Sunday morning.. traditionally the time of the week to go for a longer cycling tour in small groups or individually. I did that too, before I started travelling. This tradition is especially noticeable in Catholic areas: in Spain and in the countries of the other two major cycling tours, France and Italy for example. In the South of The Netherlands (where I come from) -and in Belgium- this is also the case.
Now that we are travelling, I am not so strict in applying this “rule”, but today my bike trip happens to be on a Sunday so I can honour this tradition. We are camping right next to a surprisingly narrow and deep canyon, called Langerica. At the point where the water flows out of the canyon, there are the thermal springs of Bënja. Al this is situated in the Bredhi i Hotovës National Park. It seems these are enough ingredients already for an interesting tour, and on top of it, I am able to make a round trip of 25kms in this area. Which is always nice, because riding up and down the same road is, well, less interesting. Not such a great distance this time, I must admit, but during the ride I concluded it was long enough, since it involved 950m of altitude gain with some sections of 30%.
The surroundings are very beautiful and the tour starts somewhere “in the middle” at the place where we found a good camp spot. I chose to go counter clockwise for no particular reason. At first I thought it would not matter, until I was in the descent to the thermal springs. If you had to go up this way, it would be a seriously long climb with almost the entire way up eroded tracks with loose rocks the size of baby heads, to make an comparison.
Anyway, from our camp spot it was going down until you reach the start of the canyon. At that point there is a hydro power site with a small dam and some buildings. From here the tour start to become interesting. Actually, the entire North side of the canyon is interesting. First, the track follows the canyon quite closely to make sure you have some magnificent views in or along the canyon and the vertical rock faces. Then there is gravel and bare rock face to ride upon. Of course there is the occasional hairpin turn, some of them have a small flow of water to cross. At some point the track starts to turn away from the canyon and it winds into a lush wet forest which is trying reclaim the trail. When you finally emerge from the forest, you end up on some hot and dry slopes before the trail descents on eroded tracks full with loose rocks before you arrive at the thermal springs.
while at the “bottom”of the trip, near the thermal springs, I decided to make a small excursion -uphill- to a nearby village. It is called Benjë-Novoselë and I was hoping to score some bread (buke in Albanian). There was none available but the small collection of houses and a nicely restored church are worth a visit.
From the village it’s back down on the same road. Picking up the route again, a better maintained tracks winds up the mountain again, following the south side of the canyon. the first kilometre or so it allows you to look into the canyon, but after that it is just forest and wide distant views before completing the round trip.
I would say this round trip (almost) has it all, actually everything except a “proper” single trail. But, as I said before, these trails are demanding enough as they are, so you are not missing out so much on the fact that they are not narrow. Then again, if there would be a section of single trail traversing a mountain slope, I am sure Albania would have a serious tour that could make it as an IMBA Epic trail.