The cycling from Librazhd to Korça proved suddenly smooth: relatively flat terrain after the mountains and asphalted roads. (The people in these parts also speak in a fashion closer to Standard Albanian, making understanding much easier). Early September, however, brought perpetual rain, which made it very difficult to enjoy this portion of my travels.
As I headed southeast from Librazhd my route followed the E852, the main road connecting Albania with Macedonia. Traffic wasn’t as heavy as I expected, and it was generally not a problem to ride on the white line or even to the right of it. After the city of Prrenjas, there is a sudden 300 m ascent to the Qafë Thanë pass. I found that this climb was quite easy, albeit slow, on my lowest gear, but the rain this day was brutal and I took advantage of a café at the halfway point to have a cup of coffee and look forlornly out the window until finally there was a respite from the storm.
At the top of Qafë Thanë, a road left heads for the Macedonian border, while I turned right and began descending towards Lake Ohrid. The road south runs the whole length of Lake Ohrid and offers some fine views, though there is no drainage on the non-lake side of the road, meaning that on this rainy day traffic was generally forcing me to ride through the vast puddles that had formed.
I was still shocked by the sudden sense of prosperity and openness in this region compared to what I had seen in northeast Albania, and as I rolled in Pogradec I stared slack-jawed at a pair of local young people dressed in the hipster fashion drawn from American television. Pogradec is a large town, but it already felt semi-abandoned, the tourist season now definitely having passed. It was nice to walk along the lakefront promenade for a while, and admire a newly-built Orthodox church (Kisha e Re) where one can watch artists painstakingly paint the frescos over the bare walls, but there was not a whole lot else to do.
From Pogradec to the next major city, Korça, there are only 40 km, an easy few hours after the beginning where I had to climb up out of the lakeside lowlands and into another valley. Instead of cycling on the main road, I zigzagged through some villages in this valley to collect data for Open Street Map. This proved a worthwhile activity, as the charming little town of Pojan is filling up with stately countryside/suburban homes of the Korça elites, and its importance will only grow.
Of the places in Albania that my wife and I cycled through several years ago, Korça was perhaps our favourite. I was really keen on settling into the town and having some walks, visiting some cafés, and seeing how the city changed, but it was not to be. Shockingly, every single hotel was full, as a music festival of nationwide popularity was happening. I ended up booking the only option remaining on AirBnB, a 5-room villa for all of 30€, but by the time I got that sorted, it was too late to see much of the town, or even really enjoy my superfluously luxurious accommodation.
Though I regretted that I couldn’t see Korça the way I wanted, I was looking forward to setting off through more beautiful landscapes: the mountain roads from Korça to Përmet.