Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Fun fact: Wild camping is legal in Albania! If you find a spot on the beach or in the mountains and it isn't someone's private property, then nobody will stop you if you pitch your tent for the night. Combined with my rental car, I was pretty excited to stop and go wherever I wanted. While the weather was good, this worked out perfectly. As I explain below, I did have 2 stormy nights which made for a less-than-good night's sleep!
After returning from my Theth-Valbona hike, I wanted to eat at a restaurant that came highly recommended from an Albanian friend of mine: Mrizi i Zanave, located on a farm not far from Shkoder in the town of Fishte. Because they source all of their food locally, they need to know in advance how many people are eating, and thus require reservations. When I tried doing this, they told me they were full. So on the day that I wanted go, I sent them a message on WhatsApp and this time I did it Albanian using Google Translate, asking if they had an opening....and success! The opening was a bit late (after 9pm) but I after my hike, I was hungry and wanted a special meal.
The language barrier made it hard to know what I was getting, but a 5-course meal and a glass of wine was under US$17!
Now it was time to head to the beach and set up my tent for the night. I didn't want to travel too far but wanted somewhere relatively secluded. I found the perfect spot by Shengjin (in the vicinity of 41.776191, 19.603154) down a small dirt path away from the road.
Clear sky, a slight breeze (it was mid-September so still a bit warm), the gentle crashing of the waves. And I didn't pay a dime!
Beach Day #2: I camped in Narte beach near the city of Vlore. As it was the end of the season, most restaurants were closed. However, the Kapiteni restaurant was still open, and they also had a shower on the beach that I was able to use after I swam in the water. I got a delicious seafood pasta for $5, charged my phone as I ate and used their WiFi. There is a large wooded area in Narte beach across the street from the beach, and I was the only person camping out there. I did see some stray dogs which appeared to be aggressive at first, but they kept themselves to an area a bit south of where I spent they night, and after dark I did not see them again. I set up my tent in the wooded area (GPS: 40.496285, 19.427705) and got another peaceful sleep completely alone.
I swam in the water and camped for the night here in Narte (Vlore)
Beach Day #3: I began my drive down the "Albanian Riviera" that runs from Vlore to Saranda, and the first item of business was the Llogara Pass, a mountain pass with a very curvy road and a ton of fog! Not what I had expected given the sunny skies before (and after!) I passed over the mountain.
Fog in the Llogara Pass Communist-era mural on the side of the road
Check out all of the mountain goats hanging out on the mountain with the million-dollar view!
Look carefully....how many roads do you see? (Answer: Four!) They are all switchbacks of the same road!
My daytime destination was Gjipe Beach. This might be the most beautiful beach in Albania. It appears that there is a road there but it's not suitable for standard vehicles. Besides, the hike down makes it fun! There's a side road that takes you to the parking area. This costs $2. I decided to park halfway back to the main highway in a small (free) parking area that was the same distance from the beach, but closer to the canyon which afforded additional sightseeing points. (GPS: 40.132627, 19672370) The signed hiking trail was 1 km (slightly longer if you ventured to each lookout point like I did) and several hundred feet of downhill. I did it in flip flops since I was heading to the beach but I did have to be very careful! It was a hot day and by the time I arrived at the beach, I couldn't wait to jump into the cool refreshing water! It felt heavenly. To my surprise, there were a couple cafes by the beach that were open, but as I had expected an empty beach, I did not bring any money with me.
A canyon viewed on the hike down Gjipe Beach, from the trail down from parking
Hey look, a communist-era bunker! They pop up in the most unexpected places in Albania.
After enjoying Gjipe, I hiked back up to my car and drove to Livadh Beach. I needed a shower and found one at the Blue Bay Himare club, at the very end of the beach. They were closing up for the season and workers were literally dismantling the furniture, but they were nice enough to point me to a fresh water shower to get the salt off of me. As with Narte Beach, nearly every restaurant was closed for the season. I did find a restaurant that was open for dinner, and then I pitched my tent in an elevated clearing underneath an olive tree just opposite the road from the beach. (GPS: 40.105680, 19.729287)
The view from where I pitched my tent, underneath an olive tree. As you can see, there was some trash by the road. Sadly, there was quite alot of trash scattered here and there.
My dinner in Livadh. A whole fish for $7.
(I forgot to ask if it was boneless!)
Beach Day #4: After putting the tent away and leaving Livadh Beach, I stopped at a town along the highway for some burek and then continued to Borsch Beach. This beach was nearly completely empty, which was fine as long as I had 2 things:
1. A source of fresh water, to wash the salt off me after swimming in the ocean, and
2. A place to eat dinner. I brought food for breakfast/lunch, but one of my pleasures is a delicious hot meal, and in a country with cheap delicious food, I wanted to go out each night.
So my first task was to ensure there would be at least one restaurant and one fresh water source. I drove past several boarded up restaurants until I found one that wasn't, and confirmed that they would be serving dinner that night. Then I continued to drive until I found a fresh water river. (I had read in a previous blog about a river at the northwestern end of the beach, but it was barely a trickle.) I found a river that wasn't very deep, perhaps only up to my knees, but it would do the trick. (GPS:40.045016, 19.854526) Fulfilling both of my requirements, I spent a relaxing day at the beach.
Burek, my near-daily treat to myself
By nightfall, the sky was clear by the weather had called for overnight storms. In what was, in hindsight, not my smartest decision, I decided to camp out directly on the beach. There was a small shelter with a porous leaf roof overhead and one side. Not waterproof, but I figured if there was rain or wind, I'd be alright.
I fell asleep around 10pm and woke up around 12:45am to the sound of rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning out to sea. I add the rain cover to the tent to be safe, and go back to sleep.
I woke up around 4am to pouring rain and howling winds. The crash of thunder, the flash of lightning, the waves about 25 feet from my tent. Before I know it, rain is coming in through the sides of the tent that are exposed under the rain cover because the wind is making everything come in sideways. I'm holding up the tent because I'm worried the rods will snap under the pressure from the wind. The floor of the tent is soaked in water along with anything touching the ground. Since I use an air mattress, fortunately my sleeping bag was dry. After about an hour, the winds subsided and I was able to return to sleep
Around 7am, the skies are overcast but no rain. I start emptying the contents of the tent and attempt to dry what I can. With plenty still damp, I load it into the car and leave the beach. By this time, it's 8am and it starts to rain again.
My tent at 5am pushed by howling wind and rain
My tent at 7am under the shelter where I spent a stormy night
After 4 days of camping and some soggy camping gear, I decided that some luxury was in order, and I paid $17 for a 1-bedroom apartment on Airbnb in Ksamil. But before I arrived there, I stopped in Sarande for some burek and the hope of parking to check out this port city, but not a single parking space was to be had! So I continued to the ancient Greek/Roman city of Butrint, near the Greek border. (In fact, the Greek island of Crete was just 2 miles across the water and you could see it clear as day!)
Butrint is located strategically on a peninsula and was occupied by the Romans as early as the 4th century BC. The city wall dates from that period and is still standing!
Butrint - Clockwise from top left: A medieval cathedral, ancient Greek tile floor, Greek amphitheater, Lion gate (added in front of a larger gate to make it more secure). The Lion gate has the image of a lion eating a bull. This image was carved 2,600 years ago but added to the gate a mere 1,500 years ago.
After getting my history lesson for the day at Butrint, I made may way to Ksamil and stopped at the Mussel House restaurant. Sitting on a lagoon known for its mussel farming, this was a popular food item here. In fact, they offer tours where you can go out onto the mussel boats, but like many other things around here, it was finished for the season.
In the lagoon you can see mussel traps set (left). More views of the mussel traps and a delicious $5 bowl of fresh mussels with lemon garlic seasoning (right)
After lunch, I arrived at my Airbnb, where the host's parents greeted me. They offered me beer, raki (liquor), and sweets as we chatted. One small problem: They didn't speak a word of English and I only know about 10 words of Albanian. So, with a little Google Translate and a lot of hand signals, we somehow managed to communicate. It was all good fun!
Enjoying raki with my hosts in Ksamil. Too bad we couldn't really understand each other...
After settling in and hanging my camping gear out to dry, I walked around the waterfront of Ksamil which looked pleasant, but given that the season was over, was nearly deserted. There were paddle boats and 3 small islands you can swim to, which I would have done if the weather were nicer.
I also got a look at Greece - the island of Crete to be exact, just 2 miles across the water. Due to COVID-19, Americans aren't allowed into the EU, so this is the closest I can get to Greece for now.
Hey look, across the water! That's Greece!