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Retro Holiday’s At 1970’s Prices. Introducing Pogradec Albania.

Pogradec AlbaniaIntroducing Pogradec Albania.

As a child, did you ever take one of those summer holidays in a small sea or lakeside town? The kind where faded plastic paddle boats with umbrellas dotted the horizon.

Pogradec Albania

Where the carnies came for the entire summer with just a large enough selection of rides and lights to make a child wriggle with excitement. People would take siesta after a sun drenched day at the beach and strolling the promenade at sunset was a daily social affair.

Pogradec Albania

Well gather your childhood summer holiday memories and prepare to transport yourself back to the 70’s and 80’s beach holiday of your past. Pogradec Albania is straight from a retro postcard and best of all, it’s still at 1970’s prices!

Pogradec Albania

Travellers in the know are starting to sing the praises of the Albanian Riviera, the virtually undiscovered pristine strip of coast along the Adriatic between Vlora and the more popular Saranda. But Albania has another beautiful and slightly quirky tourist destination where you can chill alongside vacationing Albanians with barely a tourist in sight, at a very reasonable price.

Pogradec Albania

The beautiful Lake Ohrid is most known for the quaint little town of Ohrid in Macedonia. Ohrid is Macedonia’s premier holiday and tourist destination and rightly so. But across the other side of the lake, a short drive from Ohrid lies Albania’s holiday resort town – Pogradec.

While Pogradec may be viewed by some as Ohrid’s uglier cousin, we must remember, Albania has not long emerged from a long period of isolation under communist rule. A completely self sufficient, albeit slightly paranoid country may find itself in a state of stagnation after such a long period shielded from the rest of the world.  Albania though is doing it’s best to catch up.

After the fall of communism, this once popular lakeside resort town fell into disrepair. Albania’s drive to encourage tourism has seen an interest in returning Pogradec to its former glory, bringing investment and government funding into the town.

The Albanian side of the lake offers more sandy beaches than the Macedonian side and the sleepy lakeside town has a wonderful, laid back seventies style holiday beach vibe mixed with a late eighties, early nineties modern refurb.

Fun, bold primary colours feature along the waterfront, while hotel lobbies set a sophisticated tone with soft feature neon lights and highly polished metallic finishes against peach and grey hues. Think Albanian Miami Vice. These are the style nuances of a country trying to cram so much lost time into less than two decades.

Pogradec Albania

While holiday makers indulge in the crystal clear waters of lake Ohrid and the temperate weather, basic, colourful dingies line the shore, ready for local fisherman to slip out in the evenings in pursuit of the lakes prized Ohrid trout. People will pop over the border from Ohrid for a meal of fish because it is so much cheaper on the Albanian side of the lake. Prior to visiting Albania, Macedonia was one of the cheapest places we had been.

Pogradec Albania

Restaurants line the promenade serving Balkan fare with an Albanian flavour. Much like Macedonian, Albanian food is simple but very good and plentiful. Grilled meats and homemade Albanian sausages served with salads and dips. Red peppers are a prominent feature as with all Balkan countries – Roasted, grilled, smoked or in a salad we fell in love with; roast pepper with curd served with fresh crusty bread.

Whole grilled Ohrid trout fresh from the lake was one of the finest meals we had in the Balkans. Washed down with good helpings of local wine and beer, a 2 course meal for two people, including a whole fresh trout in a nice restaurant will set you back between €10- €15. A half litre of beer in a restaurant or bar, less than €1.00 and expect only a few euro for a good homemade pizza for two or light restaurant lunch. Albania cannot be beaten on bang for buck.

Pogradec Albania

Set back from the main tourist drag of hotels, cafes and restaurants, the town it’self is quite unremarkable save for a few quaint little streets and some dedicated pedestrian malls. But everything you need can be found here including a daily street market hosting vendors of all types from fresh produce to knock off T-Shirts.

Pogradec Albania

The pace in Pogradec is slow and easy. The main Promenade is closed to cars in the evening to allow pedestrians to stroll unencumbered. Locals will sit for hours in parks and by the lake to just chat, men will meet to play chess and cards on the lawns and long and lively lunches are the norm. People are active and very social, perhaps even in a slightly old fashioned way. It’s nice.

Pogradec Albania

People have described Albania as a little weird. On that front, we don’t disagree, but we found it to be delightfully weird, in a quirky kind of way. What else are you to expect from a country who only put the open for business sign back on the door in 1991. They are still getting used to having visitors, so don’t be offended if people stare a little or seem a tad aloof.

Pogradec is a lovely place to relax for a few days. It’s a charming town that reminds you people do still talk to each other in restaurants instead of being distracted by technology. The simple pleasure of an evening stroll is embraced whole heartedly by young and old and being social is as simple as a chat in the park.

Pogradec may not be on your Albanian itinerary, but it certainly could be added to your Macedonian itinerary. It is lovely to see the contrast of culture between the two towns that share Europe’s oldest lake. We never intended going to Albania, it was just a place for us to hold up for a week on the cheap (not in an “on the lamb” kind of way) but we will be back. This country has loads to offer in beauty and value for money and it won’t be long before word gets out.

Pogradec Albania


Facts

Where We Stayed

Hotel Pogradeci on the waterfront is a new hotel opened in 2014. This modern hotel has spacious, balcony rooms with air-con and WiFi starting at €25 / night incl. breakfast. The restaurant has wonderful lakefront dining, a 2 course meal for two including wine will not set you back more than ~ €12.00. A half litre of beer from the bar no more than €1.00. It’s not often a hotel restaurant is equal in value to the local tavernas and cafes.

Pogradec has many accommodation options in this range although the newer hotels tend to be booked out with vacationing Albanians during the high season, so book if possible.

Getting There

As with most Balkan border crossings, Taxi is best. We took a taxi from Ohrid, Macedonia to the Albanian border (~€11.00 Approx. 32 km drive) and simply walked across. Be aware, there is approx. 1.5km between the Macedonian and Albanian borders so best not done with a lot of luggage, we were travelling relatively light.

People will tell you when you reach the Albanian side there will be plenty of taxi’s and buses. This is not true and Pogradec is a further 5km’s from the border checkpoint of Tushemist. Some taxi drivers will happily take you all the way across from Macedonia as we did crossing from Greece to Macedonia or you could negotiate with your hotel to have a cab waiting.  Fortunately, we were offered a ride with two nice lads from Kosovo. They had come for the day for a feed of Ohrid trout.

If coming from Greece, there are buses from Athens and Thessaloniki which pass Pogradec en route to Tirana. We travelled back to Athens this way. 13 hours Pogradec – Athens. 3 hours of this was at the Albanian / Greek border. Always allow for delays here, especially on the Greek checkpoint when entering Greece.

You develop a certain camaraderie with your fellow travellers after 13 hours on a bus, even if you don’t speak Albanian!

Getting Around

Unfortunately, much like Macedonia, Albania is pretty poor on tourist information. There are plenty of bus services running around the country but getting accurate information on timetables may require some work and although we didn’t experience it, people claim scheduled buses can just simply not arrive.

Like the rest of the Balkans, taxis are a very affordable means of transport for short to medium trips although people still advise it is wise to get your hotel to recommend a reputable driver. While Albania is safe, you will hear stories of old school taxi drivers who still scam tourists (or worse). Our advice with Albania and the Balkans in general, be patient, be prepared to do your own research, wing it when necessary and just go with the flow. While tourism is on the rise, they just don’t quite have their shit together yet, bless em.

Want to know more about Albania? Read about the capital Tirana here.

42 comments

  • Wow, love the real world insight into, yet another place, you have added to our Europe ‘be sure to see’ list. And great photos too, looks like a very picturesque place.

    Reply
  • We’ve been researching Albania, Bulgaria and Romania for a trip and Pogradec looks wonderful. Thank you for sharing this gem!

    Reply
    • Hi Rob.
      We are currently enjoying Bulgaria and looking forward to Romania next year. We can highly recommend including Pogradec with a trip to Ohrid on the Macedonian side. Albania has so much to offer, is incredibly cheap and still so untouched. We are looking forward to returning to visit the Albanian riviera on the coast.

      Enjoy your trip and safe travels.

      Reply
  • I was only in Tirana, and was there no more than 4-5 days. It was a trip with my MA group. We met Sali Berisha – the president of Albania. I remember the experience very positively.

    Reply
  • Nice title, I had to think for a while what it really means 🙂 I like quiet places and Albania offers lots of them, but I am still quite afraid of this country and still prefer EU countries for my travels.

    Reply
    • Julius, I think a lot of people still have a pre conceived idea about Albania, but we found it to be very safe. Obviously, as a tourist you need to be careful anywhere you go in the world but Albania has come a long way from its controversial past and becoming a lot more popular with tourists.

      Reply
  • Lake Ohrid looks calm and lovely, it does conjure some memories from childhood though in my case, of a beach. Albania is thousands of miles away from where I am, I’m sure it’d be a great experience to go there someday.

    Reply
  • Sounds like you enjoyed Pogradec! I had never even heard of this part of Albania, but it sure looks pretty and laid back. Lovely writing! This almost reads like a love letter to Pogradec! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Thank you Sarah.
      Sometimes we stumble across places which are quite unique or perhaps unheard of by the tourism masses. We find these are the easiest places to write about and enjoy sharing the most as there is no pre conceived expectation. It’s kind of nice.

      Reply
  • This reminded me of Bulgarian beaches 20 years ago. Everything was pristine and calm. I have never heard of Pogradec and I was not aware that it was on the lake Ohrid, but it seems like a great place for a quite rest!

    Reply
  • Albania is so close to Italy that I am shocked no Italians consider it for the holidays, especially as it is so cheap. There is a lot of prejudice here against Albanians, which is surprising as most people I have met who have traveled there can only give positive comments about the country and its people. I should really go.

    Reply
    • I think you are right Claudia. People have a pre conceived idea about Albanians. This probably stems from Albania being closed to the rest of the world for so long. People are starting to realise the beauty of the country and of course, the value. It won’t be long before the word gets out.

      Reply
  • What a lovely place and yes, very Seventies! It definitely reminds me of some smaller town in Italy, when I was a child: the colours, the non-manicured but beautiful landscapes, life happening in the streets rather than behind closed doors. I haven’t been to Albania yet, but we travel with children and this post makes me think it would be a great place to spend a summer as a family. By the way, what was the local wine like? I never heard of Albanian grapes (I am no expert though).

    Reply
    • Hi Marta, we had never really considered Albania as a wine region but we had some lovely local wines, very reasonably priced of course ;).
      Apparently Albania has quite a history of wine production which died off a little after the fall of communism, but like everything else is slowly on it’s way back. Lake Ohrid, both the Macedonian side and the Albanian would be a lovely family getaway.

      Reply
  • Oh my! We were just in Skopje Macedonia. I just googled the distance between Skopje and Pogradec and it is just 3 hours!!! We should have gone! It looks so un-commercial and sounds so inexpensive! We saw Little Albania in Kosovo and were wondering how far it would have been to go to Albania! What a mistake.

    Reply
    • Maybe next time Carol. Albania along the coast is also a fantastic summer destination, it’s being touted as the new place for beach goers in the know. We were on our way to Kosovo as well but unfortunately did not make it this time.

      Reply
  • I love these retro places that haven’t changed in years, we are planning on passing through next year to this is really useful. What a unique place!

    Reply
  • Sounds like a wonderful little side trip! I would probably wait till my kiddo is a little older to visit though, after we’ve ditched the stroller. For now our European travels rely heavily on trains and subways to get us around with all our stuff!

    Reply
  • I love reading about this place and the retro feel. Great too to know how affordable it still is. Looks like a wonderful vacation spot if you’re in the region.

    Reply
    • Hi Christine, I think most people still think Albania is still unsafe but like much of Eastern Europe’s former communist countries, they are starting to get recognised as untapped tourist markets for both beauty and value for money.

      Reply
  • Seems like a strange, beautiful little place. Something about the uber-pastel beachfront construction reminds me of the old Soviet-era holiday resorts from back in the day – I wonder if that was on purpose during the period Albania spent on the Soviet periphery?

    Reply
    • You have hit the nail on the head Stephen. This little village was originally built during that period and fell into disrepair following the fall of communism. Regardless of investment to reinvigorate the area, it is taking a while to shake to old soviet resort feel.

      Reply
  • Seems that it’s a place that “stuck” in the time and it gives so much alkaline. Probably one of the places that can escape when want some peace?:)

    Reply
  • Definitely pinning this for future reference. Albanian Miami Vice – ha! Can’t believe the prices for accommodations and food. It looks and sounds like a great stop to relax.

    Reply

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