The North of Albania until has been somewhat preserved of mass tourism even if it is full of wonders offering endless possibilities for nature lovers.
The city of Shkodra has always played an important role in Albania in particular because of its location. Bordered by Lake Shkodra, the largest in the Balkan and surrounded by several rivers Buna, Kir, and Drin (which flows into the Adriatic) makes it a strategic point. Communism has contributed to devaluing the city of Shkodra like all the North of Albania. Enver Hoxha being from south Albania hah always considered the north to be « rude » and « not educated ». It was especially the importance of Catholicism in the region that disturbed the dictator since the law prohibited the practice of any religion many clergy from the North were killed or persecuted.
Shkodra today has lost its superbness but it is still a charming little town whose lack of real estate demand has preserved the traditional urbanism of the 19th and 20th centuries with its colorful houses with neat facades and courtyards covered with vines. On the contrary of Tirana, the center of Shkodra has kept its cachet and is very bike friendly. But it is especially the surroundings of the city that are worth the detour.
The Castle of Rozafa
The castle is set on a hill a little out of the way of the current town facing the lake, and the Buna river. The castle bears witness to the past occupations of the region. Its strategic location makes it possible to control the lake, the Buna, and the hinterland, the valley of the Kir to distant mountains. The ancient city, since the Illyrian era, was to be on the slope of the castle below towards the banks of the Buna. It is the change in the course of the river that later changed the location of the city. From the Illyrian and ancient periods almost nothing is left in the castle. The visible remains date from the Venetian period, then from the Ottoman period (15th century until the 20th century). Beyond the remains, and the testimony of the history of the region, the castle is famous for a tragic legend. At the time of its establishment a curse prevented the construction team from finishing it. The only way to fight against this curse was to immerse a human being in the masonry. It is said that Rozafa, the wife of the most honest worker, was partially walled in, allowing part of her body to come out of the wall to take care of her newborn baby. The legend says that it has fossilized and is visible within the building. An intoxicating and scary quest to lead into the castle at dusk.
The village of Shiroka, serene getaway by the lake
One of the advantages of Shkodër is that you can choose between hiking in the mountains or on the beach! Shiroka is a short drive and an hour and a half on foot. Shiroka and Zogaj are the last Albanian villages before the border with Montenegro. They make it possible to escape the urban turmoil and depending on the season to stroll or refresh in the lake. For the curious they also offer the opportunity to get an idea of life away from tourist centers and discover some unusual treasures, for example in Shiroka, the abandoned villa of King Zog, built in a neoclassical style in the early 20th century.
Finally, if you have not yet tasted carp during your stay on the coast, Shiroka is filled with small lakeside restaurants offering freshly caught carp, barbecued or baked with a vegetable sauce.
The Albanian alps
If you do not like the beach but are looking for freshness, there is nothing like a hike in the mountains around Shkodër. The most experienced mountaineers and hikers will head to Theth and Valbona in the north, with Albania’s second highest point, Mount Jezercë, which rises to 2694 m above sea level. For the more peaceful walkers who simply want to discover breathtaking landscapes, and small mountain villages, there is no need to go far, the Kir Valley east of Shkodra offers a real change of scenery. In addition to the walks in the Maranai Nature Park, do not miss the opportunity to admire the Kir River and the old « Ura e Mesit » bridge in Boks.