I said a few years ago I’d never return to Albania. I’d been so many times I figured that was enough, there are other places I want to see and Albania isn’t even one of my favourite destinations. Yet here I am back in Albania. Never say never, right?
Hiking the 1,000 km Via Egnatia
This time I’m in Albania for a special project. I’m hiking the Via Egnatia, an ancient Roman trade route connecting East and West. Starting in Durres, Albania’s main port city, the old stone road runs east via Elbasan to Lake Ohrid, past Bitola in North Macedonia, along to Thessaloniki in Greece and finally on to Istanbul, Turkey.
The first section of the road, 475 kilometres from Durres to Thessaloniki, reopened in 2015 but there’s little info about it online. The route takes you through some of the most stunning scenery in the Balkans and I want to experience it and share the journey for others to follow.
Even though Albania has promoted the Via Egnatia as a tourist attraction, since arriving in Albania I’ve discovered that was more talk than anything else. The trail isn’t marked, there’s no map and the tourist office says it’s not possible to walk the entire way.
Thankfully that’s not entirely true. The trail isn’t marked but the Via Egnatia Foundation has detailed GPS tracks and an Aussie couple walked it and wrote about it in 2015. Provided I can maintain mobile/wifi coverage I should be able to find the way without getting too lost and fingers crossed I won’t stumble upon any (many?) wolves or bears.
I’m not much of a hiker, I’ve only ever done one half-day hike in my life! But I need a challenge and like the idea of tackling a little known path in Europe, little known in modern times yet very well trodden in Roman and Byzantine times.
The plan is to share my experience on Instagram (mostly Instagram Stories) with regular updates on the blog as I go along. At the end I’ll write a guide to help anyone that would like to walk the Via Egnatia themselves or at least part of it.
I’ll definitely be hiking the 475 kilometres from Durres to Thessaloniki but I’m still unsure if I’ll walk the second leg to Istanbul. The entire trail is just over 1,000 kilometres. I don’t know the condition of the road or if my feet will be up to it but if I survive the first section there’s a good chance I’ll continue the entire way to Istanbul.