Southern Albania

Roadtripping along the Mediterranean from Spain to Greece meant we were going to see Southern Albania no matter what.  At first I planned to breeze through Albania straight to Greece, but then I remembered not to overestimate the conditions of Albania’s roads. Breaking up the drive to make it more manageable meant several stops along the way, and the stops included Berat, Ksamil, and the highway showcasing Albania’s most beautiful countryside.IMG_3488

First stop: Berat, just a couple hour’s drive south of Tirana. A small town meant plenty of free parking.  Berat’s beautiful and notable feature is the cluster of white Ottoman houses at the foot of the hill below Berat Castle, giving the town the name “town of a thousand windows”.  Despite reading that this town was a major tourist destination in Albania, we hardly saw any tourists at all around town or even in the castle.IMG_3495

The Berat Castle was also worth seeing, not because it was castle ruins, but because of the short hike to the top and the views in all directions.  Even walking through the old city up to the castle had its charm.IMG_3507IMG_3505

One of the views overlooking Berat from the castle:IMG_20160620_140616

The Holy Trinity Church:IMG_3516

Castle ruins and an old cannon:IMG_20160620_143547-PANOIMG_3521

To my surprise, the castle ruins weren’t the only site of interest at the top of the hill.  There was also actually a small village, with families living in homes for who knows how many centuries.  Hardly any tourists were there; this village was definitely authentic and not constructed and catered for visitors like Croatia’s Dubrovnik or Montenegro’s Kotor.  This was an old cobblestone village at its purest.IMG_3525

After quietly strolling the neighborhoods of the castle, we made our way back down into town and continued our drive south.  Our goal for the evening was to find a pleasant, quiet place to sleep.  Though we had to share the “highway” at times with donkey carts and tractors, the road was smooth and the countryside scenery was picturesque.IMG_3528

We even stumbled upon a bit of traffic when we turned off the highway to drive along the river.IMG_3534

Our attempt to spend the night parked in the back of a riverside hotel/restaurant for €5 failed due to the owners’ barking dogs, but we at least enjoyed sunset reading and relaxing on their terrace overlooking the river.  Once the sun disappeared the dogs wouldn’t shut the hell up, so we left and randomly parked on the side of a quiet village road for the night.IMG_3538

The next day we spent a couple hours at Ksamil Beach before crossing the border into Greece.  Yes, it was overdeveloped, and yes, it was slightly crowded, but the clear, brisk waters felt awesome in the noon heat.  What made this beach special were the two tiny islands just off the coast from shore–the closest island was even walkable, and the second island required a super short swim.IMG_3553

And finally, we were off to Greece.  Because we weren’t crossing through the more major Albanian-Greek border crossing, we ended up driving for a bit on a dusty, bumpy, pot-holed road.  Curious locals smiled and waved as we slowly drove past them.IMG_3559

After a quick border crossing, it was farewell to Albania and a hello to Greece.  Although our time in Southern Albania was a quick pass-through, our entire time spent in the country of Albania (1 week) was a memorable one.

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