Greece and the Meteora
After our lavish lunch, we were straight back in the saddle and on our way to Monodendri, in Greece. Before reaching the border, we crossed a river using one of those mobile bridges. It didn’t seem very safe but it was such a short distance that we could risk it. Further on, the route became more interesting. Once inside the canyon area, we were able to admire the majesty of the surrounding mountains and the architectonic beauty of the arched bridges. We reached Monodendri in the late evening and it was extremely cold, lying at an altitude of roughly 1000 metres, with snow on the ground. We were only able to appreciate the beauty of this small village the next morning, the entirely stone-built houses retaining that age-old charm.
We arrived in Kalambaka the next day, in the late morning. The town was bustling with tourists and we just had time to take a quick look around and eat some Greek food before going to see the Meteora Monasteries. Their name comes from the (paraphrased) Greek for “suspended in the air” and they do in fact give that impression. The monasteries are built on very high rocks, often far from the rest of the mountain, which is why they appear to be suspended in the air. By climbing up after Kalambaka, you can admire several of them, some of which are open to visitors. There are 24 in all. The landscape is one of bewildering beauty, particularly in the sun. The monasteries nestled in the nearby rocks transmit a sense of majesty but also precariousness. The question we asked ourselves is how were they able to build them, particularly those that appear far from the mountain and the road.
We planned to set off late afternoon on 20 March, from the port of Bari. The hours on the ferry passed quickly and by morning we were in Durazzo, ready for our little adventure. We dealt with the entry procedures, or rather the taking out of temporary insurance at a cost of about €13.00, checked our fuel and headed for Lake Ohrid, in Macedonia.
The first stage was all on good quality asphalt, under a weak sun, admiring the beauty of the Albanian and Macedonian hinterland. Coming together again after several years was really emotional for us all, but we had to get that synergy back, which proved no problem after the first few miles. We simply forgot about everyone else and focused solely on enjoying the journey.
In the late morning we reached the border with Macedonia where most of us had to arrange insurance at customs, at a cost of roughly €50.00 (only Daniele was covered by his insurance). It robbed us of daylight if you consider the few short hours we had in Macedonia. We soon travelled the road skirting the lake and by lunchtime we were in Ohrid, a joyful town that gives its name to the lake. In the early afternoon we planned to tackle the Galičica national park, crossing a pass at an altitude of about 1200 metres. But we hadn’t counted on the snow. We ventured on, despite a sign at the start of the road to the pass stating “road closed due to snow”, but, the higher we climbed, the riding conditions became increasingly difficult. The deep snow was a constant and so we begrudgingly decided to turn back – it just wasn’t feasible to continue. Our destination was Berat, in Albania, and even though we lost time and extended our route by not taking the Galičica pass, we were still keen to start testing the bikes on a dirt road.
Direction Berat (albania)
Once back in Albania, we ventured onto a rustic track that was fairly compact but full of potholes. I lost my GoPro, but luckily found it a good way back along the track. Finally a little dirt and, having done very little off-roading with it up until that point, the Ténéré proved infallible. Lightweight, agile and with an engine that is very responsive at low revs, in other words, perfect for off-roading. Having had our fun, we got back on the main road to Berat. Around 9 p.m., we still had just over 40 miles to travel, so we decided to stop in Gramsh, not far from where we were. Gramsh is a very small town but is geared up for tourism, as proved by its many hotels, though only two were open, offering the bare minimum. A hot shower (at least that) and dinner at one of few open restaurants – a dish made up of grilled meats and local, mainly sheep milk, cheeses, all very good with the exception of the chicken that appeared to have starved to death. The following morning we set off for Berat where we arrived just in time for breakfast. The town is very pretty and clean and bustling with people going in and out of the bars and cafés.
Lost in the Balkans
Breakfast done, another dirt track awaited us but this time we had no idea as to its difficulty. We spent a half day at the Llixhat and Bënja thermal baths before heading towards Vlorë. The off-road path began just outside Berat. The uphill track was quick compact with a build up of mud in only a few sections. All in all, a pretty simple route. A few miles on and the Balkans proved more complicated than expected. The road was very rough and the muddy parts more frequent, at one point we even came across a tank parked in the middle of the road. The T700 again proved to be up to the task, nimbly overcoming every obstacle, despite not having particularly pronounced tyre blocks. The others were strong too, though we all went down before long. Luckily none of us were hurt, just a bit shaken up. We were all strong but not as fast as each other and so at one point we got separated. When we regrouped at a junction, there was no sign of Marco. After a few calls, we were able to work out where he was (further ahead) and meet up with him. We found him sitting there, cool and calm, waiting for us to help lift his bike as he had gone down too. The difficulties of the route were offset by the scenery. As we began to climb, we glimpsed the beauty of the Balkans, the snow-capped peaks and very wild surroundings.
The Thermal Baths, Vlorë and Ksamil
Once off the mountain road, we headed for Përmet to visit the thermal baths, very spartan but pretty. It was still quite a way to Vlorë and so we got back on the road, ready to face the evening chill. We reached Vlorë in the late evening and were soon able to find accommodation. The following morning we were able to appreciate the beauty of Vlorë and its rapid development, coming across an open-air construction site as we travelled the coastal road. Many structures are springing up, one after the other, with hotels, condominiums, houses, all along the coast.
The coastal road was a lot of fun on a bike, after which we began the climb to the Llogara Pass. It’s a beautiful stretch of road, with smooth asphalt and many twists and turns crossing the luxuriant Mediterranean scrub, almost like Corsica. Having descended the mountains, we travelled towards Sarandë and then Ksamil. Both are well-known tourist spots but are deserted in March, so once we got to Ksamil we trusted two guys we met in a bar to find us a place to eat. The only place open was a sort of kiosk with outdoor tables, as rustic as it was high quality. With just a few Euro, we enjoyed an excellent fish-based lunch (no pasta of course). I think it was the best fried fish I’ve ever had.
Afissos and the Return Trip
After some all-important photos, we travel on towards Afissos, a tourist spot located on the coast of the Pegasetic Gulf, in the Pelion peninsula. We got there in the afternoon. Afissos gives off a peaceful and calm air, a very slow-paced rhythm. Even the waters of the gulf are always calm. The little square overlooking the sea is really pretty and the seafront very well kept.
The following morning, we were ready to head for Igoumenitsa and catch the ferry that same evening. The route was nothing but tarmac but we still enjoyed some great roads and wonderful views, in fact our first stop was Elati, a small, well-presented town in the mountains, where we had lunch before continuing on. The road we climbed was incredible to say the least. Once back down, we headed for the Ionian coast, until we were only a few miles from our destination. We stopped for a beer along the seafront in Syvota. It was almost sunset and we’d come to the end of our journey.
It was all just wonderful and, before going our separate ways, we made a pact – to escape together at least once a year for at least a week. These are the things that really count in life, and nothing beats doing this kind of trip by bike.
The five of us. We call ourselves Giamboretti but we are, first and foremost, close friends who love to spend time and ride together. Five friends: Cristian Strain (Bolzano), Gianni Fersini (Lecce), Daniele Mastroianni (Boiano), Marco Renzi (Civitanova Marche), Salvatore D’Emilio (Ceccano, the writer). Many things have changed over time, not least the bikes. No more Triumph Bonnevilles for us but, instead, two Yamaha Ténéré bikes (Salvatore and Cristian), an Africa Twin (Marco), a Triumph Scrambler XE (Daniele) and a Ducati Multistrada V2S (Gianni).
long motorcycle journeys
GIVI offers an extensive range
of motorcycle touring accessories
GIVI offers an extensive range
of motorcycle touring accessories