Month: March 2018

How to spend a perfect weekend in Shkodra 

The sunny climate, the beautiful nature, the typical architecture, the small shops, the wealth of art, the turbulent history and good food make Shkodra the destination to be discovered immediately. With a…

The sunny climate, the beautiful nature, the typical architecture, the small shops, the wealth of art, the turbulent history and good food make Shkodra the destination to be discovered immediately. With a population of only 135,612 inhabitants and nicknamed the Florence of the Balkans, this city will make you fall in love at a glance. Away from the chaos and mass tourism, it offers the opportunity to escape from the boring everyday life and immerse in the charm of culture and the art of a now distant Albania. Here is my itinerary for a perfect weekend in Shkodra. 

View of the lake from Rozafa Castle - weekend in shkodra

View of the lake from Rozafa Castle – Shkodra

How to get there 

Shkodra can be easily reached from Monte Negro by crossing the border in two points: Murriqan (13 km) and Hani i Hotit (34 km), or from the Albanian capital, Tirana. These two cities are divided by about 100 km of road, passable in about two hours, following the highway SH1. 

Day 1 

Get ready for a “serious” day of sightseeing 😊, if you set off from Tirana try to get on the road early, to avoid the heavy traffic at the gates of the capital. The first stop of the day will be the Castle of Rozafa. The rock on which the acient fortress stands, is visible kilometers away. Coming from Tirana, just past the bridge of the river Kir, on the slopes of the fortress turning right, the Vasil Shanto St. will take you to the foot of the Castle. 

Beautiful view of Rozafa Castle from the car parking weekend in shkodra

View of Rozafa Castle from the car parking – Shkodra

Inside the walls of Rozafa Castle, weekend in shkodra

Inside the walls of Rozafa Castle – Shkodra

Car parking is located right after the stone bridge, just below the fortress walls. A huge high relief of Rozafa at the entrance, recalls the legend linked to the Castle. Inside the walls and towers there are large lawns, which invite you for a long stop to enjoy the beauty of the landscape. Here you will also find a museum dedicated to the collection of objects and documents that illustrate the history of the city from the Illyrian period to the Ottoman one. 

View from the fortress of rozafa, weekend in Shkodra

View from the fortress – Shkodra

Ruins Rozafa Castle weekend in shkodra

Ruins – Rozafa Castle, Shkodra

From the castle you can see the Lead Mosque, built in 1773 by Mehmet Pasha. This mosque is a beautiful example of Ottoman architecture and deserves a short visit, so go down the fortress and take the road under the stone bridge thus reaching the second stage of our weekend in Shkodra. 

Visiting the Lead Mosque, weekend in Shkodra

Visiting the Lead Mosque – Shkodra

Dettails, The Lead Mosque, weekend in Shkodra

Details, The Lead Mosque – Shkodra

Head towards the historic center. Taking the Kol Idromeno St. from Mother Teresa square you will immerse in the atmosphere of the Shkodra of the nineteenth century, between typical architecture, shops, cafes and restaurants. Take your time, relax and choose one of the many places to have lunch or visit the small shops for some souvenirs. 

Kol Idromeno Street. weekend in Shkodra

Kol Idromeno Street – Shkodra

Meat based dish with ricotta cheese qofte, weekend in Shkodra

Meat based dish with ricotta cheese qofte – Shkodra

In the middle of this street you will find The National Museum of Marubi Photography, which houses one of the most relevant photographic collections in Europe. Over 100,000 shots of people, landscapes, characters, costumes, scenes of everyday life and historical moments will completely transport you into a now vanished Albania. While visiting the museum, I loved getting lost in those shots, watching the details, the poses, the clothes and the moments captured. Charming! 

A piece of exposition, The National Museum of Marubi Photography weekend in Shkodra

A piece of exposition – The National Museum of Marubi Photography, Shkodra

From the series 'Blood Memory' Lala Meredith Vula - The National Museum of Marubi Photography weekend in Shkodra

From the series ‘Blood Memory’ Lala Meredith Vula – The National Museum of Marubi Photography, Shkodra

Within a few hundred meters you will find religious buildings of different faiths: the Great Mosque, the Orthodox Cathedral, the Franciscan Catholic Church, evidence of the long inter-religious history of the city. Explore the narrow streets of the old town and capture the beauty of what surrounds you.

A day in the city center, weekend in shkodra

A day in the city center – Shkodra

The great mosque, weekend in shkodra

The Great Mosque – Shkodra

For a short break, look for the Grand Café (Kafja e Madhe), a historic venue where Rilindja’s intellectuals met at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Migjeni Theater is another important cultural institution named after the great poet of the ’30s, Migjeni. 

An old picture of Kafja e Madhe by Marubi, weekend in shkodra

An old picture of Kafja e Madhe by Marubi – Shkodra

The Migjeni Theater, weekend in Shkodra

The Migjeni Theater – Shkodra

Turning to the left of the theater you reach the Historical Museum of Shkodra, located in the Oso Kuka house, typical example of traditional architecture of northern Albania. In the museum courtyard there are a number of historical objects, mostly stone materials. On the first floor is the archaeological pavilion, with objects from the Neolithic to the late Middle Ages. Of interest is the coins section, which belong to the period of Gent, the Roman period, the Greek and barbaric, Venetian and Byzantine. On the second floor there is the ethnographic sector, rich with about 1,500 objects ranging from the eighteenth century to the twentieth century. 

the Historical Museum of Shkodra, weekend in Shkodra

The Historical Museum of Shkodra

After the long walk, we head towards the last stage of the day, Lake of Shkodra. 

View of the Castle from the lake side road, weekend in Shkodra

View of the Castle from the lake side road – Shkodra

people riding along the shores of the lake weekend in Shkodra

People riding along the shores of the lake – Shkodra

Crossing the bridge over the river Buna, at the entrance to the city, turn right, go past the district inhabited by the Rom and follow the direction towards the village of Shirokë. During the short journey you will notice the people riding along the shores of the lake on their bikes. Stop in one of the many restaurants in the village and dine enjoying one of the most beautiful views of Shkodra, tasting the exquisite traditional cuisine with fish dishes. 

Sunset on the lake, weekend in Shkodra

Sunset on the lake – Shkodra

Traditional fish based dish 'Tave Krapi', weekend in Shkodra

Traditional fish based dish ‘Tave Krapi’ – Shkodra

Day 2 

The second day of our weekend in Shkodra starts with a short stop near the border with Monte Negro, in the direction of Murriqan. Here you can have one of the most beautiful views of the union of the rivers that surround the city. 

The union of the rivers, weekend in Shkodra

The union of the rivers – Shkodra

The view after the union of the rivers, weekend in Shkodra

The view after the union of the rivers – Shkodra

After this short stop, head towards the city in search of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, also known as the Great Church (Kisha e Madhe). This building is one of the most important of the Catholic quarters, not only because during communism it was transformed into a sports Centre and then reborn with the fall of the dictatorship, but also for the visit of Pope Saint John Paul II in 1993. The ceiling of the church was built according to the design of Kol Idromeno, with carved and painted squares. Next to the church, in 2016 was opened the first Diocesan Museum in Albania. 

Kisha e Madhe, weekend in Shkodra

‘Kisha e Madhe’ – Shkodra

Dettails, near the Great Church 'Kisha e Madhe', weekend in Shkodra

Details, near the Great Church ‘Kisha e Madhe’ – Shkodra

Relaxing the Great Church 'Kisha e Madhe' weekend in Shkodra

Relaxing – the Great Church ‘Kisha e Madhe’ Shkodra

Continuing in a north-easterly direction from the center, about 6 km from Shkodra, is the Mesi Bridge, one of the best-preserved Ottoman bridges, characterized by a donkey back structure with thirteen arches, more than 100 meters long. 

Crossing Mesi Bridge weekend in Shkodra

Crossing Mesi Bridge – Shkodra

People from the village near Mesi Bridge, weekend in Shkodra

People from the village near Mesi Bridge – Shkodra

Enjoying the beautiful view Mesi Bridge, weekend in Shkodra

Enjoying the beautiful view – Mesi Bridge Shkodra

For history lovers only 6 km from the bridge is the Drishti Castle, built in the 13th century as a Byzantine fortress. The current walls and towers date back to 1396-1478 during the Venetian era. On the other hand, for those interested in nature, there is the gorge of the river Kir, formed by the erosive activity of the stream. 

Inside the walls of Drishti Castle, weekend in Shkodra

Inside the walls of Drishti Castle – Shkodra

The gorge of Kir river, weekend in Shkodra

The gorge of Kir river – Shkodra

On the way back from Shkodra there is the possibility of making the last stop in Velipoja, 14 km of coastline washed by the Adriatic Sea. It does not represent the most beautiful coastline in Albania, but the long sandy beaches and the rich gastronomic proposals based on fish caught during the day, make the hours spent in this resort, very pleasant. 

Velipoja, weekend in Shkodra

Velipoja – Shkodra

 

Fish based dish weekend in Shkodra

Fish based dish – Shkodra

After Velipoja you return to Tirana, ending the intense weekend in Shkodra. 

Leaving, weekend in Shkodra

Leaving – Shkodra

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The 10 things not to be absolutely missed in Shkodra

Shkodra is one of the oldest and most glorious cities in the Western Balkans. Near the shores of its famous lake and at the foot of a rock by the…

Shkodra is one of the oldest and most glorious cities in the Western Balkans. Near the shores of its famous lake and at the foot of a rock by the confluence of the rivers Drin, Buna and Kir, it represents a great center of culture, rich in history and typical architecture. Not only an economic, commercial and industrial core, but also the heart of Albanian Catholicism, Shkodra is the perfect proof that all religions can live peacefully together in one country. Nicknamed The Florence of Balkans, protagonist of the first photo taken in the whole peninsula, home of the first astronomical observatory of the region and much more, create only the outline of what this fascinating city can offer. These are, in my opinion, the 10 things not to be missed absolutely in Shkodra.

Kol Idromeno Street Shkodra historic center Albania

Kol Idromeno Street – Shkodra historic center

 1.Breathing the atmosphere of the nineteenth century in the historic center

The pedestrian area of ​​the Kol Idromeno road, which runs through the entire district of the historic center will transport you to a unique atmosphere of the nineteenth century. Picturesque two-storey houses of typical pastel-colored architecture, small bars, restaurants, museums and shops will make your walk pleasant, relaxing and will make you fall in love with one of the most beautiful pedestrian areas of Albania.

Portrait of woman - The National Museum of Photography Marubi, Shkodra

Portrait of woman – The National Museum of Photography Marubi, Shkodra

2.Admire one of the most beautiful photographic collections of Balkans

The National Museum of Photography Marubi holds a real cultural treasure, important not only for Shkodra and Albania, but also relevant at European level. Over 100,000 images document the life of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, capturing clothing, social norms of the time, images of city life and rural life, landscapes and many other aspects of the period. The photographs and the rich exhibited museum materials are fascinating, you will be completely immersed in the now disappeared world of Albania between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Historical Museum, Oso Kuka House Shkodra

The Historical Museum, Oso Kuka House – Shkodra

3.Visit a typical northern Albanian house

One of the most interesting aspects during the visit to the Historical Museum of Shkodra is represented by the fact that this museum is located in the magnificent house of Oso Kuka, a patriot from Shkodra of the second half of the nineteenth century. Here you can admire a typical example of traditional architecture, authentic stone fortifications, elements of history, typical objects and costumes.

Rozafa Castle from above Shkodra

Rozafa Castle from above – Shkodra

Inside Rozafa Castle Shkodra Albania

Inside Rozafa Castle – Shkodra

4.Discover the ancient Rozafa Castle

Rozafa Castle stands on a rocky hill, visible kilometers away. It is more than 2000 years old, but the remains of the walls, the church of Saint Stefan, the bell tower and other buildings date back to the Venetian period. The top of the hill offers a picturesque view of the lake, the Buna and Drini rivers and the surroundings of Shkodra. The large meadows that extend between the remains of the walls and towers invite you to enjoy the beauty of the landscape. The fortress owes its name to Rozafa, an Albanian girl who according to the legend, was walled up alive in the stone ramparts as an offering to the gods, so that they wouldn’t destroy the castle and make the construction firm.

The Lead Mosque from Rozafa Castle Shkodra Albania

The Lead Mosque from Rozafa Castle – Shkodra

The Lead Mosque Shkodra Albania

The Lead Mosque – Shkodra

 5.Photographing the Lead Mosque

Built in 1773-1774 by Mehmet Pasha Bushati, the founder of the famous Bushatli family, the Lead Mosque is one of the oldest buildings in Shkodra and is the largest and most beautiful mosque in Albania until the first half of the 20th century, when large mosques began to be built. The mosque was given this name because it was lined with lead. Unlike the other mosques or churches in Shkodra, the Lead Mosque is not accessible internally, but it is certainly worth visiting and photographing it close up, not only from far above the castle.

Crossing the Mess Bridge Shkodra

Crossing the Mess Bridge – Shkodra

6.Cross the Mes Bridge

Built along the ancient trade route between Shkoder and Pristina in Kosovo, this bridge is the largest and best preserved Ottoman bridge in Albania. The Mes bridge is situated in a picturesque landscape, surrounded by the hills of the Marai Natural Park on the banks of the incredibly clear blue water of Kir mountain river.

Waiting for the sunset on the Lake of Shkodra Albania

Waiting for the sunset on the Lake of Shkodra – Albania

7.Attend the sunset on the lake of Shkodra

An incredible lake landscape awaits you, immense expanse of water overflown by seagulls and in the background the profile of the Albanian Alps. This large lake, 370 km², the largest of the Balkans, is a true treasure of biodiversity. You can admire this incredible scenery from numerous vantage points along the way or from the different restaurants in the villages of Shiroka or Zogaj, especially during the last hours of the day where everything looks more spectacular.

A ride on the bike to the Lake Shkodra Albania

A ride on the bike to the Lake – Shkodra

8.Get lost in the city on a bike

As soon as you set foot in this city, the first thing you will notice is the many bikes that populate the streets. Shkodra is not only known as a cultural pole but also as the city of bikes. Take one yourself, join the citizens and get lost in the streets of the old town and among the markets, you will live a typical Shkodran everyday life. For those more trained, try to reach the Lake of  Shkodra by bike, the ride will definitely be worth it.

The union of the rivers Kir, Drin and Buna Shkodra Albania

The union of the rivers Kir, Drin and Buna – Shkodra

 9.See the union of the rivers surrounding Shkodra

Shkodra strategically stretches between the swamps of the Lake and the hills of the Albanian Alps, trapped on three sides by rivers, Kir to the east, Drin to the south and Buna to the west. There are several points where you can go to see the union of rivers and capture from above the merging of their waters.

The colourful Carnival of Shkodra Albania

The colourful Carnival of Shkodra – Albania

10.Participate in the most famous Carnival of Albania

The origins of the celebration of the carnival in Shkodra arise from the historical connection between this city and Venice, as the latter governed the area during its heydays. Here are also produced the most beautiful Venetian style masks aimed at exports to the Italian and foreign markets. The masks are a masterpiece and have also been designed for a series of productions and films such as Eyes Wide Shut. If it is not possible for you to be present during the period of the celebrations of the very colourful Carnival of Shkodra, make a stop at the factory of the Masks, it is definitely worth it.

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