Everything you need to know about Europe’s Best-Kept Secret!
Albania compensates for its small geographic stature with hundreds of kilometers of the most beautiful and unspoiled coastline in Europe, extending along the country’s entire western side. This country has been doubly blessed by carrying the antiquity of the Adriatic Sea for a long 274 kilometers along its northern half and the mythological Ionian Sea for 172 kilometers along its south. The endless variety of beaches – from huge public beaches to intimate, virgin bays – along the southern Riviera, placed this destination as 4th of 52 places to visit in 2014 in the New York Times annual list.
Albania’s Southern Riviera starts in Vlora and continues all the way to Saranda, the two major coastal cities being separated by the Llogara Pass as well as a few other mountainous roads and villages along the way.
It all begins with Vlorë, in the legendary Labëria region of strong women, polyphony, and rare culinary delicacies! Located only a couple of hours away from the capital of Tirana, this is much more than a beach town. Vlorë is a full-fledged city with a great variety of activities and the best public beaches in the country. It is also the meeting point between the two giants, the Adriatic and the Ionian! Also, while in Vlora, do not skip visiting the recently opened island of Sazan.
The small picturesque island of Zvërnec, situated in the beautiful Narta Lagoon, is majestically covered by only tall pine trees and connected to the mainland by a 270m-long, beautifully crafted wooden bridge. Zvërnec contains the especially well-preserved 13th century Byzantine Zvërnec Monastery.
Right past the city of Vlorë, Radhimë represents the area where many of locals choose to spend their annual vacations. It is famous for its calm waters, organized resorts, and overall relaxing atmosphere. The former military base is one of the most fascinating new locations with lots of diving opportunities.
While visiting Orikum, right outside of Vlora, on your way to Llogara, you can contact Orikum Marina to rent catamarans or sails (serious sizes, Swiss standards and quality). It is quite affordable for a group of 8 or more and an unforgettable experience! Some boats even come with 4 cabins where a gang of 8 can overnight it. Close to Orikum, the village of old Tragjas is a place from another time! Absolutely nothing has changed here since WWII, when the Nazis burned the village due to the support it showed the Communists. Some vegetation has taken over, adding a deeper layer to a place where time has stood still and where drama and beauty mix beautifully together. You may need a 4×4 car or you can hike here from New Tragjas.
A short boat ride away from Orikum separates you from the magical peninsula of Karaburun! The Karaburun Peninsula is the only national marine park of Albania, with a lot of hiking opportunities among the only marine park of Albania, also rich in wildlife!
On the way to Llogara
At the top of Llogara, you will enjoy the best-cooked meat, especially lamb and ribs, fresh homemade yogurt and honey and the shade of millions of pines and oaks of the National Park of Llogara, a rare oasis of coolness in the hot south. Past the pines, the descent in the direction of the southern Riviera reveals the most beautiful and popular beaches in it: Palasa, Dhërmi, Drimadhes. Apart from being three of the party and music centers of the south, this triumvirate is the very first bountiful taste that the traveler gets of the breathtaking beauty of this region. Julius Cesar landed in Palasa in 48 B.C. Days are spent being absolutely giddy splashing in the waves of the most crystal clear turquoise waters you have laid eyes on (up until this point) and the nights have something reserved, dance parties at Lollipop in Palasa, international electronic festivals of Drimadhes, and even open-air art exhibitions.
The village of Dhërmi, built on a slope of the Ceraunian Mountains at approximately 200 meters in altitude, is one of the most picturesque in the south. The church at the very top of the village is worth visiting and very easy to get to. Please note the juxtaposition of the Ibiza-style nightlife and the traditional village scenes, lending these places an edge that is hard to find elsewhere! Onward to yet another adorable and excessively photogenic wonder of the Albania south: the village of Vuno. Take a few hours to walk around this tiny beauty and forget where you are!
Devote a day to the 20 minute hike to the exclusive Gjipe Beach (or you may go by boat) as well as to the Cave beach (Plazhi i Shpellave). Gjipe is simple and exclusive, with only a small camping site and a cafe with refreshments. You will feel like you are on the set of The Beach and will wonder, rightly so, why is it that these places have not been invaded by millions of tourists?
Let’s continue on the rest of the beautiful journey. The small bay of Jal has the best camping life and the best nightclub/resort complex, called Folie Marine, of the Riviera. The beach is absolutely gorgeous and a strategic point from where you can visit many of the other beaches around it. This was Enver Hoxha’s favorite place for good reason! At the top of the hill in the bay of Jal, stands the former summer vacation complex of the Communist government. Go up the stairs to enjoy some beautiful panoramas!
Livadh is one the longest coastlines of the south with some great camping and restaurant options. Similar to Drimadhes, when you like space but do not like to be completely alone, this place is for you.
Himara, the largest village in the south is next. The midpoint between Vlorë and Sarandë, this is as close to a city as it gets along the Riviera tour. You may choose to stay here and visit surrounding sights from here, as it has many services (Banks, Phone Companies, a Promenade, and more) which are not found in many other smaller villages. Try both beaches of Spile and Potam while in Himara and do not miss eating petulla (Albania’s doughnuts) for breakfast or you will regret it!
Qeparo, the most beautiful of all villages in the south, which built on the western slope of Mount Gjivlash, at about 450 meters above sea level, gives the world’s most beautiful views of the moon’s reflection on the water.
The longest coast of all the beaches of the south and the most relaxed atmosphere. Local people and/or specialized tour operators will inform you about hikes with shepherds in the regions of Qeparo and Borsh if you are interested in this bucolic fantasy!
The place for the quiet, solitary soul, the most unspoiled, unpopulated and untouched place in the south of Albania.
Not to be missed
1) the spectacular Filikuri Bay, 2) the small bay of Llaman whose especially brisk, green waters have beautifully carved a space for themselves in between two cliffs 3) Porto Palermo, ranked 1st of 15 Undiscovered European Destinations by the Huffington Post in 2017, is now undergoing the unlikely transition from Communist military base to a hot summer destination, where decrepit buildings and majestic vistas beautifully and eerily co-exist, where you will also find Ali Pasha’s beautiful castle.
Before you make your way to Sarandë, approaching the conclusion of the Riviera, make a special trip to the miraculous Blue Eye, Albania’s own tropics.
Sarandë – Ksamil – Butrint
Saranda is the largest coastal city of the south. It has countless beautiful beaches with the most popular aptly named Pasqyrat (in English, ‘mirrors”) as the flat white rocks framing it make its sparkle appear infinite. Do not miss the beautiful port and the promenade! As you may know, near Sarandë are the remains of the ancient city of Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage site, hosting the best-preserved, beautiful ancient outdoor theater and floor mosaic. The beautiful island of Corfu is a 30-minute ferry ride away!
In Albanian, we always say that we save the dessert for last, so the tour ends with the ridiculously beautiful islands of Ksamil! The Ioanian has worked its magic along the entire coast and has decided to reach its highest heights here. Splash in these waters to your heart’s delight, take photographs of this photogenic devil, and definitely take a Mussel Tour when in Ksamil! This innovative and charming tour was created by a local youngster and has been a big hit in the last couple of years!