Best for: secluded beaches galore
For all the charm of the Mediterranean coast without the requisite crowds or prices, head to the Albanian Riveria.
Touted as “the last secret of Europe”, tourists from Italy and the Balkans have been visiting this glorious 120-kilometre stretch of coastline in the southwest of the country for some years, but it’s only just starting to be discovered by tourists from the rest of Europe.
The Riviera runs between Vlore and Sarandë, covering a vast and rugged landscape dotted with citrus and olive plantations, hidden lagoons and secluded beaches where the turquoise Ionian sea glitters invitingly.
Eating out here is a cheap and satisfying experience (a hearty restaurant meal will set you back the equivalent of around nine pounds) and the area is rapidly expanding its portfolio of self-catering options to lure visitors across the border from neighbouring Greece and Croatia. Get in now, before everyone jumps on the bandwagon.
Things to see and do
Must-see beaches for a tranquil spot of swimming and sunbathing include Ksamil (where you can swim to a nearby island), the crystal-clear waters of Dhermi, and Gjipea beach, where you can explore the wild and wonderful Gjipe canyon and the ruins of St Theodor’s Monastery.
It’s not all about beach life, though; for hiking, picnicking and wildlife-spotting, head to Llogara National Park, a wooded alpine wilderness, accessed via a spectacular winding mountain road. And the region has plenty of famous sights to marvel at, from mysticalBlue Eye Spring to the ancient city of Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Where to stay
Hotel Brilant in Sarandë is a family-run hotel on the coast with large rooms, friendly staff and panoramic sea views from the upper floors. The TripAdvisor masses rave about the chic and luxurious Splendor Hotel & Spa on Dhermi beach, describing it as “unique”, “charming” and “romantic”. For a series of great self-catering options, check out this Albanian Riviera group.
Food and drink
Don’t miss local raki – a potent aperitif made with plums and grapes – or if that’s too strong for you, nothing beats a cold glass of Birra Korça, one of Albania’s best-known beer brands, after a long day on the beach. Foodie specialties to watch out for include qifki (rice balls fried in herbs and egg) and Flija (a crepe-layer pie served with yoghurt, pickled vegetables, cheese and honey). We hear great things about Limani, a seafront pizza restaurant in Sarandë, and Kujtimi, a laid-back alfresco hangout serving mussels, fried trout and other locally sourced seafood treats, in the old town district of Gjirokastra.
British Airways runs regular flights to the Albanian capital, Tirana, from where you can rent a car or catch a bus south. Another nice option is to take a ferry across from Brindisi in southern Italy – the picturesque journey takes just over seven hours