Albania may not be the biggest country on the Balkan peninsula, but it’s full of natural beauty and places that everyone, from eager travel lovers to regular tourists, can explore and enjoy.
This hidden European gem is located just south of Montenegro and north of Greece, with access to the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Its coastline stretches for 476 kilometers (296 miles), but it shouldn’t be confused with the Albanian Riviera, also known as Bregu, which encompasses the southwestern districts of Sarandë and Vlorë.
The Albanian Riviera is dotted with ancient castles, charming villages, churches, and monasteries, making it a perfect spot for sightseeing. Once you’re done checking out these attractions, you can easily visit some of the country’s most famous nightlife spots, as well as its magnificent turquoise water beaches, seaside canyons, mountain passes, and even groves full of lemon, orange, and olive trees.
However, with so many one-of-a-kind attractions in one place, it may be challenging to choose the ones that are worth visiting the most. To give you a head start, this article will guide you through some of the undeniably unique locations and things you can experience there. Continue reading below for more details.
The name Himarë refers to both the region and municipality in southern Albania. The region is mostly home to a vast ethnic Greek community, and local people speak both Greek and Albanian. Himarë, also known as Himara, is filled with long white sandy beaches and hills planted with citrus and olive trees.
If you want to work on your holiday tan and eat some delicious seafood while you’re at it, you can visit Jale, which is a hidden bay with deep-blue waters located near the bilingual and incredibly picturesque town of Himarë. There you can either enjoy swimming in the azure seas, lay on the well-maintained beach, or step into one of the restaurants to taste the traditional Albanian dishes.
Camping in Gjipe
In Vuno, the charming small village located in the Himarë municipality, about 10 kilometers (6,5 miles) from the town of Himarë, there’s another hidden gem — Gjipe beach and camping site. It’s a free campsite equipped with necessities such as a toilet and access to a secluded yet stunningly beautiful beach.
Getting to the Gjipe beach might be the most tricky part of your adventure, but the best way to reach it is either on foot or by car/boat. A car or a boat will take you straight to the beach, but if you decide to hike there, watch out for the old bunkers from Albania’s communist era, which make for an interesting sight.
Gjipe is a remote beach with shining aquamarine waters of the Ionian Sea. Once you get there, you can set up your tent to stay overnight. It’s also a good idea to go for a swim and visit the restaurants and cafes that offer delicious fresh seafood. Once you’re done dipping your toes in the sea, you can also go on a hike and explore the Gjipe canyon.
The Aquarium beach is a tiny, secluded beach not too far from Himara. One could even call its location the literal middle of nowhere, as the spot is well-hidden and surrounded by rock formations covered in green shrubs and trees. It can be reached by boat from Jale beach, and there’s also a narrow dirt road that leads to it, but it may not be too friendly to inexperienced drivers or those who don’t drive a 4×4.
There are no facilities such as bars, cafes, or hotels near the beach. The Aquarium beach is a magical and tranquil spot that’s free from crowds and still unknown to many tourists. If you bring your own supplies, such as umbrellas, towels, and food, you can have a great day of peaceful tanning and swim in the perfectly blue water without being bothered by others.
Kakome beach is located in a secluded bay of the same name. This true jewel of the Albanian Riviera lies along the coastlines of the Adriatic and Ionian seas. It’s a pebble beach, made of light gravel and equipped with sunbeds and umbrellas. There aren’t too many people there, so if you want to relax away from the madding crowds, then Kakome beach is the perfect destination for you.
The water that washes the beach’s shores is clean and surrounded by high, green hills. Near the bay, there’s a fortified Saint Mary’s of Kakome Monastery that’s been sitting there since the XVI century. Bear in mind that there are no bars in restaurants near the beach, so if you decide to visit it for a day, make sure to bring your own drinks and food.
Llogara National Park
Albania also has plenty to offer to all adventure lovers out there. For one of the best experiences, it’s best to travel to the Llogara National Park, situated in the Ceraunian Mountains, which overlooks the Albanian Riviera. The park is widely recognized for its rich flora and fauna, with its lush forests that are home to a wide range of rare species, such as the golden eagle, European wildcat, or Alpine chamois. Tourism is an important part of the park, so it is only natural that on your way there, you’ll find an abundance of different hotels, restaurants, and wooden cabins.
Paragliding over Llogara Pass
The Llogara pass, at an elevation of 1.043m (3422ft) above sea level, is arguably the best spot to enjoy tandem paragliding in Albania. You’ll need to do your research before arriving in the place, as a lot depends on the particular operator you’ll fly with. For instance, some people paraglide only in certain months, such as August, while others fly year-round.
Paragliding is a great sport that will raise your adrenaline levels and allow you to enjoy around 15 minutes of flying at a time. You’ll see some of the most beautiful views from high above and be able to feel like the Greek mythology hero Icarus.
Boat Trip to Karaburun Peninsula
While visiting the Albanian Riviera, you can explore some of the best shopping locations while on land, but you can also decide to set out on an adventure to the Karaburun Peninsula. The largest peninsula in the whole country, Karaburun boasts astonishing views of the Karaburun-Sazan Marine Park, unique subtropical flora, and perfectly blue, calm waters.
You can stay on the boat and enjoy drinks, soak up the sun, snap pictures of your surroundings or try swimming and snorkeling to see spots such as the Cave of Haxhi Ali. There are plenty of speedboats you can book for either 4 or 7 hours, and most of them provide amenities such as alcoholic beverages, bottled water, and snorkeling equipment.
Cave of Haxhi Ali
The cave of Haxhi Ali is a karst cave that can be found on the Karaburun Peninsula, not too far from the rocky Cape of Gjuhëz. It was formed in limestone cliffs and named after Haxhi Aliu, a famous Albanian pirate lord. Many people consider the cave to be one of the most beautiful places located in the Karaburun-Sazan Marine National Park.
Besides being a famous tourist attraction and a great place to visit for Instagram-worthy photos, the cave of Haxhi Ali also has a high geological value as it boasts distinctive stalactite formations that formed over the centuries. With the help of snorkeling equipment, you can jump off the boat and see the cave up close.
The Bay of Grama is a well-known tourist spot on the Albanian Riviera. In the classical antiquity period, it used to serve as a crucial harbor and shelter for ships and boats sailing along the coast. Now, its shore consists mostly of pebbled beaches and sloped coastal cliffs. In the bay, you’ll find numerous solutional and sea caves that are home to the Mediterranean monk seal, which is one of the rarest sea animals in the world.
Once you get there, either by boat or on foot, following the Palasë – Shën Andre Bay – Grama Bay trail, you can spend your time sunbathing and relaxing. The waters in the Grama Bay are incredibly clear and stunningly turquoise. There’s also a bar restaurant that serves grilled fish and lamb as well as snacks and drinks. Another option is to stay there overnight and camp in a tent. This way, you’ll be able to enjoy magnificent views of the setting sun.
Hiking to Maja e Çikës
The Maja e Çikës trail that leads straight to the peak of the same name can be found in the Ceraunian Mountains — a coastal mountain range within the county of Vlorë.
The summit is at 2,044 meters (6,706 ft) above sea level, making it the highest peak of these mountains. You can set on an adventure at any time of the year, but bear in mind that hiking this trail in winter might be exceptionally difficult because of the snow and the 50-grade steep that begins at around 1000 meters.
It’s a trail that will require you to use crampons during the winter months. They won’t be necessary for summer, though. The views from the summit will certainly be worth the effort. Besides the blue waters of the Ionian sea, you’ll also see Italy’s coast, provided the weather is good. It’s also likely that you’ll meet some Albanian shepherds on your way and be able to look down at Himarë, Palasa, Dhermi, and Jala beaches.
Porto Palermo Castle
Porto Palermo Castle is a small fortress that’s been built by a French architect hired by Ali Pasha, a famous Albanian leader who, at one point in his reign, used to control directly or indirectly the vast majority of mainland Greece, almost half of Albania, and a significant part of Macedonia.
The castle is located on a small island right in the Bay of Palermo that’s easily accessible on foot due to the fact that it’s connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land. All you need to do to get there is reach Porto Palermo by car or a local mini-bus and go on a long walk.
The castle has many rooms that you can peek into. Inside its walls, you’ll find many interesting paintings, some of them depicting Ali Pasha himself. There’s an old prison on the ground floor, but it hasn’t been used since World War II. If you go up the stone stairs, you can stand on a terrace on top of the castle. It’s a great spot for taking photos with the glistening waters on the Ionian sea in the background.
Saint Nicholas Monastery
Although there are several monasteries dedicated to the memory of Saint Nicholas in Europe, the one located in the Albanian Mesopotam village is certainly worth visiting. The monastery is a part of the abandoned Orthodox monastery of Saint George. It is considered to be particularly special thanks to its double apse, a semi-circle built into the ceiling over a pinnacle point.
You need to stay careful when exploring this monastery. That’s because even though it’s a designated Cultural Monument of Albania, it desperately needs to be restored, and there are plenty of wooden props and scaffolding preventing it from collapsing. It’s an incredibly interesting spot full of history, perfect for those with a burning passion for architecture.
While this monastery isn’t located directly on the Albanian Riviera, it’s only around 20 minutes by car from the coastal Sarandë, making it an ideal place to visit once you’re finished working on your perfect tan.
As you can see, the Albanian Riviera is a diverse place that can allow you to spend time relaxing on its various beaches and swimming in the crystal-clear waters. However, there’s also something for those who prefer to stay active during their travels or want to see some exciting locations that are full of history.
There’s so much to do while visiting the Albanian Riviera. You can relax on some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, such as Jale, Aquarium, or Kakome beaches, and swim in the waters of the warm southern seas. You can also have fun exploring the Cave of Haxhi Ali, camp in Gjipe, visit the Llogara National Park to try paragliding, or hike to the summit of Maja e Çikës. If you want to get in touch with history, go to see the Porto Palermo castle or travel a short distance into the mainland to see Saint Nicholas Monastery.
Visiting the Albanian Riviera allows you to experience unique locations that are often true hidden gems, as not that many people know about all of them. Enjoy the delicious Albanian food, deemed one of the best cuisines in the world, take beautiful photos, and get ready to make great memories!