Thank universe for bicycles! Whats an amazing invention. Not only that they are an eco-friendly, enjoyable, affordable and timeless. It is also a very useful vehicle to conquer surrounded area around newly visited places. And all done in a nice, easy and quick way.
I have visited Shkoder, a cute town in the northern part of Albania located by the Skadar Lake, in March. It was one of my many stops during my backpacking trip around Balkans. Landscape packed with magnificent hills, medieval structures, lakes and rivers creates many brilliant cycling paths to enjoy. So try to always hire a bike, if possible, while traveling, especially around Albania. There is usually an agency or hostel that can provide the service, pretty much in most places. You could really explore tree times more things than by foot, and Shkoder is probably the best place to do so.
It really is a great way to see the marvelous landscape around the castle hill, and the beautiful lake with water as clear that could be easily mistaken for Adriatic coast of Albania. Luckily, I was able to get a bike from my hostel (just 2 Euro for the whole day!), so decision has been made quickly, and I went off to enjoy the area first thing in the morning.
There are 2 routs from Shkoder you can do. Well, you can do an many as you like, but these are most popular. I would suggest one day for each, but fit and quick bionic human can do both in one day.
This path allows you to get to the castle hill, that is actually located just 3 kilometers from the city center, and to cycle around absolutely stunning Skadar Lake. Actually, for me, it is the second (after Titicaca Lake in Bolivia/Peru) most amazing lake I have seen so far. It should be around 25 kilometers in total, and the whole path is pretty flat (except castle hill, but you will walk up), so I would rate difficulty as easy!
Before starting, please just have a 200 Lek with you, as that is the entrance fee to the castle. I beg you…don’t skip it! 200 Lek is around 1.5 Euro, and the remain ruins are absolutely in a great condition, not even mentioning the view from the top. You can spot the Albanian, and at some point Montenegrin, landscape that surround the place from every single angle there. Geologically diverse area, build of lakes, rivers and high range of North Albanian Alps, will become as a great bonus to the Castle itself.
So you will start in a place where your bike will be coming from. From the city center you will have to fallow one of the main roads in town, called Bulevardi Zogu I. You will have to head south till the point where you will see the sigh pointing the directions towards Castle Rozafa. Once you see it, cross the street (wherever you want really, as Albanian traffic is a bit anarchistic), so you will be on the left side of the road. Now you can leave your bike somewhere there, as the road up to the hill is way to rocky to cycle. If you haven’t got any lock with you, you can take your bike right to the entrance where the guard, that’s there all the time, will look after it for you. I have to say it here…Albanians are very friendly and nice.
After probably an hour on the top you can carry on with your trip. You will pick your bike, and you will go to the same place from where you turned left towards castle. Now its time to go right to wonder around the lake. The bridge is just 200 meters away on the right hand side. You have to cross it (heh a challenge as well, as the wooden bridge is full of holes), and once you are on the other side, you will take the road to the right. Now, I really don’t have to add anything, as the path from there is pretty straight forward. The whole road by the breath-taking lake is a great experience. The area around will stunt you with the beauty and peacefulness, you will face around. The clear blue waters of the lake, with the green hills full of sheep and cows, will help your mind to relax a bit. You will be also able to stop anywhere you like. There are loads of places for that.
Cycling route will finish at the camping side where road terminates. From there you can start heading back to the Shkoder. For me it was one of the best days trough my backpacking, but I know I was also lucky with great weather and an off-season time once there (not many tourists around is always as a plus for me).
The second trip will contain cycling around different lake, river and another castle. This journey is longer than the first one, as the castle, I mentioned, is already 17 kilometers away from the city, and from there you can carry on on cycling along the river and lake. This time you will breath with the fresh air of green lowlands of Drin River Basin that will accompany you trough the whole journey. It really is up to you how far you want to go. I would recommend to do 10 km more from the castle, if you have the whole day for it. You will pass trough few little villages, so you will be ale to stack up on water and food. This area is way less busy than the first route, I mention, so you will spend one day away from busy city life with the nature.
I, myself, loves tips like that, especially when you are visiting many cities on your way. It really can create a great balance that will aloud your eyes to have a rest from busy life, and your mind to get completely lost in simple thoughts admiring the background around you. I have to add that Albania is a very interesting country in general. You can relax there on one of many beautiful Adriatic sea beaches, you can do some hiking on North Albanian Albs, Koral Mountains or just enjoy beautiful lakes. I definitely loved my time there, and I would highly recommend to visit this country. Plus, it`s extremely cheap too, so really, there is no excuse for you not to come here! Just pack your backpack.