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Albanian Riviera Guide – What To Do, Where To Sleep, Eat & More
A stretch of shoreline along the Albania coast from Vlorë (Vlore) and Palasë (Palasa) in the North to Sarandë (Saranda) and Ksamil in the South – the Albanian Riviera; that’s where you’ll find the best-hidden beaches in Europe.
Albania’s coast is the perfect place for a holiday with history, natural beauty, and friendly faces. The UNESCO sites such as the Butrint Archaeological Site and National Park date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans’ times. Beautiful Drymades and Jale Beaches is where you’ll get the suntan to show your friends back home.
Incredible nightlife in the cities contrasts with days in the quaint villages to let you enjoy both sides of Albanian life.
There’s a lot to do in the Albanian Riviera, also called Bregu, by the locals. Here’s our special Albanian Riviera guide for you.
Best Time To Visit The Albanian Riviera
The Albanian Riviera is full of tourists during July and August when the weather is the warmest. (It averages around 28 to 30 °C during the day and 18 to 20 °C at night.) But given that Albania’s peak season sees lesser crowds than other European countries, the masses won’t make much of a difference.
Spring from April to June and Fall from September to October are the best times to visit the Albanian Riviera as the weather is not too cold or too warm.
The Winter season from November to March, sees fewer tourists, with nighttime temperatures dropping to 2 °C. If you like the cold, though, and don’t mind skipping the beach on your trip, winter is beautiful for a visit as well.
What To Do On The Albanian Riviera
Here are just a few things to keep you busy on the Albanian Riviera.
Called the “Ionian Pearl,” Ksamil has one of the best beaches in Albania. It’s popular with locals and tourists alike. It’s also easier to get to Ksamil from Greece than driving down 5 hours from Tirana. Just land at Corfu Airport in Greece and take the 30 to 40-minute boat ride to Saranda, followed by the bus to Ksamil.
The ferry costs 10 to 15 Euros while the bus ride costs 100 LEK, less than a Euro.
The sandy beaches and turquoise waters rival those in Greece and are not as crowded. If you really look, you can also find some secluded spots to enjoy quiet time. The three islands in front of Ksamil are within swimming distance of visitors but can be accessed via boat.
To book Ksamil beach hotels close to the beach, try one of these places:
- Hotel Meta Ksamil
- Hotel New Crystal
- Mondi’s Guest House
Also, visit the nearby Syri i Kalter or Blue Eye, a natural phenomenon where the dark blue bubbles amidst the turquoise waters look like an eye.
Butrint Archaeological Site And National Park
One can easily spend most of the day visiting the Butrint Archaeological Site and National Park, located 18 km south of the village of Sarande, and it’s a definite must for any family holiday in Albania.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, it is home to a diverse selection of plants and animals, including some rare flora species like the Capparis spinosa, Agrimonia eupatoria, and Laurus nobilis. Butrint Park is also the only place in Albania to see the Balkan wall lizard, sand boa, Epirote frog, and tortoise. Wolves, dolphins, reptiles, and many birds make their home here.
The ancient town of Butrint, located inside the park, represents different stages of history, from the 4th BC Hellenistic temples to the 19th-century Ottoman defenses. The settlement of Buthrotum, aka Butrint, was also referred to in Virgil’s epic ‘The Aeneid.’ Worshippers of Asclepius, the god of medicine, came here to drink the sacred Butrint waters and be healed. The Romans took over Butrint in 228 BC, but it doubled in size in 45 BC under Augustus Ceasar.
The best preserved of the ruins is the Roman Theatre of Butrint, located below the Acropolis and looking out over the Vivari Channel. It was built in the 3rd century BC on the walls of an older theatre and has undergone several renovations through the years.
Visitors can see the remains of the Aqueducts, Dionysus Altar, Gymnasium, Forum, Nymphaeum, temples of Minerva and Asclepius, and the Lion Gate.
Sarandë Or Saranda
With views of the Greek island of Corfu, the coastal town of Saranda is the unofficial main stop on the Southern part of the Riviera. It connects the nearby cities of Tirana and Corfu. The beach in Saranda is pretty decent and covered with loungers and umbrellas.
If you’re a history fan, drive to or take the minibus to the town of Gjirokaster, that’s 1.5 hours away. This UNESCO Heritage site is filled with stone houses overlooked by the old Gjirokaster Fortress. Gjirokaster is derived from the Greek words argyron, and kastron means “silver castle.”
Archaeology says the city was inhabited during the Bronze and Iron ages. The old cobblestone pathways tell tales of different times in the city’s history.
If you have one more day, go up the Monastery of Forty Saints for a breathtaking view of Sarande Bay and the town.
Besides Saranda, Himara (Himarë) is the only other big town you’ll find while driving in Albania. The part of Himara built on and around the old castle is called Kastro and has the ruins of Himara Castle. The town finds many tourists spending time here with Byzantine architecture, views of the Ceraunian Mountains, Orthodox churches, olive groves, and a beautiful bay.
To the south of the town lies the village of Qeparo. It is one of the Albanian villages that has been cultivating olives for centuries. Both Greeks and Albanians live in the charming settlement of Qeparo, and you can stroll along its narrow streets with old houses.
The beautiful castle of Porto-Palermo is located in Qeparo in the Bay of Porto Palermo. Although many believe Ali Pasha of Ionina built the castle, it may have actually been constructed long before and fortified by him. Only time and further excavations will tell. The Castle of Porto-Palermo or Panormos has impressive views of the Ionian Sea and the Ceruanian Mountains.
Swim At The Largest Beach In Ionian Sea
It may not be the most secluded beach in Europe, but Borsh beach long – the largest along the Ionian sea. At 7 km, it is one of the most popular beaches in Albania and is surrounded by mountains and olive trees.
You can find restaurants and sun loungers on most parts of the beach and absolute privacy in a few sections. Hurry, as it’ll soon be the most popular destination in the South of Albania.
Visit A Secluded Beach
One of the best-secluded beaches in Europe is Gjipe Beach on the road to Karaburun, Albania, or somewhat off the road to Karaburun. It’s so remote that it takes a 30-minute hike through a forest to get here.
If you’ve never been here before, it won’t be easy to find on your own. Best go with a guide. If you don’t like hiking through the jungle, you can hire a kayak from the neighboring Jale Beach to get here.
There are very few vendors on the beach and absolutely no restaurants. One of the best South Albania beaches to visit!
Another one of the best beaches in Albania that can be accessed only by boat is Kakome Beach.
Visit Dhermi Village And Dhermi Beach
One of the longest beaches in the Albanian Riviera, the Dhermi Beach has white sands lapped by turquoise waters. No wonder it gets packed in summer. Plus, Dhermi Village, where the beach is situated, is considered a nightlife destination by the Albanian youth.
The village of Dhermi in Himara’s Vlore county is actually composed of 3 neighborhoods; Dhermi, Gjilek, and Kondraq which is perched on the side of the Ceraunian Mountains. You can rent villas and cottages here at reasonable rates.
Skip The Crowds At Drymades Beach
A beautiful white stretch of beach surrounded by olive trees, the Drymades beach is covered with pebbles on one end and sandy on the other. The beach, located in a small bay off the village of Dhermi, is perfect for a relaxing time at the beach, minus the crowds that can be seen at the nearby Dhermi Beach.
Drive Where Ceasar Walked
Caesar was here! Julius Caesar! History tells that in 48 BC, Caesar and his legions landed at Palase and crossed the Llogara Pass to chase General Pompey. And although Caesar walked or probably went up the Llogara Pass on horseback, you can drive here.
The Llogara Pass is the spectacular mountain road from Dhermi to Orikum. Sitting at a height of 1027 meters, the Llogara Pass or Qafa e Llogarasë is part of the Cika Mountain Range in the Llogara National Park.
First built in 1920, the Llogara Pass road was but a single-lane dirt road up till 2009. Now it’s well developed and gives magnificent views of the coastal drive and the surrounding mountains.
The Llogara National Park spans 1010 hectares of an alpine forest overlooking the Albanian Riviera and has been protected since 1966. Visitors can hike or picnic in the park, stay at the small resorts, or head to one of the Albanian Riviera hotels.
On the other side of the Llogara Pass is the abandoned village of Old Tragjas. Bombed in 1943, the village has been abandoned since.
Situated at the top of a hill close to the new Tragjas, Old Tragjas has good views of Orikum. The new village’s path to the old one is scattered with tombs and hence called Pass of the Tombs. Inside the village are an old Jewish doctor’s tomb and an Ottoman tomb with Arabic writing.
Karaburun-Sazan National Marine Park
Situated in Vlora county, the Karaburun-Sazan National Marine Park is a hallmark of the biodiversity around Sazan Island and the Karaburun Peninsula. The diverse landforms and ecological systems have given birth to various plant and animal life here, including dolphins, monk seals, golden jackals, red squirrels, and some endangered species.
The park is also home to sunken ships from Ancient Greece, Rome, and World War II. Steep cliffs, inscriptions from ancient sailors, caves, and secluded beaches make the park a must-visit.
What To Eat In The Albanian Riviera
Food on the Albanian coast will keep you more than satisfied. Here are just a few of our favorite Albanian foods:
- Ayran: A salty yogurt drink
- Baklava: A flaky pastry filled with nuts and soaked in sugar syrup. The pistachio version is amazing
- Byrek mi spinaq: A flaky pastry filled with spinach and cheese. Meaty versions are also as tasty
- Kaçkavall: A South Balkan cheese used in salads or baked or fried. The fried version is to-die-for
- Mussels: Mussels from Butrint lagoon supply all of Albania.
- Petulla: A fried doughy pastry that’s eaten for breakfast with honey, cinnamon, feta, cheese, cream, or sugar
- Raki: An aromatized Balkan liquor
- Speça me gjize: Red, orange, yellow or green peppers stuffed with cottage cheese, spices, and rice before being baked
- Tavë kosi: Lamb cooked with eggs and yogurt sauce. Originally from Elbasan near Tirana, but available everywhere
Also, try the Perime ne zgare, Qofte, and Kernaçka, and of course, the fresh fish and seafood that’s famous here.
Best Places To Eat & Drink On The Albanian Riviera
Bianco Lounge Bar: Enjoy a cocktail and music at this cozy bar overlooking the three Ksamil islands.
Guvat: Enjoy traditional dishes and fresh fish on the beautiful terrace of the Guvat Bar Restaurant in Ksamil while looking out at the three gorgeous islands.
Afrimi: A family-run restaurant in Ksamil that serves excellent Albanian food.
Porto Palmero Restaurant: This child-friendly restaurant serves amazing seafood risotto and has good views of the Porto Palmero Castle, which is just a short walk away.
Harmonia: On Dhermi Beach, this little restaurant serves international and traditional Albanian food. You have a choice of sitting indoors or outdoors, and the food is absolutely delicious.
Lucianos: With beautiful sea views, Lucianos on Dhermi Beach may get so crowded that you have to wait for your table. Try their grilled fish, house wine, and trileçe dessert.
La Petite: This restaurant near the center of Saranda gets full very fast. Book in advance if you prefer. You’ll get excellent service and traditional Balkan food.
How To Get To The Albanian Riviera
No airports along the Albanian Riviera, and no international trains run to Albania. The nearest airport is in Tirana, the capital of Albania. The Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza receives flights from most international cities. It was named after Mother Teresa but is locally called Rinas International Airport.
From Tirana, you can catch a bus or minibus (furgon) from the South Interurban Station at Dogana. The buses to Saranda take the coastal road, and it takes about 5 hours to get there. There are also buses from Saranda to Vlore that pass through the villages en route.
The touristic Riviera bus was started in 2013 and runs three times a week. This is not public transport per se, but a private door-to-door service that offers complimentary refreshments and WiFi onboard. The buses go on Tue, Thu, and Sat from Tirana to Sardana and on Mon, Wed, and Fri from Sardana to Tirana.
However, since Albania’s bus service is not frequent, it’s best to get around by driving in Albania. Be prepared for an initially long drive interspersed with stops at lovely little villages.
Got more suggestions for what to eat, drink and do on the Albanian Riviera? Let us know in the comments below.Share