Albania Travel

7 unknown gems of southern Albania

Southern Albania is not only about Saranda and Vlore. It has way more to offer. Don’t be a regular tourist rushing to the nearest beach to get adulterated coctails. The astonishing unknown is off the track.

I’m a major believer , and living prooff, that it’s possible to discover Albania without a car, relying just on public transport. However, to get to the places from today’s shcedule, well, car wouldn’t be a miss! Don’t you worry tho! It’s super inexpensive : per day is usually fom 15euros or even cheaper.

Starting point : my beautiful Vlore!

Let’s hit the road! But… First things first! Coffee and breakfast, the smell of freshly made coffee and baked bread is the best scent in the morning. Following this smell, you get to Furre Bako Aso. Grab dhalle, coffee and spinach byrek – now you’re good to go.

1. Lepenice: where history was born

Passing through this small village, you can easily get the impression that there’s nothing here. Nothing more wrong! Lepenice hides not only a suspension bridge, hanging over azure water, but also … a cave! And not just any, the oldest in Europe with Post-paleolithic drawings.

2.Qeparo: Ghost Town

A city in the mountains, founded centuries ago by the inhabitants of Himare, seeking shelter from the Ottoman Empire. From a strategic point of view, such a location was extremely advantageous! The city, sheltered by the mountains on one side, had a perfect view of the Ionian Sea and the approaching enemies. And there was no way to get to it except by climbing, and a very discouraging one: Qeparo seems to be suspended over a precipice! However, with the passage of years, came times much less eventfully, especially in raids. The location became a bit problematic. It was then decided to move lower, to the coast, thus leading to the creation of the Old and New Qeparo.

The new Qeparo tempts with insanely azure water, beautiful nature and the view of the stretching bay of the Ionian Sea on the horizon. Old Qeparo, on the other hand, scares with abandoned, stone houses, the wind blowing through empty streets, the sound of silence so overwhelming that the barking of a homeless dog coming from nowhere gives you a heart attack…

There are only about 80 people left in Old Qeparo, most of them elderly people. Interestingly, there is a shop-restaurant in this desolate village! The type of shop that sells EVERYTHING: from sweets to olive oil and fishnet. The whole thing is bizarre! The table (in words: ONE) is set in the middle of the store, so you can shop with one hand and eat with the other. And what to eat there? Grilled peppers stuffed with ricotta with fresh bread… I haven’t eaten better anywhere in Albania!

I fell in love with Qeparo, the Old one. New Qeparo is a product of our time: beach bars, shops and tourists. I’m not saying it’s wrong. Just regular.

3.Himare : where Greece is not a Greek to you!

One of the most interesting cities I’ve ever seen! Not in terms of architecture, this one, although charming, does not impress like Berat, for example, but the cultural mix itself. Greek cuisine, the Greek language and those houses, whitewashed with lime, that look like those in Rhodes or Corfu… Greekness is almost smoldering in the air! It doesn’t end there. From the beach in Himare (Do I have to say that the water is perfectly azure? ) you can see the coast of … Corfu!

Himare, founded by Greek colonizers, doesn’t pretend to be Greek, it is. While there, don’t miss the opportunity to try Greek dishes! I was tempted by pita bread and a salad with oranges and olives in a charming restaurant with friendly service!

4. Porto Palermo : the Castle of Great Thief

Famous, especially in Albania, great Ali Pasha was a thief. Before he became an independent ruler of Epirus (then he could still steal but officially, so you know, it was a legal theft :d). When he was appointed Pasha of Janina, he was supposed to minimalise, preferrably erase, thugs. Well, he did, in a way. He subordinated some of them, making them working on broader canvas for him, and those who opposed him, slaughtered. Go hard or go home.

When he took over the fortress in Porto Palermo, he rebuilt it having beautiful results. Centuries later, when the dictator Hoxha was in power, this place served as an internment point for peasant families who somehow offended the authorities – it was a severe commune, you could offend them easily. Nevertheless, today its picturesque location in the bay of Porto Palermo, over perfectly clear water, among lush vegetation, impresses.

5.Vuno: oranges over the abyss

A tiny town that is located on one of the most picturesque roads! About that in a moment. What is impressive about Vuno? The location on the slope of the mountains, so steep that it seems to be suspended vertically! Gardens with orange trees and wild roses that look like straight out of a fairy tale. The view that spreads from Vuno: the immensity of the Ionian Sea, the white beaches of the Palase and the coasts of the Greek islands!

6. Highway to Hell?

It depends on your definition of hell! If it consists of serpentines winding on the slopes of the mountains, this road maybe not your cup of tea! Even though the view is stunning: the Ionian Sea and Greek islands in fron of you, the Çika Mountains at the back.

This is what SH8 is, it could easily compete for the title of the most spectacular road in Europe! Imho, going from Himare is the best idea – then you can see the emerging mountain peaks from behind the next bends. As I mentioned, it leads to the Çika Mountains, along the way giving you the opportunity to admire this truly surreal beautiful view at the vantage point! See the video from the route, it’s hard to describe ….

Is this a route reserved only for fans of thrill rides? No, it’s a regularly used route. Local buses run on it and even …. trucks!

Once, fortunately only once, I witnessed the slow climb of a truck uphill. Every turn I held my breath, being convinced that what if what, but THIS maneuver is already against gravity!

Nevertheless, the entire route, as long as it is done responsibly, is safe. Just don’t do any Top Gear there – it’s already been there and done that :d That’s where Clarkson, Hammond and May were looking for the perfect car for the “boss of the Albanian mafia” on SH8.

It was to these white beaches of the Palase that Julius Caesar landed centuries ago in pursuit of Pompey, who dared to fight with him for power…. Caesar’s soldiers traversed the Llogar Pass, later called Caesar’s Pass, and according to legend, some of them never left these mountains, wandering to this day and looking for their leader.

But it is impossible to get lost, at least not on the road, this one leads you straight to Vlora, through Orikum where the bay ends.

7. Seafod & wine to finish the day in albanian way

For supper, be sure to come to my favorite restaurant! Albania is famous for its seafood and it is well deserved. The prawns they serve here are outstanding! If you are looking for a veggie option, be sure to try stuffed peppers. And don’t be fooled by the price – the ridiculously low one doesn’t reflect the portion size. They are truly Albanian brutal!

Let me know how you liked this one-day trip to unknown Albania! Which place impressed you the most?

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