Tag Archives: travel

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.

Walking along Estoril -the hotbed of Espionage and James Bond Birthplace

Once in Lisbon, so many options are available in the nearby area. Taking a train for 40 minutes, about 30 km west to Lisbon, the obvious stop is the small and charming village Cascais, (pronounced ‘Kesh-kaysh’), by the way there’s a lot of ‘shshshshsh’ in Portuguese. Exploring the picturesque village, its elegant shops, bars, and colorful cobblestone walkways lasted almost the whole day. I could literally walk for kilometers by the beach in the direction of Estoril and look at the breathtaking beaches which were completely empty in early spring. Local fishermen, kayakers, surfer dudes, happy joggers along sophisticated Mansions on the rocky Estoril coast, seagulls skimming the waves across the Atlantic sandy beaches, set the perfect stage for a long promenade.

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Just there on the seashore was an impressive medieval-like castle, further followed by an English style mansion. Not to mention here the famous Estoril Casino centered in Estoril. It was very interesting to learn its story. The author of James Bond novels, Ian Flemming spend part of the second world war in Estoril, which at that time was the place where spies met, as during world wars Portugal was a safe neutral heaven. Actually “Casino Royale” is a product of the real Casino Estoril as it was created by what Flemming experienced there.
Being a place of a thousand sensations, next time in the area I must make it at the most western cliff of Cabo da Roca. There’s always something left to come back.