what I discovered during a road trip through Albania
On the distant road
And as I discovered after a week in the country, there are three highlights: the hospitality, the scenery and the food. This was all possible thanks to the Englishman Ed Reeves who arrived here seven years ago and stayed here. He now organizes driving tours in Russian Ladas and Uaz (like a Soviet-era VW campervan) with his business partner Ardi Zhugjeli – both fueled by several espressos and 60 hand-rolled cigarettes a day – and office dog Bubi, the most laid-back dog in the Balkans, who often accompanies the ride.
After leaving Tirana airport and the increasingly expanding suburbs, our first port of call was the village of Shengjergj and its small hotel, Villa Dashi. The altitude and six glasses of raki made me sleep like a baby. But not before dinner, for which the owner’s mother had come out to get a live chicken for the pot, which we ate around a crackling fire in the middle of the restaurant.
The next morning, daylight revealed high hills dotted with haystacks and cornfields. After pausing to sift through the villa shelves groaning with the collective works of former communist leader Enver Hoxha, we ate breakfast of small, flat donuts called petulla, with cherry jam, fried eggs and salty cheese. Delicious.
The roads so far were similar to some of the more remote parts of Britain, but things took on a more Balkan twist as we climbed higher into the mountains away from the village. We dodged rocks on blind corners, engaging the 4×4 and cruising at a sleek 20kph so as not to smash any parts onto the Lada’s underside. We passed simple houses with tin roofs made from the pallets dropped by special operations executive forces during WWII.