My writing includes my personal travel experiences, destination, history, and cultural information.
One of Nature’s Blessings
Recently, Albania has emerged on the tourism radar as a stunning country with much to offer. With its old-world charm, the topography is diverse and offers a range of mountains, lakes, rivers, pristine beaches, and cities.
Recently, having lived there as an American expat, and in tandem with my Social Media Director, Elisona, we bring you a view of the beauty found in Albania from our eyes.
A Bit About Albania
Albania is located in the Balkan region of Europe. It is bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, North Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the southeast and south. However, it is also bordered by the Ionian and Adriatic Seas.
Until the mid to late 1990s, Albania was under a communist regime; perhaps that is one of the reasons why it has never been a destination that people seek. Honestly, my intended destination as an expat was Greece. But, with border closures due to the pandemic, I had to come up with a Plan B.
With Albania's proximity to Greece, it became a natural choice. I remember when I was planning my move, several friends had either not heard of Albania or had no idea where it was located. Those who were familiar with the fact that it is indeed a country in Europe had visions of it being a war-torn, desolate country with poverty and high crime. It is my personal opinion that they questioned my sanity or lack of it!
What I found when I arrived in Albania was a country full of lovely people living in a breathtakingly gorgeous environmental setting. Albania is a mix of ethnic cultures, with the northern areas being influenced by Italy and the southern areas by the Greeks.
The Waters of Albania
Albania has nearly 450 km (280 mi) of coastline, with the Adriatic running from the Montenegrin border south to the Bay of Vlora, where the Ionian Sea begins. It is a country with many rivers originating in the mountains of the north, giving way to beautiful waterfalls and lakes.
Here is a bit about some of the best natural water spots the country has to offer.
Located in the northern part of Albania, not far from Shkoder, is a manmade lake (on the Drin River) created as a hydroelectric power station in the 1980s. This sounds ominous, but I assure you that unless you knew in advance that this is an artificial lake, it's not something you would guess. This pristine lake is emerald green and runs about 70 kilometers and is surrounded by beautiful canyons.
The lake is secluded and buried within dense forests, canyons, and gorges. It is a popular day trip from Tirana, the capital of Albania. The wildlife is spectacular and includes mammals such as the golden jackal, red fox, and the European badger. There are also a number of birds which include the great spotted woodpecker, the grey heron, and the Eurasian wryneck. The entire area is a nature-lovers paradise.
Swimming and boating are popular activities. There are a number of ferries that offer spectacular tours of the lake with breathtaking scenery.
Elisona recently visited Koman Lake. She was kind enough to share personal details and photos of her day trip getaway for my piece.
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From the Desk of Elisona
"The way to go to Lake Koman from Tirana to there was 3 hours. We stopped at a tunnel and walked for a few meters, which took us directly to the big dam. We stopped there to rest and to drink something after the long journey. There is a hotel and a bar which gives you the opportunity to relax and enjoy the wonderful view of the lake.
A day before, we had reserved a boat with which we would walk for about an hour, then see the lake and the giant mountains that surrounded it from up close. The boat trip was fantastic; I was bewildered by the greatness and beauty of nature. I had never felt that feeling of freedom before and I felt like a bird flying over the water.
We reached the Shale river, which was as fantastic as the whole journey. It is a small bay with several wooden restaurants and bars where people rested and bathed in the crystal clear river. It was very cold, and not all people could get in since it was so chilly. We stayed there for about three hours and again returned by boat, about another one hour ride."
Located in Southern Albania, Permet is known for its cuisine and fantastic local wines, but perhaps, it's even better known for its tranquil thermal waters. Albania seems to offer so many of nature's blessings, and these thermal waters are the best of the best.
Renowned throughout all of Europe, the waters are, on average, 26–32 C, the perfect healing temperature! The sulfur-based waters of Permet are said to have very high curative effects and are touted as having healing powers for:
- chronic rheumatoid arthritis
- gastric diseases
- skin disorders
I spent three days in Permet in the heat of summer and loved the thermal waters. I returned to my home in Albania feeling rejuvenated.
The Secret Beach of Albania! Jale Beach, located on the Albanian Riveria in the southern part of the country, is a favorite hotspot for tourists and locals alike. The setting is absolutely gorgeous, surrounded by beautiful mountains and having the most azure waters I have ever seen. While I have only driven through the area, Elisona recently spent a weekend there and had the time of her life!
Located close to Himare, Albania, the only way to reach Jale Beach is by foot. If you are arriving by bus or furgon minibus, simply tell the driver where you are going, and he/she will accommodate you; this is accepted practice in Albania.
Once there, you will feel like you have found the most beautiful place on earth! Jale Beach is not a popular tourist destination, typically only known to locals. It is simply breathtaking! A 20-minute walk away from Jale is Aquarium Bay. Strange name? Yes, until you have been there! This is a cove where the water is so clear it looks like an aquarium.
Part of my time living in Albania was spent in Sarande, a coastal town on the southern tip of the country. About 12 kilometers from Sarande is a small town named Ksamil. Ksamil can get very crowded during high season but the trick here is to simply be aware of that!
From early October to mid-April, a trip to Ksamil and its glorious beaches is an experience you will never forget!
Taking the bus out of Sarande will cost about one U.S. dollar. The scenery on the trip is stunning as you go through local villages and pass by the mussel farm. During the low season, services are limited on the beach, and some of the hotels are closed but trust me, should you decide to spend a few days, you will still find wonderful services.
Close enough to shore to swim is an uninhabited island that is fabulous to explore. The water at Ksamil is crystal clear, and the waves are gentle, the beaches are sandy and white, making this a perfect spot to soak up the sun on one of southern Albania's 300 days of sunshine!
Ksamil is the closest location to Corfu, Greece, from Albania (about three-and-a-half miles), and rumor has it that during the communist regime, people would escape the country by swimming under the cover of night.
Even in the off-season, the water, although a bit cool, is warm enough to enjoy. Boating and swimming are popular activities. The beach has a couple of restaurants that will serve you right on the sand and offer lounge chairs for about five euros per day.
A short distance (by bus or private car) is Butrint, Albania, the largest archaeological park not only in the country but also in the Balkans. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is 494 acres of ruins, complete with hiking trails, a museum, and a restaurant. Many visitors combine a trip to Ksamil and Butrint for a full day's adventure.
Another secret beach, reached only by hiking or by boat, is Krorëza Beach. It is also in southern Albania. I took a boat trip out of Saranda, Albania, on a beautiful sun-filled day. With stops along the way, we arrived about three hours after departure to find the beach completely empty. It felt like I was on Gilligan's Island!
The beach area was large enough to accommodate our small group, with everyone having plenty of space to enjoy the spectacular scenery. Swimming, diving off the rocks, hiking up the mountain to St Mary's Monastery, and grilling fish on the beach were the activities we enjoyed.
I will caution you that there is no shade at this location, and the sun was brutal that day.
Located in southern Albania, the Blue Eye is a natural spring off the Bistricë river and appears a mesmerizing, mystical blue color. It has become quite a tourist attraction, and during high season, it does become quite crowded.
Although there are signs prohibiting swimming, most people do jump in the 50 F water for at least a few minutes. If you do jump in the water, the force of the spring will jet you to the surface immediately. The same thing happens if you throw a rock in; it is thrown back to the surface from the intense water pressure (18400 liters per second).
Why is this phenomenon named "Blue Eye"? The pool of water is fed by a natural spring about 50 meters below the surface, which is sourced from a vertical cave. Since the water is crystal clear, when you stand on the edge looking in at the center, the underwater cave appears to be the pupil of the eye and the blue water, the iris.
The cave is, as stated, about 50 meters below the surface, but the true depth of Blue Eye remains a mystery. Many divers have attempted to reach the bottom of the pool but, because of the intense water pressure, have been unsuccessful.
Located near Delvine, Albania, the drive from Sarande is just about 30 minutes. As you approach and turn off the main road, you find yourself on a bumpy, dirt road. Although there is parking close to the Blue Eye, many people choose to walk the final leg of the adventure, enjoying the woods and wildlife. And not surprisingly, there is a small entry fee.
Lesser known is an identical phenomenon referred to as the Blue Eye of Theth, located in northern Albania. Located in Thethi National Park, it is located about seven km from Kaprre, Albania. Its source is the Black River, and it bears the same characteristics as its counterpart in Delvine.
Before moving to Albania, I had no idea of the natural beauty the country has to offer. To me, Albania was simply a stopping-off point on my relocation to Greece; however, the border restrictions of the pandemic provided me with the opportunity to fall in love with a country that was never on my radar.
The destinations discussed above are in no way close to all the waters one will find in Albania, but I do believe they offer a glimpse into the natural aquatic blessings of the country. Other than the length of the coastline, I have not been able to find anything which states all of the waters of Albania.
I lived in southern Albania and what I do know is many recreational activities there are centered around the enjoyment of the sea. Traveling to parts of northern Albania, and also depending on Elisona's knowledge, I have found that in the north, recreational water activities center around rivers and lakes formed from the magnificent mountains, the Albanian Alps.
Like most people, I find tranquility in water. Mental health studies teach us that being surrounded by water or participating in water-based activities provides calmness. And I find that to be true. Even in Sarande, when there were storms and the waves would crash against the seawalls, there was a certain comfort in the waters of our glorious world.
In fact, one of my favorite things to do during storms was to sit on my covered veranda with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and watch the sea, listening to the intense sounds of the waves crashing. We used to joke and use the phrase from Seinfeld, "The sea is angry that day, my friends-like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli!"
I also found immense joy in watching the sunset over the Ionian Sea. For a while, I had convinced myself that unless I toasted the sunset, the sun would not set; the earth, therefore, would burn up, and it would be all my fault!
Until next time friends, remember, "To Travel is to Live!"
© 2022 Dee Nicolou Serkin