Renting a car and driving across the Balkan region has never been easier. With mountainous surroundings, lush green fields and historic monuments, it’s no wonder why many choose to road trip through the region.
Even if you’re pressed for time, exploring multiple countries in the region is no big deal. With quick border checks and shorter queues, it’s easy to country-hop in a matter of a day.
Read ahead if you’re looking to be inspired by a route that will feature beautiful lakes, rustic houses and snowcapped mountains.
Begin this cross-country trip by absorbing everything that Lake Ohrid has to offer. Known as one of the oldest and deepest lakes in Europe, the lake, in Ohrid city is nestled in Macedonia and Albania. While the lake is shared by both countries, prepare for a change of scenery as you eventually make your way into Pogradec – the Albanian city that sits along the banks of Lake Ohrid.
Head southwest into the quaint town of Bitola which sits only 14km from the border of Greece. While many that visit North Macedonia end up in Ohrid or Skopje, very few lucky tourists make it to Bitola. With great hiking routes on the outskirts and a heavy heritage scene, Bitola is a worthwhile place to stop for a few hours. Bitola is also replete with beautiful Ottoman mosques which remind you of their ever-so-strong presence.
After a cup of coffee in one of Bitola’s cosy cafes, head south to the Medzhitlija/Niki border. Once passed the border, head to the town of Florina; a city that has the motto, ‘Where Greece Begins.’
When you arrive at the outstanding Greek town, surrounded by magnificent mountains, you will be left speechless by its laidback atmosphere. Florina is also home to the River Sakoulevas, which is known as the landmark of the town.
One of the standout sites in Florina is the ruins of the demolished Yakub Bey Mosque. All that stands of the mosque today is half a minaret, which looks like it’s about to collapse any day. The famous Turkish traveller, Evliye Celebi, tells us that the mosque was known historically as the Carsi Cami which translates to the Market Mosque. Ringed with shops and administration buildings, the mosque dates back to the 15th century.
To end your stay here, head over to one of the many cafes on Melas Pedestrian Street for a quick reload of caffeine.
Serpentine Roads and Ski Resorts
Once you’re back in the car, prepare yourself for a long stretch of driving. Another 116KMs later, you’ll find yourself in the serene Albanian city of Pogradec. But there’s so much to see before you get there. Get ready to wear those ski boots as there are many ski slopes along the way. With many ski resorts along the way on the E86, drivers are usually gobsmacked by the sheer beauty of the snowy hills.
For some incredible views, head over to Vigla Ski Resort. With heights reaching between 1455m and 1970m, stopping here is worth every minute.
Crossing Into Albania
Head back out onto the serpentine roads and make your way to the Bilisht border crossing. As you cross into Albania, let your first stop in Albania be in the small town of Bilisht. You don’t need to stop here long. Grab a quick meal or maybe some coffee and head back onto the E86. As you drive along E86 and SH3 routes, you’ll immediately notice the many minarets scattered throughout the cities, towns and villages you pass along the way.
To round up the road trip, finish your drive with a visit to Pogradec, home to one of the best lake beaches in Europe. Pogradec’s scenic coastline along Lake Ohrid also has several seafood restaurants, many of which sell baked Korani which translates to trout. Whilst the Lake Ohrid trout is famous in the region, it is worth mentioning that it is considered endangered. After dinner, head to one of the city’s mosques and marvel at the architecture as you listen to the melodious voice of the muezzin as he makes the call to prayer.