Balkan Stage 26 Përmet, Albania to Monodendri, Greece

Oct 5, 2022

Stage 26 of 36, day 31 of 43: 110.8 km, 2601m climb, 5:16 Moving, 7:43 Total,  64.4 kph max

CountryDistanceClimbing
Slovenia352.25149
Italy29.3346
Croatia950.911,430
Bosnia & Herzegovina211.01444
Montenegro29.3185
Albania688.29749
Greece75.52099
Total2336.730,402

It seemed like a normal day but turned into one of the most amazing of the tour. Breakfast was kind of small, in a large basement dining room of the hotel in Përmet. At 8 when we started, it was 8°C, nice and cool. I started with short sleeves and right from the start it just felt great. We rode in a pace line, although there was little wind. After 10-15 km it was Bob, Sigi, Anita and I out in front. We cruised up and down, loving the views, the cool air, sunny weather, and very little traffic, in short, perfect cycling conditions.

Beautiful cruising
Nice views from the road
Sigi riding a funny bridge we found
Ok, so it’s not really rideable. If you somehow make the 5m gap, you’ll probably fall through

It wasn’t long before we came to the Albania/Greece border. It was the quietest manned border I’ve ever seen. It took about 5 minutes, then we rode 200m through noman’s land, then another 5 minutes and we headed off into Greece. No other customers except a couple of dogs laying in the road.

Riding up to exit Albania
Entering our 7th country, Greece

Right away, we started climbing again, but with no traffic, cool temperatures and fitness from a month of riding, it felt great.

We’re climbing up – looking across to another big climb

We continued on, and then our route had a side trip, a few kilometers out and back, to a great viewpoint of the famous Vikos Gorge. It’s the world’s “deepest gorge relative to its width”, and pretty impressive. We drank Vikos lemonade which granted us access to the owner’s special garden with a superb view.

With Anita, Rien and Bob
Looking across the gorge

We rode back to the main road, then had a pretty long climb up 500m or so, then a downhill/level section to the town of Monodendri. We passed our hotel with the trucks parked and bikes littered around. But we had a mission: there was another optional out and back add-on to another Vikos Gorge viewpoint, this one rumored to be even better.

So Bob and I did another 400m climb, eventually topping out around 1300m elevation, parked our bikes and walked 150m to the view point. It was absolutely amazing, the most scenic thing we’ve seen yet on the whole trip. The depth here is 1000m or more and the drop is vertical below the viewpoint. It’s hard to capture on pictures but come here and check it out.

An attempt at capturing the gorge
Sitting on the edge of the world

Finally, after we hiked back, we just had to go downhill. At this point we had climbed about 2600m/8500′ for the day, so 7-8 km of fast downhill sounded just about right.

The view from the road at 50+ kph riding down to Monodendri

We pulled up to the hotel, had massive amounts of snacks and soup, Bob replaced a tire that had a nasty looking gash in the sidewall, had showers, then it was already 6pm [Greece is in the next time zone so we lost an hour during the day] – time for dinner. Tom had not been able to stomach the climb to the viewpoint, so he took it upon himself to check out the town with an eye to our constant quest for craft beer.

The quest was finally successful!

We were excited by his report and walked over to the Hotel Arktouros thinking we’d try every one of the available craft beers, made nearby in Ioannina. We sat down, looked at the excellent dinner menu and thought we had found heaven. Three of us ordered IPA, one draft ale. The owner brought the beers but told us it was the end of the season and these were the last of the IPAs. But they came with nice snacks. We called him back for a second round and he warned us he was also out of several others. Anyway, we made do, and had a great dinner too. Bob and I shared a delicious salad of tomatoes, croutons, capers and feta, and we both had different types of ravioli, the other guys opted for pizza which they loved.

Salad and a couple of nice beers

While we were eating, Niek texted to say he had to fly back to Holland the next day and asked where we were so he could hang out for one more night. This was a shock, but his dad had recently had a stroke so he was somewhat prepared for this happening. Soon, he joined the party and we had another round with him, then all walked back together. It is a shame to be losing Niek – I met him in Quito in 2019 when we did half the Andes Trail together. We’ll probably meet again on some crazy bike trip.

Another fine aftermath

Tomorrow should be an easy day, only 1700m climbing in 85 km – what could go wrong?

2 thoughts on “Balkan Stage 26 Përmet, Albania to Monodendri, Greece

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