Jalë and the crossing of Balkans – 6 days – 2 metres above sea level

Version française disponible ici.

The first drops of rain started when we crossed the border between Greece and Albania. While putting on our rain suits, the border officer was smiling. He told us we were crossing the country during the only 2 rainy days of the summer.

Thirty kilometres further, we reached the Gjirokaster city at the end of the morning, one of the oldest cities of Albania. With our rain suits, we were walking in the paved streets. On each side, there were old houses with walls and roof made of stones. The biggest ones had nice balconies. The nickname of the city is “the city of stones” due to its architecture.

We walked up to the fortress. On his remparts, there was a beautiful view on the city and the surrounded valley.

For lunch, we stopped in a small shop of the medieval streets. We enjoyed our first Burek (puffed pastry stuffed with cheese or spinach), a local food speciality with an Ottoman influence.

Hoping to get some sunshine, we headed to the “Albanian Riviera”. To reach it, we crossed the mountains. Ten kilometres after a peak, we used a 2-kilometre path on the right hand-side. We reached the Blue Eye, a spring with an intense blue colour. That day, there was a mystic fog above the course from this spring. The place was quite touristic but this little circle of a 2-metre diameter was worth the visit.

We reached the coast by the seaside city of Sarandë. It was the good strategy to get a warmer and dryer weather. From this point, we continued to head North. Kilometre after kilometre, there were the main beaches become the favourite seaside cities of the Hungarian, Polish and Slovenian tourists. Some coves were more difficult to be reached and stayed more peaceful. We stopped on one of them for the first bivouac of the Balkans.

The Fier city was the end of our adventure of the Albanian Rivierea. We did a stop at the Post Office before to ride on the highway around the capital, Tirana. At tea time, we stopped for a break with crepes on a terrace of the little perched village of Kruje. Then, we visited the remains of the fortress.

The city of Shkodër was the last one before crossing a new border. Ten kilometres further, we arrived at the border with the Montenegro. There was a little queue before the border post. Kids were begging with insistence. As it’s usually done for motorcycles, a policeman authorised us to overtake the cars, in spite of our three wheels. We stopped just a few metres before the border office and in front of a rebelling Belgian couple. It was easy to cross as there were no true vehicle checks before to get a stamp on our passport.

Once arrived in Montenegro, we quitted the main road to go alongside the Skadar lake. We crossed the Virpazar city and didn’t really visit. The main objective of the day was the discovery of the famous Kotor bay.

The road was going down gently, towards the gulfs shaped by the green mountains.

The medieval city of Kotor was along one of these gulfs. At the bottom of a mountain, the pedestrian streets were full of people. The medieval city was indeed very touristic but the little paved streets were very cute with many houses made of stones. Next to these streets there were beautiful churches and nice squares where cats were relaxing. There were yachts and cruise boats at the port. One of them arrived from France that day. So there were many French tourists on the terraces and in the souvenir shops.

The road was going along the bay and the little villages including Perast with its churches overlooking the sea. On the road, we enjoyed the heights of the cliffs surrounding this “fjord”. Once we crossed the Donji Morinj city, the road was going up again to enjoy a last viewpoint over the bay before to cross the mountains of the Balkans.

Next, we arrived in Bosnia-Herzegovina. At the border, the administrative formalities were done in only 5 minutes as there was no one at this post lost in the mountains. The first road we took was going alongside the Bileca lake before to take a small road crossing the valley to reach Mostar.

This medieval city is famous for the old “pointed” bridge spanning the Neretva river. Built in 1566 for the first time, destroyed during the war of 1992-95 and rebuilt in 2004. From its highest point, people were diving for 10€, benefiting from an old ritual.

On each side of this bridge, there were the paved streets of this ancient Ottoman city.  We enjoyed a Cevapi, a pita bread served with fried meat and raw onions.

As we didn’t find an agreement for the next itinerary to reach the Plitvice lakes, each sidecar took a different path for the first time of the trip. Marie and Julien took the Southern road, while Emilie and I took the Northern one.

With Emilie, we reached the Jajce city in the evening. We walked in the streets and arrived at its fortress built in the 14th century. At its bottom, the ancient touristic buildings from the Soviet period gave an awkward atmosphere. In spite of its history, Jajce was also famous for its waterfalls before the Pliva river goes to the Vrbas river.

In Croatia, both team met together to reach the Plitivice lakes. We took the information to visit the park and decided to wait until 4pm to enjoy a reduced price: less than 20€ in spite of the usual 34€.

At the first kilometre to reach the big waterfall, we followed the crowds of tourists on the wooden walkways. But after a peaceful crossing of the main lake with an electric boat while the crowds were leaving the park, we reached the Northern part of the lake. We were on our own on the walkways, just above the water. We crossed the small waterfalls and small lakes of an unbelievable emerald green colour, enhanced with the sunshine. After a last viewpoint on the big waterfall, we went back to the sidecars at dusk.

The wild camping being forbidden in Croatia, we looked for a private land to pitch up the tents. At a first place, the owner refused. Finally, a few kilometres further, we were authorised to pitch up the tent in the garden of a hotel-restaurant, for free. To thank them, we took a pizza and nice Croatian beers in the restaurant.

We continued the trip towards North. Regularly, we stopped to check the frame of one of the sidecars due to a crack which appeared in the morning, just before to leave the hotel-restaurant. Before to reach the Slovenian border, we stopped at a welder place in the Karlovac city and fixed a few other things.

At the other side of the border, Alice, Manu, Zack and Loah, Julien’s family, were waiting for us to continue the trip with us for a few days.

Where to eat? 

Tamli Restaurant
Rruga Pazari Vjeter, Krujë

A good address for a break and a quick lunch before to discover the fortress of the city. On the menu, sweet and savoury crepes that you can enjoy on the terrace in the pedestrian street.