Sampling Albania’s riviera

With the anticipated arrival of friends and family for our Albanian wedding in June, we took a couple of days last week to travel south to the coast to find the best location for a beach holiday planned for after the wedding.

Albania’s riviera extends south from Vlore to Saranda and provides miles of gorgeous coastline bordered by stunning mountain ranges.

We spent our first night in Vlore – about 2.5 hours’ drive from Tirana with some blissful stretches of pot-hole free motorway. Vlore is a typical seaside town – dead in the winter and frantic in the summer.

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There used to be a huge number of restaurants and bars lining the beach but a government decision to crack down on illegal building development resulted in long stretches of the beachfront reduced to piles of rubble after the army was sent in late last year to bulldoze any building without the proper permits.

While I agree with the efforts to improve control over the development of the coastline, leaving piles of rubble everywhere means many parts of the beach are now ugly and useless.

The beaches south of Vlore are much nicer, less polluted and with fewer piles of rubble but unless you’re staying at one of the hotels, it’s very difficult to find a patch of beach on which to stretch out your towel.

The road turns inland at Orikumi and heads through the Llogaraja Pass and the spectacular Çika mountains.

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It was proper scary driving – all hairpin turns and sheer cliffs. (The road features on Top Gear’s Albanian episode if you’re interested!) I crawled down the road in second gear at snail’s pace of 20 km per hour. I can’t imagine what it would have been like driving on that road before it was improved – or during rain and snow. Mercifully, like many roads outside the main cities, there is very little traffic!

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Looking down towards the beach at Dhermiu

We spent the second night in Dhërmiu – the first beach you hit once you come off the mountain road. Unlike the little bays along the coastline from Vlore to Orikumi, the beach at Dhërmiu stretches out. It looked so enticing from the top of the mountains and from the village itself set high above the beach. But the army also visited Dhërmiu last year and again there were piles of rubble all along the beachfront.

I hope I’m not painting too negative a picture here… I mean, even unplanned, thoughtless human intervention is not able to ruin the jaw-dropping scenery. The beaches are gorgeous with their sparkling clean water and rocky beaches. There are terraces of olive trees and goats and cows wandering along the road and of course, the stunning mountains.

We had a great couple of days enjoying the landscapes, fantastic weather and delicious seafood. Really looking forward to coming back in the summer with our friends and family!


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