Travels in Albania: Lake Shkodra

After our trip to the mountain village of Theth, we drove back down the mountain, past the town of Shkodra (or Shkodër) to our next guesthouse, located directly on Lake Shkodra. But first we stopped at Rozafa Castle, which is located in the city of Shkodra, which is also the name of the municipality as well. Rozafa Castle is about 430 feet (or 130 meters) above sea level, and sits high above the city of Shkodra.

Rozafa Castle (high above the city)
Rozafa Castle (a bit closer)

There is a road that took us to the limited parking and ticket booth; from there is was a short walk up the stone path to the entrance gate (Jesse on the other side of the entrance, which was a dark tunnel filled with pigeons and slick stones).

Some of the original walls date back to the 4th century BC, but the castle first comes into known use under the Illyrian king Gent in the 2nd century AD. It gained its name during the medieval era, when it was used by the Slavs and Byzantines, and later the Venetians and Ottomans.

There are three courtyards inside, each connected by a small gate. One can walk along the walls, and there are views of the Lake, city and countryside from all viewpoints once inside. It was a very hot day, so while we were sweating, there was usually a breeze that comes with being so high above everything in the near vicinity.

The views alone are worth the price of admission. Below is a picture of Lake Shkodra and it won’t be the first one in this post, believe you me.

It is also a place one can wander anywhere once inside, so we did.

On the south side, we could see the Bojana River, as it snaked its way through the countryside.

Once we explored all the Castle, we headed back down to the exit. Then we were on our way to our guesthouse for the next few days. I planned this trip months earlier, and since I had never visited Albania before, one has to take a leap of faith and go with the reviews and locations for the guesthouses we stayed in during our trip.

I thought that the town of Shkodra was where we were staying, but in actuality, we were staying a bit farther west than the city. Past Shkodra, past a smaller village called Shiroka, which is on the Lake, we drove more than an hour west of Shkodra, and, looking on the map, we were heading for the Albania-Montenegro border. We finally reached our guesthouse, where the paved road ended, right across from a mosque with its single minaret our beacon.

We arrived just in time for sundown, and we were welcomed by the man who ran the guesthouse, named Ardit, and his family (who were speaking Italian when we arrived, as that is the second most spoken language in Albania, due to Italy’s proximity to Albania).

We also met his brother, who spoke English, and told us he lived and worked in Italy, for 22 years, and we asked him where, and he said “Pescara.” Well, Jesse and I had stayed in Pescara when my mom visited Italy not two months prior, and he told us his name was Elvis (my mom is a big Elvis fan) so we took these as great signs.

We took our luggage to our room and then ate at the on-site restaurant, where Ardit (who is also a trained chef) prepared an excellent dinner for us, with fish prepared by his mother, baked trout right from the lake, along with homemade bread covered in cheese and drizzled in oil, an excellent Greek salad, and pan fried fish cakes. Being quite full, we put our feet in the warm lake water and walked out onto the pier to enjoy the sunset. Jesse is on the pier in the picture below, the restaurant is on the right, and the guesthouse on the left.

Lake Shkodra is the largest lake in southeastern Europe, and its teal blue waters have to be seen to be believed. I did not edit any of the pictures, the lake really is that color. The next day we relaxed by the water, taking a break after all our hiking in Theth, and climbing around the castle in Shkodra.

One day, as we were so close to Montenegro, we decided to cross the border and visit a seaside town called Ulcinj, which actually was founded in the fifth century BC, and later became a part of the Roman Empire. It is now a resort town, with sandy beaches and many hotels.

The town was very busy when we arrived, but I had not time to plan what to do; I saw a trail walk called the Long Beach trail (and since Jesse and I lived in Long Beach for five years) thought that sounded like a good walk. I also assumed, as it ran along the Adriatic Sea, that it would be a beach walk. Well, it was not, but the sea was almost always in our view, sometimes covered overhead by trees, oftentimes not. In total, the hike was two kilometers. It was tiring and we were sweaty on the hot day, but the breeze and the views made it enjoyable.

We finally reached the end of the trail, which ended at a gravel road, and after another kilometer of walking we reached the sandy beach. But we still needed our car, so I took the trail back and Jesse scouted out a place with some beach chairs to relax and maybe take a swim. After the hour walk back, and then half hour drive to meet Jesse, I was hungry, so we found a boardwalk restaurant and ordered some local Montenegrin dishes. One was cooked grape leaves, which were cooked in oil and had tiny cubes of meat to season them; and the other was stuffed eggplant, filled with ground meat, tomato sauce and other spices, covered with cheese; both were so tasty, that afterwards we were too full and tired to want to go beaching, so we headed back toward Albania.On our way, we stopped at Vidikovac Stegvas, which is a lookout point high above Lake Shkodra as well as the surrounding countryside.

The drive up was windy and steep, and the drive back down was more of the same; the roads are paved and very similar to the roads in Albania; but still, all the winding roads can get tiresome. We were only a kilometer or so away from our guesthouse as the crow flies, but since we are not crows, needed to drive down from the lookout point and cross the border, go back to Shkodra city, and then drive the extra distance to the guesthouse. It took us an hour and a half.

It was an experience crossing the border as well; we had to show our passports to the border agent on the Montenegro side, and then immediately, not less than two feet beyond his booth, was a connected booth with the Albanian border agent. They also had to check the car registration, but after that, they sent us on our way with a smile, the same way it happened earlier in the day when we entered Montenegro. We made it back in time just to see the sun already gone, but its light still illuminating the lake.

Our last full day I walked to the nearest town of Shiroka, which was about four miles from our guesthouse. It was only 90 degrees, which was welcome since it had been in the upper 90s the previous days. It was a long, hot walk, but having the teal blue lake at my side made it much easier. I finally reached Shiroka, found a place with a lakeside view, and enjoyed a pizza and big beer, all for less than eight dollars.

I also, of course, had to take more pictures of the lake.

Once I returned, after the long and hot walk back, it was time to do some lake swimming; Jesse and I went into the warm waters to cool off, then sat in some beach chairs on the pebble beach, later went back into the lake, rinse, repeat. Followed by an early dinner of pork steak and pasta bologonese, it was a fitting end to our last night in Lake Shkodra. It has been a peaceful, serene, and wonderful experience staying at the guesthouse on this beautiful lake, and every place we have visited so far in Albania I like even more than the last. Who knows whats in store for us next?

Published by Phil Barrington

Currently living in Spain, Accountant by Day, Writer by Night. Lover of baseball, travel ,and spreadsheets. Check out my blog:

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