Back before the whole covid thing, in 2019, Mr Man and I spent a week travelling around Albania. As it’s a big ol’ country, we couldn’t do a top to toe round trip so focused our time in the South – starting and ending in the capital, Tirana.
A few little tips if you’re considering visiting:
- Route – We opted for: Tirana > Korce > Gjirokaster (via Permet) > Ksamil / Sarande > Berat > Tirana.
- Google Maps – it’s not 100% accurate like it is in the UK, sometimes you have to wing it and use your intution, don’t blindly rely on it! For example, it would sometimes try and take us down paths that were definitely not roads / not the safest of routes. It’s also quite often completely off when predicting timings.
- And whilst we’re talking about driving, definitely consider getting a decent set of wheels. We opted for the cheapest model the rental company offered and it broke down on us (more on that later). I’d advise a mid sized engine and an automatic if possible as it can be really hilly!
You don’t need to spend too long in the capital. I think we were probably there for 1.5 days in total and that was plenty. There are a handful of interesting things to do and see. When walking around and exploring the capital, keep your eyes peeled for bunkers like this one, you’ll find them all over the country!
Bunk Art Museum
This was definitely one of the coolest / most memorable museums I’ve ever been to! It’s set in an old bunker, built in the 70s, located on the outskirts of the city by the dictator at the time, Enver Hoxha. From what we learnt, Hoxha was super paranoid and this vast underground network of tunnels and facilities was built to survive a nuclear attack. There was everything from a state of the art air filtration/purification system through to apartments, dorms, a canteen etc down there.
Getting to the entrance involves driving through a long concrete tunnel then going through several, thick, concrete doors, each lined with a sheet of steel followed by multiple iron airlocked doors too.
The whole place is linked up through these long eerie corridors which are made to feel even more atmospheric (read: chilling) with the sound effects and a rattling tape of a woman singing.
You can explore Enver Hoxha’s quarters which include a sparsely decorated apartment. Even less luxurious, the final photo here shows a typical officer’s room.
There’s also an exhibition which shows how simple day to day life for residents (above ground) would have been. Everyone lived in similar sized flats with more or less exactly the same furniture because that’s all that would have been available.
(Pic 1) As well as this, there are still lots of bunkers all over the country that you’ll randomly stumble across when exploring. (Pic 2) Communications system. (Pic 3) Filtration system.
Pyramid of Tirana
This building was initially commissioned as a memorial museum for Hoxha but has been abandoned and its future is a little uncertain – there are talks of it being both demolished and restored but it all remains to be seen.
Probably wouldn’t go out of your way to visit this place, but if you’re local, it’s worth dropping by.
Escape the city and take the cable cars up to the top of Dajti mountain for some beautiful views.
The views from the top are truly gorgeous:
We stopped for lunch at the top too – and grabbed some pizza and lamb chops at a place called Ballkoni Dajtit:
The food was fine, not amazing, but the views more than made up for it…
I don’t know if we just got super unlucky, but we had quite a lot of misses with the food in Albania. That said, there were a few really delicious ones, and this was definitely one of them!
^ Bruschetta, cacio e pepe and panna cotta.
La Nocciola Gelateria
Delicious little ice cream parlour, definitely worth a little visit.
^scoops of coconut, chocolate and hazelnut.
The road to Korce was a beautiful one – empty winding roads, lake views and lots of green:
We stayed at the Life Gallery Hotel for the night which is also where we ended up having our dinner. Not too shabby.
The town centre:
It’s a pretty little town with cobbled streets, pastel colours and some really beautiful stone houses – perfect for getting completely and totally lost in!
We drove through Kolonjë countryside and onwards to Permet.
It was such a treat – everything from green country lanes with little lakes through to rugged mountainside forests.
At one point, the road followed the river Vjosë and we just had to pull over and take it all in:
As you continue, the road winds down the mountainside and you get closer to Vjosë River, we turned in and found this bridge, connecting Albania to Greece:
We didn’t actually stay in Permet, but just passed through and took a pitstop for a late lunch. A pretty little town set over the same river:
Lunch at Restorant Antigonea was unexpectedly good, doesn’t look like much but that salad was ridiculous – I think it’s just the super fresh local produce so the flavours just shone through.
We spent a couple of nights in the mountainside town of Gjirokaster and managed to cop ourselves a room at the Castle Hotel.
Check out the view – pretty spectacular, right!?
Back in 2005, Gjirokaster was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The whitewashed buildings and traditional shops all add to its charm. ❤ Sadly, when we visited they were replacing the cobbled stone roads so it made it feel a bit rugged.
This shop on the corner is so beautiful!
Just walking around the town was stunning – views galore – mountain backdrops, beautiful sunsets and traditional stone houses.
Found some pretty doors/gates:
And made a friend too:
We spent a morning exploring the 12th century castle/fortress.
From the atmospheric canon lined, arched corridors through to the prisons – it was so much fun!
There’s a beautiful clock tower outside too:
^ This stage is used for an outdoor festival which takes place every few years.
The castle overlooks the entire town and valley so the views are pretty special too.
Ali Pasha Bridge
There’s a really nice hike down a mountain valley – it only takes 30 or 40 mins to reach the bridge but on a 40 degree day, that’s easier said than done!
I seem to have been wearing the perfect outfit to camouflage in:
This lovely little cafe, with really friendly service and freshly baked goodies, was the perfect way to while away a couple of hours.
Nice little restaurant to stop for lunch – the trilece cake is a MUST. It’s a fluffy cake, soaked in three types of milk, covered in caramel and absolutely delicious. I’ve been tinkering with a recipe for this so hoping to share at some point soon!
The vibe and food here were both really nice – ofc, somehow, I forgot to take a picture of our mains!
En route to our next stop (Ksamil and Sarande), we stopped at the blue eye water springs (Syri i Kaltër). Icy cold, fresh water bubbles up from the bottom of the river which is over 50m deep.
The mountain backdrop, the luscious green trees and the peaceful flowing water. ❤
With countless shades of blue, green and turquoise, it’s so, so stunning!
Ugh – so beautiful!
Definitely worth the little detour.
Onwards to the next stop!
Ksamil and Sarande
The views driving here were pretty special!
Ksamil is actually a set of small islands off the Southern coast – you can hire little paddle boats and check them out too.
It’s so beautiful – powdery white sand, crystal clear water and sunshine/warmth galore.
Sunset wasn’t too shabby either.
Just messing around taking pictures through my mirror shades.
We stopped at Buneci Beach and pretty much had the place to ourselves. This pebble beach has mountain views, glittering water and a long pier – the perfect place to while away a few hours and have a little dip.
We found a little restaurant by the coast for lunch and popped in the details on Google Maps before pressing go. We ended up breaking down midway down this slippery, deserted narrow path in the peak of midday heat (42 degrees!!) with a final couple of swigs left in our water bottle. No way forward, no way back!
Luckily, we still had network coverage so rang up the rental company who said they’d send some to help but because they were coming from Tirana, we’d have to wait till the evening.
Thankfully, before too long, this Albanian guy came along in an appropriate off-road vehicle and happily towed us up the path back to civilisation! What a hero!
Thanks to our friend, we ended up back in Vlore, where we got some lunch and much-needed water then spent the afternoon bumbling around until our replacement car arrived.
This is the highest mountain pass in the Albanian Riviera- and it’s so, so beautiful!
I mean come on!
Our final stop was Berat. It’s a city in central Abania set on the Osumi river.
We spent an afternoon just walking around the riverbank:
Berat is best known for the white houses, set on the mountainside, which appear to be stacked on top of one another:
There’s also a castle that’s worth checking out.
There are a few churches and a mosque within the fortress walls although they’re both largely unused – the former tend to be in a much better condition and have been restored.
And that’s about it!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this post!