Climbing, Coast and Adventures in Albania

Albania is a beautiful country, often overlooked and underestimated. The landscape has everything from dramatic mountains to white sandy beaches. Albania has a fascinating history and rich culture, there is a lot to love about this country. Anyone visiting, for climbing or otherwise, has a lot to look forward to.

White sandy beaches with the clear sea lapping on it it. There is a crag right on Gjipe Beach.
Gjipe Beach: a Gorgeous Place to Climb

Before you go

The climbing in Albania is equally impressive as its landscape, with several areas spread around the country. Tirana, Albania’s capital, is a good place to start and is around 45 minutes from Bovilla and Brar, two of the country’s best sectors. It isn’t as easy to drive between Bovilla and Brar as it looks on the map. The drive between the two is quite far and some of the roads are in poor condition. So we would advise against changing venues unless it’s desperate.

On the coast lies Gjipe, one of Albania’s most beautiful climbing areas. Depending on the season, it would be best to split your time between the coast and inland, so you can enjoy the best of both.

There is no printed guidebook for climbing in Albania (as of May 2021), however, any information you need can be found on the Climbing Albania website here

Albanian style houses on the outskirts of Tirana with the mountain views looking out towards the countryside.
Sunest in Tirana, a great base for climbing in Albania

Climbing recommendations

Brar

Upon arriving at Brar you will be greeted by a huge, steep crag dripping with Tufas. The rock is of high quality and there are many stunning lines. There are a selection of good routes between 6c and 7b, but the majority of routes will be above 7b. Even if you climb lower grades, don’t be put off by this, there are enough easier routes to make Brar worth a couple of visits. 

Imposing crag of Brar with climber half way up rethreading the anchor. There are different coloured limestone streaks with tufa everywhere on the upper steep wall.
Re-threading the anchor on a 6c at Brar

What really makes this crag special is the rock, stripes of vibrant coloured limestone, with tufas of all shapes and sizes. One some of the easier routes, the water dripping from above has landed on the rock. This has eroded hundreds of pockets in the rock giving it a deep honeycomb effect. Almost all of the routes here are high quality.

Giant tufa fins protruding from the crag
A giant Brar tufa

One of the only downfalls of Brar is that the crag can seep badly after rain. As we were there in early spring, quite a few of the routes were wet and took a while to dry out. This wouldn’t be a problem if you were visiting in the Autumn, but summer would most likely be too hot. 

Imposing crag with wet, grey and white limestone streaks.
The mighty Brar, Featuring The Dream 9b, the hardest routes in the Balkans.

Bovilla

Bovilla is another major sector, situated next to lake Bovilla, a large dammed lake in the mountains behind Tirana. Be forewarned that the road to get to the crag is not as smooth as you’d like it to be, although a two wheel drive car will suffice. The journey will take you much longer than you will expect.

The rich blue Lake Bovilla in the foreground with the Albanian mountains in the background.
Lake Bovilla and the mountains behind Tirana

Bovilla has more lower grade routes than Brar. Rather than one big crag, there are a number of smaller crags scattered around the hillside by the lake. The rock varies from compact, grey and crimpy routes to steep tufa caves. The ‘Lakeside’ sector and the ‘Tufa’ sector have most of the best routes. 

Steep limestone crag covered in tufas. In the background there are further craggy outcrops which sit upon the artificial lake.
Sector Singing Stones at Bovilla

Bovilla has lots of good routes in a beautiful and remote feeling area, even though you aren’t far from your car. The views across the lake are stunning and there are routes in the sun and shade so climbing is possible at most times of the year. 

Large craggy mass
A mass of climbing opportunity

Gjipe

Gjipe is one of Albania’s gems. The beach is stunning and is one of nicest you’ll find anywhere. The area is only accessible by a thirty minute walk, 4×4 or boat. This is what keeps the crowds away from such a fantastic beach. 

Bright orange limestone rock canyon at Gjipe. With clear blue skies.
Beautiful rock in Gjipe canyon

There is a crag directly on the sandy beach, right next to the water. The rock is good although some of the bolts at this sector are suspect so be very cautious if you decided to climb at this sector.

Set back from the beach is a beautiful canyon, this is where the majority of the routes are located. These routes are well bolted, and the bolts here are in good condition (as of April 2021). The climbs are nice and long, on varied and interesting rock. When you reach the anchors you will see a stunning view of the beach down the canyon. 

Limestone sea cliff, it is high tide and the water is lapping on the bottom of the crag.
At the waters edge

Gjipe is a brilliant climbing area in a beautiful part of Albania. During the winter, the weather is much better here than in Bovilla and Brar. There is a campsite and bar at the beach. The nearby town of Himarë is a great place to stay, and there are some lovely restaurants serving fresh seafood overlooking fishing boats on the water. 

Orange limestone of the left sector of the gorge.
One of the best sectors at Gjipe

Përmet

Përmet is one of Albania’s smaller climbing areas but is nonetheless worth a visit. Përmet is situated in a charming river canyon, with a large natural hot spring near by. The spring has had walls built around it, the warm water cascades over the top like an infinity pool. It is fair to say that this isn’t the warmest hot spring you’ll ever visit, but it is a stunning one regardless of temperature.

Ottoman style bridge in the background with the thermal spring pool in the foreground. The water is clear and is pouring over the edge of the walls of the pool. There is a small craggy outcrop in the background set upon the trees.
The Permet ‘infinity pool’

The Përmet area is a bit more isolated from the other, more major, climbing areas. If you are choosing to stay in one place for the whole trip, Përmet is not the best option. However, it is definitely worth passing through here on a road trip or if you are wanted to visit the thermal spring anyways. 

Theth and Valbona

We didn’t visit any rock climbing in Theth and Valbona on our trip to Albania, mainly due to the weather in that region. The area is much better known to hikers for the beautiful mountain walks on offer. Also known as the Accursed mountains or the Albanian alps, the hills here really are stunning and there’s no doubt endless opportunities for both climbing and walking. Whilst they are the most famous mountain areas in Albania, there are lots of other areas to explore as well.

Snowy capped mountains in the background. In front are lush green trees and purple Spring blossom.
Mountains in southern Albania

Rest day activities

Beautiful beaches

Albania’s coast must be one of the most underrated in Europe. As you drive along the coast you will pass so many beautiful beaches you can take your pick! Gjipe was our favourite as it was relatively quiet and has lots of great climbing too. The water was pristine and so enticing to go for a swim and a snorkel.

Small sea crag with deep blue sea at the bottom.
A small DWS venue

If the weather is too warm for sport climbing, it is possible to find some deep water soloing on the Albanian coast. The venues are limited and aren’t an attraction in themselves. However if you want to spend some time in the water and do a bit of climbing there is enough to keep you occupied, most of which won’t have been climbed before.

The Blue Eye

The stunning blue eye is a natural karst spring, around thirty minutes inland from Sarandë. The eye is supposedly more than 50 meters deep and discharges a large amount of crystal clear water. It is busy at peak times but when we visited in the spring we had the place to ourselves. The water is gorgeous and makes for a very refreshing drink. 

The source of the Blue Eye.
The blue eye

Learn some history

You can’t go too far in Albania before bumping into these small concrete bunkers built by their communist leader Enver Hoxha between the 60s and 80s. There are over 173,000 of these bunkers in Albania. The bunkers provide an interesting opportunity to learn about Albanian history and the things that have influenced the country you see today.

Mushroom shaped concrete bunker set into the rocky ground. There is a small lookout window.
One of the bunkers, near Himarë

Summary

Hopefully this article has shown how much Albania has to offer for climbers or anyone who wants to visit. During our time in the country we were very impressed with the landscape and the Hospitality. Albania is definitely a place we would visit again. It seems likely that more and more climbers will visit as the area gains a reputation for great climbing and first ascent potential. For anyone visiting or doing a road trip in the Balkans, Albania should definitely be on your list of places to visit.


Relevant links

Information about climbing in Albania

Main Page

Information about the bunkers

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/photos-forgotten-military-bunkers

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