6 bundles of thoughts from a wonderful land | Project Albania 2021

 The time has come for the last piece on this year’s trip to Albania. I promised a follow-up to our first moments spent in this country that I love so much… so, read on.


Lin heights

I looked at Marcel as he was walking in the garden and asked if I could help him. He was trying to capture everything on his drone: wild and beautiful Lake Ohrid that we had kayaked, lovely Lin that had hosted us for the past 2 days and nights, and the promontory that we had trekked.

Lin, Albania

He didn’t reply, but in a few minutes he burst into the room:

‘I think I lost the drone.’

He left in a hurry. I stayed in the room and prayed and hoped he would find it… so many memories on the SD card! At one point he returned and the shadow of the drone preceded him. I found out how he had walked around the village asking the locals if they had seen the drone… and, in the end, when the GPS signal resumed, how he climbed the rocks to eventually find it close to a donkey.

Marcel fishing on Lake Ohrid, Albania

Pink sunset on Lake Ohrid, Albania

Where to sleep?

   Vila 43 – by the lake; wonderful views and meals and cosiness that’s hard to beat!

How to buy a SIM?

   We did that in Pogradec – we needed cash and a passport; the shops were also open on Sunday.


Vlorë and Himarë: the Albanian Riviera

Travelling with us is an unpredictable endeavour. On the same day when Marcel nearly lost his drone, we started driving to Vlorë, forgot our food in the refrigerator in Lin, returned, I got upset on my best friend from Albania, I cried when I visited Apollonia, and then… realised that the accommodation in Vlorë, advertised as an apartment with ‘sea view’, was actually behind a block of flats that was being built and in a far corner one could see the sea. The owners had been nice to us, but we have passed this ‘let’s compromise’ stage. We left money for the first night on the table and hit the road. Wind accompanied us through stunning Llogara Pass, reception faded, but I finally found an accommodation that seemed sent to me from above… Indeed, in the olive garden beneath the mountains, by the funny goats, the vibe was so much different than in Vlorë. Our hosts – now friends – helped us by fixing a delicious dinner. I felt safe and happy as I went to bed that evening in Himarë.

Apollonia, Albania


What to do?

   Embrace beach time: Gjipë (hike and swim), Perivolo (in Dhërmi), Borsh (the longest beach on the Albanian Riviera), or Filikuri (reachable by kayak or boat; it remained my favourite beach in Albania).

Almost there: Gjipe Beach, Albania

Wild swimming no. 10, Gjipe Beach, Albania

Leaving Gjipe Beach, Albania
Rainy afternoon kayaking, Jala, Albania

Magical sunset, Borsh Beach, Albania


Walk around Dhërmi, its grand whitish houses and its rollercoasterish streets.

Dhermi, Albania

   Visit a semi-ghost village at sunset. Upper Qeparo will charm you and the road there is steep and fascinating, passing by olive trees.    

Towards Upper Qeparo, Albania

Where to stay?

   Janakis Garden Livadi was our favourite accommodation of our trip through Albania. I will never forget the friendship and the warmth that I found there!

@Janakis Garden Livadi, Albania

Where to eat?

   Taverna to Steki is a Greek restaurant in Himarë (like many in the area are) that serves superb food and kindly welcomes its guests.

   Those with a sweet tooth should head to Pasticeri Delight if in Himarë; the personnel is wonderful and kind and the sweets are yum.

   Drinks, snacks, and extraordinary views can all be found at the cutest café that I noticed on the road – Lula. You can’t miss it while you drive by Vuno.    

What to buy?

   If you’re heading south, a nice stop is at the family-run Gjikondi Olive Oil Factory in Qeparo. We had a small tasting and then bought olive oil for back home. It was the freshest I ever got and the scents in the factory are unforgettable to me.

Gjikondi Olive Oil Factory in Qeparo, Albania


In the south of the south: Ksamil/Sarandë

The last time we had gone this far to the south in Albania had been in 2015, but we hadn’t visited Ksamil (or its beaches!) and there were still a few things I had missed out on in Sarandë.

So, we returned!

What to do?

   Spend quality time around water. The beaches in Ksamil are special, with a shade of turquoise that I have not seen elsewhere. [We actually tried to get as far as south as possible, drove around olive trees and curious cows, saw a police car – which didn’t stop us – and, at the end, reached a gate… which is understandable, in a way, given the short distance on water from Corfu Island.]

Around Ksamil, Albania

   Lori Beach is wonderful for swimming and watching the sunset in a hammock.

Lori Beach, Ksamil, Albania

   From here, you can also kayak to the twin islands of the evergreen Ksamil Islands.

   Another beach for sunset lovers is Pasqyra [Albanian for ‘mirror’], located between Ksamil and Sarandë; the road down to the beach may not be the best by car but it’s perfectly doable on foot.

    Lungomare Sarandë is wonderful for a walk. Nicolae Iorga Monument [I studied history and he is arguably the greatest Romanian historian] is also found there and you’ll understand why he is so loved when you get there.   

Where to eat?

   For sweets lovers, I recommend Dolce Bakery in Ksamil – I had the best trileqe in Albania there!

   For mussel lovers, there’s The Mussel House between Ksamil and Sarandë – lovely setting and staff… and vegetarians can find something to eat, too.

@The Mussel House, Albania

   For crêpe lovers (sweet and savoury!), there’s Like Creperie in Sarandë (I love this town!) – a place I’ve wanted to visit for years and it didn’t disappoint me.

LIke Creperie in Saranda, Albania


Drinos River and the roses of Gjirokastër

Our initial thought had been to head to Ali Pasha Bridge, to our accommodation in Gjirokastër, and then to Sajmola Restaurant – where we planned to leave the car –, scout the route, and paddle Vjosa River from there the following day. However, the restaurant was closed and the river didn’t look as inviting as I remembered [of course, things changed in a couple of days, when the turquoise – haunted away by the rains – returned]. Fear got hold of me and I admitted that I needed to start from scratch to consolidate my kayaking base. We drove to Përmet instead and found a vibrant new town there, full of old memories.

We had noticed beautiful and light turquoise Drinos River [there is another story here – of how a hydro plant in neighbouring Greece leaves the river without water in some of its parts…], so we headed there instead the following day! I did so well on the river that Marcel bought me a bag from Gjirokastër Bazaar. From the same shop, I bought a traditional Albanian blouse and the lady owner gifted me a bracelet that is still on my wrist, with the guardian eye watching over me since. Gjirokastër Bazaar is my favourite in Albania and there are so many quality items to purchase and take home!   

Drinos River welcome, Albania

Where to sleep?

   Definitely Castle Hotel – we parted as dear friends and were wonderfully received and treated! I miss our time there!

Where to eat?

   In Permët, there’s Pastiçeri Bleta – I once told the owner ‘I dreamt of your sweets!’.

   As mentioned here, in Gjirokastër, you’ll have your fill at Odaja and Taverna Tradicionale; for homemade cakes, head to Snack Bar Simple – I was offered roses here and it made my day. You’ll feel so welcome in all these three places! Plus, if you wish to try the local wonder-dessert – oshaf, head to Kodra.

What to buy?

   Traditional products – local jams, figs, embroidered lavender bags; I visited Edua and I liked it.    


Around Narta Lagoon

The road to Narta Lagoon (I had wanted to feel its energy for a long time) was planned mainly to see the pelicans and flamingos that called it home. Strawberries bought on the side of the road came to brighten our morning and then we drove around villages until we got near Zvërnec Island. We planned kayaking there, to St. Mary’s Monastery, but the wind was rough and it felt cold. In the end, we walked the wooden ‘bridges’ to get to the island and found so much peace around the monastery! /It was comparable to what we felt at Densuş in Romania and St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt./ The regular visitor – a giant pelican –, we would later be told, did not make an appearance.

To Zvernec Island, Albania

What to do?

   Follow the road to the right as you leave Zvërnec Island (even I did that!) and then drop the car and trek the coast. We stumbled upon some wild beaches and views of Sazan Island – the largest of all Albanian islands –, where the Adriatic and the Ionian seas meet. It seemed a mix of Scotland and the Azores, but, somehow, the Albanian soul and beauty prevailed.

   See the wildlife. Not too close, not too far. There are limits up to which animals feel comfortable around people. Feel them. J We kayaked to see the flamingos and it was an unforgettable experience. Ask the locals for directions, they usually know where the birds are.

Kayaking around Narta Lagoon, Albania

Where to eat?

   Enjoy a meal at a local restaurant. You’re buying from locals (there are many local fishermen) and helping out the communities. There are Aromanian and Greek communities around Narta Lagoon. We had lunch and Markelino (the food was very tasty!) and managed to communicate well (us – in Romanian; them – in Aromanian) with our hosts.


Time in Berat

One more time, Berat was a lesson of friendship, of wishes come true, of things settled. We didn’t find as many souvenir shops as we had in the past (even at Berat Castle!) or as many restaurants to blow our mind (we chose to eat at our accommodation), but small things like sharing a trileqe or a drink with friends went a long way. We slowed down and savoured life. And then, we ended it the way we always have while visiting Berat: on Osumi.       

Where to stay?

   I finally had my dream of staying in the middle of it all and looking at those old white houses and their windows. Hotel Onufri was perfect for that and the people working there are wonderful (to say the least) and helped us so much!   

Breakfast at Hotel Onufri, Berat, Albania


Korçë – together with nearby Prespa lakes – was going to be our next and final stop before heading home from what was the best trip of our 2021 so far. 

Lake Prespa, Albania


I miss Albania, and by that, I also mean the big hearts that continue to beat there!

Because hearts shape lands, experiences, and trust. ♥      


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