Into the blue: a guide to the most epic road trip in Albania

Italy, Croatia and Greece are likely to be stops on a trip to Europe -and for good reason. The incredible architecture, food scene and rich culture are not to be missed. But these destinations also come with crowds, long queues and high prices. Thankfully, there’s a lesser-known corner in Southern Mediterranean that comes with the same charms but is still wonderfully crowd-free. Kissing the borders of Montenegro and Greece, and separeted from Puglia by a slither of water, Albania is fasting becoming a favourite destination among travellers. The country offers some of the wildest wonders to see in Europe -which include untouched rivers, ancient lakes and the most impressive road trip in the Balkans. SH8 is the road that takes visitors from Vlora to Ksamil, along the so-called Albanian Riviera. 

©Filip Bartos

The craggy coastline of Albania provides the perfect late summer and autumn holiday, even for families. Compared to the rest of the Mediterranean, it is still affordable. The sea is clean and free from dangerous currents, shores are tranquil and there are pretty seaside villages with a plethora of fish restaurants. Picturesque towns with narrow cobbled streets, rugged cliffs, fortified castles, acres of olive groves producing local olive and of course dramatic views -this road is a must and easy to explore in just a few days. 

©Xhulio Selenica

The Albanian Riviera is rugged, its cove-like beaches pebbly and generally small -except for Borsh, the longest beach here and best option for families. Water is clean, but some beaches has garbage problems (like the rest of the country). Along the coast the roads provide limited access, which is why most visitors hire a boat to visit secret bays. In the past years, Albania’s beaches, especially those in Saranda and Ksamil, became popular with tourists from all over Europe, but there are untouched villages -like Dhërmi, Vuno, Qeparo, Pilur- where old women still wear the traditional black dress and knee-length pop socks. Explore them and you’ll find something altogether different and unique. 

©Sara Darcaj

DON’T MISS: a 15-minute drive south of Ksamil, Butrint National Park is one of Albania’s Unesco World Heritage sites, home to ruins of the ancient city of Butrint, which dates back to the eight century BC. The Park also contains wetlands, salt lakes, marshes and open plains.

WHERE TO SLEEP: bed down at Hotel Orange. A classy edifice located a few meters from the beach of Dhërmi. An oasis of relax, with a private garden and an in-house restaurant serving up fish, traditional and international dishes.

Featured image: ©Bleron Salili