Tour 2008 from Corfu to Dubrovnik via Albania and Montenegro

Corfu Sunset on Corfu
Day 1, Sat, May 31st,  Flight from Hannover to Corfu and ferry from Corfu to Igoumenitsa (mainland Greece)

The flight with TUIfly is uneventful. The bikes arrive OK and we are still unpacking and putting them back together when another cyclist arrives on a flight from the UK.
David Piper is heading for Greece and traveling with a racing bike and a minimum of luggage. We all head for the harbour to look for a ferry and meet again on a couple of occasions.

We had planned to stay a night in Corfu and take a ferry from there to Albania (Sarandė). However, the hydrofoil on Sunday doesn't take bikes and we are not sure if the ferry on Monday really takes bikes so we decide to take a ferry to mainland Greece that leaves in the evening. Very pleasant crossing.
It proves easy to find a cheap and cheerful hotel near the harbour. We go to a café near the harbour – ouzo and snacks.

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Hotel Astoria

first impressions after crossing the border Hoxha's bunkers Sarande
Day 2, Sun, June 1st,  Igoumenitsa to Sarandė

Up around 8, breakfast in a café – cheese sandwiches. We head north for border - nice route initially along the Greek coast and fairly gentle until near the border where the climbing begins.
The Greek border police looked at us as though we were mad and the first impression at the Albanian side was not good. Fairly desolate with policemen hanging around pretty aimlessly. A Greek police van full of illegal Albanian immigrants arrives and unloads a sad bunch of people. Shari sorts the formalities for us (no visa needed but a fee of 1€!). The route from the border is a very rough, rocky dirt road which starts with a short steep climb. Hard going. We spot the first of the famous bunkers- some 750,000 of these were built on the orders of Enver Hoxha to repel a possible invasion. After a while there is an asphalt road and our pace improves.
An interesting little ferry takes us across to the river near a triangular fort. We try stoping at a café but they don't want the bikes in the garden so we cycle on. We didn't realise this was the entrance to the famous archaeological site of Butrint and miss it completely. Our first real break is at Ksamil – the town is not very exciting but we find a nice wee café and enjoy some spinach-filled pasties and cake. It is very hot by now! The ride along the lake side to Sirandė is most enjoyable and when we reach the town we are pleasantly surprised - there is an attractive harbour and promenade and lots of building in progress. No problem finding an ATM and we then book into a very reasonable hotel on the promenade.
We buys some Albanian flags for the bikes.
Tea in a café on the promenade at the Hotel Magllara – I enjoy some spaghetti, Matzie goes for some fish and is not very enthusiastic

Hotel Porto Eda Clean rooms and showers for 20€ / person

wonderful lunch at Studio Mex coastal road heading for Hamare
Day 3, Mon, June 2nd,   Sirandė to Himarė

Breakfast at the hotel is basic. The day starts with two punctures. As we are working on this in front of the hotel, we meet a photo-journalist and chat for a while. He takes lots of photos. We have opted to take the coastal road which turns out to be in the process of widening. It is a steep climb out if the town and we soon hit the road works. Rough and hard going. I have a another puncture. Nice scenery – the road is quiet and would be great if it wasn't for the road works.
Lunch at Studio Mex in Shėnvasil (San Basil). Great place – cool and clean. Lunch is nice mixture of cold starters, zaziki, potatoes with garlic, yoghurt, green salad and fried vegetables. The owner is very helpful and gives us bottles of water from his own well.
The road improves and soon we are enjoying fines views of the coast. Bunkers - including some that have been painted, old u-boot bases, terraced hill-sides.
We reach Hamare and look for an hotel, go into the centre if town and talk with some locals. The hotel offered is not so appealing and we head back out of town but stop at a little hotel directly on the beach. Shari negotiates a good price and we take the rooms. The lads go for a swim. Back in town we choose best looking restaurant and are rewarded with good pizza and pasta. The boss brings us a raki on the house. Shari and Matzie are still hungry and we order another pizza.

approaching pass from the south after the pass heading north
Day 4,  Tues, June 3rd,  Hamarė to Vlorė via the Llogarasė Pass

We continue to follow the coastal road, The road out of town is very steep – we push the bikes for a bit before stopping to stock up on water. We travel quite a distance – breakfast at Vuno – Snickers and Twix. Ater a while we can see the pass in the distance . It takes a while to reach the start of the serpentine, by which time its pretty warm but there is a nice breeze. Climb is around 10%, slightly steeper in places. Long steady slog, the road is good, the traffic light and the view fantastic. We are lucky that there is some cloud cover and there is a nice cooling breeze. Near the top we stop at a car park / viewing area to rest before the final assault. A big group of Czech motorcyclists arrives and we chat for a while. The final stretch to the top is not too hard although it is now very hot. We stop at the café at the top but manage to loose Shari. He misses the stop and carries on down the hill. He returns with some Germans that we had met at the border (driving a 4wd VW LT). The road down from the summit is great – mostly a gentle descent with plenty of shade. Very green. Arriving at Vlöre is a bit of a shock. Matzie has another puncture and the town is ugly and messy. We settle for one of the larger hotels in the centre near the harbour (Hotel Pavaresia). Nice big room. Pizza again at the café Britannia next door to the hotel- pizza was all they were serving and we were too tired to go elsewhere. Nice big room.

Day 5, Tues, June 4th,  Vlorė to Tirane on the bus

We try and find the station and get lost in the back streets. Its not a pleasant area but the locals seem friendly enough and somebody leads us to the railway tracks. We struggle along the tracks to the station and discover that the only train of the day left early in the morning. We stop to buy some water and ask about a bus to Tirane. The shop owner is very helpful and drives ahead slowly to show us where we can catch the bus. It takes a bit if discussion and negotiating to get the 4 bikes on the bus but is works out well – 2 in the luggage compartment below the floor and two in the back seat. The bus is an old Mercedes in reasonable condition and the driver is very careful. The roads are not good and pretty busy so we feel it was a good decision to take the bus. It looks like a new motorway is being built.
We arrive at the bus station in Tirane and unload the bikes and bags. Quite a few curious children and adults but no hassle whatsoever. Nobody begging or asking for anything or trying to sell us something, but plenty if smiles. We cycle a short way to get away from the area of the bus station and stop at a café for a beer. Friendly owner seem keen on Deutsch land. We then head into the city – the traffic is OK, not fast, but the drivers are not used to cyclists so we have to be careful. A couple of time a car pulls across in front of us.
It is quite easy to find the station and we buy tickets for the train to Shköder the next day. Buying tickets for the next day does not seem to be normal practise but the lady at the ticker window humours us and makes an exception.
There are some hotels recommended in the Lonely Planet guide the first has no rooms free and the other look like they may be on buys roads so we follow the signs to an hotel (Hotel Areena) in the back streets. Turns out to be OK and we can put the bikes in the basement. We tour the city in the evening and go to the fashionable area. Nice meal at ??? and then cocktails on the street which has been closed to traffic.
Generally Tirane is surprisingly colourful and lively. Does not seem oppressively eastern-block but it is obviously not a wealthy place.

Day 6, June 5th,  Tirane to Shkodėr on the train then across the border to Montenegro and the Panorama Hotel

There is no breakfast in the park so we buy some bread and cakes at the local bakery and head for the cafe in he park. The train doesn't leave for a bit so we look around, buy some souvenirs and a couple of CD's.
There are two trains leaving, the one for Shkodėr and one for Durrės. Both trains do not look in good shape – the bikes go in the goods wagon. We chat for a while with the guard and he jokes that we would be faster on the bikes. The train leaves more of less on time and we enjoy a relaxed journey through the countryside. Great views across the flat plain to the mountains. The trains stops a lot and each time it is a bit of an event.
Shkodėr is OK and has quite a few bicycle shops. On the way out of town Matzie has another puncture and although it is quite late we decide to make a dash for Montenegro. It takes us a while to find the correct road out of town – over narrow bridge. Strange types hanging around on the other side. We pick us speed and are doing well when a dog attacks us and Matzie takes a tumble. No serious damage to Matzie as he landed on the dog (turns out later he broke a bone in his hand) The dog disappears – probably in shock and with some serious bruises.
It’s dusk by the time we reach the border crossing. No problems with the formalities – quite friendly on both sides. Soon it is dark and we don't find any accommodation. We stop to look at a new petrol station and discuss camping there. The guys working there tell us about the Panorma Hotel but can't face another climb. We decide to try the next village where we stop at a café and ask about accommodation. A young lad is there who works in the Panorama Hotel and he phones the boss and arranges for us to be collected. Hugh relief. The bikes go in a van and the boss collects us in a minibus. We share a room for 4 on two levels. Rakija a welcoming drink. Supper on the balcony. Dog barking annoyingly. Shari snores loudly all night, despite the thunderstorms.

Day 7, June 6th,  Panorama Hotel to Virpazar and a visit to Mama

Nice breakfast at the hotel - omlette. We say out goodbye's and after a short climb we reach the summit of the pass – spectacular views back out to sea and then suddenly a breathtaking view of Skadar Lake. All the effort has been worth it. There is a very fine road along the side of the lake with wonderful views. Quite a lot of ups and downs but generally a good road and with little traffic.
Near the end of the lake as we are descending towards Virpazar, we stop for a drink at a little café. Shari goes inside and wakes Mama who then inists on serving us lunch. Big lady, good food. Soup followed by a selection of grilled meats with fresh salad. We finish off with a rakija and good back outside for a beer. A wee German bloke appears and joins us for a beer.
We set off for Virpazar which is a pleasant little town at the end of the lake and look for somewhere to stay. The July 12 th hotel is too pricey and we meet the owner of the Pelikan Hotel driving around in his car and end up with a couples of good-value rooms elsewhere in the village. Some strange characters hanging around. Beer and a pancakes for tea (still full from the meal a Mama’s).

Day 8, June 7th,  Virpazar to Cetinje with a damp start.

Breakfast in the kitchen. Finally I eat some of my pumpernickel I brought with me. It’s raining when we set off and soon gets harder. Not too bad when we are climbing but cold going down hill. There is some wonderful scenery but it is hard to enjoy it and we are soaked through and freezing by the time we reach Rijeka Crnojevića. There is a nice wee café on the river and we stop for a break – coffee and rakija to warm up and them some fish soup, very delicious. The afternoon is drier but is stays quite cool.
We reach Cetinje mid-afternoon and drink a few beers in a café in the main square before trying to find an hotel. The Grand Hotel is a typical eastern-block edifice and ridiculously expensive. The guy at the reception tells us there is a motel and we manage to find this - MOTEL "GLAVA ZETE" which is part of a sports complex. Nice rooms with high ceilings and friendly people.
It’s the first night of the football – European Championships so we go to a restaurant (Pizzeria Hogar Strasni) with a TV. Good meal – huge piles of meat.
Stroll though the streets for a bit, pass some of the old embassies.

Day 9, Sat, June 8th, Cetinje to Kotor on the Lovcen road and then on to Herceg-Novi

Breakfast is in a cafe on the side of the street with bread from a nearby baker.
We leave Cetinje and have a bit of climbing to do to reach the pass and then we are rewarded with a fabulous view over Kotor and the coast of Croatia. This was perhaps the best view of the tour. The descent takes us down the Lovcen road which involves a series of 42 sharp hairpin bends and was designed by Josip Slade from Trogir and built by the Austrians between 1879 and 1884. The views are breathtaking but it is very tiring continuously pulling on the brakes. There is quite a bit of traffic including a number of tour busses.
Once down at the shore, we follow the west side of the fjord. There are not so many cafes and restaurants but eventually we find a nice fish restaurant calledVilla Ferri direct on the shore at Muo. Nice pasta.
We take a short ferry crossing from Lepetas to Kamenari and enjoy a pleasant cycle along the water.
At Herceg-Novi we go down to the old town and find nice rooms with a Swiss lady close to the harbour and above a a restaurant called Tri Lips (three limes). We have an excellent meal there and then go to one of the many cafe's on the harbour to watch another football match.

Day 10, June 10th,  Herceg-Novi to Cavtat and Dubrovnik airport

Breakfast at Tri Lips – omelette with ham and sheep's cheese.
We have decided we want to avoid the main road to Dubrovnik and follow the coast road which starts with a steepish climb to the border. Nice views over towards Herceg-Novi and the coast. Friendly border guards on both sides. There is a very steep climb just after the border but after that it is a very pleasant quiet road. At some stage we take a wrong turning and end up at the main road but the traffic is not too bad and the going is easy. Another puncture, this time Shari.
We reach the airport which is about 30km south of Dubrovnik. After checking the flight we head for nearby Cavtat to look for somewhere to stay. Find some nice rooms at Villa Kipre. Very friendly helpful owner.
After changing we head for the harbour and enjoy a nice meal in an Italian restaurant. We then go looking for carboard boxes to pack the bikes and find a good selection in a skip. Thenwe go back to the harbour area to watch some (more) football.

rooms in Cavtat
Day 11, June 10th,  Day in Dubrovnik and flight back to Hannover

Cavtat is a very pleasant relaxed town and a good base to visit Dubrovnik as there are several boats travelling to the city. The boat takes about one hour and its a very enjoyable trip, arriving in the old harbour at Dubrovnik. We were very glad we did not try and cycle to Dubrovnik - the road looked fairly busy and quite hilly in places. The old city was packed with tourists and very hot. The famous walls are so busy they have set up a sort of one-way system. Depsite the crowds it is definitely worth a visit.
We met a lone cyclist, one of the few we met on the entire trip. Nicholas Fairweather is from Edinburgh and has written a book on cycling in Scotland. We exchanged notes and tips.
Back at Cavtat we pack the bikes in a assortment of boxes we found in a skip. The flight back to Hannover leaves late in the evening. Dubrovnik has a nice new airport.