It was just a decade ago that travelers discovered the rugged coastline of Albania. Its traditional villages burrowed in between golden beaches and isolated bays were an irresistibly charming combination. Though a lot has changed, the Albanian Riviera is still known for its beauty and as one of the top beach destination spots. The roads are paved now, making for easy access along the coast where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea, and there’s a wide variety of accommodations and restaurants to keep you comfortable. Albania, and particularly the southern part of the country, has secluded pebble beaches, islands, and a few hidden and pristine sandy beaches. Come and enjoy the landscape, the fresh seafood, and the marvelous sunsets.
Located in the south of Albania is Saranda. It’s a small town of about 30,000 and is one of the most visited places in the country. Though it’s not the best on offer when it comes to the beaches, it does make a perfect base camp to explore several beaches and other tourist stops like Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is where everyone starts. The food is good and cheap, it’s easily accessible, and has that ideal Mediterranean climate that holiday-ers crave. Enjoy a walk along the promenade and head up to Lekursi Castle for some fantastic views of the gulf.
Just south of Saranda is the unofficial capital of the Albanian Riviera. Ksamil is often the first and most exciting day excursion. The beaches here are some of the only sandy beaches in the country and there are generally fewer people there. Many of the beaches are privately owned and charge a small admissions fee but it’s the perfect spot for those looking to be centrally located. There are three small islands just offshore and make for a fantastic boat ride or swim through brilliant turquoise waters. This is the place that many Albanians come to during the summer months. And just across the channel is Corfu, the nearest Greek Island to Albania.
This is one of those natural wonders that captures our imaginations. And, okay, technically it’s not a beach – it’s a natural spring. But since its discovery travelers have been visiting and marveling at The Blue Eye, trying to unlock its secrets. Water bubbles up to the surface at a surprising rate. No one knows how deep it is, as divers have only descended to 50 meters. And if those two facts are not intriguing enough, The Blue Eye is gorgeously, brilliantly blue. And no one knows why. Locals call it Syri I Kalter and love to tell you the legends and origin myths surrounding the spring. Located near Muzinë in Vlorë County, the area around the spring is a nature reserve full of old oak and sycamore trees. This is a place for slowing down and enjoying Mother Nature to the fullest.
One of the longest beaches on the Albanian Riviera, Dhermi is a tourist favorite for those looking for a slightly more upscale experience. Just up the hill from the beach in the village, filled with wonderful stone houses which bring to mind an idyllic bygone era. The beach itself is a pebble beach surrounded by coastal pine forests. You have the choice of enjoying the main beach that comes complete with amenities and people-watching or heading to the outer lengths where the beach is more pristine and quiet. While you’re there, be sure to check out Hypapante Church, Panagia Monastery, The Pirates Cave, and Gramata Harbour.
Borsh is a massive beach and at 7km, is the longest unbroken stretch in Albania. Everyone enjoys the dramatic vista as they come into town from the coastal road. The village is rather large thanks to the industry that has developed around the many olive groves in the area. Despite this, one of the best parts of Borsh is that it is still largely untouched by tourism development. The village is backed by high mountain peaks which add to the ambiance of this laid-back village.
The village of Himara is a staple on the tourist circuit and yet hasn’t lost any of the charms that made it this way. It’s primarily populated by Greeks, and even though they are a minority in Albania, they’ve done a good job of retaining their roots and infusing the village with their culture. There are several great beaches to check out in Himara. Start with Livadia, which is about 3km north of town. It’s a wide white stone beach with rolling hills nearby and great surf for swimming. Potami is also worth noting. It’s on the other side of the large coastal rock that divides the village. It makes a nice change from the main beach without having to go far.
Near Saranda, Bunec is a beautiful cover often overlooked by travelers. It’s quiet for a start. Not the party beach. But it’s also divided by a river which begins up in the mountains surrounding the beach. It’s charming and unspoiled and has some pretty incredible sunsets. Accommodations are good, with camping being a popular option. This is the beach for those seeking the inner silence that comes with the lull of the waves hitting the shore.
This is where the best of both worlds collide. Lukova is another quiet beach, but the town is a good size with lots of conveniences, which means that you’ve got shopping and nightlife on hand to spice things up. There are small pristine beaches that are rather intimate as well as the more popular mainstream beaches packed with happy holidaymakers. The combination of the crystal blue Ionian Sea and the green natural surroundings make you feel like you’ve found a little piece of paradise. Check out Lumia beach, Buneci beach, and Cave beach.
The Llogaraja Pass is an unbelievable zigzag through the mountains. For those who brave it, they are immediately rewarded with Palasa beach, the first stop on the other side of the pass. Here the beach is a combination of white sand and rock. Thanks in part to Llogaraja Pass, there is very little development here. There are a few restaurants and cafes that dot the landscape and one nightclub that often draws a crowd, but aside from this, Palasa is the beach for those whose aim is to avoid the crowd. Pristine waters, camping options, and a quaint village with white houses and a 400-year-old Platanus (tree) at its center await you. Llogara National Park is also nearby.
Jalë is a great beach for parties and camping. It’s one of the more beautiful beaches in Albania and comes with just about everything you’d want when you’re looking to get the most out of your holiday. Relaxation, swimming in crystal clear water, long walks, snorkeling, amazing views, and great nightlife. Thanks to the parties and good music, Jalë draws a younger crowd. Nearby you’ll find Livadh beach, Aquarium beach, and Dhermi.
The gem in the crown of the Albanian Riviera is Pasqyrat beach. It’s a pebbled beach set a little way off from the village, hotels, and restaurants, which means you’ll feel like you’re further out in nature than you are. The words most often used to describe Pasqyrat? Secluded, peaceful, and gorgeous.
Hundreds of thousands come to Golem beach each year, making it the most popular of the Albanian beaches. It’s one of the preferred destinations for Albanians themselves, not to mention the neighboring countries of Kosovo and Macedonia. The road through town stretches along the coast so everything is easy to access. There’s tons of great eating and drinking to be had. It’s close to the capital city of Tirana and because of that, the services and amenities available are top-notch.
Founded in the 6th century by the Greeks, Orikum is the second largest port in Albania. Once used by Caesar who kept his troops here, today it’s the preferred destination for holiday yachters. Located between Saranda and Vlora, this is the beach people return to year after year. It’s clean with fine pebbles, and the restaurants are widely known for the fabulous traditional food that they serve. Sail to the nearby caves on the Karaburum peninsula for a great day excursion. Despite the presence of tourism and recent development, this is not a town known for excess – come here to enjoy the nautical life that a port town offers.
For nature lovers, the Albanian Riviera offers Gjipe beach. Hidden by the surrounding mountain, the beach itself is accessible only by asphalt road and set apart from the town. To reach the beach requires a nice 30-minute trek through the forest that offers fabulous views of the coast. There’s rarely a crowd here. The beach itself is at the end of Gjipe Canyon, which also offers lots of great hiking. Despite the seclusion, there are a few amenities like a snack vendor and some straw huts, but you’ll feel like you’re in a personal paradise.
Speaking of personal paradise, Zvërnec beach has a landscape, blue water, and a small island that combine to provide you with the perfect holiday experience. The island includes an 18th-century monastery in the middle of a pine forest, accessible only by a wooden bridge. Camp and hike here, lounge, and swim here. It’s a quick 15 minutes from Vlora, but feels like another world!