Albanian Riviera, Western Balkans Beach Vacation
Each week National Geographic Traveler editors select a seasonal trip showcasing the world’s best destinations to visit right now.
2013 Best Fall Trip #1
Albania’s southwestern Ionian coast is a short ferry hop from Corfu, Greece, yet remains relatively undiscovered and affordable. Summer traffic is increasing along the sun-bleached Albanian Riviera, but—for the moment at least—the warm turquoise waters, rocky coves, and pebble-and-sand beaches are blissfully empty in early fall.
When to Go: September-October
How to Get Around
From Corfu, Greece, it’s a 30-minute Ionian Cruises hydrofoil ride to Sarandë, southwestern Albania’s gateway port. Book a rental car in advance and drive just south of Sarandë to the ancient city of Butrint. Then head north along the winding SH8 expressway (reconstructed in 2009) to visit beaches and traditional Mediterranean villages like Lukovë, Piqeras, Himarë, Borsh, Jale and Dhërmi.
Where to Eat or Drink
Follow the locals to family-owned tavernas, where menus typically feature spit-roasted lamb or the day’s fresh catch drizzled with local olive oil. For dramatic Straits of Corfu sunset views, join the tourists (and sip a glass of potent Albanian raki) in the hills above Sarandë at the Lëkursi Castle restaurant.
Where to Stay
Hotel websites and English-speaking hotel staff aren’t common, so making advance reservations can be a challenge. Online booking is available at modern hotels like the 50-room Rapo’s Resort near Himarë. For more authentic, locally owned lodging, look for signs reading dhoma plazhi (rooms for rent) outside smaller hotels and village guesthouses.
After spending the bulk of the 20th century in isolation thanks to its Stalinist dictator, Albania is eager to welcome the world. Tourism is still a new concept here, however, so patience, an adventurous spirit (particularly when driving), and an Albanian phrase book are essential.
What to read about the Albanian Riviera before you Go: Albania: An Archaeological Guide, by Oliver Gilkes (I. B. Tauris, 2012)
Former Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha died in 1985, but most of the estimated 750,000 igloo-shaped, concrete bunkers he had built throughout Albania remain. Though the foreign invasion Hoxha feared never materialized, the bunkers (including several near Ionian beaches) have become popular photo op stops for foreign visitors.
If you have any hesitancy about visiting Albania, I suggest hiring a local group to show you around. One of the best is Auron Tare Expeditions. The staff will work with you to provide whatever you want in a tour: diving, horseback riding, following the path of Lord Byron, exploring the history of Jews during World War II (there were more Jews in this Nazi-dominated country at the end of the war than before it started), or anything else of interest. —Caroline Hickey, project manager, Travel books
Source : travel.nationalgeographic.com