Now look, before you grab your pitchforks – no one is saying that the Italian Riviera isn’t one of the greatest and most worthwhile destinations on earth. It unquestionably is. All we’re saying is that an unfair amount of attention goes to the places you already know, they’re expensive, and if you’re smart – it means there are destinations worth exploring right now for less, before everyone else does.
I think this way, because my dad ruined travel for me. As an American in the 60’s, he explored Europe when you could live on $2 per day, and I’ve held a grudge ever since. While that dream may long be over, Albania may be the closest thing – and even if it wasn’t cheap, the views, the food and the culture are worth it. Here’s everything you need to know about this underrated (and under priced) gem…
So, Where Is The Albanian Riviera
Geography lessons in Europe are always fun, in part because they’re usually surprising. The Albanian Riviera is mere miles across the water from Corfu, on the border with Greece and couldn’t be closer geographically to Puglia, Italy and places along “the boot”.
If you weren’t sold on the potential for beautiful coastline before, hopefully the realisation that Albania is smack-dab in the middle of many of the most iconic beach and seasides in Europe helps. Think of the best of Greece and the best of Italy, but at prices that would blow your mind.
Getting to Albania is nowhere near as difficult as it once was. Top European airlines like Lufthansa and British Airways now offer direct services to Tirana, Albania, and many discount airlines such as Wizz Air, Alitalia and Pegasus do as well. But that still leaves you a 4+ hour drive down to the coast.
Instead, catching one of the endless number of flights to nearby Corfu is the smart play here. Not only does it create opportunity for a little two in one trip, but it saves you hours on the ground. From Corfu, you’re just a 30 minute ferry ride from the heart of the Albanian Riviera.
If you’re looking for a spot with gorgeous beaches, delicious food and fascinating heritage, but without a back breaking price point – probably, you.
The Albanian Riviera offers the best of clear blue waters, sandy beaches and laid back life in an area that’s still largely under developed. If you had to compare it directly to another location, it’s probably gotta be Greece. Deep blue waters, beautiful cliffs, fresh seafood and laidback lifestyle, all served with enviable charm.
If you weren’t already sold, a carafe of wine is about $5USD for good stuff. You won’t get any of the $700 a night resorts of Greece or Italy, but if you want something amazing for under $70, this is your spot.
Let’s be real: nothing here fits the pop culture bill of “touristy”, like say… the Cinque Terre or Mykonos, but this little gem of an Eastern European secret is getting more attention with every day.
Saranda is the most popular riviera town and is worth exploring, but areas like Ksamil, Dhermi and Vuno are the areas that tend to win over hearts and minds. Here’s a link to Saranda hotels on Tripadvisor. There literally isn’t a hotel over $100 per night, most are around $50, and you can find others for far less. Same goes for Ksamil too.
The hardest thing to overcome is the mentality that hotels will automatically be horrible for the price, because they’re just not.
If you want to take things a step further, to a place which almost all critics agree is simply wonderful, Ksamil is the town. It’s everything rustic, charming, authentic and unique you seek, but with actual views like this…
The seafood rivals the best in the world, the beaches are beautiful, small and often half empty and the town puts you in a virtually perfect position to explore nearby places of cultural interest, including the UNESCO World Heritage site Butrint.
It’s a near perfectly preserved area from Greek and Roman times with incredible ruins and angles that will make your Instagram following very jealous. Oh, and the bus ride is less than $1 between the towns.
Because we as tourists are drawn like moth to flame toward anything crystal blue, liquid and beautiful, another must see along the Albanian Riviera is “The Blue Eye”. It’s accessible by bus for under a buck.
This mysterious natural spring is phenomenal to witness, in part because you can’t take your eyes off the deep blue eye. Imagine a placid, beautiful river style setting worth visiting anyway, but where a 50m deep hole with the most captivating aqua-blue-turquoise water bubbling up creates an optical illusion.
Syri I Kalter (The Blue Eye) is a prized place in Albanian history, and during the communist days of the country, only the elite were allowed to visit. Some say it holds magical powers, but whether you believe that kind of crap or not, you might as well see it.
This area, like the Grecian and Italian cities surrounding it, is almost perfect from May to October. Obviously, in a place with gorgeous beaches and crystal blue waters you want to be able to actually enjoy them – so going when it’s warm enough is key.
You’ll find low rainfall and hot hot heat from June through late September. If you had to pick, late May before the summer crowds or mid September after them are probably the most idyllic times to visit. Really, you can’t go wrong.
In the larger sense though, the time is now. There just aren’t that many destinations where you can experience something beautiful and unique without a price gouge, and this up and coming part of the world won’t stay under the radar for long. On that note: bring cash, because credit card machines are not yet a “thing” here.