MY WIFE AND I ARE TRAVELLING DOWN THE DALMATIAN COAST AND BEYOND STARTING IN ZAGREB AND ENDING IN CORFU. WE INTEND HIRING A CAR AND DRIVING THROUGH ALBANIA. I HAVE HEARD THAT DRIVING CAN BE DIFFICULT. ANY ADVICE? WE HAVE SEVEN DAYS FOR ALBANIA.
P. ROBERTS, FITZROY
I can't find any car-hire operator that will put you behind the wheel of a vehicle in Zagreb and allow you to return it in Corfu, if that's your intention. Within Albania the only place where it is practical to collect and return a hire car is Tirana, the capital. What you could do is hire one vehicle from Zagreb and return it in Dubrovnik, then travel to Tirana and hire another vehicle and return it to the same place, then take a bus to Igoumenitsa in Greece and on to Corfu.
Driving in Albania is intrepid but not foolhardy. Road conditions are not great but this is one fact that has preserved the Albanian Riviera, a 130-kilometre strip of coast from Vlore to Saranda, from mass tourism. The drive along this coast, across the 1027-metre-high Llogaraja Pass, rivals the journey along Italy's Amalfi coast, although the road and local driving habits make even Italian journeys seem pale. It's worth it for towns such as Drymades, which has just a couple of hotels set among olive groves near a five-kilometre beach where more than a couple of dozen is a crowd.
Behind the coast is a raw and untamed landscape of scalped mountains, lakes and expanses of grassland, a paradise for walkers. The fingerprints of Greek and Roman cultures are dotted about the country. A two-hour drive south of Tirana, Apollonia was founded by Greeks and later incorporated into the Roman Empire.
Where marshland meets the sea just across the strait from Corfu is the lost city of Butrint, a 2500-year-old World Heritage site where the layers have been peeled back to reveal a Greek colony, a Roman city and the seat of a Byzantine bishopric and a church second only in size to Istanbul's Hagia Sophia.
Finding a bed is no problem. Much of Albania's able-bodied population has fled from its villages over the past decade, in search of better-paying jobs in the European Union. The foreign income they earn has poured back in the form of concrete, sparking a building boom that has transformed the empty villages they left behind. Expect to pay about half what you would pay for accommodation, food and drinks in neighbouring Corfu.