a not so clean oldtimer to China, but it’s good to reflect on it once in a while. 

On our way to the Osum Gorge

In the morning we got breakfast, checked out the garden flowers, the bees and fed the chickens. Then it was time for us to continue the ‘worst road of Albania’. They told us that people sometimes arrive crying because of the bad conditions of the road but we found that the last part wasn’t that bad, which is probably because we’ve seen worse yesterday or are we already getting used to the road conditions? Power team Alexine and myself were actually having fun and Yuri was sweating a lot less. 

At some point the gravel road ended and made place for asphalt. We were happy and sad at the same time. Alexine made it, easily I must add, without any problems! We now continued the road alongside the Osum gorge and to be honest, that’s not the greatest road. It’s quite boring actually and we were soon wishing we were back on the gravel road again.

Berat, city of a thousand windows

After about 1.5 hours we arrived in Berat. Berat is an old Ottoman settlement and still possess an old castle and the typical Ottoman style houses. It’s also called ‘city of a thousand windows’. Can you imagine why? 

The first thing we did? Not exploring the town, not searching for a place to stay the night but drinking a beer of course! 

At night we had diner at Lily. Truly recommended, not only is the food delicious the host is great as well. We had some small bites we shared and tasted delicious wine made by his father. “Don’t expect Italian or French wine, it’s simple wine” Simple was exactly what we needed. After diner we got raki on the house, made by the same grapes as the wine. Yum! Because we ate a lot we decided to hike up to the castle, a steep climb but very Dutchable. People still live inside the castle and it gives a nice view over town. It’s open 24 hours.

And that was it. Two of the most beautiful roads in a couple of days. From easy asphalt roads to a tad difficult gravel roads, both with the most breathtaking views and through picturesque towns. We met the kindest of people and had a good Alexine try out for the journey ahead. 

Now we are headed to the beaches of Albania. Apparently they are true hidden gems. Let’s find out.

Love, Milene & Yuri