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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
After the long walk, we head towards the last stage of the day, Lake of 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After Velipoja you return to Tirana, ending the intense weekend in Shkodra.
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