Sleeping relatively late on Sunday we eventually got up and had some breakfast out in the courtyard where we decided that we would get out of the city that day. Tiranë can get very hot and polluted and can be a fairly unpleasant place to be at the hottest time of the day.
The hostel owner Erion gave us some advice about buses and we set off to take the cable car to one of the mountains outside the city. The bus trip took about 15 minutes but you are then left with a twenty minute uphill march to find the station. This goes through an area of newly-built apartment blocks which are constructed to a far higher standard than the old style blocks but the often unpaved roads and pavements can be a danger so take care.
The Austrian-constructed Dajti Ekspres takes you up to a height of 1,230m (4035ft) to a place known as The Balcony on the 1,613m (5,291ft) high Mount Dajt. This might not seem like a very high mountain to most of us but when you are as terrified of heights as I am it was a major achievement. I’m glad I’m only 5′ 8″ because if I was 6′ 4″ I’d fill my pants every time I stood up! I spent the entire 15-20 minute journey with my eyes tightly closed and my hand leaving its imprint on the steel handles but once up there you get magnificent views out over the entire city to the mountains beyond. Worth the terror!
The beautifully landscaped gardens and the hotel at the top are a joy to walk around with lovely flower displays, outdoor eating and drinking, fountains and the Ballkoni I Dajtit restaurant all on hand. We went into the Ballkoni but just had a couple of soft drinks so I can’t comment on the food although the restaurant itself is very nice. Lots of wood in a sort of Alpine theme and, of course, a great view from their outdoor terrace.
Coming out of the restaurant we began to explore the area outside the gardens. This includes an area for children’s pony rides and a picnic area by some woods. Unfortunately the Albanian propensity for serial littering detracts from what would otherwise be a very pleasant place.
Strolling around this area further we discovered there isn’t a great deal else to do. Apparently the whole area around the peak is a National Park but you’d never guess. In most other places that would mean pathways through the forest to places of interest, information points etc. but there’s none of that here. One road was blocked off by the military and the other led past another restaurant, which had a lamb roasting on a spit outside, to who knows where.
A bit disappointed we headed back to towards the cable car but we persuaded ourselves to take one of the free taxis to a place called King Park. This turned out to be several kilometres along the road mentioned above past the restaurant.
King Park turned out to be a hotel/restaurant/bar complex in beautiful surroundings on the forested slopes of Mount Dajt. We relaxed here for a while taking a beer in the shade by the side of a trout-filled artificial pool and watching the butterflies.
We had noticed that we’d passed a few other places on the way out to King Park so we hit on the bright idea of walking back in the direction we’d come and stopping at each place on the way. Good idea. Twenty minutes or so of leisurely walking brought us to an amazingly beautiful place called Gurra e Perrise set into the mountainside featuring a terraced set of trout-filled pools fed by a natural spring and tables set all around in shaded forest. The main hotel building sits nearer the road at the side of a large pool which spills its waters over a small artificial waterfall and on down the mountain.
Having enjoyed a refreshing beer here at prices above the Albanian norm but still reasonable by western standards, and relished relaxing in such a gorgeous environment, it was time to move on.
Another leisurely stroll along the mainly traffic-free road, all the while enjoying the amazing views out over Tiranë and its environs, brought us to another hotel called, appropriately enough, the Panorama where we decided to eat. A friendly waiter seated us by the edge of the terrace and we soon had drinks and menus in our hands.
The food we got here was by far the best so far on our trip. I had delicious grilled lamb chops while Mrs M had an Albanian veal speciality served in a delicious tomato and herb based sauce. With one eye on the trip back down in the cable car I was forced to enjoy a second local beer (Peja) while we relaxed and revelled in the views.
Tearing ourselves away from Panorama we were only a short walk away from the cable car but needless to say even on this short walk we were treated to the sight of several of Enver’s bunkers. Everyone who comes to Albania mentions these and it’s very hard to avoid them. Built by Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, 700,000 of them are dotted around the country, and they were intended to ward off the perceived threat of a Yugoslav invasion and were a significant drain on the very limited resources of Albania as well as being completely pointless.
Arriving back at the cable car yours truly was still on the down side of terrified at the prospect of the descent so a couple more beers were consumed before Mrs M poured me into one of the gondolas and the return to the city was completed entirely without incident (of course!).
Back at the hostel I had to partake of a little more Peja, just to settle my frayed nerves you understand, as we once again sat in the courtyard and reflected on what had been a lovely day in the mountains of Tiranë.