Our planned route: South around Lake Ohrid to Korce then west over the mountains to Farma Sotira, just outside of Leskovik and then north to Gjirokaster and finally stopping at the seaside in Sarande for another extended stay and more writing.
We initially planned 4 days – not taking into account that we hadn’t been cycling regularly for the past few months, the weather (which was about to turn from sunny to blustery), the road quality, and, of course, the mountains between here and the Ionian Sea. Instead of our planned 4 day tour, the route took us 7 days.
Stopping the first night in Maliq, just outside of Korce, we stayed with Algent, a Warmshowers host. The town’s barber and local bike guru, Algent fed us at his family’s home then put us up for the night in a make shift bedroom at his church. But not before warning us that our planned timetable was too ambitious for the route ahead. His advice: “Albania’s roads are rougher than we are used to, the weather was going to turn even colder, enjoy the scenery and plan on 6-7 days to reach Sarande.” The next day we quickly discovered Algent knew what he was talking about.
Starting day 4 with an unrelenting climb to Leskovik, a tiny mountaintop town, complete with the same collection of crumbling buildings, packs of stray dogs and groups of seemingly unoccupied residents standing around town, we pedalled slowly until noon. The descent from Leskovik into the Lumi Vjosa River valley was some of the roughest road we’ve ridden anywhere. The formerly tarmacked, but now pothole riddled, part dirt, part rock “State Highway” followed a steep ravine down from Leskovik to the wide open valley below.
Turning westward over the final climb before Sarande, we hoisted ourselves up the 700m pass over the coastal mountains in short order. A long winding decent down into the coastal plain went by in a flash. Zipping past small settlements, scattered farms, roadside fruit vendors and more gun bunkers that appeared as we neared the Greek border, we were soon pedalling through the rough outskirts of Sarande. A quick pass through town and we stopped for the night at a seaside hotel. The next day we pedaled south to camp at Ksamil and enjoy some village life before starting our search for an apartment, but that’s another story