Posted by: Caroline | April 27, 2010

Hiking in Llogoraja

The dramatic mountains of Llogoraja are a mere 30km away from Vlore’s beaches, so we hopped on the first southbound furgon (minibus) that drove by Hotel Liro. We thought it would be simple enough–a major highway connects the two–but after stating our destination, the driver and several riders started laughing. A “po” (yes) or “jo” (no) would have been more comforting, but he allowed us to board so we figured he must drive close to the national park.

A few minutes into the ride, a girl about my age came to talk to us in nervous English. She wanted to know if we had a place to stay, which was a pretty good question in the low season and not one we had given a lot of thought to other than finding out that hotels do exist there. She said she had the number of a hotel in the area; would we like the number? We said yes, but then she returned to her seat, so we thought there had been some communication problem. She eventually got off the bus without saying anything more.

We shrugged it off until we were forced off the bus, now headed down a secondary road–and we were still several kilometers away from our destination! I was worried about how in the world we were going to get there–would we have to hitchhike? Or worse, would we not make it at all? But the bus driver quickly ushered us into a truck waiting at the turnoff, and slowly it dawned on us: the girl had gotten the bus driver to call a hotel owner to come give us a (free) ride to the hotel, conveniently adjacent to the national park! Even more amazing than the Albanian propensity to assist travelers is their desire to do so without the expectation of even a thank you. To them, it’s not a big deal; it’s just what you should do!

We arrived just in time to get in a decent hike, so we headed up the steep road–not quite in the clouds pictured here, but pretty close. It felt much more like December than April thanks to the impending rain and the Christmas trees covering the hills.

The route passes the famous flag pine. Albanians possess a deep sense of national pride, so this tree vaguely reminiscient of the country’s flag–a double-headed eagle–warrants national monument status.

Although these communist-era concrete bunkers pop out of hillsides across the country–estimates are as high as 700,000— this was our first chance to get up close and personal with them. The sheer ubiquity of the nearly indestructible domes reflects President Hoxha’s obsession with defense against an invasion that never occured. Albanians try to work with the eyesores; some have been transformed into gardens or doghouses. But we just see them as a good photo opportunity.

The mess left after attempted destruction of a bunker shows just how strong the concrete and iron structures are.

Our reward: a view over the Adriatic just before it started to rain.

As we’ve come to expect at the end of any Balkan adventure, there was a cafe waiting for us…

… ready to serve up cappucinos with a view over the beach below.

The next day we decided to leave the pavement behind and take a hike through the pine forest.

More rocks–a good sign that we are nearing the top.

An even better sign.

The top of the path. Nice, but where is our Adriatic view?

We kept coming to the crests of hills and hoping we were at the end. Instead, we were greeted by open fields or this water reservoir.


The intense winds added an element of excitement to our descent.

We got back to the highway just in time to wait for the bus that never came.

We did eventually make it back to Vlore and onwards to Tirana again, thanks to some of that famous Albanian generosity.


  1. […] This bunker made us nostalgic for Albania… […]

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