Category Archives: Albanian Travels

South Albania: Mountains, Sea and Sharp Contrasts


One of the best get away places in Albania is the south costal area. Not just because of its beatific and spectacular coastal area, but especially because of its highly contrasting forms and ubiquitous heritage. Driving through the mountains along the seaside is a special feeling. For me as a native, it’s a bit like „some things never change“ – type of feeling, and for nostalgic purposes, it’s good that way.

The mountains, deep blue sea, and curvy roads often occupied by a little army of goats or cute sheeps are still there. So are the beekeepers harvesting bio honey and selling it along the road. The further you advance along the coastal line, leaving behind little villages nowadays hipped as cool places to spend the summer, the more you realize that time has stood still here. That’s what I felt when I visited the castle of Ali Pasha in Porto Palermo.

The fortress of Ali Pasha, built in the 1820, is important not only for its historic value as it used to be first the centerpiece of bloody conflicts with burgeoning Ottoman empire, but also for its transformation during the centuries. There’s something spooky about it. It starts with being the fortress of a controversial personality such as Ali Pasha.  And furthermore its transformation from the legendary residence of Ali Pasha to the Albanian Alcatraz in the late communist year.

I refer to it as the Albanian Alcatraz for two reasons. First, its location a castle in a triangle shape and round towers built by the sea.  The second reason is that many political opponents of the former Zog monarchy and the Hoxha communist regime were imprisoned in this castle. Many of their names have been written in the walls of the castle.

There is hardly no other place in Albania where history was so overlapped and left such scars like here. Around the Ali Pasha Castle and the church build from an Italian architect as his gift for his beloved christian wife Vassilikia, are ruins of communist army depot holding still communist slogans such as „ Viti 1972 vit i fitoreve të reja” „1972 is the year of new victories“.

This mixture of history traces together with the lack of restoration of its surroundings and  a certain negligence in preserving the past historical values give this place a special authentic touch – but also these photos urge a restoration need.

Mrizi i Zanave – The Culinary Delights of Northern Albania


A restaurant with its farm, vineyard, and vegetable garden, its own olive plantation, delicious wine, lovely nature of the countryside with historic significance sets the ground for a unique experience for many visitors. I’m referring to Mrizi I Zanave in village Fishte of Zadrima commune. This place apart from the historic importance as the birthplace of Gjergj Fishta known as one of the most prominent figures of the Albanian literature and politics of 19th century with significant contribution to the Albanian cause, sets a fine example of a newborn social-economical tourism pattern in traditional Albanian gastronomy. Last weekend i visited Mrizi i Zanave for the first time and I was immediately impressed. The food was delicious, modern touch spicing up local tradition. Everything 100% BIO, 100% Albanian. Freshly picked vegetable from the garden cooked and served in ceramic plates from a nearby ceramic business, dairy products such as goat or cattle cheese processed by the restaurant staff, country ham preserved down in their basement, red Kallmet wine from the local vineyards, local fruit dessert, originate an authentic dining experience even for us locals.

The owner of this place Altin Prenga, who’s passion goes beyond the ambition of a young passionate Albanian cook, had a broader prospective of his investment. The core of his business is offering delicate taste of rural culinary in its natural habitat with absolute fair pricing, through promoting not only values of environment preservation, but also by enhancing the development of local economy in the region. I found this extremely useful as certain Agritourism initiatives are new in Albania. This modern form of intra-cooperation between local businesses in building sustainable Agritourism can sure lead to an increased interest in the quality of regional products, as well as awareness of replicating such business models in other parts of the country. 

Agritourism is not widespread in Albania though people are becoming more interested in knowing how their food is produced and what food they consume. A honey and wine tasting activity, learning about cheese-making, picking fruits or vegetables, or shopping for local hand-crafted gifts can be added value to every local culinary business. These are simple ideas which can add value to a business but also represent the cultural highlights of such localities. Furthermore, two decades of foreign incursion of culinary savors have sort of under-shadowed our traditional gastronomy. Opening an Italian restaurant or something similar to western European taste is more common to find in Tirana or other main cities. It’s not necessarely better just a safer bet. Foreign is mainstream, seen as cool and in vogue. There’s no need to reserve a table in advance in most restorants here, but not at Mrizi I Zanave. I called 2 days in advance to book a table for three in the weekend and I got one only after 3:30 pm. That’s what’s a pattern of successful investment with multiple positive trickle down effects in local economy. That’s a great example to follow. Made in Albania.

As Summer Fades Away in Drymadhes


It has been an exceptional hot and dry summer within our continental climate boundaries! It’s September 8th and summer is still hanging in there. So am I. Driving up to curvy Llogara roads in search of the divinest spot thousand meters up in the air, in midst of mountains, it’s impossible to draw the imaginary line between the deep crystal clear Ionian sea and blue sky.

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Why did I take so long to return here? It is not associated to a break up story or a accident, certainty not. Though five years passed by incredibly fast and things might have changed for the better or the worse, I didn’t forget to write a mental note to myself: Don’t expect too much, these are just small villages by the costal line.

The paved road and sign of a Raiffeisen cash machine were the first things to capture my eye on the Dhermi/Drymadhes entrance. That’s definitely an improvement. So it is the list of hotels’ phone numbers on a poster. Booking hotels/rooms online is quite limited and bargaining deals are still in fashion here. Though it’s already September, the Drymadhes Inn was fully booked, but finding another place to stay was not difficult. My coworker Mr. Elton Gjika who is the architect of the impressive 4 stars “Mansion of Pasha” (Sarajet e Pashait Residence Hotel) suggested me to spend the weekend there. It felt like residing in old times, equipped in luxurious old setting, surrounded by thick stone walls, and the mansion itself was beautifully conceptualized with modern comfort deriving from the historical Albanian mansions of 17th-18th century. The place could not offer more then its historic feeling and hospitality in terms of full range of services and activities speaking, since we were few guests accommodated in these fading summer days.

Dining turned out more tricky. Both evenings sticking to a fish restaurant that seemed to be the only one operating in Drymadhes. Here comes the waiter with a booklet menu and a sarcastic smile. Great! We seem to have alternatives and plenty of choices by going through the menu. But after each attempted order or request there was still this persistent ironic smile of the waiter mentioning repetitively “No, we don’t serve this or we don’t have that…” Ok, my mistake, let’s leave the menu aside and reformulate the question: “Is there anything we can order apart from the 5,000 lek rip-off fish, please?” This time the smile seemed honest followed by a clearer explanation. We are closing down tomorrow, tonight is the last night we serve.

Walking through Drymadhes at daylight was depressive. It was a beautiful summer Sunday at 30+, but almost everything was closed down. The bars, clubs, restaurants, empty touristic information center, trash laying on the sidewalks, skeletons of the summer bars like an earthquake had just hit the area. Unfinished construction works and roads gave nothing but a sad closure to the summer season. Even cows seemed abandoned by their owners, taking lonely promenades in search of company at the beach or at a random hotel entrance.

Finally among free associative thoughts, reminiscences from the past, regretful observations and an inner refusal force screaming out “This can’t be it!!!” Then, the real thing by the seaside: Laying in a comfortable beach chair at the Albanian version of Nikki Beach, feeling the breeze blowing as sun got hotter, sensing the barefoot warmth of the little stones, crashing the playful waves as first sun-kissed rays leave their place to a breathtaking sunset. What a purity of nature and bonheur, what you couldn’t find in Marbella, Mallorca or St. Tropez! Finally: THIS IS IT…

My Albanian Travels continue…Dardha


Almost everyone has its favorite runaway place. As a child born and raised in Tirana,  I often got jealous of my friends going to extended summer vacations at their grandparents in some village throughout the country. My ties to countryside were weak and that’s such a pity. It even made me feel a little “inferior” towards kids with childhood experience on trees’ climbing, berries’ collection, animals’ feeding, etc. I visited shortly twice my grandmother’s village, 15 km far from Saranda, but that wasn’t enough for developing a special bondage to the place.

Only years later I went with friends for a long weekend to a mountainous village named Dardha (the Pear), 20 km away from Korca, South-East Albania. After that day I never stopped going there on every possible occasion. I so enjoyed driving up the curving mountain roads during the sunset last September. Such an amazing view while searching for the hidden piece of jewelry…

Its landscape is gorgeous and inviting on every season. Snowy cold winters by the fireplace, fresh summers away from exhausting heat, vivid springs, and colorful autumns’ leaves are part of the full seasonal magic. But my favorite period of going there is spring. The freshness of the air, colorful landscape, long hikes in the forest, lovely stone  houses, scattered small churches in the forest set an irresistible desire for return. But not only. I always feel welcomed by the hospitality and extra care of locals in Dardha who can certainly offer one of the most tasteful cuisines in the country. I get never enough ordering the two foil wooden baked pie (lakror) and meat balls (kërnacka). The variety of little sweet places and restaurants makes it the choice even harder, though mine was pretty easy and a comfortable one, Hotel Dardha.

We did not lack funny situations while cruising the village’s streets, like one day when coming across to bulls with real horns which were enjoying a promenade of their own pleasure. No worries, they were harmless.

When I come to the area, a stop over to Voskopoja is also extremely tempting for me since it’s surrounded by high hills, pine and fir green forests. Voskopoja in addition to being a beautiful place it is backed by a notorious history. It used to be an ancient center of habitation dating from 1330, once a flourishing historic center with big values of medieval art destroyed and reconstructed 3 times throughout its history. Hmmmm, now thinking about these places, it so makes me wanna go back there soon…

My Albanian Travels


“Travelling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station.” – Lisa St. Aubin De Teran

Though I love traveling a lot, I must confess that I’m not a good traveller in my own country. I can only blame myself for several reasons. The moment I start being more open to the outside world, I realized my irreversible attraction to different cultures, diverse societies, people, languages, food, geographical shapes, or even relief changes. It certainly broadened my perspective through constantly testing my assumptions and regulating my own imagination to these different realities out there.

I usually don’t have that uncertain thrill of exploring something totally new when traveling in my own country, or that dying curiosity for sneaking in country’s  mentality, customs, and beliefs since I’m a native here. In addition, there’s always an inner sort of backyard mechanism that postpones the local trips for later. “I can always go to this or that place sometime…I live here”. The typical excuses we often come up with.

Still, my miscalculated perception has been challenged quite often when I visited some striking places in Albania which are quite an exotic work to mother nature. It’s difficult to rank them, but in this entry I would like to talk about one my favorites: The valley of Osumi river. It’s the most distinguished attraction in the area of Corovode-Skrapar with a Big Canyon, the biggest in Albania, 13 km long and 70-80 m deep.The canyon is often referred as the “Albanian Colorado”. I went there 4 years ago for canoeing with my co-workers. There are many travel agencies which offer these activities for local groups and foreign visitors. We turned into little children, cheering who paddles the most and which boat was getting first, turned upside down or stuck in the river’s caves. It was totally a mind-blowing trip. I had no idea something like this existed in my own country.

While canoeing along Osumi river, we couldn’t stop admiring the huge vertical walls made of these calcareous rocks sprinkled down by astonishing waterfalls. Of course we also heard some interesting local legends connected to the mysterious shapes of the canyon. The “Hole of the Bride” which is an old legend of a young woman being forced to get married without her consent. So on the way to the groom’s house she stopped, jumped off the horse and start praying to the canyon for getting her out of this trouble. The rock heard her prayer, opened a hole where she could hide to escape the misery.

The whole area is so not explored due to the lack of publicity and improper infrastructure which makes it even more exotic and natural. The canyon totally disconnects you from everyday life and burns into your mind forever. Definitely a MUST sight-seeing.