The ruins of Butrint are kind of a microcosm of Mediterranean history. The site, in the very south of Albania, shows the phases of developement that came through as the great empires that dominated the region rose and fell. Two thousand years of history, from the Hellenistic temples of the 4th century to Ottoman defenses of 19th century, are combined. The myth says that “Buthrotum” was founded by exiles fleeing troy. An ox was sacrificed by Helenus, which struggled ashore. Taken as a good meaning, the name Buthrotum was given, which meant “wounded ox”. The first large settlement in the 4th century was as a healing center to the god Asclepius. This was followed by a roman city, the Byzantine Empire, Venetians, ottoman empire, and eventually ruins in Albania. Cool place to roam around.
Much of the low-lying areas are under a little bit of water from rising water tables.
A museum holds much of what was discovered by archaeologists.
I find a lot of little animal friends along the way, but this guy was one of my favorites. He loved cheese, but wasn’t down with any petting.
A little ways outside Sarande is a mystical feeling place with the Blue Eye spring. Out of lush green vegetation, a spring bubbles up from a pool over fifty meters deep. Scuba divers went to this depth and it’s unknown how much further the karst hole descends. The crystal clear blue water gets darker towards the center, which I guess is supposed to look like a blue eye.
The pink Judas trees were coming to life and adding more color to the beautiful area.
The southern Albanian coast is a wild camping paradise, especially during the off-season when beaches are deserted and the weather is perfect. Called the Albanian Riviera, it runs along the Ionian Sea across from southern Italy. Being cut off from the outside world for forty years throughout communism and then going through rough growing pains into the late nineties has left a lot of the region undeveloped, or at least mildly. A huge contrast to the Croatian coast. Until the 21st century, Albania was completely off of most travelers radar. There’s not many places in the world left with coastlines this beautiful that aren’t massively developed. Some of the coves and beaches get crowded in summer and turn into huge parties, but the rest of the year they’re deserted except for some locals. Besides the beautiful blue waters, the Ceraunian Mountains run right beside it dropping straight into the sea in many places. It’s paradise, with Mediterranean villages, old mountaintop Orthodox churches and castles, hidden turquoise beaches, canyons, coves, mountain passes, rivers, caves, and orange, lemon, and olive groves, and beautiful twisting roads along the sea. It’s technically Albanian, but feels very Greek, and is home to most of the Albanian Greek minority. Being the offseason there’s no problem finding a free wild-camping spot right on the beach.
Coming north, as you crest the top of a hill, you begin dropping down towards the village of Borsh and it’s 3km long Beach, the longest along the Riviera.
The Greeks, Romans, and Venetians continually fought each-other for this beach, but I had it virtually all the myself. Taking a right when the road ends at the beach, leads to the emptiest stretch.
Beach camping between the gentle sea and high mountain peaks
Above Borsh village, and overlooking the coast, is the Borsh castle. Originally built in the 4th century, it was partially destroyed during Barbarian invasions, until being rebuilt in the Middle Ages.
A nice old man tending his herd of goats gave me a “tour” of the area. He led me around pointing in different directions and talking away. He knew I didn’t understand, but I think he just enjoyed talking with someone. It must get a tiny bit lonely with a bunch of goats on a hill-top. After a good laugh, he mad his way down the slope and out of sight.
During Ottoman rule, a mosque with minaret was built in the castle.
And of course you have the usual mushroom bunkers scattered around.
The ride along the Albanian Riviera is stunning. I already wish I was back on the coastal road.
Villages full of white-washed orange tiled roofs sit perched along the cliffs of the Ceraunian Mountains.
Drimadhe Beach is another gorgeous spot to set up camp. In the short summer season it gets busy, but outside of that it’s dead. Tiny coves and miniature beaches being brushed by the blue sea are around every rocky point
I camped next to a couple from Kosovo who had pulled onto the beach and set up an awesome camp. They spend weeks at a time living on the beach just chilling . Cool times
Just a little hop up the coast is Palase beach. The ride down is gorgeous along a brand new twisty road. Unfortunately this means a new developement. The entire stretch is empty besides this new work going on. The end of the gravely road takes you to a peaceful quiet spot.
Sitting above the beach is a tiny little church and a big complex of bunkers along the hillside.
A german guy who lives on Corfu showed up and camped next to me in his van. I was a wee bit jealous of his paddleboard, spear-fishing equipment, comfy bed, and all that room. He caught a couple little fish and we barbecued them over the fire.
Palase is basically the final beach along the Albanian Riviera before the road leads over a beautiful mountain pass that looks back over you previous destinations. The slopes are covered in large and small bunkers.
In the far north of Albania is the town of Shkodra by the huge Lake Skadar along the Montenegro border. The lake is about split in half by the two countries. Lekuresi castle sits on the hill in town and gives epic views over the surrounding area at sunset.
An abandoned mansion lies half-built on a tiny island in the lake. A small bridge takes you out to it. I could live in it just the way it is. Gorgeous views of the Albanian Alps.
If I hadn’t been up into the mountains here before I would have gone up. I bought an old used purple bicycle years ago and rode it from Budapest down to Shkodra. I was so sick of it I sold it to the hostel owner for twenty euros and left into the mountains with some Spanish girls driving that way. The Theth National Park is stunning, and I did a hike over the mountain to Valbone and continued on into Kosovo.
Albania you were even better the second time around and I hope theres a third.