After waking up at Hotel Kalemi, a traditional building with wooden carved ceilings and fire places made of stone, we get the first taste of the albanian breakfast. Breakfast here consists almost always of bread, honey, eggs and a kind of cheese that resembles the greek feta.
We visit the castle of Gjirokaster (Argyrokastro), which was firstly build before the 12 century but took its form in around 1860 under Ali Pasha. It even served as a prison and housed political prisoners during the Communist regime. Now it is mostly a museum and also stages Albania’s National Folk Festival. The view of the town from the castle is spectacular.
We are leaving Gjirokaster and head south in order to visit Sarande. On our way we notice that there are a lot of open car wash stations with low prices of 1-2€. The truth is that with so many gravel roads in Albania, washing the car often is almost a necessity. While still moving on the road we come across a lake (Syri i kalter) or “Blue Eyes”, which as the name suggests it has blue and green waters. There is a wedding happening taking place at that moment and the groom with the bride are being photographed at almost all the places while the relatives and friends are dancing or wading in the water. Local musicians are playing the clarinet and tabor to keep the people dancing.
Early at the evening we will arrive at Sarande with a high temperature. Opposite you can see north Corfu which seems so close. The town is under heavy constructional and touristic development. Many blocks of apartments are getting built with a view at the sea. After a short stroll we will decide that places like that don’t fit our taste and continue our trip to the north of the albanian coast.
We head towards Vlore and on our way we stop for a swim and a bite at the small beach of Palermo. Even though the sea is great you can’t say the same for the surroundings which are full of garbage. Albania unfortunately has a big problem with garbage as there are almost no collection services and most of albanians are throwing garbage everywhere as a reaction to the old strict military government (Hoxha).
While we are getting close to Himare, we see more and more greek writings on walls or posters in greek. Himare and Gjirokaster used to be the centre of the greek community in northern Epirus (Albania). And the truth is that as Himare faces/overlooks the sea, it reminds you of the mountainous villages of Pilion in Greece.
After Himare the road starts to gain height and gets narrower while the view of the Ionian sea is breathtaking. The road passes by one of albania’s national parks the Qafa Llogara with many taverns with barbecued meat along it.
As we head towards Vlore we arrive at a nice town Orikum, where the Adriatic meets the Ionian. We will find some cheap cabins to rent and we will stay overnight.
When we return from Qafa Llogara, we had to pay a second visit in order to taste the local meat and especially the tasty lamp, we have a long discussion with the owner of the cabins. His mother lives in Athens (of course) and he also used to work there even though now he lives with his family near Milano. It is striking how big the migration is in Albania and especially how many people have lived in Greece.