Culture Over Coffee on the Albanian Riviera - Two Day Trip
CASTLE OF KANINA(Approx 7 km southeast of Vlora – approx. 20 minutes onsecondary roads)Begin your journey by heading south from Vlora, turn offthe Vlora-Saranda National Road towards the village ofKanina. Originally constructed in the 3rd century B.C., theCastle of Kanina was later rebuilt by Emperor Justinianin the 5th century A.D. Climb to the top of the castle wallsto enjoy the breathtaking views of Vlora Bay. Visitors areadvised to use caution when ascending or descending onthe slippery stone. Admission is free.CASTLE OF GJON BOÇARI(Approx 35 km south of Vlora – approx. 50 minutes onsecondary and dirt roads)From Vlora, turn east off of the National Road, headingtowards the village of Tragjas, away from Vlora Bay.Continuing 5km past Tragjas village, you will reach theCastle of Gjon Boçari an important fortification of the Boçari,16th-17th centuries A. D. This fortification features acharacteristic “arrow loop” design which began to be usedin Albanian building construction in the 16th century. T ypicalof castles built along the southern Albanian coast during thisperiod, the castle itself is a large fortification with towers on
the northern and eastern corners of the building. Admissionis free and visitors are advised to exercise caution whenwalking on the steep slopes and often slippery stonessurrounding the castle fortifications.MID-MORNING COFFEE IN TRAGJAS VILLAGEAfter visiting the castle, follow the dirt road back to thevillage of Tragjas. Stop at one of the few cafes/bars or (lokale)for a coffee (kafe) and enjoy a short break at the villagebar with elders sipping slowly their T urkish-style coffees.LLOGARA NATIONAL PARKLLOGARA NATIONAL PARK(Approx 20 km south of Tragjas – approx. 30 minutes onthe Vlora-Saranda National Road)Return to the National Road and follow the road inlandtowards Llogara National Park As the road turns away Park.from the sea and climbs up into the mountains, roadsidevendors sell honey, beeswax, carrots and persimmon topassersby. Watch for a small sign indicating the Flag PineNational Monument or “Pisha Flamur” near the top ofthe mountain pass. A marvel of nature, this 100 year-oldpine tree, 20 m high and 75 cm in diameter, is shaped bythe strong winds blowing north from the Ionian Sea throughthe Llogara Pass to the Adriatic Sea, shaping the tree’slimbs into the form of a flag.COFFEE WITH A VIEWAs you exit Llogara pass (910m above sea level) to thesouth, brace yourself for the breathtaking views of the IonianSea. A few wise investors have built cafes and restaurantsfor travelers to enjoy the view over coffee or a traditionalsnack of yoghurt with honey and walnuts or “kos me arradhe mjalt”. On a clear day, visitors may be able to see theGreek island of Corfu in the distance.
CHURCHES AND MONASTERIES OF DHERMI(16 km from Llogara Pass – approx. 25 minutes on the Vlora-Saranda National Road)Winding down the precipitous mountain pass, you will come tothe quaint coastal village Dhërmi, home to 31 churches andmonasteries. Many local vendors sell their produce and honeyon this stretch of highway leading into Dhërmi. Park carefullyon the roadsides in Dhermi, and begin the steep 15-minuteclimb from the National Road to Saint Mary Church andMonastery a basilica with a Byzantine-style wooden and tiledMonastery,dome with a single nave. The Archbishop Ioannis of Himaraand Delvina commissioned frescos to decorate the church in1781. This is a beautiful place to watch the sunset if visitorschose to remain in one of the numerous guesthouses in DhërmiVillage or Dhërmi Beach, further down the mountainside. TheChurch of Ipapandia is situated very close to the beach andcan be reached via a 5-minute drive on secondary roads. Thechurch has a large, semi-circular shaped atrium, which is dividedby the narthex. The narthex features two entrances and a stoneiconostas, the screen or wall dividing the sanctuary from thenave in traditional Orthodox and Catholic churches. Anotherinteresting characteristic of the church is the high, elegant belltower erected on the western facade. Admission is free to bothchurches, although a small donation for their upkeep isencouraged.LUNCH AND COFFEE IN DHERMIAs a seaside town, visitors are encouraged to try the local catchof the day: sea bass (levrek), snapper (koce), or red mullet(barbun), served either fried (skuqur) or grilled (zgare). Friedpotatoes and a variety of salads make for great accompaniments,served family-style with homemade wines.After lunch, leave seaside Dhërmi and return to the main NationalRoad, heading south towards Himara. After about 5-10 minutesdrive on the National Road, there is a café/bar situated on a
sharp bend of the road to the left, overlooking lower Dhërmiand the Ionian Coast. This is a favorite stopping spot for localtravelers, as they discuss the next leg of their journey overcoffee or brandy (raki), and ice cream (akullore) in the summermonths.ANCIENT CITY OF HIMARA(Approx 16 km south of Dhermi – approx. 45 minutes on theVlora-Saranda National Road)Continuing south along the National Road to the ancient cityHimara, take advantage of the natural beauty for a roadsidepicnic or photography on this untouched stretch of Albaniancoastline. In the 5th century B.C., Himara was known by thename of Chimera and in the 9th-10th centuries chroniclesmention it as an Episcopal center under the OhridArchdiocese. T oday Himara is the largest town between Vloraand Saranda, a beautiful coastal town by the Ioanian sea. Thecity’s main earner is tourism, and visitors should have littledifficulty in located a simple, yet well-maintained hotel orguesthouse.Upon arriving in Himara, one may visit the 5th century B.C.Castle of Himara positioned prominently on the hill above Himara,the city which it once protected. Driving south from Dhërmi,it is advised to park the vehicle in upper Himara, upon enteringthe city which is closer to the castle. Continue on foot to thecastle, paying attention to the slippery rocks underfoot. Along-time stronghold of the local population, the castle wasoccupied until the 16th century A.D. and contains severalmedieval churches. Perhaps the most beautiful church withinthe walls is the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus Bacchus,overlooking Himara and the Ionian Sea. After enjoying thispeaceful spot to watch the sun set amongst the citrus andolive trees, continue on to lower Himara and its beaches,where most of the town’s hotels and restaurants are located.Himara castle and its churches charge no admission. Overnightand dinner in Himara. PA SHA’S CASTLEALI PA SHA’S CA STLE(Approx 10 km south of Himara – approx. 20 minutes on theVlora-Saranda National Road)The following morning, continue south from Himara towardsthe castle at Porto Palermo, a small tectonic bay that is alsohome to one of Albania’s military marine bases. The Castleof Ali Pasha at Porto Palermo is a small castle located on a
lovely peninsula the middle of the bay, which was also knownas Panorama Bay in ancient times. The castle has a triangularshape of 150 x 400 meters with the walls reaching as high as20 meters. Ali Pasha of Tepelena, the 18th century ruler overthe eastern part of the Ottoman Empire, built the castle inhonor of his wife Vasiliqi. The peninsula on which the castleis located has evergreen Mediterranean bushes while fromits walls one can enjoy a great view of the bay. Porto Palermois also home to great diving opportunities, as this natural bayhas been used as a safe harbor for ships since ancient times.Contact Blue Sub Diving (based in Tirana) at 0692079663to make arrangements. There is an admittance fee of 200 lekfor foreigners and 100 lek for Albanians at the castle, and it isopen from 09:00 – 16:00 daily. QEPARO WATERFALLS ARO’SCOFFEE UNDER QEPARO’S WATERFALLS(Approx 3 km south of Porto Palermo – approx. 10minutes on the National Road)The tourist center of Qeparo is located just before the townof Borsh, and travelers are encouraged to stop for a shortcoffee under the waterfalls of one of the local streams thatrun into the sea. Many of the buildings in Qeparo village,located on the sides of the mountain, belong to the era of AliPasha of Tepelena, in the 18th century.CASTLE OF BORSH(Approx 5 km south of Qeparo – approx. 15 minutes onthe National Road)After a short drive from Qeparo’s waterfalls, you will soonarrive at your next destination, the village and beaches ofBorsh, home to one of the longest stretches of beach onthe Albanian Riviera. Known as Meandria in ancient times,Borsh has plenty of green fields, beaches and sea shore. Thevillage is located on a narrow pit formed by the delta of theBorsh Spring which comes out of a rock in the middle of thevillage. Take time to visit the Castle of Borsh where the
only mosque along the Riviera is situated. Be prepared for a15-20 min steep walk uphill to reach the castle from the mainroad. The Borsh Castle is an ancient fortification originallybuilt in the fourth century B.C. by the Epirote-Illyrian tribes.The castle was heavily damaged during the barbarian invasionsof the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., and it was rebuilt in theMiddle Ages at which time it took the name of Sopoti Castle,before becoming known as Borsh Castle. In 1417 the castlewas seized by the Ottomans who later restored it in the 18thcentury. The castle occupies a surface area of 5 hectares and issurrounded by large stone blocks, which are three meterswide. The Borsh Mosque is the only monument of the castlethat is almost fully preserved. In 1769, the commander of thecastle, a supporter of Ali Pasha’s, conducted massive worksthat enabled people to live inside the castle. The inhabitantsthen erected a mosque near the main gate of the castle. Aftervisiting the castle and mosque, head down to the beach inBorsh for swimming and lounging, to be followed by lunch inone of the nearby village taverns. Be sure to order some olives,grown and cured locally in the nearby olive groves.FINE DINING IN THE SEASIDE RESORT TOWNOF SARANDA(Approx 40 km south of Borsh – approx. 1 hour 15 minutes)Continue on from Borsh for dinner and overnight in Saranda,Albania’s southern-most city and a primary entry-point forvisitors arriving from the Greek island of Corfu, five milesaway. With its lively Mediterranean atmosphere, Saranda hassomething to offer all visitors, from high-end hotels and dynamicdiscotheques, to ancient ruins and peaceful beaches. T ravelerswill find little difficulty locating a place to stay, although roomsmay be harder to come by during the summer high season inJuly and August. Influenced by Greek, Italian and T urkish cuisines,Saranda’s culinary traditions are well-known amongstAlbanians. Fresh seafood is abundant, as well as recipes fromthe surrounding areas’ pastoral traditions, such as roastedlamb, pastry pies (byrek), and stews. Local wines andhomemade brandy (raki) will help finish off any course asvisitors to Saranda take advantage of the scenic setting towatch the sun set over nearby Corfu.
This two-day itinerary highlights the historiccastles and churches of the Albanian Riviera whileoffering visitors “inside” local knowledge as towhere to find the best local Albanian coffees.Served Turkish-style, visitors will find that Albaniancoffee is rarely served without a curious smile fromthe café’s waiters or other local customers, eagerto engage tourists on their opinions on Albania.Please note that travel and visitation times areapproximate and may vary depending on theseason, weather, and/or vehicle used. As of January2008, the Vlora-Saranda National Road has onlybeen improved as far south as the village of Dhermi.Travelers should be cautioned that the road is inthe process of being improved and roadconstruction may delay their journeys. Travelersare advised to travel these segments by daylight ifthe driver is unfamiliar with these winding,secondary roads. Public transportation will onlyprovide access to locations on the main Vlora-Saranda National Road; private transportation isrecommended. Walking shoes in good conditionare also advised. No sites on this itinerary arehandicapped accessible.For more Information:www.albaniantourism.comwww.tirana-airport.com.al; www.bashkiavlore.org;www.himara.eu; www.saranda-guide.comCelesi Tourist Guides; e-mail: email@example.comCar Rental Companies: Sixt; EuropCar; AVIS; HERTZ Integrated Coastal Zone Management and Clean Up Project