My friend and I were planning our trip to Albania. We needed some beach time, but the popular beaches like Sarande were a little too far for our liking. With the short time we had, we needed something a bit closer to the capital. What about Vlorë? Vlorë? Vlora? What’s the name of this place? Why does it have two names? Vlorë. It’s the third biggest city in Albania and about midway between Greece and Montenegro. Why not.
Getting to Vlorë from Berat was easy enough. Only, our van had us waiting for several hours until it was full and ready to depart. After all that waiting we ended up with too many passengers and a family we picked up along the way had to sit in the aisle, with the mum on a tiny fold out stool. The poor little boy got car sick and we had to stop several times. But eventually we reached Vlorë and took a taxi to our hotel, which was just outside of the city. The driver had trouble finding it and we guided him a bit with the help of our phones. He got so frustrated that he was cursing at every other car coming our way. Awkward… We wanted to be close to the water, so we took a hotel with a gorgeous view and a pool. It may have been hard to find, but it was a great choice.
So, what about Vlorë? I couldn’t find too much information about it beforehand, so we just went with the flow and had a very relaxing 2 nights. The afternoon we arrived we lounged at the pool and then went for a walk. There wasn’t really a good footpath at times, but we managed to walk all the way into the city, about 4 km. We arrived at a viewpoint at the edge of the city just as the sun was setting. It was an interesting place. A nice viewing platform, but the path leading there was shabby and there was trash lying around. It was right at a bend in the road, which was filled with cars heading back to the city after a weekend at the beach.
We were still a bit higher than the beach below us, where people were playing basketball or strolling up and down the boulevard. We thus had the perfect view towards the Adriatic Sea. In the distance lay Sazan island and the sun was setting just beside it. We learned that the sunsets of Vlorë were simply incredible. When the sun had sunken into the water and the sky slowly changed colors, we descended down the road towards the beach. There was a restaurant over the water that looked quite appealing. I mean, there were a bunch of simple tables and plastic chairs, but we decided to sit down. As it turned out we had totally misunderstood the concept and we’d sat down at the café side of the terrace. The first waiter looked at us in confusion, but the second waiter, with somewhat better English, decided that it was easier to just let us have dinner there. So we enjoyed the atmosphere, the breeze and the final colors of the sunset before we took a taxi back to the hotel.
The next day we wanted to take a boat trip. We hadn’t booked anything because the hotel owner said it was not necessary and we could just show up at the harbor. We were a little delayed and started to panic a bit, thinking we’d literally missed the boat. When we were dropped off at the harbor, we were immediately approached by two men who were selling boat tickets. It all looked kind of shady. They could be selling us fake tickets. But we went for it anyway and inside the harbor we found a boat with matching description. They even let us on. Us, and a whole lot of other people. There were two more boats with practically the same itinerary.
First we slowly set course to Sazan island. The boat had a “DJ” who played all kind of things, from German rap, to French rap, to Rihanna’s greatest hits. Most of the rap was by Albanians who had moved abroad. When we docked at Sazan island, our DJ turned into a guide. There was only a tiny beach where you could swim, but the guide would take a walk on the former military island and explain some things. We waited for him to leave, only to find out he didn’t even bother speaking English. So we passed him and kept walking uphill. I kept going until I found a small group of abandoned buildings. It used to be military terrain, but since a few years visitors can come to the island and the surrounding waters have been turned into a marine park. Inside the buildings I found a lot of rubble and a crate of bottles that had been left behind. Some of the buildings had an incredible view towards the Albanian coast. But we didn’t have that much time on the island, so I rushed back down and took a quick one-minute dip in the sea before the boat left again.
The next “attraction” on the itinerary was the Haxhi Ali cave. It was really underwhelming and I would have preferred to spend this time swimming. The boat practically made it’s way to a cave opening in the limestone cliffs and then turned around. Small boats can enter, so maybe that’s worth it, but we could only admire the cave’s entrance. I couldn’t wait to arrive on a beach and it seemed to take forever. We passed along the coast of the Karaburun peninsula and counted the bunkers along the way. There were so many that you often saw 20 in one view, scattered like perfect little zits on the landscape.
When we approached the beach my friend and I darted to the lower deck, ready to hop off and get the best chairs. The guide/DJ was in a grumpy mood and ordered everyone to sit back down, but there was no place to sit. We were at a very pretty beach, practically empty until we arrived. There was a small restaurant and lots of umbrellas with loungers. We rented some in the back and hit the water. The water here was unbelievably clear and the perfect temperature. In the distance we saw the coastline, trying to make out where exactly our hotel was located. I floated for a long time and sat at the edge of the water, picking out pretty stones from the pebbly beach. The coast here is stunning!
After a long day on the boat we were pretty tired, but we made time to visit the rooftop bar I’d spotted near our hotel. It was on top of the Diamond Hill resort. I know it was a weekday, but we were literally the only people there when we arrived. But I guess we were early, or setting a trend, because a bit later a few more people were coming in. It was a nice place with a good vibe and delicious cocktails. A good way to finish a great holiday. We didn’t end up spending much time in the actual city of Vlorë, but I really enjoyed the walks we did along the waterfront. The day we left we also found out the old city center had been restored. There was a street full of colorful houses with restaurants and cafés. It was small, but I’m sure it’s very cosy at night. So what about Vlorë? It was the right choice for us. We found a little paradise where we could relax and enjoy the sea for our last full day in Albania.