Friday, November 4, 2011

Travels in the Albanian Riviera

By S. Adam Cardais

“… I had never been there before and I knew nothing about it, and neither did anyone else,” Paul Theroux wrote of Albania in 1995 in The Pillars of Hercules. “… here on the most heavily beaten path in the world, the shore of the Mediterranean, it was still possible to travel into the unknown.” Still remote, Albania – for 40 years the most isolated country in communist Europe – is blooming. Tourism is flourishing, and Frommer’s just rated the Albanian Riviera the Top Value Destination 2012:

Unsung, undeveloped and eminently affordable, the Albanian Riviera has all the natural attractions of its Croatian counterpart further north but without the crowds and considerable expenses. Here you have white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters, and Mediterranean villages barely changed since long before King Zog.

That’s a stretch. Albania is no Croatia. Nevertheless, its southern Ionian coast is both affordable and spectacular. Pristine Dhermi is the jewel, a favorite summer destination for Albanians and Kosovars. The village sits between high mountains and the turquoise Ionian Sea, with a long beach. Though new hotels are going up, Dhermi has little by way of accommodation and entertainment, but that’s its charm: A private beach is a short coastal hike away.


Farther south, Saranda is a developed town with better hotels, dining and nightlife. Its beach is modest, but the nearby Butrint Roman ruins more than compensate. Even farther south, Ksamil is a tiny but beautiful stretch of beach and islands just north of the Greek border. Popular with families, Ksamil overcrowds despite its remoteness, but it’s worth a visit, if only for the beachside cafes, which serve the best fresh fish on the coast and Greek specialties like tzatziki.

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