The line of villages along the Albanian coastline is known a Bregu to the locals, and the Albanian Riviera to the rest of the world.
Starting in Palasa and ending in Lukove, tourists flock to the area each year in search of what Frommer’s named the Top Value Destination of 2012. Filled with isolated pockets of undeveloped nature, quaint villages, incredible night life, history and culture, and some of the most incredible vistas in the Balkans, it’s no wonder this hidden gem is gaining in popularity.
1. Llogara Pass
The road between Orikum and Dhermi is known as the Llogara Pass. It’s a spectacular mountain pass that overlooks the Albanian Riviera. Driving along the road you get a panoramic view of what’s below and the feeling that you can touch the clouds at the same time. The winding road reaches a height of over 1000 metres and is considered by many to be the best coastal drive in Europe.
It’s so impressive that greats such as Ptolemy, Julius Caesar, and Strabo have written about it. Be sure to bring your camera and don’t eat a heavy meal before you begin! Prior to 2009 the road was very narrow and not well paved. And although it’s well maintained now, there are parts that remain narrow and at such elevation, fog can make driving tricky. You’ll feel like you’re flying over the sea – it’s sure to be one of your most memorable Albanian experiences.
2. Llogara National Park
In the same area as the Llogar Pass, Llogara National Park is 1020 hectares of alpine forest rich with plant and animal life. It’s about 30km from Vlore, directly between Dhermi and Orikum, and has been a national park since 1966. There are resorts within the park, and most visitors come for hiking, picnics, air adventure sports, and for a cosy alpine retreat.
It’s a refreshing break for most people thanks to the combination of high mountain air and closeness to the sea. There are over 100 different birds and animals that call the park home. The trees in the park are particularly interesting because they have been moulded over time by the sea air currents.
Be sure to check out Flag Pine which most say resembles the Albanian Eagle.
3. Gjipe Canyon & Beach
This secluded beach with a gorgeous coastal canyon at one end can be found between Vuno and Dhermi on the Karaburun. It’s so secluded that there is no paved road to the beach. From the nearest road is about a 30-minute trek – though it is possible to find yourself going the long way if you haven’t been there before! The walk is gorgeous and the unspoilt beach is well worth the trouble.
If you don’t prefer to hike, you can always kayak from a more accessible spot on the peninsula – like Jale Beach. Regardless of how you arrive, the clear water and pebbled beach is a relaxing spot. You’ll find a few vendors with small wagons selling snacks and drinks, but no full service restaurant or beach shack.
The canyon is fun to explore and it’s easy to take a quick dip to cool off after.
4. Karaburun-Sazan National Marine Park
Also located on the Karaburun Peninsula is the only marine park in Albania. The park follows several kilometres of coastline between the peninsula and Sazan Island. Once so secluded that almost no one visited, the Regina Blu ferry was established in 2014 making access to this fantastic park easer.
The entire Karaburun peninsula is a Managed Nature Reserve. The park features sunken ships from World War II as well as some once belonging to the Greeks and Romans. You’ll find giant caves to explore, steep cliffs, interesting carvings written by sailors over the years, breath-taking views at every turn, and fabulous secluded beaches to enjoy.
If you like underwater life, don’t miss the meadows of Posidonia where you’ll see crustaceans, molluscs, reptiles, red coral, and possibly some mammals.
5. Butrint Archaeological Site And National Park
Butrint has been inhabited since prehistoric times and over the centuries has been a Greek colony, a Roman colony, and even a bishopric. So it’s no surprise that the current archaeological site is a hodgepodge of ruins. Researchers have found evidence of the Byzantines, the Venetians, the Ottomans, and more. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is surrounded by a lovely lagoon.
The highlight is surely the fourth century theatre that can sit roughly 1,500 people. Each summer you can see wonderful performances there. There’s also a 6th century baptisry with colourful mosaics and a basilica. Near the theatre are Roman homes surrounded by courtyards and imposing walls. There’s a museum on site where many of the objects are displayed. Though the most famous artefact, the famous head of Apollo, is on display in Tirana
6. Saranda at the Corfu Strait
Saranada has the perfect combination of beauty and affordability. Both tourists and Albanians come here each summer as an affordable alternative to some of the pricier Riviera beach towns.
The vibe is energetic, with lots of seaside bars and nice restaurants that feature the catch of the day. Nearby Saranda you’ll find Butrint, the Ksamil Islands, and Lekursi Castle. Built in the mid 16th century, the castle sits on top of a hill that affords fantastic views of Corfu and the surrounding area. There’s even a great restaurant on site.
Also in Saranda is the historic synagogue complex. This is the site of a once wealthy Jewish community that reached its height in the 5th century AD. And if you want a little more history, visit the 40 Saints Monastery. Built in the 6th century, it was built in honour of 40 Christian Roman soldiers who were sentenced to death in Siberia after refusing to renounce their religious beliefs.
7. Ksamil Islands south of Saranda
Just 17km from Saranda are the Ksamil Islands. Made up of three small islands, you can swim out or take a boat to reach them.
White sand beaches, lounging chairs, clear blue water, and the Mediterranean sun make this the perfect relaxation spot.
Find yourself a secluded inlet to avoid all others and let the rest of the world fall away.
Most visitors to Orikum will tell you that it felt like a home away from home almost immediately.
With a long fine pebbled beach that’s perfect for walking and relaxing, there’s just something about the place that’s welcoming.
The night life is laid back and you’ll find good restaurants and shops there.
No matter where you are in town, you’re never more than ten minutes away from a cooling dip in the sea.
The village has retained all of its charm over the years and you can see and feel the history and pride of the locals.
Thanks to its geographic location (good views of the ocean and the mountain passes), Julius Caesar camped his troops here during the Roman Civil War.
At the end of the bay is the Archaeological Park where you can visit the ruins of an amphitheatre and an elaborate network of roads.
9. Church of Marmiroi
One of the highlights of Orikum is the Church of Marmiroi.
This Byzantine church was built sometimes between the 8th and 13th centuries and still contains many of the original frescoes.
The architecture is something to see, with one of the most complex designs from this period.
It’s a rare example of a cross-shaped construction with a dome and cylindrical roof.
It’s just outside of town and in order to reach it you have to cross a small stream.
10. Tragjas Village
This quaint and traditional village near Orikum is the perfect place for those who want to experience the true pace and lifestyle of the Albanian people.
If you’re just visiting for the day, be sure to take a walk up the village path that leads uphill to some spectacular views of Orikum and the coast.
Along the way to the top you’ll pass old farm factories.
The Pass of the Tombs gets you back and forth between New Tragjas and Old Tragjas.
True to its name, there are many tombs scattered around.
The Old village is abandoned but you can still explore the crumbling houses and buildings.
Villagers had to flee the village in 1943 when it was bombed by the Nazis.
You’ll also find older ruins and tombs dating to the Ottoman period
11. The Castle of Porto-Palermo
Known by the locals as Ali Pasha Tepelena, this castle was designed by a Frenchmen and built in the shape of a pentagon with large stone blocks – some as wide as 1.6 metres.
In 2014 The Huffington Post listed the village of Porto-Palermo as a top 35 Undiscovered European Destination.
Soon to be declared protected land and a historical site, the castle was once a prison during World War II, and there are still some Albanians around who were held there.
12. The Ruins of Himara
Originally dating to the Bronze Age, the castle contains the Church of Saints Sergius and Baku, the apartment of Tanj Jorgii Goro, the Church of All Saints, and an ancient tower.
The castle has been used by many historical figures like Emperor Justinian, and has been destroyed and rebuilt many times.
The medieval walls are still standing and the entire site makes for an interesting walk through Albanian history.
13. Churches of Shen Stefani and Shen Dhimitri
In the village of Dhermi you’ll find two of the designated Cultural Monuments of Albania.
These are buildings that have been recognized by the government as having particular religious and national heritage.
The Churches of Shen Stefani and Shen Dhimitiri are still places of worship and architecture and history buffs will love a break from the Dhermi beaches to explore the churches.
14. Qeparo Village
Located near Porto Palermo, Qeparo is an ancient village built on a hillside.
There are several historical sites here, including the Towers of Ali Pasha, the House of Minella Gjika, and the Monastery of Shen Dhimitri.
There’s also a beach nearby for a little relaxing after your site seeing.
Many visitors who come to Qeparoi also visit nearby the Borshc Castle and mosque in Borshc Village, and the ancient village of Pilur.
You’ll find plenty of dining and accommodation options and a warm welcome from the villagers.
15. Karavasta Lagoon & Divjaka National Park
The largest lagoon in Albanian is the Karavasta.
The rich ecosystem includes the lush Divjaka National Park, large flocks of penguins, a colony of threatened Dalmatian Pelicans, and tons of eels in the shallows.
For nature lovers, you can’t go wrong here.
The lagoon is just over 4,000 hectares and you can arrange a boat ride to explore the lagoon.
After, grab lunch at a local restaurant serving mullet and eel fresh caught from Karavasta.