Our 2015 season began with a special solo Albania Jeep tour for ex-Royal Navy officer Paul Denham, who arrived with very little idea of what to expect. The tour began with an airport pick up in Podgorica, Montenegro, which is an easy 25-minute transfer from the Albanian border. We had hoped to kick off the tour with a night in Theth, in the Accursed Mountains, but even in mid-April there was three metres of snow on the mountain pass which connects Theth to civilisation (or the rest of Albania, rather). Eight days later we delivered Paul to the ferry terminal at Saranda, in the deep south of Albania, from where he was able to hop over the straits to Corfu, and his flight back to London Stansted.
“I have just returned home from my first, but – I hope – not my last trip to Albania. This was a great adventure and exciting on so many levels but I want to concentrate on just two: the country and its people; and the 4×4 experience.
“I think I knew that Albania had a turbulent recent history and was a poor and relatively unvisited county. I think too that I knew that it was the setting for some extraordinary missions for the British military and Special Operations Executive during WWII. What I hoped was that it would turn out to be a bit like Greece before it became Euro-homogenised – and that hope was well and truly fulfilled.
“Getting to Albania was remarkably cheap and easy. A Ryanair flight from Stansted took me to Podgorica in Montenegro where I was met by a taxi arranged by Ed from Drive Albania. My driver, Ratko, was welcoming and efficient and he delivered me to the border very quickly. Here, I crossed into Albania on foot completely hassle-free and was met by Ed and Dori and a business-like Land Rover. I very quickly came to appreciate the beauty of the country, the friendliness of the people and the excellent value to be had when I visited my first restaurant on the roadside to enjoy local beer and fried eels!
“What followed was the desired mixture of medieval towns with cobbled streets and real fortresses commanding the broad valleys and small farming communities filled with people working as the generations had before them, herding their goats and sheep, looking after the family cow and ploughing the land with donkeys or cows. I was welcomed into these smallholdings in the mountains by families eager to receive guests and happy to serve locally produced kid, lamb and dairy products – often made from ewes’ milk – washed down with local wine or beer and the inevitable glass or two of homemade raki.
“The landscape was stunning with roads and trails which were an off-roaders delight, leading to places, views and people not normally accessible to the traditional tourist. Ed had chosen great routes and drove them with great competence. The vehicle was well-maintained and performed really well leaving me feeling confident and enthusiastic for each fresh adventure. I found Ed was really knowledgable too about Albania’s recent and older history and this certainly enhanced the experience. It was a huge bonus having Dori with us. He gained access to people in the way that Ed’s 4×4 driving gained access to the land and his local knowledge and easy companionability at meals made the experience a pleasure.
“The hotels chosen for my stay were all of good quality with clean rooms, good food and welcoming staff and a credit to Drive Albania’s organising skills.
“Highlights of my visit – apart of course from the sheer adventure of going off the beaten track – were undoubtedly the mountain views, the medieval fortresses, visits to areas with a proud history of British military involvement, the local food and, of course, the raki – guaranteed to warm body and spirit any time of the day or evening!
“Thanks to Ed, Dori and all at Drive Albania for a great Albania Jeep tour which I fully intend to repeat.”
Paul Denham, May 2015.