Krujë: Albania’s Mountaintop Jewel

🇦🇱 Krujë, Albania 🇦🇱

Krujë (pronounced /’kroo-yeh/) is a small town in the center of the Albania. It sits on a mountaintop, 20km from Tirana, the capital.

It dates back to the 7th Century, and its name comes from the Albanian word for “fountain.”

Krujë is known for its vast views, smokey cafes and the large, hilltop castle. And the rain in the winter. Lots of rain.

Getting from Tirana to Krujë

I was staying in Tirana, so I’d planned on renting a car to visit Krujë. However, after seeing all of the crazy traffic rushing into the city from the airport, I knew that there was no way I would survive that, lol.

I asked my very friendly AirBNB hosts if they knew of a bus that would take me to Krujë. My host’s dad threw on his coat, gave me three oranges, and asked if I was ready to leave. (I was still in my pajamas!) I got ready super quick, and he took me to the smallest bus station I’ve ever seen.

There were all these mini buses that were not on a time schedule, but rather, they left when the bus was full. I thought that the bus would leave fairly quickly, but it took around 45 minutes for all these little old ladies to toddle onto the bus. So cute!

Mountain Wildlife

The drive was gorgeous. It was also super windy. We climbed these enormous mountains amongst all the fog. As the rain began, all of these goats came out to meander along the main road. We had to slowly creep by them in order to not commit homicide-au-goat.

When we arrived at the station, I saw an adorable pile of chickens, cuddling together for warmth in their cliffside nests.

Arriving in Krujë

The bus stopped on the top of the mountain.

I asked the bus driver the time of the return bus, and he had absolutely no idea. 😂 *Certainly* there would be a return bus every half-hour, or so… (Foreshadowing much? haha)

I made my way up the monstrous hills, my umbrella fighting with the sleeting rain.

It was encouraging to see the beautiful castle at the top of the hill. Krujë was such a pretty little rocky place! It was fairly deserted that day. Considering the unpleasant weather (I was visiting in the middle of winter), I am confident in saying that I was the only tourist within a 20km radius.

Ich verstehe nicht!

On the way up the mountain, a young man traipsed up behind me and started trying to strike up a conversation. I so badly didn’t want him following me, especially up the deserted path toward the castle. So, between his “What’s your name?”-s and “Where you from?”-s, I spoke to him in German and pretended that I didn’t understand English. (It is much harder to “not understand” your native language than it seems!)

I wanted to sit and look at the view without this dude continuing to ask me where my husband was. He was a scrawny little thing, so I wasn’t too worried about my safety, but…really dude? It was obvious that I didn’t want to talk to him. I suppose that’s what you get while traveling solo as a woman 🙄😖 He eventually toddled away.

The Krujë Castle

I finally got to the Krujë Castle! The view was absolutely stunning! Rolling hills, foggy colorful houses and massive trees swaying in the wind. The castle itself wasn’t all that remarkable in terms of architecture (but it’s SO old!), but it was a significant struggle to get to it, so I loved it as if it were the Palace of Versailles.

I was not prepared for one thing: the castle was open to the outside and therefore, freezing cold. No insulation and a lot of windows open to the outdoors with no screens or glass. It was just as cold on the inside of the castle as it was outside.

The National Skanderbeg Museum

The National Skanderbeg Museum is in the front of the Krujë Castle. It commemorates the three battles that the castle withstood in the 1400’s. There were stone statues, delicate paintings, stone furniture and tall, beautiful pillars.

There is a small entrance fee to enter the museum and castle. Be prepared for very little spoken or written English, and a very chilly, bathroom. However, there was only one other person in the entire castle when I visited, so I was able to explore in peace.

Krujë weather

As for the icy wind, I only remember the state of being cold. I don’t remember the frigidness of the cold in the same way that I remember the vividness of the fog on the mountains, the smoke that overpowered my lungs in the cafe, and the slippery cobblestones that I kept slipping on while clambering up the hill.

It’s funny how physical ailments become a thing of the past, and only the smells and sights and sounds remain in your memory.

(That being said, Krujë is very windy and cold during the winter months. I would recommend trying to plan a summer or springtime visit.)

Shopping

While crawling back down the slippery sidewalks toward the old town, I found all the glittery souvenirs, with a dozen shop owners doing their best to draw me in.

I don’t like that “You looked = You bought it!” mentality, so I kept walking until I found a shop run by a nice, young woman. She smiled, and let me look around forever without more than an energetic “hello!” She kept herself occupied with her phone, her organizing, and her Insta photoshoots. That was so very much appreciated at that point in time.

I liked this shop owner so much. We ended up having a very nice chat. I decided to buy all my souvenirs from her. We were having such fun that she asked if I wanted to go to coffee – right then and there! – but I had to catch my bus. 😞

Her English was very impressive, though. It felt nice to have an in-depth discussion (in English). We talked about the tourism industry. She was telling me how they’re really working hard to bring people to Albania.

She and I are still friends on Instagram today!

She sold such lovely items in her shop. There were textiles, carvings, paintings – all kinds of fun things that I didn’t need, but bought two of anyway. 😂 There were these red hats that looked like the Albanian flag, shiny copper mugs and beautifully painted candle holders.

Pizza on the Mountaintop

On the way back down the hill, I was starving, so I stopped at the only restaurant that open. (Yes, the town is that small. haha)

The restaurant sold made-to-order pizzas and crepes. I had a delicious veggie pizza, and then a crepe with chocolate and marshmallows for dessert. It was $2!

When the owner told me that the bus back to Tirana only came every 2 hours – and that I had just missed it – I ordered three more crepes, and moved to a table closer to the heater.

The little dudes that worked at the pizza place found great amusement in my awkward comfort – my 3 crepes and leftover pizza in hand.

That’s where I waited out the next two hours. My icicle toes were simply too frozen to go back outside.

As cold as it was, I can still smell the yeast from the fresh pizza dough, and sautéed garlic wafting throughout the restaurant – even a year later.

Final thoughts

I do hope that Albania will become more of a tourist destination. It has so much to offer, and the locals are warm and welcoming.

It doesn’t have an established tourism industry yet, though, so English is hard to come by. Very little public transit information is available online, but I’m sure these situations will become more foreigner-friendly as the tourism industry grows in Albania.

My experience, in a nutshell?

It was cold, but it was worth it. 🙂

Thanks for reading, happy travels!

~Kelsey

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