12 Ultimate Active Travel Experiences in the Balkans
Looking for a one-of-a-kind trip? You’ve already seen the wonders of Western Europe, snorkeled around the whole of the Caribbean, and swooned at the sight of Sydney Opera House. It’s time to get off the beaten path and go where only a few (and maybe the crew of Game of Thrones—they filmed King’s Landing in Dubrovnik, you know) have gone before.
1: Start things off slowly with a peaceful stroll in Divjaka.
What could be a better way to start your trip than with a beautiful day at the beach near Divjaka? And not just any beach, but by the side of Albania’s largest lagoon—Karavasta. Made up of the waters from the Adriatic Sea, but separated by a long strip of sand, the lagoon is a calm, cool blue.
Enjoy a casual (or maybe more fast-paced) stroll around the lagoon and its national park to increase your heart rate. Today may be mild, but soon you’ll be glad you got your body going before moving on to the Albanian Alps. On one side of your path is the water, but on the other is a dense forest, both of which are teeming with wildlife. After lunch at a nearby restaurant,
observe this vast and diverse ecosystem; it’ll be one of the many treats of your trip.
2: Pick up the pace with a hike in Albania’s coastal cliffs.
Today you’ll keep with the theme of water, but add some elevation and hike to Qeparo, a coastal and cliff town featuring old houses with traditional Albanian architecture. Cool off from your hike with a stroll around the seaside village, basking in the beauty of the buildings and bay.
With a little rest, you’re ready to get back on the cliffs, this time heading to Jale, another town on the Albanian Riviera. Lunch at the nearby beach looks to lure you into a longer stay, but it’s time to get back on the cliffs and continue your hike.
There is a major payoff to leaving the sand—the view from the top of the cliffs is incomparable to most views at the end of a hike. Two suns look back at you—one in the sky and one reflecting off the sea. Gulls fly at eye level in the distance, and the beach beckons the waves to come ashore. So sure, you could stay on the sand, but you’d miss out on seeing something as spectacular as this.
3: Hiking isn’t just physical exertion—it’s also a spiritual experience.
When it comes to combining physical health with spiritual health, most people think of yoga, but, truly, spirituality (whatever that may look like for you) can be found in anything that brings you joy. Hiking can be a spiritual activity—especially when hiking to a place considered by many to be holy.
In Delvina, begin your journey crossing over the plains, with a hike through mountains covered in thick forests and full of life. Hidden amongst the pines is the Monastery of St. Mary, a remote house of worship. The ancient architecture allows a sense of “oneness” with those who came before and built this extraordinary edifice.
Quiet yourself and reflect on your journey to Albania and what lies ahead on this adventure. What are your goals for this trip? What brought you here? While being active exercises the body, it can also exercise the mind.
4: Grab your bike and accelerate across Albania.
The best way to see any place is on a bike. You can cover more ground on two wheels than on two legs, but at the same time, you can still get up close and personal with a landmark unlike in a car.
To get to Elbasan, you must cycle across the Krraba Pass. Your ascent up the Albanian Alps brings you to Petrelë Castle, an iconic landmark near the capital and full of fantastic views of the surrounding landscape.
Finish out your blissful biking with spectacular scenery as you coast down the mountain pass. Small canyons are carved out in the distance, and the local flora and fauna create a perfect cycling soundtrack. That evening, enjoy Elbasan’s culture and food during dinner.
5: Glide past the glistening Lake Ohrid, whose surface reflects like a mirror.
Tucked away in the middle of a mountain range is one of Albania’s “Natural Wonders”—Lake Ohrid. This UNESCO World Heritage site shows the true beauty of the Balkans with its blue waters and reflective surface. Lake Ohrid is home to many species of plants and animals, many of which have existed there for millions of years. You’ll feel invigorated as you circle the perimeter of the life-giving lake.
Just off the shores of Lake Ohrid is its namesake town. Ohrid is known for its ancient architecture, spanning many centuries and displaying a plethora of styles from Slavic to Byzantine to Ottoman. Biking around this varied village conveys just how many different peoples once ruled by the lovely lake.
6: Embrace typical Albanian life in the small town of Germenj.
Immersing yourself into the culture of your destination enriches a vacation unlike anything else. To truly understand the place you visit, you must get to know its people. As you bike to Germenj, you get that experience today.
Your cycling course takes you through fields of flowers, farmlands, and rolling mountains. This tranquil trip sets the stage for your destination: the idyllic town of Germenj. Here, get to know the people of Albania. Visit their markets, converse with the shop owners, and taste traditional Balkan cuisine.
Discover typical Albanian farm life during your overnight stay at Farma Sotira. Meet the owners of the homestead as well as their furry friends—horses, cows, sheep, and many other farm animals. Grapes and vegetables are grown here and will be available for sampling to bring you even closer to authentic Albanian life.
7: Complete your day of cycling with a crisp dip in the Ionian Sea.
The route from Saranda to Qeparo may be your favorite ride yet. While it is short in comparison to your other treks, the many hills you’ll cycle across create the feel of a rollercoaster. The only thing that’s more enjoyable than a thrilling bike ride is adding pleasing panoramas along the way.
Your arrival in Qeparo brings you to the coast, known as the Albanian Riviera. Here, consider cooling off from your riveting ride with a dip in the crisp, crystal clear waters of the Ionian Sea. Follow that swim with a glass of local wine or beer, and you’re in pure Balkan bliss.
8: Capture the capital city from the top of a mountain peak.
Heading back towards Albania’s capital of Tirana, you’ll enjoy biking up Dajti Mountain. Your climb is filled with spectacular sights of Dajti National Park. Dense forests add an extra element that is both challenging and breathtaking at the same time.
At the top, overlook Tirana for a scene of the city that many will never experience. A bird’s eye view reveals spectacles that cannot be seen from the ground. Be sure to capture this unique moment with a camera before beginning your descent.
9: Go caving in the rocky wilderness of Albania.
To get to the cool cavern, hop off your bike for a hike along a river, over rocky hillsides, and through thick forests. The cave itself is immense—about 360 meters long. Stalagmites and stalactites reach towards each other, and a simple whisper can travel as an echo from the front to the back of the cave.
Many archeological digs have been conducted here. An ancient cave-dwelling bear once roamed through the caverns. Cavemen that lived here some 300,000 years ago were developing tools to start fires. Walking where our ancestors potentially invented fire—does it get any more awesome than that?
10: Wind down with a stroll through the capital, Tirana.
Complete your cycling circuit through Albania back where it all began: Tirana. If you missed out on getting to truly explore the lively city before, be sure to see all that the capital has to offer. Mother Teresa hails from Albania, and in fact, there is an entire square dedicated to her that you can ride around.
11: Adrenaline junkies need to look no further than the wild Vjosa River, one of the last of its kind.
The blue-green waters of the serpentine waterway will throw you around, but that’s part of the fun! Hold tight to your paddle as you race through the rushing waters towards the river’s end. Your bed in Tirana will feel especially comfortable tonight after a turbulent trip down the Vjosa River.
12: Finish off your active adventure with a dip in the Adriatic Sea.
Dive down into the ocean, kayak over the cerulean waters, or maybe just enjoy a well-earned lounge on the pearly white sands. However you plan to spend your time here, Croatia’s coast is the perfect ending to your Balkan expedition.
Ready to jet-set to Albania?
Can you see yourself hiking over monumental mountains? How about cycling down Albania’s coast? Maybe you can’t wait to jump into the wild waters of the rapid rivers? However you choose to be active in Albania, you’ll be glad you chose such a different destination.
Get in touch for more information on how you can visit Albania and the other countries of the Balkans. Or, if you’re not ready for a commitment, but would love to learn more, click here to join our email course.