Albania emerges as Europe’s last undiscovered beach

Visiting Albania for the first time

Albania

by Amy Guttman

For decades, Albania this small country, on the western side of the Balkan Peninsula, surrounded, on one side by sea, and the other by Slavic dictatorships, was shut off completely to the outside world.

In five to 10 years, luxury may be in the offing, but along with it, will come the hoards of people.  Go now, before everyone else does.

For the intrepid traveler who prefers beating a new path rather than following one, Albania offers some of Europe’s last undiscovered beaches, as well as surprising culinary appeal.

We begin with a lunch of fresh oysters from the Ionian Sea, washed down with white wine from Albanian’s biggest vineyard, Cobo.  

Reaching Gjirokaster

By nightfall, we reach the hilltop town of Gjirokaster.  The UNESCO world heritage site is known for its stone, once sourced locally, now a precious commodity.  The Hotel Kalemi, with its traditional decor of stone archways and carved wood ceilings commands views of the valley below. Dinner in the mountains is warm, homey comfort food. Architectural and political buffs will relish walking through the Ottoman-style homes and the former residence of Communist leader Enver Hoxha is now an ethnographic museum.

Impression of Albanias capital Tirana

Tirana, with its wide, quiet boulevards, and massive, squatty, Communist-era buildings is a fascinating view to the past and the present.  There are bicycles for rent and entire, dedicated cycle lanes.  Our boutique hotel is situated on the “block,” the area open only to government officials until 1991, now Tirana’s trendiest area.

Heading south to Vlora

From Tirana, we head back down south, via a 13th century monastery whose frescoes rival those in Florence. We wind down through the seaside town of Vlore, known for its fresh seafood, before the sapphire Adriatic turns into the turquoise Ionian Sea.

At the edge of a white pebble beach in Palasa, we taste warm, toasted bread served with fresh bruschetta and a yogurt spread with hints of mint that’s so local we’re unable to satisfy future cravings for it. Small fillets of tender white fish are delicately laced with lemon peel, and octopus carpaccio is drizzled in Albanian olive oil.   We could be anywhere in the Med, except we’d be paying at least twice as much.

Ksamil is famous for its well-photographed white, sandy beaches and clear, azure water. There are no resorts in Albania, and the beach is no exception; no luxury, and little tourism infrastructure outside of basic, small, family owned hotels.  In return, there are unobstructed views of streaky, smudgy orange and pink sunsets.

A small island beach is accessible by boat, or an exhilarating 700 meter swim.  The water is safe, still and shallow.  The island’s Lion Club pumps up the volume with bass-thumping beats and a beach bar.  Albania’s beach motto is, after all, “Less clothes, more music.”

In five to 10 years, luxury may be in the offing, but along with it, will come the hoards of people.  Go now, before everyone else does.

 

 

Originally posted by Amy Guttman

 

Rare Visit through Albania Reveals Sandy Surprises Shedding stereotypes of gun-toting arms smugglers, Albania emerges as Europe’s last undiscovered beach.
Date Published: 10/31/2013
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