Back streets and parasols

July 30, 2017 0 By Viktor

Balkans cycling trip, Day 18

23 July 2017: Vorë – Golem
A light half-day ride to the crammed seaside resort Golem just south of Durres. We stop in a sleepy town where the red star is still a central element of the main square, survive the deadly holes on the road and marvel at the contrasts of an impossibly planned Albanian holiday paradise
Distance: 35 km
Total distance: 1036 km

View from a small hill near Durres

We knew we had a short distance that day so we weren’t really motivated to get up early. We had the bananas  left over from the day before, stuffed our things back in the panniers and left the hotel. We were still in the busy triangle of the three largest Albanian cities, Tirana, Durrës and Elbasan, so it wasn’t easy to get away from the trucks and buses but we managed to find some quiet back roads and sleepy towns along the way. 

Hairdresser's with donkey, Albania

A hairdresser’s parlour with a donkey hiding in the shade

We had to follow the SH55 as far as Maminas, where we turned left towards Koxhas and suddenly we were back in rural Albania. We had our morning byreks in the main square of Shijak, still adorned with a Communist monument, and then continued past reservoirs and sleeping towns to the outskirts of Durrës. The growing amount of rubbish dumped by the road showed we were approaching a large city.

Albanian small town with Communist symbol

The main square of Shijak

A disappointing beach

I would have preferred to avoid Durrës altogether but I only found a minor road that was probably unpaved so we headed to the popular beach of the city just to have a quick look. We didn’t really like what we saw: kilometres of sandy beach crammed with parasols, people and litter. The beach is backed by hotels of various sizes and standards, seemingly built without any control. I took a photo and we were back on the road to reach our destination, a resort town called Golem, and stay in one of its two campsites.

Durres beach. Albania

This time we had no choice but the dual carriageway SH4. There was very heavy traffic, of course, and we couldn’t even use the hard shoulder because, in Albania, there are treacherous potholes scattered along the highways without any cover or warning signs. Then a bus got stuck in our lane and we could enjoy an empty road until we got to Golem.

It is a curious place because it is a low budget resort frequented by middle-class Albanians and characterised by dirt roads and cheap fast food eateries but it also has some of the flashiest hotels of the Durrës coast. Imagine sitting by the king size pool of a five-star luxury hotel with waiters serving cocktails to the guests, enjoying the scent of the sea, laced with a whiff of urine coming from a side street.

We found the only campsite (Mali i Robit) quickly and agreed on the price. It is located under giant pine trees in the southern end of Golem. The bathrooms could do with some refurbishment (only one shower worked and there was no hot water at all) but we liked the shady area and the relaxed atmosphere.

Durres beach at night

The lights of the beach at night

We spent the afternoon on the beach, cooling in the water and watching people. And we thought of the southern Riviera, where we hoped to find fewer people and less litter…