Shkodër Albania - Travel Blog 2021 (Shkodra for Rozafa Castle, Shiroka, and Mesi Bridge)
This blog provides full details on our trip to Shkodër (Shkodra) Albania in 2021! We explored the Rozafa Castle, went to Shiroka to get a better view of Lake Shkodër, and rented bikes to visit the Mesi Bridge and ended up seeing the bluest water that we have seen since being in Albania.
We're not entirely sure how we would get to Shkodër from Tirana. There is a bus, but we heard we may have to take a short taxi to reach the area where we would be picked up for the bus.
Thankfully, our friends who took us to Durrës for the day trip, also took us to Shkodër. It is about 95 kilometers away from Tirana, which is about 1 hour and 45 minute drive. Our friends hit bad traffic on the way back, so it took them much longer to return.
On the way there we stopped in Lezhë for some lattes. This town has a castle on top of a hill as well, but we did not have time to go and explore it. From that pit stop it was a 45 minute drive to Shkodër.
The city of Shkodër dates back to the 4th Century BC. It was settled by Ancient Illyrian tribes. Today it is the 5th most populated city in Albania. Many artists and musicians come from here. When you come here, you will probably not want to walk everywhere. But that's okay, because this is known as the city of bikes.
On our way to Shirokë (which we talk about in the next section), we stopped at Rozafa Castle. The signs here are pretty clear, the only confusing part was the first sign on the main road. We are used to a road sign telling you that the next intersection is where you turn to visit a landmark. In this case, the sign was either made for pedestrians, or all Albanians knew to make a u-turn way down the road. Either way we did not walk too far past the entrance of the castle. As we made our slight backtrack, we walked down a side street parallel to the highway. There were some barking dogs inside of a fence attached to chains. These dogs looked like wolves and they could fit their bodies partially out of the metal bars. So that was frightening.
Slightly past that we saw another sign and knew we were back on track. The castle is on a hill, so it's quite a hike up to the entrance. Once we got up to the ticket booth we saw there were cars parked just outside. Walking from Shkodër was a better idea than trying to bike up the steep, stone path, it would have been very challenging. The entrance fee to get into Rozafa Castle was 400 Lek a person.
Once inside we were blown away by how huge this was. The castle takes up the entire hill top. There are some bigger openings in the castle wall to look down at the Buna River and the Drin River. There were smaller openings, I imagine, to look out for intruders while still being protected from a cannon ball or other weaponed attack.
Inside there are some signs and maps to show you what is inside of the castle. One of the main items is the church. It began as a Catholic Church when the Romans took over Albania, and then became a Mosque when the Ottoman Empire took over Albania. There was also a separate Roman and Ottoman jail. There were cisterns/wells and plenty of open space.
This castle also has a spooky legend associated with it. Basically there were 3 brothers who were in charge of building the castle. They worked hard, but the walls kept falling down. Then a wise old man appeared and told them that the wife of the brother who brought them food the next day must be buried alive inside of the wall of the castle in order for the walls to remain up forever. They all promised the man they would not tell their wives, but the older 2 brothers broke their promise and told. The younger brother did not tell his wife, so she wound up being the one to bring them food the next day. Keeping his word, he told his wife that she needed to be sacrificed and buried in the walls of the castle. Her name was Rozafa.
You can't get a proper view of Lake Shkodër from the city, so it is best to make your way out of town to Shiroka / Shirokë. Lake Shkodër is not only the largest lake in the Balkans, it is the largest lake in all of Southern Europe. The lake is on the border between Albania and Montenegro.
This route is better by bike and best by car, but we decided to visit on foot. Since we also visited Rozafa castle in the same day, we figured we would not be able to use the bikes there, so we could just get all of our steps in for the day. I think walking all the way from Shkodër to Shirokë and walking around Rozafa Castle added up to 11 miles on foot for the day.
The walk from the Castle to Shiroka was long but really nice. The goal was to get to a large opening of the lake, but the entire route was along the water. The Buna River flows into Lake Shkodër so you will walk along water the entire time. There is a large sidewalk to keep you safe and off of the street and there is plenty of room for pedestrians and for bikes.
The Buna River is not all positive though. Due to not having proper river walls and maybe being too close to sea level, when it does rain or the tide rises the river (and further down the lake) floods into the city. We noticed by Rozafa castle and all the walk to Shirokë that there were businesses that could no longer be accessed due to high water between the parking lot and the front door. One shopping center had laid crates and sand bags on the ground to allow people to enter, but most had to close down. This flooding affected stores, restaurants, and even a few playgrounds.
Along the way to Shirokë, you also see several houses that look like they were started and never finished. And these were multi-story homes, right off of the river, where you would have no neighbors. Apparently after Communism in Albania ended around 1991, there was a lack of regulation on the country's introduction to private party. During Communism citizens could not own anything, so this whole concept was brand new. Developers ran types of pyramid schemes to attract investors and offer high returns that would never be able to be realized. This resulted in concrete buildings going up not just in Shiroka, but all over Albania. When the money ran out the building stopped and these beautiful concrete structures remained unfinished.
When we got to Shirokë, many of the restaurants were blocked off my the flooding, but we did find one restaurant that was open and even have a good Google review. It has 4.5 stars out of 5 and 35 reviews. When we got there we saw why. First off they were in a good position because they were across the street from the lake and their restaurant was elevated and required steps to access. The name of the restaurant was Xhaka Restaurant Bar and they could not make you feel more like you are at home. The owner comes out to take your order and even brings your food out to you when it is ready.
There was no menu, but he said he usually prepares fish and/or meat for tourists. They also had an option of having a salad or potatoes. We chose the fish and potatoes. When it was ready they brought up some whole baked fish like we had in Durrës and the potatoes were French fries. The table next to us was having a great time. There we 3 older gentleman sharing fish, laughs and a huge carafe of red wine. When we got the check we were actually a little short on Lek, but he did not make us feel bad or even wash the dishes to make up for it. He actually pinched me on the check and said it was okay because he owned the restaurant. After thanking him immensely, we left the restaurant. Before we were even out of sight he invited us back in for some complimentary coffees. Not only were we able to get a discount due to us being short on cash, we were even treated to free coffee. The hospitality and warmth in Albania is just incredible!
The city has more room to maneuver than Tirana. Even the walk from the city to Rozafa Castle and then Shiroka had plenty of room for bikes to ride safely. Around Shkodër there are plenty of wide paths; wide enough for bicycles or cars. Getting from Shkodër to the Mesi Bridge would have been about an hour and 45 minute walk. So we decided to rent bikes for the day.
The shop we found had 4.5 stars on Google with about 35 reviews. They said that the owner was friendly and spoke good English. All of that turned out to be true. It was about a 15 minute walk from our AirBnb to his shop. Looking at the Google Reviews was also helpful because we were able to see a picture of what the owner looked like.
He confirmed what we saw online; that the fee was 100 Lek per hour or 500 Lek per day per bike. We asked if we pay now or when we drop off, and he said that we can pay when we return. All he asked for was a driver's license; a similar practice to when you are taking a tour of an apartment to rent or house to buy. The shop is called Bicyclist Bujari and his website is: https://biciklist-bujari-repair-rent-a-bike.business.site. He also fixes and repairs bikes as well!
Once we had our bikes we headed northeast toward the city of Mes. Bicycling instead of walking saved us about 45 minutes each way. Taking a bike instead of a car was awesome (besides the pain of a non-padded bike seat). We were able to truly appreciate the view of the Albania Alps, horse and buggies, cows, and even a herd of goats. When we got to the Mesi bridge we were blown away!
The Mesi Bridge is one of the largest Ottoman bridges that still exists today. It was built around 1770 and was constructed in 2 phases. The first phase was just the middle arch. This had to be big enough to cover the Kir river which flows beneath it. The second phase was to construct the rest of the bridge and the 11 arches that it includes. The Albanian Development Fund invested 13 million Lek for steps so that tourists could access the bridge.
When we were doing research we saw some people could walk under the middle arch and that the ground below the bridge was dry. Thankfully when we went the river was flowing. The water was blue and clear; like the water in the Mexico. This was surprising because most of the water we saw in the rivers around Tirana were much darker.
Our guess as to why it dries out sometimes is because the river is created from melting snow from the Albanian Alps. Others may have visited in the Summer when there is no ice or snow to melt and create the river. We visited in Mid February and the mountains at the time definitely were covered in snow.
This is such a great location, we even saw a couple taking their post-ceremony wedding pictures out here. It gave us even more entertainment as we ate our packed lunch and looked out over the ancient bridge and snow-capped mountains. When we were done experiencing the area we headed back to Shkodër. We did not reach the daily threshold on our bike rental (we only had the bikes about 3.5 hours) so the shop owner gave us the hourly price and returned our license with no problems.
I gotta say, we had a lot of fun in Shkodër. It's a bit tricky to get to and then get around to the various locations; so you will want to figure out transportation before your trip. In the Summer the weather is obviously warmer, but seeing the Kir river rushing under the Mesi Bridge makes the cold a lot more enjoyable. Rozafa Castle is incredible and make sure to give yourself enough time here. There is even a museum and a restaurant here that you can check out if you spend more time there.
Bring Shkodër, Albania to life by watching our travel vlog. Out now on YouTube!
See how we explored the Rozafa Castle, went to Shiroka to get a better view of Lake Shkodër, and rented bikes to visit the Mesi Bridge and to see the bluest water that we have seen since being in Albania. All in Shkodër (Shkodra) Albania!
Thanks for reading our blog on the Shkodër Albania!
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