Travel writer and photographer Donatas Gricius shares with Travel Pocket Guide his recent trip to Albania. From beautiful images of the sea, to tales of warming Albanian hospitality, it seems this country is one that’s too often overlooked.
First-person Travel to Albania: Words and photography by Donatas Gricius
Just a short distance from Greece, Italy and Croatia, the Balkan country Albania welcomes newcomers from all over Europe. Some people are already familiar with Albania’s turquoise beaches, others are itching with curiosity and eager to explore further Adriatic coasts. But no matter which category you fall into, one thing is for certain: once you get a taste of this place, it will feel like it’s become a part of you. Of course, you’ll remember the stunning views and the taste of just-caught seafood – but the hospitality and kindness of the Albanian people will stay with you forever.
Upon arrival in Tirana’s airport, it immediately became evident that the country was getting ready for a surge in tourism. In the years 2018 and 2019, Albania received roughly 6 million tourists each year, showing a significant increase from the years preceding it. Although the pandemic impacted that later on, in the same way it did other countries. Comparatively, Greece received roughly six times more tourists in the same years, and yet both countries share the tranquil waters and bay of the Ionian Sea.
Lucky for me, Albania has a huge variety of hotels with a beachfront to choose from, plenty of restaurants without needing to make a reservation and within a budget that allows for more luxurious choices and experiences.
The hardest part about visiting Albania is choosing which postcard-perfect beach to visit. We couldn’t resist visiting three of the most popular destinations: Himarë, Dhrium and Vlore. My trip was all about relaxing on the beach to escape the hustle of busy London streets. So, I rented a car to explore the south coasts of Albania.
Himarë is located further south, roughly a 3 hour drive from the Airport. It may sound like a long drive but trust me when I say that the views made it worth it. Driving through the mountains in Llogara National Park with views of the sea was divine. One the left – high range mountain Çika with green pine trees. On the right – a sea of turquoise and calm waves. We couldn’t believe our luck!
Himarë beach is mostly frequented by locals and a select few tourists from England, Greece and Germany. It was quiet, relaxing and with plenty of umbrellas to find shade under on a blasting hot day. Accompanied by the unparalled beauty of the sea for ourselves.
The next day was focused on exploring a beach destination famous for its music festivals: Dhërmi. Just a 30 min drive from Himarë via zigzagging mountain roads, you’re met with crystal-clear waters and stunning views of the mountains.
One thing worth noting about Dhërmi beach is its popularity. Every hotel gets sold out because of the music festival it holds. Every corner of the beach was filled with music, including party boats which took partygoers to a hidden cove that’s only accessible by a boat called Gjipe Beach.
At Dhërmi beach, we found a restaurant called Olio, situated just meters away from the shore. It played chilled out music and offered an array of ultra-fresh dishes for lunch. All the while, our feet remained buried in the warm sand. Paradise was in one place.
The last destination, on the way back towards Tirana, was Vlorë. The 3rd biggest city in Albania, as well one of the most popular beach destinations. The spectacular view of the sea and crystal-blue water lure in its tourists. Vlorë has the highest concentration of tourists and an ever-growing number of luxury hotels that offer access to private beaches along the coast.
Every place has its charm, but what made this trip unforgettable were the hosts of hotels and owners of restaurants.
We were lucky to meet brothers Michael and Vasilis who run a hotel called Ionian Terrace in Himarë. Their newly built hotel offers the prime view of a sea and their rooms are made with the utmost care. It also has a restaurant in front of the beach run by their uncle Andreas, who has dedicated 30 years to working in hospitality. His passion for fresh food is infectious. With his charming smile and friendly demeanour, Andreas invited us to try his famous appetisers, carrying on his mother’s recipe. He picked fish and seafood, caught at 3 AM that same day. The dishes were served with true Albanian hospitality.
Another remarkable place worth mentioning is the Inn Hotel in Vlorë. The room offered a phenomenal view of the sea that felt like it was right on your doorstep. It has a restaurant – designed by an Italian chef – where families and couples alike can taste the best produce in style. Its private beach offers an incredible view at sunset with Sazan Island on view too – the perfect holiday!
We met Erling and his family, the owners of the hotel. He told us an incredible story about how he and his wife found the hotel five years ago. They fell in love with the place and the view from the sea, so decided to make it perfect for families to spend the day on the beach and couples who want to indulge in romance.
Albania Conclusion | Beautiful Albanian sea views & more
Since coming back from this trip, the joys of Albania have stayed with me, even as I walk down the busy London streets. I hope to carry this feeling with me for as long as my memories remain vivid. I want more people to know about the paradise that exists just a few miles away from the over-crowded tourist destinations in the Mediterranean. My only ask? Don’t ruin it!
First-person Albanian Travel: Words and photography by Donatas Gricius