Albanian Riviera

Overview

Introduction

The Albanian Riviera is simply spectacular, and it's only about 80 mi/130 km south of Tirana. A two-lane road winds along the coast, past ancient villages, mountainous coastline and perfect blue water. A plus is that the road from Dhermi to Llogara Pass is now paved. If you are going to Albania, you shouldn't miss this drive.

Traveling from the north, the road follows the coastline just south of Vlore and then turns inland to make its way up to Llogara Pass—one of the best stretches of road in the country. The valley leading to the pass is beautiful, filled with small fields and farmhouses and low, terraced hills. Behind the hills are sheer mountain faces, which give the scattered farmhouses a heroic quality. At the foot of the mountain, a dry channel of a river runs like a gray scar through the pale green fields. As you drive along, you'll pass women walking down the road, spinning yarn from the bales of wool on their backs, or men with stacks of goatskins strapped to their bicycles. Higher up, the road winds through the pine forests of a national park that are filled with ferns and moss (and a light mist). Near the top is Llogara Village, which has a restaurant and rents comfortable wooden bungalows that were shipped in from Denmark. At the top of the pass, the light turns pale yellow. The scenery breaks from the clouded, damp alpine forest into dry, sparse and yellow-stone cliffs, which drop 3,700 ft/1,100 m into the pure blue water below. From the pass you can see the narrow road winding its way slowly down to the sea—a trip that takes about 20 minutes.

From there, the road threads past olive and orange orchards, goatherds, hilltop villages and breathtaking coastline. The fields and slopes near the coast are fragrant with salt water, wild thyme and rosemary. Dhermi has a pretty, pebbled beach and a small hotel, as well as the 12th-century Church of Santo Stefano and the 14th-century Church of Santo Mitri. Himara is a town on the coast that has a 19th-century Church of All Saints, a wide beach, a number of small hotels and good seafood restaurants. Borsh has olive groves, citrus orchards and a wide beachfront. The road also winds past the country's former top-secret submarine base (now used by fisherfolk). It is guarded by a 19th-century fortress built by Ali Pasha. From there, it's a short drive to Saranda.

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