After the hike, I spent a little more time in Shkodër— which was very easy to do. Despite being a large city, it exudes a pleasant and chill vibe. One of the friends I left in Saranda sent me a message. He told me they were heading to Pogradec the next day. I never heard of the place so I checked out the map. It seems to be on the way to Thessaloniki where I had to catch a flight. So yeah, we agreed to meet up again. I had no idea what’s in Pogradec and why they wanted to go there, but somehow that made it more exciting.
I asked the hostel staff if there’s a bus heading to Pogradec. He told me there’s none. I’d either have to take a bus to Korçë or Tirana and then take another bus from those places. Looking at the map it seemed that Pogradec is along the bus route to Korçë so I asked him about it. He said no, it won’t stop at Pogradec, which seemed odd. But who am I to argue with a local? Anyway, there’s only one bus heading to Korçë and it leaves at 6 AM. I’m definitely not waking up before the crack of dawn so I went with the other option. From Tirana, there are buses heading to Pogradec every hour or so from the Southeastern Bus Station. I was told the last bus leaves at 6 PM so I just have to be at the bus station before 6 in the evening if I didn’t want to spend the night in Tirana.
From Shkodër, buses heading to Tirana are parked along Bulevardi Bujar Bishanaku, close to the roundabout shown on the picture above. You’ll find the buses parked across the Teatri Migjeni. The bus schedule can be seen at the bus stop. Apparently it’s the same bus stop for buses heading to Korçë. A single journey bus ticket costs 300 lekë and the trip takes 2 hours on the average.
In Tirana, we were dropped off at the North bus station. From here I had to take 2 local buses to reach the south eastern bus station. The first bus dropped me off at a bus stop near the city center and the driver told me to wait for the L5/A, L5/B , L5/C or L12 bus. Once I got inside the second bus I simply said Pogradec to the bus driver and he told me exactly where to get off. According to Google Maps the bus station is along the same road as the bus stop which is totally wrong. The bus station is actually on a street perpendicular to the main road. You may miss it at first because it’s not actually a bus station but more of a parking lot. I managed to catch a shuttle bus/ minivan that was leaving in 20 minutes. A one way ticket to Pogradec costs 450- 500 lekë. The minivan was really cramped so it wasn’t exactly a pleasant 3 hour ride. Perhaps taking the huge bus that was leaving an hour later would have been more comfortable.
Pogradec isn’t part of the backpacking trail so you won’t see many backpackers here. There only seems to be one hostel and that’s where I met up with my friends. Besides us, there’s just one older dude traveling alone, and one old couple who didn’t feel like interacting with us. As we walked around, we did see other visitors but they’re mainly locals from elsewhere in Albania. There were very few foreign visitors. It’s puzzling how there were very few tourists, after all there’s one huge attraction right there— Lake Ohrid! It’s one of Europe’s oldest lakes and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site! It’s probably because people prefer to visit the Macedonian side of the lake which is more developed and with better infrastructure for tourism. I guess people would think it’s redundant to visit both sides of the lake. This means the town needs to do a bit of sprucing up to make itself an attraction similar to the Macedonian side. To be honest, I found Pogradec bland. I’m not saying it’s a bad place to spend a couple of days– in fact i loved our stay there. The town is very laid back and you can do a number of activities on the lake. It’s just that there’s nothing to see in the town itself, nothing sets it apart. It’s simply an ordinary town that happens to be by a lake. The houses and structures can be described as basic. A lot of these are decades old, but none can be considered ancient architecture, something that the Macedonian side can boast of. A bit of cleaning up and renovation can certainly help. There may be no ancient sites in the town itself, but any town can look beautiful with a little sprucing up. Any beautiful town would attract visitors.
The town should also take advantage of their main attraction, which is the lake. They should offer lots of activities centered on Lake Ohrid. I imagine the town could be a great place for some sort of a music festival. There are lots of things that they can do to make Pogradec stand out. Sure, most people who just want to see the lake would prefer to stay at the Macedonian side where there are more attractions. But there’s no reason why backpackers who are already traveling in Albania won’t make it a point to stop by once it’s already on their radar.
While walking along the waterfront, you’re gonna see lots of restaurants serving what’s supposed to be a delicacy— the Ohrid Trout. This is actually an endangered species, I was wondering why the government allows not just continued fishing, but also blatant promotion by these restaurants. Sure it’s pricey, but that won’t deter people from ordering something that’s promoted as a delicacy. And we’re talking about Albania here— what’s pricey isn’t really that pricey. I wasn’t too keen on trying this out, but since all my friends wanted to, I eventually obliged. Two of us shared one fish. At 2,000 lekë, that was definitely the most expensive meal I’ve eaten in Albania. How did it taste? Well it tastes like fish. I didn’t think it was anything special. Since the taste isn’t exceptional, I’d say people should just leave the trout alone for a couple of years to allow them to proliferate and just stick to eating other fishes that are not considered endangered.
Would I recommend visiting Pogradec? At its present state, I’d say it depends. For people who primarily want to visit Lake Ohrid, they’re better off staying at the Macedonian side. For people traveling around Albania and its surrounding countries though, I see no reason to skip it especially if it’s on one’s route. It’s a small town with a laid back vibe that’s right beside a huge lake. I’d say it’s an ideal place to simply sit back and unwind.