Pinched grapes and a clumsy thief
Balkans Cycling Trip, days 39-40
13-14 August 2017: Permët- Gërmenj
Out of two options, we choose the shorter and more difficult one, but it is more interesting and quieter for sure. This day offers probably the most beautiful landscapes of the whole trip as we leave the Vjosa valley and reach Leskovik. We ride past shepherds, roadside shrines and bunkers as we approach a remote campsite above 1100 m.
Distance: 56 km
Total distance: 1810 km
In the morning we were thankful to see the dog didn’t take any of our shoes. We sat down in the bar of the eco-camp for a quick coffee and a little chat. We gave the Greek gas canister to our hosts in case they could sell them and we took some photos before we said goodbye.
We knew this day would be one of the toughest because we had to climb up to 1130 metres from the valley (at around 350 m). And, as usual, the road wasn’t flat before and after the hard part. So the 50-60 km planned for the day was going to be more than enough.
The owner of the campsite recommended that we take the new road from Çarshovë. It was brand new and longer but less steep. I still chose the old road for two reasons. First, I thought it would be less busy because most motorists would choose the new one. Ssecond, the map showed that although it was longer than the old road, its steep section was shorter so it would actually be more difficult.
Grapes at the bus stop
For the first 25 km we still had to follow the river Vjose with lot of uphills and downhills. The problem was that we just had the coffees for breakfast and the next sizeable town was Çarshovë, at least 2 hours away. I think we could have eaten something in Petran but we were still full of enthusiasm so we just whizzed through the village. But when the first sweating stretches came we started worrying.
There are two small settlements after Petran but we only saw residential houses there. Then just before the fork-off to Strëmbec, I have to admit we helped ourselves from the grapes of a vineyard. God bless the owner, I hope he didn’t mind the few bunches we devoured.
As it happens, a few bends later we bumped into a campsite and restaurant called Camping Pandeliu. It looked much more professional than the one we stayed at and the food they provided for breakfast (fresh milk, cheese, tomatoes, cherry jam and butter, all home-made) was superb.
Albania’s No 1 scenic road
It was much easier to conquer the hills before Çarshovë with full stomachs and we could carelessly enjoy the landscape from the several viewpoints along the way. We even saw the Santa Claus clone we had met back in Ksamil. He was driving his funny truck turned camper towards Përmet.
Then we arrived in Çarshovë, where we had to choose between the new and old roads to Leskovik. We also needed to stock up on chocolate and drink something sinfully sweet before starting the long ride uphill. To our surprise, an old woman tried to woe us into her bar just as we entered the village, something that doesn’t often happen in Albania. Still we stopped at the second bar because there was a shop, too, but it turned out to be full of tacky souvenirs so we just bought two overpriced ice-creams and headed to the third bar higher on the road. We had a fine espresso and bought some bars of chocolate. Then we picked the old road.
The whole distance to Leskovik was under 15 km but we had to get 700 metres higher. It was anything but easy with two front plates (on my bike and on Aron’s). We both spent most of the next two hours standing up instead of sitting on our saddles. The perfect way to have muscle pain in your arms cycling.
All in all we made the right decision because the traffic was low, the road quality was OK and we had breathtaking views, only spoilt a bit by some water pipeline. We finished the leftover of our rural breakfast just before Leskovik and then looked for a cafe in the centre.
A remote outpost
The main square of Leskovik is also under construction but we liked the old stone houses and the contrast of donkeys and apartment blocks was also interesting. We then bought ingredients for our dinner because the campsite we were heading to was in the middle of nowhere over 1100 metres.
Leskovik lies at around 900 metres so we still had plenty of uphill stretches ahead of us though we were getting really tired. The landscape changed on this side of the mountain. It was less dramatic with more pine tree forests and pastures with shepherds and sheep. And huge shepherd dogs.
We slowly reached the highest point of the day (1130 m) and arrived at Farma Sotira,. It’s a popular trout restaurant that also offers bungalows and camping sites. The price we negotiated for the tent and the three of us was very reasonable at 15 euros as it included a hearty breakfast. What we were not satisfied with was the cleanliness of the bathrooms and toilets (one for women, one for men). On our second day my phone was stolen from the toilet (about the only place to charge it) and I was extremely lucky to get it back. We acted fast and complained to the owner. A waiter appeared with the phone in seconds saying someone put it in a window… I must add that Albania is a very safe country and nothing like this ever happened to us during the four weeks.
On the plus side, we were absolutely satisfied with the breakfast (all sorts of dairy products, fresh bread and jam) and the fish we had for dinner.