The Albanian Riviera or What I Did Last Summer
Last year, truth be told, I wasn’t in a good place for traveling and no new destination allured me. For the first time, I dreaded the idea of chasing airplanes, buses, scratching my brain to find the best accommodation, budgeting and all the other less-glamorous parts of traveling. So after going back and forth for weeks, we finally decided (with my boyfriend) that we still needed a short break from all the working and months of stress piling up, therefore we just threw our little tent in the car, made no reservations whatsoever and boarded on a road trip with destination… Montenegro.
Yes, Montenegro. But the title mentioned Albania, you might say? Don’t worry! I’ll get there in a sec.
Our first stop was Kotor where we chilled out a few days and then slowly made our way on the Montenegro coast until Petrovac, and this is where, while staying in an awesome randomly found accommodation, we decided why not take a peek of Albania as well?
My boyfriend was a bit wary about the idea and, to be honest, everywhere I checked on the internet there were two very frequent themes: is Albania safe for tourists? and is it safe to drive in Albania?. Let me tell you how my trip to Albania earned a spot in my top 10 best holidays to date!
What I loved most about Albanian Riviera
The insane variety of the region! The famous Albanian Riviera starts from Vlore and extends itself South all the way to the border with Greece, Ksamil being the beach town that sits closest to the border.
After a flat road following the sea line of about 30km from Vlore, you start the winding ascent into Llogara National Park, a fantastic area part of Ceraunian Mountain Range (which basically separate the riviera strip from the mainland).
I’d say the Llogara National Park can be a trip in itself if you’re a mountain lover – we’ve seen plenty of biking, hiking and camping opportunities along the road.
But as our purpose was to chill on a beach, we continued the road up until we reached the top of the area, where the scenery that unfolds at your feet is absolutely breathless (add to that a delicious dessert with Greek yoghurt, honey and walnuts!).
You can see how the mountain descends into the endless sea, forming small beach nooks along the way. The blue of the sea is unreal – pretty much the same blue that Greece likes to flaunt around.
From then on, the road slowly descends somehow parallel to the seaside. It just goes on and on and on and because it’s winding, every corner you take brings a new surprise view.
If you decide you want to throw the towel to the nearest beach, you have to go down a steep slope (sometimes not possible by car, so be prepared to do a little hike) and there you are!
We ended up staying in Livadh, a small, quiet beach town, with an empty beach and a great restaurant where we exaggerated a bit with the bureks – but they were so worth it. Also, the pizza and pasta – they probably learnt to make it from the Italians ’cause each one we tried was so delicious!
Livadh is a perfect location for those of us who prefer to chill out without hardcore partying. As I said, the town is small, there isn’t really much going on there, so it’s perfect for relaxation. When we were there in September, the beach was almost empty every day, whereas in Ksamil you could barely find a spot for your towel.
The people were also very welcoming and kind, from the guys at the restaurant, to the elder couple running the guest house we stayed at, to the random people we met along the way when we mistook a road and had to ask for directions.
Secret tip: you can hike through the bushes from Livadh and get to this beauty below:
Every day we hopped in the car and went to explore more of the area. As expected, the places easier to get to (Sarande, Ksamil and a few other beaches with good road access) were suffocated by party tourism and loud beach bars that in some case would not even let you stay on the sand without paying.
Yes, Ksamil has one of the most surreal waters I’ve seen, but what good it does if I can’t even enjoy them? I took the photo below standing on probably the only empty patch of land I could find. On one side a hotel had beach monopoly, on the other side everyone was crowding on the free area. Very few people were actually in the water, despite the heat and the pleasant water temperature. Took a photo, took a dip, took a peek at Corfu island, then left (can’t find a word to finish this line in rhyme…).
Also, as it cannot all be only sunshine and butterflies, Albania definitely has a problem with their waste collection, as it was everywhere by the road. Mind you, inside the people’s courtyards it was spotlessly clean, but everywhere else in public space: bags of garbage, plastic bottles, used diapers.
We basically left all these places as soon as we saw what they were all about and went on to see if we can find less crowded spots – and we did. We discovered a few harder to get to, but much prettier and serene places, with clear water and quite an offering underwater fauna – a pleasure to snorkel around the rocky areas.
One of them is Gjipe Beach – you have to walk around 15-20 mins on a dirt road until you reach it, but hey, how about we keep those legs in good shape? 😉
And to top it all, how about some history infusion? Nearby Ksamil there’s the 2500 years old Greek Ancient town of Butrint, featuring with Paleochristian additions, excavated in 1920. Visiting ancient ruins started to bore me in the past years (once you see a few, they all start looking the same, unless you’re a history whiz person, then I could understand the passion), so my expectations were very low for this one.
Happy I was wrong – it was a lovely afternoon walk around the remnants of the town, by the lake, in the shade of the trees. We went without a guide and took our time around, but you can also take a guided tour and learn more if you’re a history aficionado. Either way, definitely recommended if you’re in the area!
But is Albania safe for tourists?
My answer is: yes. Not even once did we feel in danger whatsoever, on the contrary, everyone was extremely welcoming and friendly with us – in the good sense (not in a pushy kind of friendliness). We had no reservations so we booked everything on the go using Booking. We went from Shkoder to Durres, to Vlore and all the way down following the coastline to Sarrande. Some people say you should avoid random wandering around the North-East area (borders with Kosovo) – I haven’t been there so I cannot vouch for it (if anyone has first-hand information about the area, please comment below and share with us more details about it), but for the coastline, or “riviera” as it seems to be called, as a young couple we felt 100% safe at all times.
How about driving in Albania?
Now this.. it depends. Depends on where you are used to drive. 🙂 Did you see how they drive in Morocco? Heck, even Southern France felt like a challenge, with people just exiting unexpectedly from parking spots and randomly cutting lanes. For us, comparing to how dangerous it feels to drive in Romania, driving in Albania felt safe enough. People were quite chill behind the wheel, sometimes even driving a bit too slow in areas with higher speed allowed. In its neighbouring Montenegro, people seemed much more aggressive on the road.
The roads on our route were extremely good (better than in many Romanian areas – not trying to bash my home country, but this is the reality). The most important aspect you should be more careful to is that they don’t give priority in roundabouts so it’s most of a “first come, first serve” mentality. Also, the town of Shkoder felt quite a bit chaotic overall (people crossing the streets randomly, many people on bikes everywhere) and needed an extra level of attention.
Please note that we were there with our own car, not a rental, which does help with the level of relaxation behind the wheel. Although it didn’t happen, we weren’t that worried about the possibility of small scratches. I remember when we took rentals a few times in Spain and Italy and we were always stressed out about everything.
To bring it all to a conclusion, Albania was for me that unexpected sunny day amidst a gloomy season. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone, it’s still a very underrated country that deserves more attention. And don’t just limit yourself to the main highlights like Tirana (the capital) or the major cities on the coast – have the courage to stray a bit from the main road and see what little jewels you discover along the way. I, for one, am definitely looking forward to go back for more!
Have you been already in Albania? What did you love the most? Share below!