After spending an amazing weekend in Ksamil and enjoying white sand beaches with crystal clear - tropical looking sea, it was time to head north along the Albanian coast and explore probably the least known riviera in Europe. Ksamil had surprised me so much with the color of water and white sand (much better than in popular Corfu) that I was sure the rest of the coast couldn't get better. During the season, the beaches at Ksamil might get busy - however, I was lucky to be there in June and it was absolutely perfect and pretty quiet. But what I was about to discover traveling north along Albanian riviera exceeded all my expectations! Cover photo: Borsh Beach.
Getting to Albanian Riviera
The easiest way is to fly to Corfu in Greece and then take a ferry from Corfu town to Sarande. From Sarande, you can visit Ksamil, Blue Eye Spring and Gjirokaster and then head north along the coast. Check my article about Sarande and Ksamil to find out more about the area.
I'm going to describe the Ionian Sea Albanian riviera from Sarande up to Vlora. If you continue up north beyond Vlora (towards the Adriatic Sea), the coast is less attractive, especially in the most popular among tourists (I wonder why!) town of Durres - the beach there isn't nice at all and doesn't even come close to the beaches of Albanian Riviera! However, it's full of massive hotels and resorts. I would skip Durres whatsoever.
Best ways to travel around Albanian Riviera
Traveling between the main towns in the region, like Sarande, Himare, Borsch, Dhermi or Vlora shouldn't cause any major problems. There are buses and mini vans that quite frequently, especially in the season, run along Albanian Riviera at a very low fare.
However, there are no public buses to the particular beaches and places of interest. To get there, you'll have to either walk (if it's possible), take a taxi, rent a car or take a tour. Me and my friend traveled around with a local couple who offer tours in Albania for a very good value. It was absolutely amazing, we've seen so many great, off the beaten path places which are popular with locals only. If you have any questions about the tours and prices, contact me here.
Albanian Riviera - Is it worth it?
Albanian Riviera is so exciting, surprising and its beauty can be easily compete with other popular destinations like Greece, Croatia, Spain and more exotic destinations. Note, however, that the only beaches with white sand are at Ksamil. The rest are pebble beaches - but not less spectacular - the sea is even clearer! There are a few things that make Albanian beaches superior to others in more popular countries:
First - If you're like me, and can't stand beaches with the crowds of people lying on sunbeds squeezed so tightly that the only thing you see is the back of the person in front, Albania is the place for you! In Albania you can enjoy space!
Second - if you like unspoiled beaches, the most crystal clear turquoise waters surrounded by canyons from one side and the endless sea from the other - and you want it all "private style" just for yourself - without hotels, resorts and annoying tourists - you can have it in Albania! The best example of it is Ghipe beach which I will describe in the second part of the series on Albanian Riviera.
Third - Food, drinks and... prices! In Albania, you can have an amazing, superb quality seafood meal with a pint of beer at a local restaurant for 5 EUR (5.50 USD)!
If you like parties, more typical beaches with parasols and beach clubs - you can also have it in Albania. (unfortunately more and more beaches are turned into private zones with resorts, hotels etc... just like in the rest of Europe - so enjoy the freedom while it lasts!)
Along the coast - Lukove and Borsh Beach
It's around 50 km (30 miles) from Sarande to Himare - around 1 hour drive. But I can bet it will take much longer than that! The views are so spectacular that you'll want to stop every few miles to admire the coast. First, we stopped for lunch at the vilage of Lukove - from the cafe the view was extraordinary - green hills stretching towards the turquoise sea. It made me completely speechless.
Then, we continued to the town and the beach of Borsh. It was a very long beach with clear sea but it wasn't my favorite. I prefer little coves shielded by the rocks and cliffs. Although it was pretty empty, you could notice some new development around - surely, in a couple of years, the nature will loose the battle with the resorts and the whole area will turn into something similar to Durres. But even if this happens, the sea in Borsh is much better anyway.
Porto Palermo Fortress
Traveling north, the landscape changes dramatically. Green hills give way to more barren, dry scenery. There are even succulent plants on the slopes. The color of the sea is simply unbelievable. Perfect for swimming, diving or snorkeling. So bright, crystal clear and blue that it really seems unreal. It contrasts strongly with the burned by the sun coastline, creating absolutely spectacular views.
Among such scenery, 8 km (5 miles) from Himare, on a little peninsula lies Porto Palermo Fortress. It's triangular shape is best seen from a bird's eye view - unfortunately I didn't have a chance to fly over it.
When it comes to the history of the place - there is a dispute who actually built the castle. The guides and books state that it was erected by Ali Pasha, Ottoman Albanian in the 19th century. However, the distinctive shape indicates that the Venetians had built the castle much earlier - it has the same triangular plan as the fortress in Butrint. There is an entry fee to the fortress, however very low - around 2 EUR (2.30 USD).
Around Porto Palermo, you can notice old, crumbling Communist Era buildings. Together with the old castle, beautiful landscapes and bright red oleanders, they create a crazy mix. The barracks, nowadays, are used for storage and drying of herbs.
Not far from Porto Palermo, there's a beautiful, popular Llaman beach. The Albanian companions said that as recently as 10 years ago it still had been wild... Now, it's full of perfect parasols, sunbeds and there's a beach club here. The water is clear and as perfect as anywhere else around the riviera. It's located far from any major town, surrounded by spectacular landscapes and its location between the rocky coast makes it even more attractive.
Himare - New Town
Around 5 km (3 miles) north from Llaman beach, the village of Himare is situated. Himare is divided into two parts - the new Himare is just beside the coast with beaches, pubs, restaurants and guesthouses. It is a bit hectic and chaotic, typical of southern Balkans, with donkeys roaming freely in the streets. But that's the charm of it! The beaches around are pretty nice, wide and the water is clear.
While wandering around the town and waterfront of Himare, me and my Brazilian friend had a chat with some locals at a grocery store. It was the time of FIFA World Cup in Brazil and when they found out that someone from Brazil was visiting them, they decided to invite us for free pints (!) to the beach pub! The pub was all decorated with Brazilian flags, we were given Brazilian T-shirts for free and when Brazil won, the locals made a firework show just for us! It was the most extraordinary thing I ever came across while traveling (besides the free wine I got at the security control at Tbilisi airport in Georgia - read the post about it here).
Himare - Old Town and Livadh Beach
Old town of Himare (around 3 km/1.8 miles from new Himare) is perched on a beautiful hill that offers amazing views over the area and the Livadh beach below. It has a few churches and beautiful, old stone buildings with blue doors and grapevine. The town is neglected, however, and many of the houses have been abandoned. It has such a huge potential though. If the building were restored it could be as nice as all the well known little Greek villages.
To get to the Livadh beach which, you'll have to walk down another 2 km (1.2 miles).The beach is also wide, similar to Borsh and Himare beaches. The mountains and the old town of Himare create a beautiful view and you can enjoy a nice meal at one of the local restaurants.
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