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Sunday, September 20, 2015
Albania – Europe’s Hidden Jewel
When we told our friends and family that we were going to Albania for our summer vacation, they all asked the same question, “why Albania?” After you see these photographs and read this journal, all your questions will be answered.
We found Albania to be a gorgeous jewel of Eastern Europe’s southern riviera.
The lead photograph from our journey is of our daughter Eden. We stopped for chocolate and vanilla ice cream macchiatos at the edge of a cliff-side mountain cafe. Fashionista Eden soaks up sunshine between billowing drapes that reveal a jaw-dropping deep azure sky thousands of feet above straw-colored beach umbrellas. To me, this was the essence of Albania. Pure, beautiful and full of spirit.
After establishing its independence from dictator rule in 1991, the country has now spread her wings to shre the world the hidden gems within. The Albanian riviera was a fabulous highlight of our trip. The views from our drive along the rugged coast south from Vlora to Llogora to Himara were staggering! Most of Albania’s roads are steep, swirly switchbacks – but all reveal magnificent vistas at each hairpin turn. Soaring green mountains drop straight into the Ionian Sea thousands of feet below.
Jonah and Eden went para-gliding off the side of a cliff 2,000 feet above the Iionian Sea – what an adventure of a lifetime for them… yes that is THEM in the photo below…
Eden and I made photo magic together once again against the background of the Llogora National Park coastline.
At the Llogora tourist village, deer ran freely among the guests….
I even had time to photograph a wedding while in the Llogora National Park in Albania…
More beautiful rugged coastline images…
Once we arrived in Himara, the charm of the Albanian riviera had completely taken over. The weather was absolutely pristine with just a hint of soft wispy breezes and 81 degree temps. The crescent cove of the coast anchored both the charming village below and homes that dotted the hillside rising into the mountains. The sun bathed it all in gold.
An extremely rare photo of yours truely, taken by Jonah.
On my final evening in Himara, I wandered into the foothills to overlook the town cove and get a sunset view of the coast. I came upon a gorgeous home that was draped in grape vines. Goats roamed their yard. When the mother of the home saw me taking pictures, she invited me inside. Her daughter asked me to sit in the garden and brought me fresh honey (made in their own yard) and wine from the vineyards on their terrace. We were treated to kindness everywhere we went. The poeple of Albania were super nice, helpful and truly wanted to get to know you.
The sun set into the sea and I felt overwhelmed by their kindness and hospitality. In return I took a few photographs of their family to document our brief time together.
The drive from Himara to Sarandë featured another awe-inspiring set of breathtaking views of the southern Albanian riviera. Homes peppered the rocky edges and donkeys shared the winding roads. We stopped for lunch and cappucinos at a gorgeous panoramic cafe and ate fish soup and fresh salads. When we pulled into Sarande, the sun glittered on the colored hotels lining the crescent cove directly across the Greek Island of Corfu.
The penultimate stop on our Albanian adventure took us to the southern tip of the country to a town called Ksmali which featured small islands lining the channel to Greece’s Corfu island. Small rustic fishing boats anchor off the beach. There was color everywhere. We jet-skied, we ate fresh fruit, we enjoyed life. The vibe in the air here in Ksmali was perfect pristine paradise.
On our drive to Berat, we witnessed the most unusual and peculiar thing that ended up being the topic of conversation the entire trip. We saw hundreds of half-completed homes in nearly mint condition. We later learned from the people of Albania that after gaining their independence in 1991, Albanians began to build a home to secure property rights. Those homes are built in phases and until each phase has the funds, it remains incomplete. See the pink house in the photograph below to see what I’m talking about. You will also see how we shared the roads with all types of livestock.
Donkeys and cattle shared the roads throughout the country.
When we arrived in Berat, we were smitten with it’s ancient charm. We explored the Citadel castle in Berat and walked, talked, and laughed until sunset. At sunset, we came to the peak of the castle mount and glanced across the Osumi River tothe Gorica neighborhood, whose houses face those of Mangalemi.
The arched bridge of Gorica, built in 1780, is a beautiful architectural monument constructed to link Gorica with Mangelemi. We then walked along the promenade for a stroll to enjoy summer life among this quaint Albanian town.
The view of the white houses climbing up the hillside to the citadel is one of the best known in Albania and features homes with windows that seem to stand above each other.
This city is the pride of Albanian architecture, and under the protection of UNESCO .I took many different photographs in this city – it was visually striking!
What we found so unique about Albania was it’s deep family roots. Everywhere we went, we experienced family-run businesses. Hotels, inns, restaurants, businesses, shop-keepers, and farmers all had multi-generational family members involved in some part of the business. Everything was organic. With farms everywhere you looked, and fresh seafood at arms length from most restaurants, the food was fresher than you could imagine.
On our drive back north, we stopped in Gjirokastër an ancient hilltop village rich in history. The magically low prices continued to delight us. I stepped into a barber shop for a shave ( I hadn’t shaved once in 9 days on the trip). My beard was thick and Sulo spent 20 minutes shaving my beard with a straight razor. The grand total? $0.75 cents.
Thanks to my little super models who made Albania look even better than it already is!
Gal planned the entire trip flawlessly and her tireless effort paid off. Our course was meticulously charted for the most fluid vacation. Thank you Gal – I love you so much for the energy you put into each trip. Thank you Avram and Rita for all that you do to make the trip so fun and fabulous!
If you like these photographs, please leave a comment below and do your self a favor and book a trip to Albania!
Here are some helpful travel recommendations:
Restaurants in Tirana: Era, Villa Amsterdam, Il Gusto Vino & Ristorante Club
Hotel in Tirana: Hotel Rogner
Hotel in Berat: Vila Alexsander, also amazing for dinner
Restaurants in Llogora National Park: Llogora Tourist Village
Hotel in Himara: Rappos Resport