Spring and summer are approaching faster than you think and some of you are probably starting to plan your vacations soon. Albania could be the perfect fit as a destination for your summer vacation. The fusion of beautiful beaches, history, and authentic food will welcome you.
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Saranda is a beach town located in the south of Albania close to the border with Greece and is the main city of the Albanian riviera. It is a great place to base yourself to explore the area nearby and enjoy some beach time.
Saranda has a beautiful promenade with some great restaurants and cafes where you can try the local seafood and enjoy the views looking out to Corfu which is only 14km away and easily visible.
If you tire of the beach, then you can hike up the hill that dominates the town to explore the ruins of Lekures Castle and get an amazing view of Saranda and the nearby coastline.
The best beaches in the area though are not in Saranda itself but are only a short drive or bus ride away. I personally think the beaches in Ksamil are the most beautiful in the area as they are small white sand beaches going into the turquoise-colored sea.
While you are staying in Saranda you must also visit the UNESCO world heritage site Butrint which has many Roman ruins including a roman theatre, baths, aqueducts, and acropolis. It is only 18km south of Saranda and the perfect half-day trip.
For the other half of the day, I recommend going to The Blue Eye. It is around 20km inland and takes around 45 minutes from Saranda if going by public transport. The Blue Eye is an underground spring that bubbles up to a pool and the colors of the pool and surrounding river are stunning.
The Blue Eye, Albania
The Blue Eye is not the easiest place to get to in Albania, but it is worth the effort to visit this picture-perfect oasis. Known as Syri i Kalter in Albanian, the Blue Eye is the source of the Bistrica River which ends up in the Ionian Sea.
The journey to the eye is an experience in itself whereby you traverse a long, single-lane bridge and tight mountain turns. Once you arrive you get to see the source of a river and the deepest most beautiful blue and green colors as the waters bubble up from the earth and head downstream.
A short climb takes you to a wooden platform which allows you to look straight down into the Eye which is continuously changing as more freshwater rises to begin its journey downriver. You could stand there mesmerized for quite some time!
It’s not known how deep the water is, but it’s at least 50m, and for anyone brave enough to go for a swim, a chilly 10°C. Also, on the site is a restaurant alongside the rushing river which would be a perfect place to break for lunch.
The Blue Eye used to be reserved for the communist elite during Hoxha’s time but is now open to all and a worthy stop on a journey between Saranda and Gjirokastra.
Hiking Valbona to Theth, Albania
Written by Erin Morris from Curiously Erin. Follow Erin on Facebook here.
After spending close to 12 months in Europe last year, one of the highlights was hiking the Valbona to Theth trail in the Albanian Alps. This stunning hike is located in the northeast of the country and requires at least 3 days of your time. While you are not required to have any special gear as the hiking section can be done in less than a day but does require at least a moderate level of fitness.
The best part about this hike is the adventure of getting to and from it. Starting in Shkoder, you take a minibus to Komani Lake where you then take a 3-hour ferry ride into the Valbona National Park. After another short minibus trip, you arrive in Valbona. This transfer can be organized by most accommodation providers in Shkoder. Spend this afternoon wandering around the village of Valbona before getting an early start hiking the following day.
The hike is 17km and takes you up and over a peak climbing 1,151m in elevation. The first half of the hike is unprotected and sunny but with many local shacks set up selling cold drinks and offering a place to fill your water bottles. After enjoying lunch or a snack on the summit, head down the backside en route to Theth.
Both Theth and Valbona are small rural communities and it is a great insight into seeing how the Albanians live outside of the cities. After another night in Theth, take a bumpy 4×4 back to Shkoder where you can pick up any bulky luggage.
The beaches of Albania are no doubt the number one drawcard for visiting the country. They are absolutely gorgeous, and the further south you go toward Greece, the better they get. The best beaches in Albania are in the southernmost area and it has actually been labeled the Albanian Riviera due to its breathtaking beauty. These are close to the UNESCO site of Butrint and Greece’s Corfu island. And the star of the show goes to Ksamil Beach which is postcard-perfect with crystalline turquoise waters, the softest sand, and a general uplifting vibe from all the restaurants and beach clubs nearby.
Ksamil town has various small islands around it, so you have plenty of beach options to choose from. Some of the surrounding islands can even be reached by a short paddleboard ride (or a boat ride if you’re not up to exercising). There are umbrellas and sun loungers on the beautiful fine white powder sand and the panoramic views of the islands are spectacular. There are a few beaches to choose from like those near beach clubs or quainter beaches away from the pumping music. Yet Ksamil beach should be your first pick as it is really fun with a great beach vibe and loads of facilities.
Dajti Mountain, Albania
Written by Laura Wilkens from Adrift Aesthetic. Follow Laura on Instagram here.
From hiking in Poland to wandering through Serbia, there are so many amazing experiences to be had in Eastern Europe. Despite not being the most popular travel destination, Albania is definitely one of the most unique countries to visit in the region!
When exploring Albania, there is no doubt that you’ll spend at least a little bit of time in Tirana. As the capital city and the largest airport in the country, it’s easy to fly in from other European destinations. After exploring the town of Tirana, make sure you save time to make your way up nearby Mt. Dajti. Located on the edge of the city, this National Park is accessible by cable car.
Traveling over 5,000 feet above sea level, the glass windows of the cable car provide amazing views of the city and farmland below as you make your way to the top of the peak. The trip only takes about 15 minutes, but you’ll end up worlds away from the hectic streets of Tirana below. Once you reach the end of the ride, you’ll be able to take in the crisp mountain air while hiking the trails that branch out from the centralized restaurants and meeting areas. Make sure you walk along the path that gives you the best views of Tirana. It’s a perfect way to see the beauty of Albania from above!
Cruise on Lake Komani near Shkodër, Albania
Written by Jyoti of Story at Every Corner. Follow Jyoti on Facebook here.
Albania has too much untouched natural beauty that it’s heavenly for people who love the great outdoors. We took a day trip and cruise on Lake Komani to get a taste of the Albanian mountains and lakes.
Our day started in Shkodër where we stayed for a couple of nights during our Balkans trip. As part of our day tour, we drove from Shkodër to the lake. The drive itself could have been the destination. We drove through beautiful mountains and valleys with untouched beauty as far as the eyes can see. There was a little visible human touch on the route except for a small town where we stopped for a break.
Once at the port, we boarded our cruise with about 30 other people. The boat took us through scenic mountains on the pristine green lake. I stayed on the outside deck the whole time to soak in as much of the fresh air and beautiful vistas as possible. The boat took about three hours to reach the end.
Most people take the cruise to get to their next destination in Albania. One of the popular activities from the port is a trip up to remote Albanian villages for a homestay.
We stayed at the port for an hour or so and took the return ride back to our vehicle and returned to Shkodër by the end of the day.
Berat, World Heritage Site of 1,000 Windows
Berat, about 2 hours south of Tirana, is a small, quiet town with a long history, going back more than 2400 years. From the 3rd century, the town was noted for its ever-expanding fortifications.
Most buildings you see date back to Ottoman architecture, giving Berat its photogenic appearance: two hillsides covered with whitewashed houses, dotted with typical rectangular windows.
You won’t need more than a day or two to see the most important historic sights:
- The sprawling fortress high above the town, which is still inhabited. If you don’t want to exhaust yourself with the climb, you can take a taxi from the lower town (around €5). Several of Berat’s attractions lie inside its walls.
- Explore the narrow cobbled streets of the Mangalemi neighborhood, below the castle.
- Don’t miss the National Ethnographic Museum, a beautifully restored Muslim house, which provides insight into living and working conditions of only a century or so ago.
- Bachelor Mosque and its intricate exterior decorations.
- The nearby Harem building and the large King’s Mosque.
- Gorica Bridge, a beautiful structure, leads to the opposite side of the River Osum into the Gorica neighborhood, which was traditionally Christian.
- Here you can find the St. Spiridon’s Church and many cheaper accommodation options.
- End the day with a drink or a meal in one of the many outdoor eateries along the Boulevardi Republika.
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