Offroad Tracks: through Albania in a GLE.
A place to get away from it all: the Shushica valley.
No internet, no asphalted roads – the Shushica valley in the south of Albania is an excellent place in which to take a break from the everyday grind. For our day trip, we’ve picked out an approximately 75-kilometre-long unpaved track of rock and gravel through the mountains. Reminiscent of Karl May films, the rugged landscape with its contrast between coastline with radiantly blue sea and up to 2,700-metre-high rocky mountains provides an impressive backdrop for our offroad tour in the Mercedes-Benz GLE 500 e 4MATIC.
Günther Holzmann – a passionate offroader.
Günther Holzmann, a Bavarian through and through, is our guide on this offroad adventure. In 2010, having spent four weeks travelling round the southern Balkan country, he and his partner fell in love with this largely still unspoiled corner of Europe. And there was a follow-up: one year later, the pair moved to the Balkans, where they have since worked as guides for tourists and offroad enthusiasts. “The combination of the sea and up to 2,700-metre-high mountains, the pristine, tiny villages and the hospitality of the people – that’s what I like about this place.”
Solid rocks. Ancient roads.
Our tour through the Shushica valley begins on the Adriatic coast in Borsh. From this small, picturesque coastal village, a pass takes us 600 metres up to near an old castle with mosque, from where we enjoy a wonderful view of the valley. A magnificent spot for a short break.
But we carry on driving, down the other side of the pass into the valley. The surface of the well-worn track changes around every bend, with gravel giving way to large, stepped rocks and sometimes even ancient Roman cobblestones.
“The GLE is simply imperturbable.”
Down in the valley, the route follows the turquoise-coloured Shushica, which flows quickly over its riverbed of white stone towards the sea. Here, the track crosses the water. Cautiously surveying the river, Günther Holzmann increases the ground clearance of the new Mercedes-Benz GLE by six centimetres using the level control of the air suspension. As the vehicle makes its way effortlessly across the water, Holzmann is visibly impressed: “The vehicle has superb suspension, in a class of its own. It’s simply imperturbable,” says the man from Bavaria. And good equipment – which means first and foremost: the right vehicle – is just as important for offroad driving as when climbing mountains. Unlike paved roads, offroad tracks are highly unpredictable for both vehicle and driver. This is especially true when driving in mountainous terrain, where it can soon happen that, having made it down one steep slope, you fail to make it up the next one.
No room for error.
Even here, the track demands total attention from the driver. Carefully and with full concentration, Holzmann steers the car over the rough, narrow mountain paths, making ideal use of the resources provided by the new Mercedes-Benz GLE.
“When driving offroad, you need to react correctly to every new obstacle in a fraction of a second,” explains our guide. Even under these conditions, the GLE makes good, safe progress in the terrain.
Time for a break.
Immediately next to the river, we find an ideal location for our lunch break: a trout farm with a small fish restaurant. In fine weather, you can even take a cooling dip in the crystal-clear water of the river. On the way back, we encounter a section of track with a steep gradient. Holzmann presses the “DSR” button. Downhill Speed Regulation allows a safe, slow descent along the slithery track. “DSR stops the vehicle from rolling too fast and it also prevents wheel lock-up,” explains Günther Holzmann.
Relaxed driving through extreme terrain.
This shows that, also in the GLE 500 e 4MATIC hybrid version, the GLE has everything it takes to get to remote locations in comfort. It “creeps” majestically up the rocky paths, its air suspension providing a high level of ride comfort under all conditions. “You almost forget you’re driving along a gravel track,” says Holzmann.
The suspension masters even large boulders and deep ditches confidently. The small turning circle also comes in handy, enabling us to easily negotiate the sometimes tight bends along the rough, old pass road in one go.
The payoff: complete silence.
Having reached the top of the pass, we get out to enjoy the incredible silence. The door of the new Mercedes-Benz GLE drops into the lock and, apart from the wind, you can hear – nothing. The sky is vast and blue. Such remote places are accessible only by foot, on horseback or, as in this case, in an all-wheel-drive vehicle. “We offroaders love nature as well as the people you meet in these last-remaining ‘wild’ places,” says Günther Holzmann. You can sense he’s at home in his Albania.
Back towards the Mediterranean.
Descending at a leisurely pace towards the Adriatic coast, we drive through a small village. In Tere, we come across donkey carts, loose dogs and friendly people, who meet in the street for a chat with their neighbours. The clocks here seem to tick a little slower. This relaxed pace of life, together with the seemingly endless choice of unpaved roads and unspoiled landscape, makes southern Albania a paradise for all those who love offroad driving – and thus the ideal terrain for the new Mercedes-Benz GLE.