The ferry journey from Komani to Fierza in northern Albania was billed in the guide books as ‘world class’ and ‘spectacular’ – and so it was. For a start, the ride from Shkodra had a touch of the James Bond about it. The town minibus collected us from our lodgings with a knock on our door in the early hours. After a long slow wind uphill, we were waved on by some kalashnikov-wielding guards outside a hydro-electric plant. The minibus sped into a low dark tunnel under a mountain, just wide enough for one vehicle. Happily, nothing came the other way.
We emerged onto a chaotic little quay, crammed with minibuses, people and goods. We bought our tickets and found some floor space on the top deck of the tiny car ferry. The locals stayed indoors below, but we and the other foreigners on board all wanted to see the views. Most of us were going on to hike in the Albanian Alps. For an ordinary ferry ride, there was a glorious sense of ‘into the wild’ about this trip.
Lake Komani is a vast flooded gorge that feels like a fjord. As the boat set off through the dark-turquoise waters, the tree-scattered hillsides gave way to soaring limestone cliffs. The sky was a happy postcard blue, but the mountains that towered around us kept their sense of aloofness. There were no roads. On gentler slopes, we saw the occasional distant dwelling, farmed terraces, a mule. Who could live out here, so far from roads or shops? Yet people do. The boat zig-zagged through the calm waters, stopping off at tiny landing stages where someone would disembark and tramp away with their bags, to some hidden homestead, hidden life…
Minibus leaves Shkodra 6-6.30am, takes 2 hrs, cost 5 euro; Passenger and car ferries depart from Komani to Fierza 9-9.30, takes 3.5 hrs, cost 5 euro; Transfer by bus or taxi to Valbona, takes 1 hr, cost 3-5 euro.