Llogara National Park, Albania

Photo: Intoalbania2018

Are you up for a road trip? Always. It’s the ultimate feeling of freedom. You’re on your own schedule. You can stop wherever you want. Detours are expected, even encouraged. So rent a car, fill the tank with gas, buy some snacks, and find a good radio station. You’re heading down the coast of Albania.

This is not where you expected to take your next road trip. It isn’t because you dislike the Southeast European country. It’s more that you’d never even considered it. You’ve traveled extensively through Croatia and Greece, but the countries in between them—Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania—remain completely overlooked. It’s time to remedy that.

Albania spent way too many years being occupied. The Ottomans ruled for 500 years. Then the Fascists and the Nazis controlled the Balkan country before a communist dictator arrived in 1944. Over the next 50 years, historical architecture was destroyed, religion was practiced secretly in the atheist state, private car ownership was banned, and the people were isolated from the rest of the world. Albanians have been celebrating since that government was dissolved in the early 1990s.

Since the communist regime fell nearly 30 years ago, the country has been actively modernizing. Albania’s 14 national parks have reaped the benefits as they’ve been expanded and their facilities have been renovated. This includes Llogara National Park. One of the most popular national parks sits mostly along the Karaburun Peninsula on Albania’s southwest coast. It extends from islands, along vertical rock faces, into large alpine meadows, over dense pine forests, and up limestone mountains. European wildcats, fallow deer, and red foxes call the park home. So do golden eagles and griffon vultures. While roadside stands sell the best honey you’ll ever taste.

There’s one particular reason to visit this national park, though. The Llogara Pass is a mountain road that winds through the Ceraunian Mountains along the Albanian Riviera. It begins near Orikum, in the Dukat Valley, and weaves down to Dhërmi, a village that sits where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas meet. Julius Caesar marched through here in his pursuit of Pompey. The Greeks and the Ottomans did many times, as well. With the dry desert on one side, an-growth forest on the other, and the mountains—including the highest peak in the Ceraunians, Maja e Çikës—in the background, it’s one of the most beautiful spots in the country. Add views of the sparkling water, which become more and more prominent as you head south, for the road trip of a lifetime.

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