One Week in Albania: The North (Day 1)

Our travel through Southeast Europe advanced rather quickly—changing cities every other day, we decided it was time to slow down a bit. As we were being hosted by Herta’s family we figured we’d spend a week in Albania.

Albania’s tourism has experienced quite a boom in the recent years, however transportation within the country can be a bit tricky, as it isn’t as clear cut as in the neighboring countries. We were quite happy and fortunate to have Herta’s family tailor our trip for us. We loved it so much, we felt we should dedicate the next seven posts to teach you all about this beautiful country. Today: the north.


It was quite tough finding information on how exactly to enter Albania from neighboring countries. There are no trains, flights are expensive, and bus schedules seem nonexistent. Luckily, we discovered through a hostel that there is a daily bus from Kotor, via Podgorica, capital of Montenegro, to Shkodër and Tirana. The bus had quite a nice and diverse mix of nationalities.

Shkodër is the largest in the north of Albania, and the fifth-largest city overall. Now, Albania only has a population 2.75 million, and Shkodër is home to roughly 100,000 of them.

The final stop of our bus was near Sheshi Demokracia, the main square in Shkodër. It wasn’t much of a bus station as merely a stop alongside a busy road. We were awaited by Herta’s family, and were off to explorer the city right away.

• Sheshi Demokracia.

As it was noon on a Tuesday, it was pretty quiet outside. We strolled along the main street, Rruga Kolë Idromeno, where the bars and restaurants were slowly opening up. Being midday it was quite hot, so the first thing we did was grab a few ice-cold refreshments.

• Main street of Shkodër.

We walked towards the car, and stopped for moment at the Xhamia e Madhe mosque (The Great Mosque). It is one of the few tourist sites in the center of an otherwise mostly economically-oriented city.

• Xhamia e Madhe mosque.

A few kilometers outside of Shkodër, next to the Bojana River, you can find Rozafa Castle. Due to its strategic location, the hill was the site of various sieges dating back to Roman times. Nowadays, for a mere 2$ you can visit the castle ruins, and enjoy the views.

• Rozafa Castle.

On one side, you can see the Bojana River and the Buna River Protected Landscape. If you turn around, you have great views over the city of Shkodër, and mountains of Parku Maranai.

• View over Shkodër from Rozafa Castle.


From Shkodër, we drove roughly 90 minutes south towards the small town of Rrëshen. As we were tired from the bus ride the same morning, we were happy to hear what was in stock for us: a winetasting at the renowned Kantina Arbëri.

• Kantina Arbëri.

Kantina Arbëri is one of the most prestigious wineries in Albania. The winery has expanded quite a bit since its humble beginnings, gaining an audience with the American market. It has been featured in Wine & Spirits Magazine, and named by Wine Spectator as an award winning alternative red.

Entering the charming old part of the winery you can’t help but notice the wall of fame, filled with pictures of numerous local and foreign public figures visiting the winery.

• A selection of wines and memoires.

Although Kantina Arbëri is available in many of the grand hotels, such as the Sheraton Tirana. If you are a wine enthusiast, it is possible to contact the winery for a personalized tour.

We started our tour in the newest part of the winery, where the crushing and pressing, fermentation, and clarification process occurs. Of course, being part of the Balkans, there also was a small section dedicated to the production of raki: a type of grape brandy. We then returned to the old part of the winery, continuing through to the beautiful cellar, where the wine goes through the process of aging.

• Wine cellar and tasting room.

After exploring the cellar and learning about the wine process, it was time for the best part: the tasting. The main native grape variety is Kallmet. The inviting tasting room awaited us with a 2012 Arbëri Kallmet (red), 2013 Arbëri Kallmet (red), 2015 Shesh I Bardhe (white), sparkling wine, and of course a shot of raki. In addition to this, our gracious host also treated us to an exclusive 2006 Reserve Kallmet. Being huge fans of red wines, we were immediately in love with the 2012 Kallmet and in for a lip-smacking surprise with the 2006 Kallmet. The reds have a dark ruby red color with plenty of body and a fruity, smooth long finish.

The final part of our visit brought us to the actual vineyards of the winery, which was about a ten-minute car ride away. Here we learned more about the regions’ history and the harvesting process. We finished our tour with a picturesque view of the vineyards perched on a hill. We started to head back towards the capital Tirana, where we would spend our first night before continuing to explore other parts of the country.

• Vineyards of the winery.

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We, Mark & Herta, are currently backpacking through Europe, and eventually planning to settle in London. Beyond that? The possibilities are endless.

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