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Beach enthusiasts aren’t the only ones who will appreciate this paradise in the Southern Balkans. Ancient hill hamlets, hidden monasteries, blue-roofed churches, rugged shorelines and ancient history are just a few of the Albanian coast’s attractions. Here is how to make the most of your weekend.
Morning: explore the picturesque beaches
The only way to get to the Albanian Riviera from the capital, Tirana, is via Vlora, the second-largest port in the country, and the mountain pass of Llogara. Just 14 kilometres (nine miles) from Llogara Pass sits Dhërmi, possibly the most picturesque hill town on the Riviera. Drymades, west of the hamlet, is a quiet beach with a huge rock dividing the pebbly part from the sandy area –perfect for either relaxing on the sand or exploring the rocks. Stop for a coffee, a frappé or a cold soft drink at the Summer Dream Hotel.
Tip: There is free parking near the beach, so this is a great place to start your journey if you are driving.
Afternoon: enjoy a great seafood lunch
Head into Jalë, a hidden bay near the village of Vuno that is lapped by crystal-clear waters. Find a table at the Soleil Tavern, part of the Folie Marine complex, to enjoy traditional Albanian dishes including grilled vegetables, pasta with seafood and fish soups. Take your time to digest lunch with a cold drink while admiring the breathtaking sea view, before jumping into the turquoise waters of the bay. For those who’d rather explore on land than swim, there is a beautiful hiking route to Gjipë beach, a secret bay situated at the end of a canyon not too far from Jalë.
Evening: explore the lively town of Himara
Himara is the largest hamlet along the Albanian Riviera, and the liveliest, too. The recently revamped seafront is crammed with bars and fish restaurants. Choose one of them and enjoy the freshest catch of the day you’ve ever tasted. Then spend the evening dancing in one of the village’s modern clubs, or take a relaxing walk along the promenade to admire the spectacular views of the moon reflecting over the sea.
Night: relax and admire breathtaking views
The cosy hotel Ionian View is located on the top of a hill near the centre of Himara and, as the name suggests, offers gorgeous views over the bay and Corfu Island. The owners also offer boat trips to the surrounding areas to let customers discover the beautiful hidden beaches of the Riviera.
Morning: visit Porto Palermo’s castle
Start your second day on the Albanian Riviera with a huge traditional breakfast. This consists of a slice of byrek (the Balkan pie stuffed with spinach, cheese or meat), Albanian cheeses, honey and, of course, a cup of Turkish coffee. Then go straight to Ali Pasha Castle in Porto Palermo, one of the highlights of the whole country. Entrance costs only 200 leke (£1.30) and offers breathtaking views over the Ionian Sea. Children don’t have to pay, making this an ideal family day out. Continue your tour to the south, passing through Borsh, the longest beach in Albania, and Saranda, which is considered the unofficial capital of the Riviera.
Afternoon: go back in time in Butrint
There are many reasons to drive out to Saranda at the southern edge of the Riviera, but you really only need one: the idyllic beach of Ksamil, arguably the most famous in Albania. If you have had enough of beaches and want to soak up some culture instead, head to the archaeological park of Butrint, the largest archaeological site in the Balkans. Butrint is a microcosm of Mediterranean culture, and in the past has been inhabited by Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and Venetians. The entrance fee for all this history is 700 leke (about £4.90).
Evening: dine like a king
Return to Ksamil to enjoy your dinner at Guvat, one of the best places to eat in the south of Albania. Try the delicious seafood pasta filled with crayfish, mussels and squid while gazing out at the exceptional view of the Ksamil islands from the restaurant’s terrace. This is the perfect place for a romantic dinner date.
Night: enjoy your night out in Saranda
Enjoy your last night on the Albanian Riviera in Saranda. Saranda is home to many clubs where DJs from the Balkans and around Europe take to the decks to create an unforgettable soundtrack to your night. Factory Night Club is one of the most famous clubs in Albania, while the View Bar Terrace, as the name suggests, offers terrific views over Saranda’s bay, and also offers a great range of drinks. Titania Hotel is the best choice for your accommodation for the night; it is located right in the centre of Saranda. After a long night of dancing, you’ll be glad to come back and get a good night’s sleep in the spacious, well-equipped and comfortable rooms.