Discover Europe’s Diamond In The Tough
When it comes to undiscovered places in Europe, Albania is a treasure trove, bursting with natural wonders, historical sights and endless activities without the crazy tourist crowds of alternative holiday destinations on the Mediterranean Sea. After the long and tedious run of Covid-19 restrictions we could not wait to get away to explore weird and wonderful places again. Staying in Europe seemed the most viable option, with much of the world further afield still closed to European travellers, and Albania offered unrestricted travel and a multitude of amazing places waiting to be uncovered. We are hoping that some of the places on our itinerary might inspire other curious and adventurous travellers to unearth this diamond in the rough!
Mrizi I Zanave Agroturism – Fishte Lezhe County – 2 Nights
Our first stop in Albania was the area around Fishte, famous for its organic agriculture. Farm to table is the big motto of the area and Mrizi I Zanave hotel and restaurant offers the ultimate Albanian food experience surrounded by vast fields of fruit and vegetables. Never ever, have we had so much excellent food to eat in one meal, an endless feast of Albanian treats, savoury and sweet. The rooms at the small adjacent hotel are a mixture of traditional and modern architecture. One night would suffice to explore the area, although foodies could spend days cherishing dishes at nearby restaurants.
Theth – Shkoder County – 6 Nights – Butjina Mitjana
Hiking afficionados like us will immediately fall in love with the untamed wilderness and dramatic mountain scenery in Theth. Reached along a treacherous road (currently being a little upgraded) this unique village offers spectacular natural wonders and sights, nestled deep in the Albanian Alps. We stumbled upon cool waterfalls, mystical gorges and the breath-taking blue eye at Nderlysaj. Not to forget the epic hike from Theth to the Valbona pass, a hard but very rewarding trek, offering impressive vistas over the Thethi National Park and Valbona Valley. The hike to Denelle, an abandoned village on a high plateau, was a stark contrast in comparison to the tourist masses on other walks in the region. Our abode, the lovely Butjina Mitjana made us feel right at home in this charming village.
Shkoder – 1 Night – Hotel Tradita
Neighbouring fragrant lavender fields, Shkoder city was mainly an overnight stop en route to Valbona. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a swim in the calm waters of Lake Shkoder, followed by a rewarding stroll up to the towering structure of Shkoder castle.
Valbona Valley – 6 Nights – Vila Alexander
Reached by the ultimate ferry crossing along the emerald waters of Komani Lake, Valbona Valley is a hiker’s paradise. Most travellers come to this part of Albania for the epic trek to Theth, but the region in our opinion is hugely underappreciated for its many other, equally majestic hiking routes. We experienced an easy walk along the banks of the icy Valbona River, almost getting lost towards the Shepella Caves, climbs savouring the viasta on the Kukaji and Ceremi Loop, scrambling along the Gorge of Montina and possibly the most adventurous hike ever, venturing deep into the breathtaking Lumi Gashi. Vila Alexander provided us with the perfect place to rest after long walks in the Accursed Mountains.
Durres – 1 Night – Vila ONE
The vast ferry port in the Adriatic Sea, a short hop away from Italy, the 10km long, sandy beach and the large Roman Amphitheatre have catapulted Durres to one of Albania’s most popular holiday destinations. Utterly spoilt by urban development, the army of sun loungers and murky sea waters were far from an ideal seaside retreat for us, and we were glad to only spend one night here to avoid a lengthy journey between destinations. The wide selection of places to eat and drink is a redeeming feature. Vila ONE occupies a prime spot on the seafront with generous rooms and breakfast.
Vlore – 5 Nights – The INN Hotel
The INN Hotel is perched above a dreamy cove, with crystal clear waters. It was perfect respite after our lengthy hikes in Theth and Valbona. Vlore offers many little beaches and inlets to while away the time, relaxing with a book or cocktail in hand. The array of exceptional sights, the pink salt lakes and flamingo watching at Narta Lagoon will wow nature lovers, while nearby Apolonia Archeologiacal Park and St Mary’s Monastery will amaze history buffs.
Dhermi – 4 Nights – La Reve Boutique Hotel
A cluster of charming hill side villages resting above the extraordinary coastline, still largely pristine, with sweeping beaches and serene coves was our next seaside destination on the Ionian Sea. Lazy afternoons on the shingled shores, sunset cocktails and delicious dinners filled our days in this beautiful part of Albania. The influx of trendy, wealthy Tiranians is bound to turn Dhermi into an Albanian “Ibiza” with private beach clubs and upmarket resorts and undoubtably will destroy this peaceful beach destination, so see what remains before it is fully transformed while you can.
Himare – 2 Nights – boutique Hotel ARXONTIKO
This scenic coastal town has preserved its local charm and boasts numerous, flawless bays, paired with family friendly beaches. A visit to the crumbling Himare Castle with its winding cobbled alleys and panoramic views was a welcome break to our daily beach routine. One of the highlights of our month-long trip was kayaking from Himare to Livadi Beach, encountering a pod of jolly dolphins. The sea view from our room and the excellent seafood at the modern boutique Hotel ARXONTIKO made us wish we never had to leave.
Gjirokaster – 3 Nights – Guesthouse Mele
Before we returned to the mountains we stopped at the ancient Greek and Roman ruins at Butrint National Park, followed by a freezing dip at the Blue Eye, a natural spring in mesmerizing shades of green and blue, near Sarande. Gjirokaster, a hillside town, boasting an abundance of endearing Ottoman houses, a colossal castle, pebbled streets lined with souvenir shops and eerie underground bunkers created by former communist rulers. The oppressive heat of over 40C had an impact on our sightseeing plans, but the tip of taking a dip in the Drino River by our host at Guesthouse Mele prove to be a welcome interlude.
Radhime – Hotel Roalb
The last few days we spent back on the shores of the captivating Ionian Sea. Exploring some of the nearby beaches, a popular haunt for families, compared to the hipper coves of nearby Vlore. A good memory was the evenings spent savouring the delicious menus at Restaurant La Cloche. A relaxing end to our month-long journey through Albania.
We will return!
We could have easily spent another 30 days in Albania, roaming through places we missed on this trip, including the capital Tirana, Lake Ohrid, the quaint towns of Kruje and Berat, we certainly will revisit this diamond in the rough!