Tirana is a city that is working on its image. Its current mayor, Edi Rama, is an artist-turned-politician who is eager to introduce Tirana as a vivid European capital. For the city, this means beautification projects like a fresh coats of colorful paint for formerly gray buildings and a total re-landscaping of the central Skanderbeg Square.
Tirana is indeed looking better, but perhaps the most beautiful part of the city is the nature around it. Majestic green mountains hover around the city. One of the highest points on the horizon is Mount Dajti. Just 26 km outside the city, it measures 1,613 meters of altitude. The mountain is known as the ‘balcony of Tirana’ and has been declared a national park.
Just a few years ago, a gondola cable lift called the Dajti Express was built to carry site-seers from the city to the mountaintop. For adventure seekers, the best part of the gondola lift is that there is room for bicycles on board. Outdoor Albania offers a guided excursion that takes visitors up by cable and down by bike through surrounding villages.
The highlight of the trip is a stop at the restaurant built around a panoramic view of the capital below. It is world class. The restaurant has outdoor seating in lush garden terraces. Stunning infinity pools swarm with the trout that also appear on the menu, and lamb roasts slowly on its traditional-style spit. Inside the restaurant, the presidential table is reserved for political personages who bring guests to this little-known lookout above the city.
The bicycle ride down kept me wide-eyed and white-knuckled. Good brakes and a fearless streak required. There is no better way to enjoy the paradoxes and contrasts of Albania: rural versus urban, cattle versus traffic, and fresh mountain air versus the noise and pollution of the city. This day trip is also evidence that Tirana is underrated. Travelers pass through to other parts of the country without realizing the exciting possibilities in and around the city. This is definitely my favorite OA day trip so far.